Packing for a Trip to San Diego

San Diego Airport Terminal Remodel
••• The new and improved Terminal 2 at San Diego Airport. Gina Tarnacki

San Diego weather can trick you, especially during certain parts of the year. Here’s what to pack, depending if you’re visiting in summer or winter. We’ll just skip over spring and fall; San Diego doesn’t have enough of a change of weather for those seasons to make much of a difference (the city barely has enough of a change for summer and winter after all).

Packing for a San Diego Summer Vacation (April through Mid-October)

Ah, summer, it’s a magical time for beach lounging and sun soaking. Unless you arrive in June.

June is infamous in San Diego for “June Gloom,” which is often preceded by “May Gray.” It’s a well-known phenomenon among locals, but visitors are often taken by surprise when they arrive in San Diego in late spring or early summer and are greeted by gray skies.

The good news is that even during this time in May and June the weather is usually pretty warm so pack the requisite shorts, tank tops, t-shirts, flip-flops, and swimsuits. You also may want to stick in a lightweight wetsuit or rashguard since the ocean water doesn’t substantially warm up until July.

Once the warmer currents rush in and the water heats up, that’s when the summer fun really begins in San Diego. If you’re coming anytime between July and September, pack extra swimsuits because you’ll likely be wanting to spend a lot of time at the beach. Bring swimsuit covers you’d be comfortable wearing in public, too, as you may want to take a quick break from the beach to dip into one of the many oceanfront bars or restaurants for a refreshing drink or appetizer (like the famous San Diego fish taco).

Things to pack for San Diego in the summer should also include:

  • A sturdy sunhat: It can be windy on the beach so you want something that will stay on your head.
  • Waterproof sunscreen: The waterproof part is important if you are planning on swimming in the water at all. Remember to reapply after exiting the water, too. Sunscreen chapstick is also good to stick in your bag.
  • Jacket/Sweater: Once the sun goes down, you’ll be surprised how fast the temperature drops. The coastal breezes mean cool nights and you’ll want something warm to shrug into if you’re prone to getting cold (think fall weather like you’d typically find in places with four seasons).
  • Comfortable walking shoes: You don’t want to spend all your time at the beach. San Diego has a gorgeous waterfront harbor, city park (Balboa) and thriving downtown area (Gaslamp Quarter). Hit the pavement and start exploring.  

Packing for a Winter Vacation (Mid-October through March)

The winter months in San Diego are still pretty nice and usually quite warm. Winter in San Diego is prone to more extreme weather fluctuations, though. Some days it may be in the 90s and other days drop into the 50s. This differs from the summer when most of the time you’ll find the upper 70s and low 80s temperature by the beach. If traveling on the autumn side of winter, you’re also more likely to run into strong, warm Santa Ana winds.

The key to packing for winter travel to San Diego is to include layers. Cardigans and lightweight jackets to throw on over t-shirts.

For footwear, you’re likely to see everything from Ugg boots to flip-flops all on a given day. This is because the weather is usually warm enough for sandals, but San Diegans consider 60 degrees to be cold enough to break out the boots and sweaters. They like winter fashion, too!

If you’re planning on going in the ocean, you’ll want to pack a wetsuit if you have one and rent one once you arrive in San Diego if you don’t. Even if you’re in San Diego during one of the winter heat waves when temps can reach into the 80s, the water is still going to feel chilly, and you’re not going to want to stay in it for very long without some added warmth protection.

One plus about visiting San Diego in the winter? The beaches of San Diego are often blissfully crowd-free. You’ll definitely look like a tourist lying on the beach in the middle of winter in a swimsuit so most locals don’t do it unless it’s an unseasonably hot day, but San Diegans generally don’t judge – locals get that most people don’t get to experience the wonderful beach life they take for granted every day. So pack a swimsuit or two in winter as well.

Lastly, no matter when you visit, don’t forget sunglasses. When the San Diego sunshine is out, it is bright and fabulous, and you’ll want to shield your eyes in order to take in all the gorgeous views America’s Finest City has to offer.