California is the ‘Golden State’ because of its fantastic weather and the gold rush in the mid-1800s. The USA’s most populous state has a legitimate claim to being the most popular. From its stunning landscapes, incredible weather, rich history and vibrant cities, California is a land where the American dream comes true.
While it is well known as the heart of the world’s movie industry, it is equally as popular in other entertainment sectors, such as music and television. Through the years, countless songs about California have been written covering everything about the state, from its beauty to its darker underbelly.
Whether you are planning a visit, need some music to fuel a west coast road trip, or want to listen to some tunes about your home state, there should be plenty on this list to have you covered. Here are my 20 best songs about California.
- 20 Songs About California
- Famous Songs About California
- Rock Songs About California
- Other Popular Songs About California
20 Songs About California
Famous Songs About California
1- Hotel California – The Eagles
Hotel California was a 1977 hit for The Eagles from the Grammy-winning album of the same name.
The band’s most well-known song is also one of the most famous songs about California, influencing listeners across multiple generations.
The song’s true meaning has been the subject of debate, even though the lyrics and the melody have captured the imaginations of music lovers around the world.
The song tells the story of a man driving along a California desert highway with the wind in his hair.
It’s one of the best songs about California for road trippers through the Golden State.
2- California Dreamin’ – The Mamas & The Papas
California Dreamin’ is a 1965 hit for The Mamas & The Papas and is listed as Rolling Stone’s 89th greatest song of all time.
The song is all about living through a harsh winter, dreaming about being back home in California.
Going into great depths about the grey skies and cold weather they are experiencing makes it abundantly clear that California has the climate of your dreams, even during the winter.
3- California Girls – The Beach Boys
As the title suggests, California Girls is a song about the incredible women the state is home to.
Unlike many songs about California that focus purely on building the state up, the Beach Boys took a slightly different approach with their 1965 smash hit.
The song sees the band talk about how the women are wonderful all over America, it just so happens that their favourites are the ones from California.
An incredibly catchy and popular song, it reached number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 upon its release and still receives regular airtime to this day, even being named the 72nd greatest song of all time by Rolling Stone.
4- (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay – Otis Redding
Otis Redding recorded (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay in December 1967, just three days before he died in a plane crash.
Released posthumously, it was one of his biggest hits and was the first posthumous release ever to top the US charts.
The song is about leaving his home in Georgia, where nothing was going right, and moving to San Francisco.
A beautiful song made all the more impactful by its tragic release, it is a perfect depiction of the common trend of people heading to California searching for a better life.
5- California Gurls – Katy Perry & Snoop Dogg
The 2010 collaboration between Katy Perry and Snoop Dogg is a love letter to the pair’s home state in every sense.
From the lifestyle and landscape to the people themselves, they make it seem like everything is just a little bit better in California.
Its upbeat, catchy tune and pop and hip hop combination have helped the song appeal to a broad audience.
It reached number 1 in eight countries, including the United States, and has been certified platinum or higher in nine countries, including eight times in the US, six times in Australia, and four times in Canada.
6- I Left My Heart In San Francisco – Tony Bennett
First written in 1953, I Left My Heart In San Francisco was released by legendary singer Tony Bennett on his 1962 album of the same name.
It looks at all of the incredible cities around the world, before explaining that their beauty, no matter how great, pales in comparison to San Francisco.
Still incredibly popular more than 60 years on, the song is ranked as the 23rd most historically significant song of the 20th century, is preserved by the National Recording Registry, and functions as one of San Francisco’s official anthems.
Rock Songs About California
7- Beverly Hills – Weezer
Released in 2005, Beverly Hills was the first Grammy-nominated song by American rock band Weezer.
The song focuses on the two contrasting sides of the band’s hometown, Los Angeles.
It perfectly illustrates that while Beverly Hills is the home of the rich and famous and the place where everyone aspires to be, the rest of LA is pretty great too, and people should focus on being happy with where they are at.
8- (Go To) California – Rob Zombie
Released on industrial rocker Rob Zombie’s 2001 album “The Sinister Urge”, (Go To) California tells the familiar story of someone travelling to Los Angeles searching for fame and fortune.
Along the way, they realise that for every selling point of the city, there is a drawback as well, and you have to weigh up if the reward is worth the cost.
A cautionary tale, its driving theme makes it a perfect choice for a west coast road trip.
9- San Francisco Dues – Chuck Berry
In 1971, rock and roll legend Chuck Berry released his 15th studio album, San Francisco Dues.
The eponymous track from the record tells the story of a man and his girlfriend as they head to San Francisco, a city they have been told is well ahead of its time, and pay their dues to make it there.
A catchy number for any rock and roll fans, its message still rings true to this day, as San Francisco is near Silicon Valley, the hub of America’s tech industry.
10- California – Phantom Planet
The 2002 song “California” by LA rock band Phantom Planet may well be the greatest California road trip anthem ever written.
It focuses on driving down Route 101, also known as The Pacific Coast Highway, to attend a concert.
It is an incredibly successful rock song about California, it has served as the theme song for the movie “Orange County”, the television series “The OC”.
