SoCal is a multi-climate region; planning your wardrobe can be baffling!
How in the world will it EVER be possible to plan a vacation wardrobe for a Southern California trip? It's difficult! Tourists attractions abound in ALL of Southern California's regions...from beaches to deserts to mountain peaks which are capped with snow in the wintertime! How can a visitor know what clothing to bring?
Every would-be visitor should know that Coastal California weather consists of a collection of many "micro-climates." This means that Southern California's temperatures vary considerably throughout the metropolitan area, rather than remaining stable throughout the region. Therefore, it's wise to pack for a variety of temperatures before your trip to the Los Angeles/San Diego area.
In general, the closer you get to the beach, the cooler and breezier you'll find the weather to be. Conversely, the farther inland you go, the hotter you'll discover the weather to be. You may find yourself at the Santa Monica Pier on a July evening wearing a sweater to fend off the chill in the air...and yet be talking on the phone to a friend on the other side of the metro area who is "roasting" hot!
PDF printable vacation packing checklist
Most of this page is going to be about understanding California weather & lifestyles...
...so you'll know WHAT to pack.
But not everyone who reads this page is heading to California, we've discovered. And so, most of the info here isn't anything you need to know about. So...
Here is a quick packing checklist that you can print up that'll be good for any road trip you might make.
This is a maximum-packing guide, which you'll surely want to cut down for short trips or for plane travel. But, this is actually all the gear that we pack for a week (or longer) road trip...with kids...that will combine business with pleasure. At the very least, after reading it, you'll be glad you're not us!
Here's ourprintable packing checklist for road trips. Just pack your stuff, then mark it off the list...and then there's no guesswork 2 days later about what you've put into your bags!
Understanding Southern California Weather
Is it REALLY possible to understand Southern California weather? Well, no one can predict with absolute certainty what the weather will be like on any particular date, BUT it's entirely possible to understand this region's "general" weather patterns. In the paragraphs below, you may discover what patterns you'll find in Southern California weather...and then choose the season you visit to match the climate you like best!
Southern California Weather: March, April, May & June In our opinion, these are some of the most pleasant months of the year along the coast of Southern California. You'll find the days warm (60's and 70's Fahrenheit) and the nights cool, but not cold. (50's to 60's Fahrenheit.) You'll definitely need to pack a sweater or a light jacket. You'll need to bring both long and short sleeved shirts, because this time of year in Los Angeles has day-to-nighttime temperature fluctuations of about 30 degrees. Clothing that's comfortable during one part of your day will be too hot or cold several hours later.
During this same time period, the inland desert areas of Southern California will be heating up...reaching uncomfortable temperatures (90+ degrees) in some areas (like Palm Springs) by May or June.
Southern California Weather: July, August, September
In our opinion, this is the most uncomfortably hot and humid time of year in Southern California. Some inland areas like Palm Springs will be unbearably hot (usually 105+ degrees.) Other inland areas won't quite reach the extreme temperatures of the Palm Springs area...but will still reach 95-100 degrees. Moving still closer to the coast, even Disneyland in Anaheim will get into the 85--95 degree range many days. Beach-goers will find coastal temperatures in the 75--85 degree range...and the best beach weather each year will be during these summer months.
The warmest theme park at this time of year is generally Six Flags Magic Mountain, which is blocked by mountains from the ocean breezes. Prepare to sweat...or join in the line at the wild-water raft ride (so you can get soaked!) The coolest theme park...sitting right on the water's edge at Mission Bay...is SeaWorld San Diego. Yes, it's certainly possible to sweat when you're watching the Shamu show while sitting in an uncovered stadium in the afternoon sun. Yet, even in the summertime, it's possible on some days to feel chilled-to-the-bone after getting soaked on the park's raft ride!
Southern California Weather: October
The month of October rates a special class of it's own. Generally, October along the coast starts out quite warm...and seems like it's still September. By the time Halloween and the first of November rolls around, the weather is quite cool and comfortable again. Even temperatures in the inland areas start to cool down by the end of October. Bring clothing for both cool AND warm weather; you'll never know what the temperature will be from day to day. Maybe you'll find temperatures in the 80's or 90 degree-range one day...and then in the 60's to 70 degree-range a few days later. This October cooling trend is ESPECIALLY appreciated in Southern California's inland desert areas! While the beginning of October can still see days in the high 90's and low 100's in areas like Palm Springs, by the end of the month, the weather becomes enjoyable. Tourists to the SoCal deserts can head outside and enjoy themselves!
Southern California Weather: November, December, January & February
Finally, the inland desert areas of Southern California get their best weather of the year! In spots like Palm Springs, you'll have warm, comfortable days (60--80 degrees), and cool (or even nippy) nights (upper 40's--60's.) Along the coast, you'll also have warm days...in the 60's or low 70's...but the nights can get quite nippy. By the closing time at Disneyland, the temperature will drop into the 50-degree range, and by dawn, you may feel temperatures in the 40-degree range.
MOST vacationers don't need to bring clothing to protect them from snow or extremely cold weather. After all, it never snows in the heart of the Los Angeles metro area. If you bring your heavy coat and boots, you won't need them and you'll just take up valuable luggage space.
