Last Updated on October 14, 2021 by Paroma
What to wear in San Francisco is an oft asked question thanks to our unique weather pattern. Unlike our cousin in the south, i.e. Los Angeles, which epitomizes the phrase “It’s always sunny in California” , we cool cats in NorCal have a mild, temperate weather with the fog thrown in for good measure. The Mercury pretty much stays fixed around 60-68F (15-20C), anything above 70F (21C) causes us to get our sunscreens out and dips into 50F (10C) makes us shiver in our jammies. Our summer is a cold one, and Fall is terribly hot (Sep and Oct are mysteriously designated as Indian summer) with winter bringing in some rainy respite while spring is essentially a cool precursor to summer.
Days are bright and warm which lead to cooler, often chillier nights. The weather not only changes swiftly in a blink of a few hours, but also varies from one micro hood to another, i.e. bright and sunny and pepped up in the Mission, chattering to the bones near the Marina and a face smacked by Karl (our fog) in Outer Richmond.
So what’s a gal to do in the face of this mounting predicament of combating this trickster weather? Fear not, cause the solutions are easy peasy and now, right at your keyboard tips. Follow along to sidestep sartorial guffaws as you read this guide where I give you a complete lowdown on what to wear to San Francisco in every season on your visit with a handy, dandy SF packing list to go along with it.
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What to wear in San Francisco-PUT A JACKET ON IT
Unless you are saddled with blinders that give you tunnel vision, a quick scan of locals in the city will make you realize that they all are armed with an outerwear of some sort. This is literally the number one rule that you need to follow to dress like a local in San Francisco, no matter the season.
In other words, what makes San Francisco ladies rock their uber Norcal Urban Chic style is that they totally own their layers and always seemed to be dressed for fall (cause we have fall like weather almost all year, duh!). So bring your A game into town and carry a blazer/some kind of light-medium weight outerwear/fall jacket with you to combat those sudden winds while hiking in San Francisco or are smacked in the face by Karl, our beloved fog.
Always, always have a jacket on hand or suffer the worldly embarrassment of wearing one of those “I love SF” proclaiming touristy Muppet fleece jackets when you find yourself shivering to the bones while gulping down clam chowder at Fisherman’s wharf.
Jackets (adore this moto jacket in a rich maroon color or this emerald green trench coat for that pop of color) are your best friend in this what to wear to San Francisco sojourn; they come off during the day and can be stuffed in tote bags that you should be prudent enough to carry and go right back on when the mercury dips, which BTW does unbelievably fast in this city.
So be it a skirt or a skort (with pockets) or shorts or dresses or what not, there is a jacket for everything under the sun. If it gets too hot, there is also a tote for every jacket to be squished in.
How to dress for all seasons in San Francisco-LAYER LIKE YOU MEAN IT
San Franciscan chicas (and chicos) are perpetual layering gurus since that is the best way to pile on and peel off while gliding through the different neighborhoods of our city, notorious for their varied proclivities and microclimates. This microclimate thing is very unique to the bay area, specially San francisco and is a favorite brunch topic by seasoned locals indoctrinating newbies into the SF way of life.
Wearing light layers (such as lightweight cardigans or jumpers) on chambray or gingham with a jacket on top (I am obsessed with jackets) help to unclothe easily while stuffing yourself with an empanada in sunny Mission and come super handy with your hipster toast in hand at Outer sunset.
San Franciscan women stylishly pile on cardigans/cropped jackets over dresses or skirts complete with leggings and booties/ankle boots to transition from cool mornings to chilly nights. Throw in a hat and a scarf and your ensemble is now complete! I honestly cannot stress more on the scarf part because that is our lifeline out here and has helped to combat many a sudden chilly nights that started off as perfectly warm evenings.
A scarf, besides a jacket, is your bestie in the city and must be on your what to wear to San Francisco list when visiting the many San Francisco neighborhoods with different microclimates.
San Francisco street style-DRESS LIKE IT’S FALL, Y’ALL
Fall weather is possibly the best way to describe what we have going on here with the mercury hovering between 60-65F (15-20C) pretty much throughout the year. A typical San Francisco morning is cold, gloomy and foggy which clears up during the day and might get sunny but the evening has a nip in the air and the nights get chilly.
So in other words, if you are dying of summer heat in your neck of the woods and longing for a hot cuppa, cushy sweaters and cuddles, i.e. fall in your head, let SF make it come true for you. No leaves changing color and no cuddles guaranteed (unless you are with your personal cuddle generator), but plenty of reasons to give those woollies (in my case, non-wool sweaters) their time to shine. Sweater weather almost all year round folks, enjoy!
What to wear in San Francisco in summer-INDIAN SUMMER IS FOR REAL
San Francisco takes summer and flips it right on its head by giving scorching, holy-moly hot days in fall, i.e. September-October and sometimes stretching into November (its super hot during the day time as I type). The heat wave drives San Franciscans, layered like peels of onion, into a tizzy and we all romp around in our itsy-bitsy summer wear everywhere.
In other words, when the rest of the country is wrapped in a heap of fall mush, come to SF to show off those tanned legs in micro-shorts, jorts, skorts, dresses and whatever else that your non-prudish heart desires. I am not sure why our summer is labeled as Indian summer, but having grown up in that subcontinent, I can definitely see similarities in the “are you kidding me” heat and humidity.
