How to pack for a coastal California road trip

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Here’s what I packed for week-long road trip up the California coast to Carmel-by-the-Sea and Big Sur in August. It’s one of my favorite places to visit for stunning scenery…

What to pack for a coastal California road trip.

This article was published at an earlier date and has since been updated. I’ve left prior comments in place.

My travel wardrobe may look different than what you’d expect for a summer vacation near the sea. The weather this time of year along the central California coast is often cool, overcast, and even damp. (I must have been a fern in a past life, because I love it!) But if the weather should shift, I’m prepared for much warmer or cooler temperatures.

What to pack for a coastal California road trip

Almost all of our activities will be Casual to Very Casual. We’ll probably do some beach exploring and light hiking. But mostly we’re just planning to relax and take in the scenery. 🌲 🌊 🦌

My travel wardrobe details

My travel wardrobe for a road trip up the California coast.

Driving rather than flying means I’m not constrained to a specific luggage size or weight. But I still want to pack efficiently while being prepared and having options. To come up with the color scheme for this travel wardrobe, I started with my tiger print top, and then selected pieces that coordinate. (I lightened this image to better show details, so some of the colors appear brighter here than IRL.)

Starting with the shoes

  • a pair of well-worn sneakers with good traction for hiking, exploring rocky beaches. Mine are a few years old; here’s a similar style.
  • waterproof Birks for pool, beach, spa
  • a supportive pair of walking sandals that aren’t too rugged to wear to dinner (mine are from last year, these are similar
  • raffia oxfords (similar)


  • two pairs of jeans, these and these (similar). An older pair I won’t mind getting dirty, and a newer one to wear in public. 😆
  • a pair of undyed denim trousers (similar). Should the weather turn warmer, these will be cooler than jeans.
  • navy knit pants. a little dressier than jeans, but still relaxed.

Tops & sweaters (yes, sweaters)

From left to right:

Top layers


  • a selection of cotton bandanas and a larger silk “Road Trip” scarf (similar)
  • I’m not planning to bring much jewelry, probably a pair of simple earrings and a couple of small necklaces to layer (here and more options here).

Not shown: bathing suit, coverup, pajamas, “underpinnings.” I’ll reserve the option to add or swap out one or two “wild card” clothing pieces based on the forecast before we leave.

Portable amenities

Are there any items you always pack for a road trip?

Stay in touch.

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