It should be a staple on any road trip playlist, no matter where you are headed.
11- LA Woman – The Doors
The title track of The Doors’ final album before Jim Morrison’s death, LA Woman, focuses on all the different types of women you will find throughout Los Angeles.
Like many of the band’s songs, the true meaning behind the lyrics of LA Woman has been debated for years.
With all the hallmarks of the psychedelic rock tracks of the era, it is an excellent choice to spice up your California playlist.
12- Paradise City – Guns N Roses
While Paradise City doesn’t specify the location in question within its lyrics, the 1989 smash hit by rockers Guns N Roses is a love letter to their home city, Los Angeles.
It regales listeners with a story about how everything is a little better where they come from and how they’d love to go home.
Its fast, powerful riffs have seen it remain a staple in rock clubs around the world to this day, and it is an especially great choice for a road trip playlist, especially if you’re on your way to Los Angeles.
Other Popular Songs About California
13- Lodi – Creedence Clearwater Revival
While many songs focus on the hope and promise that California holds for aspiring artists, most will gloss over what becomes of those unlucky enough to make it.
Released in 1969 by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Lodi revolves around a man stuck in the eponymous town, as he can’t seem to catch a break, no matter how hard he tries.
Perhaps a little less glamourous than some of the other songs on this list, it paints an honest picture of both sides of California and is a fantastic song that has stood the test of time.
14- Ukiah – The Doobie Brothers
One of the lesser-known songs on the list, Ukiah appeared on The Doobie Brothers 1973 album “The Captain And Me”.
Unlike most songs about California that focus on the cities, Ukiah has a country anthem feel as it focuses on small-town life in the state.
From fishing and farming to lumberjacking, Ukiah is an ode to people who enjoy more rural settings and proves that California is a destination that has somewhere perfect for people from all walks of life.
15- Christmas In San Francisco – Russ Lorenson
While there is no end to songs that glorify the fabulous weather of California, Christmas In San Francisco by Russ Lorenson paints it as a destination to be visited all year round.
The catchy tune will bring a smile to most faces during the festive season, while the details about the wonderful sights in each of the neighbourhoods in San Francisco at this time of year may even make you decide to spend your Christmas somewhere a little different this year.
16- Back In LA – B.B. King
Legendary blues guitarist B.B. King’s Back In LA plays like an audio tour guide of the city.
This blues song about California paints a clear picture of the famous landmarks and the rugged surroundings, all to the unmistakable riffs of The King’s guitar.
If you want to listen to the blues while getting a feel for Los Angeles before you arrive, this is the song for you.
17- California Love – Tupac
Legendary rapper Tupac Shakur was never shy about professing his love for his home state and city, and perhaps nothing demonstrates that as well as this 1995 hit.
Going into great detail on how both the good and bad elements of the city make it truly special, it reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and managed to top the charts in three other countries.
California Love is simply a must-have inclusion on any California playlist for hip hop fans.
18- California Sunset – Neil Young
While country songs traditionally focus on the south, Neil Young’s California Sunset shows there is a place for county folk out west, and a song country fans can add to their playlist.
Focusing on the traditional country themes of warm weather and natural beauty raises the argument that maybe California’s long days and warm winters might make it the perfect place for southerners to move to.
19- I Love LA – Randy Newman
Some songs wear their heart on their sleeve, which is undoubtedly the case with Randy Newman’s 1983 song “I Love LA”.
Throughout its three-and-a-half-minute run time, it manages to trash other major American cities, shower LA with compliments, and proclaim love for the city more than a dozen times.
If you’re heading out to LA, this is certainly a song that will get you pumped up for your chosen destination.
20- Born In East LA – Cheech Marin
Born In East LA is a comedy song written and performed by musician and actor Cheech Marin from his movie of the same name.
Set to the tune of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The USA”, this tongue in cheek parody focuses on life as a Mexican-American living in East Los Angeles.
Despite being a comedy song, being released at the end of the Born In The USA tour in 1985 allowed it to garner a reasonable amount of success.
It rose into the top 50 on the Billboard Hot 100 and, despite a potentially troublesome subject matter, is a great way to enjoy the less serious side of the state.
For more California ideas, see:
- 40 Things To Do In Lake Tahoe
- 20 Things To Do In San Francisco At Night
- 21 Things To Do In Los Angeles At Night
- 23 Landmarks In Los Angeles
- 20 Landmarks In California
- 20 San Diego Landmarks
- 20 Songs About California
- Best Places To Visit in California
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- 20 Things To Do In Malibu
- Deserts In California Guide
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- 20 Things To Do In Monterey
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- 20 Ghost Towns In California
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- San Francisco Itinerary
- San Francisco Bike Tours
- San Francisco Go Cars
- Exploring Hearst Castle
- Yosemite National Park
- Lake Tahoe Snowshoe Adventure
- 20 Things To Do In Bakersfield
- 20 Things To Do In Redding California
- 20 Things To Do In Manhattan Beach
- 20 Things To Do In Fresno
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