By the way, San franciscans are an incredibly spoilt bunch of people known to human race, so our heat wave comprises of anything 75F and above. Same goes for our tolerance to precipitation-a slight drizzle and you will see us running for cover!
Whatever it is and however pansy you may think we are, Indian summers are awesome. Fall everywhere with chilly nights hot days and warm nights for us. Three cheers for shorts, dress and skirt weather! I swear by shift dresses to cool off and linen pants for ventilation. Hats are huge and will help you score brownie points with the locals.
Dress like a local in San Francisco-BEACHWEAR IS A MYTH
A trip to the beach evokes visions of swimwear (adore this cheery yellow one piece suit), floppy hat, sunscreen, tote bag blah blah list goes on. Not so much for Nor Cal beaches which are a class apart from those in SoCal.
On any given day, our beaches are windy and chilly enough to knock your socks off and the water? Cold as hell that just froze over. So forget sunbathing and swimming, neither of which are particularly enjoyable at our beaches. In other words, ditch the swimsuit, go for those trusted layers.
Also be it sunny or cloudy, it is again a good idea to lug a jacket or some kind of outerwear with you since it gets horribly windy down at Ocean and Baker beach. As is the mantra everywhere in these 49 square miles, BE PREPARED. You never know when you’ll get the jitters.
San Francisco winter style-WINTER IS JUST EXTENDED FALL
SF’s mercury is not flighty like it is elsewhere and so winter comes and goes pretty unnoticed in these parts barring a few days when it gets really cold (by that I mean at worst 40F/4C or so) and glove adorned hands are seen. It’s simply more bundling up with a thicker sweater plus jacket, boots/booties, hats/beanies and thicker scarves. Nothing special except that you might want to show off those woolen coats gathering dust. If you are not into wool like me, simply layer more.
Layering should be your mantra anyway if you are thinking of what to wear in San Francisco. I am pretty sure it’s obvious by now that how to dress in San Francisco for every season means layering-be it Fall, Spring, Summer or Winter! It really takes the guesswork out of what to wear in San Francisco!
San Francisco streetwear-CASUAL IS COOL
Ok people, specially east coast denizens in your formal frocks, it is my sacred duty to deliver the memo that San Francisco is called a maverick haven/ an iconoclast paradise for a reason. That includes our sense of fashion too.
San Francisco style is not a perennial corporate boardroom scene which spawns stuffy clones and where spontaneity goes to die. We love our casual vibe and take it everywhere, from operas to Michelin starred restaurants (I once saw a guy dine at a 1 Michelin star restaurant in shorts, plaid shorts for crying out loud, and no one batted an eyelid. I am sure he would have been hacked to death by the style mafia in NYC) and we are proud of it.
In other words, wear joggers (see sequined one here to take your A-game to parties) and no one will judge you. Our techie billionaires such as a certain Mr. Z has shown that apparel has got nothing to do with minting those $$$$ and he dresses for the part wearing a grey tee to work! Everyday here is casual Friday, but please don’t do casual in ugly sweats! A pair of lamé joggers can always help to add an element of glam, so can a statement making tee or plaid done right with a button down shirt in prints that don’t make you look like a yuletide log.
What to wear in San Francisco-PUT YOUR BEST FOOT FORWARD
San Franciscans love their booties and ankle boots all year round and pair them routinely with their boyfriend jeans or legging (this one has pockets) or what-have-you with dresses, skirts and generally for a bundled at the top but tapered at the bottom kind of look.
But mostly, necessity and comfort are the two biggest drivers when it comes to footwear in the city. For those living under a rock, our city is anything but topographically dull and we have plenty of ups and downs to get those stubs of yours moving. Our city is very walkable but is peppered with inclinations, slopes and what not!
So do a favor to your feet and leave those stilettos home (unless you are out in town for the evening and are in a vehicle) and get into comfy boots/booties/loafers/Oxfords/flats to walk around town and explore the best of what it has to offer. Shoes with traction/sole support are a big plus, i.e., sturdy is the name of the game when some hardcore uphill walking is involved.
San Francisco fashion mantra- HAVE FUN WITH COLORS
If you’ve heard the song “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair”, you know SF is a city to let your hair down and have fun. It’s a city of those young at heart, the rebellious ones, the foolish ones, the hungry for innovation ones, the discoverers, the mavericks and the iconoclasts.
Our fashion and style reflects our spirit and is all about having fun. We will stuff our face with a dozen artisan donuts and trek the 40 degree slope up Nob hill to lose those killer calories, we will wear plaids and joggers, blazers over fair isle jumpers and beanies as well as berets.
So whatever you do, leave those somber monochromes for the other dull cities and bring a blazing trail of color to San Francisco via lots of fun colorful attire (here are some beautiful colorful and patterned dresses such as this cute polka dotted one to embrace all the color) if you’re wondering how to dress in San Francisco like a local. Break the rules and then create some. We love our rainbow hues throughout the year and if you do too, you will return home with a bouquet full of beautiful memories that only San Francisco can offer.
And, finally…BE INSPIRED
A few cool websites to get you on speed with San Francisco fashion, because there is no dearth of inspiration here. Happy reading for what to wear in San Francisco! You can read my other posts on style and fashion here.
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