But, there are A FEW EXCEPTIONS: There ARE mountains within Los Angeles County that DO get snow! (If you've heard rumors that you can BOTH ski AND surf on the same day in California...that's true!) If you intend to go to a Southern California ski resort (or take a winter mountain drive) then ignore our earlier advice and DO bring a heavy coat.
One other exception is if your stay in Southern California will be in the "high desert" country. (These are the cities between Metro Los Angeles and Las Vegas; like Victorville or Barstow.) These cities do get frost in the winter time.
Southern California Weather: Rain Southern California isn't a very rainy place. The months you're most likely to find rain would be January and February. Watch the forecast before heading to the theme parks; "rain checks" are not given. If it starts raining, the theme parks will stay open...and you won't get your money back.
Vacation Packing Checklist -- Packing for the Southern California Weather
Let's put into a practical list the clothing you should bring to Los Angeles. Always keep in mind while packing that the weather---though never freezing---can have quite a range of temperatures, depending just WHERE in the metro area you happen to be. (Note: We chose this photo to illustrate how individual the reaction can be to the weather. For an outing on a 70 degree day, one of the kids chose a sleeveless shirt and scooter skirt. However, the other one thought it was a fine day for a sweatshirt!)
***Dresses, shirts, slacks, skirts: Bring both light-weight and mid-weight items during the summer months. During the winter months, bring mostly mid-weight clothing, with a jacket. Bring heavy-weight clothing only if you plan a ski trip to the mountains, or if you'll be out camping (exposed to the chilliest night air.)
You've probably heard the term, "dressing in layers." Well, Southern California is a place where you should always dress in layers...being able to add a long-sleeved shirt or light jacket to your outfit. OR, switch back to short sleeves, as required. The temperatures will change as you move from coast to inland; and as morning heats up or afternoon fades into dusk.
***Shoes Will you be heading to a theme park? Think of comfort first. Many people choose either comfortable sneakers or sandals. (During the daytime, at least, the weather is warm enough for sandals year-round. You may find them very comfortable footwear for touring.) Whatever you do, though, don't buy a brand-new pair of shoes to wear while trekking through the tourist attractions. Ouch---blisters!
***Swimwear The Pacific Ocean's water temperature is chilly along the California shore. Although the beaches are wonderful to visit in all types of weather, not every day of the year makes for pleasant swimming. Unless you have a wetsuit, you may want to stick to wading or strolling along in the sand.
If you come during the summertime, though, by all means, pack up all your beach gear! Bring your swimsuits, towels, fins, goggles, sunscreen, wide-brimmed hats, etc. The swimming pools and the Pacific Ocean's waters will seem inviting to you then! (Note to men: NOBODY wears little Speedo-style suits to the beach. Longer, baggier "board shorts" are in style right now. Note to all: Swimsuits or other clothing must be worn at all Los Angeles beaches.)
Trip Packing Checklist -- Dress up? Go casual?
Los Angeles and San Diego are very casual, "laid back" places. Unless you will be attending a business function---or going to a very expensive restaurant---you won't need to bring your business suits...or even a necktie!
Our son-in-law routinely travels throughout the USA on business trips. While he packs his tailored suits and ties for most of his trips to US cities, when he's traveling to Los Angeles he packs his sports coats instead. If you're traveling to LA on business, you'll naturally want to dress as the other employees in your firm are dressing. But, at least at our son-in-law's company, the Los Angeles staff members don't even wear neckties!
Family vacationers, however, should remember to dress nicely enough that your family will look good in all the photos that you take. Remember, "pictures are forever." Save the tattered jeans for the car. Sure, you can wear them to Disneyland or Magic Mountain, if you wish...but is that the way you'll want to look as you show your photos to friends and family members? Always try to dress casually...but neatly...enough so that in 10 years when you look back at your album, you won't cover your eyes with your hands and cringe.
Vacation Packing Checklist -- Arriving with wrinkle-free clothing
The A+, #1 way to arrive at your destination with wrinkle-free clothing is to purchase clothes that don't easily wrinkle in the first place. Choose knits over woven fabrics. If you do choose woven materials, pick a blend that mixes a bit of polyester in with the cotton. Try a "wrinkle test" on clothing before you buy it. Wad up a corner of the shirt or dress you wish to purchase in your fist...and then look at it. If it's a mass of wrinkles, the item won't "travel well." Sure, many hotels have irons and boards in every room these days....but do you really want to spend your vacation time actually USING an iron?
One way to PACK your clothes to discourage wrinkles is to ROLL them before loading each piece into the suitcase. Another way is to use a hanging garment bag for wrinkle-prone clothing. And if you like to be extra-careful, putting each article of clothing into its own thin, plastic "dry cleaner's bag" will help deter wrinkles even further.
Don't forget that some clothing will become soiled along the way---ketchup dripping from a hamburger, beach sand stuck to your wet swimsuit, snack-time chocolate smeared on a kids shirt, etc. Remember to throw a few empty plastic grocery bags for your soiled clothes into your luggage. The beach sand will get all over the clean clothing if you don't!