E. A. Wright lives in the New York City area, but the West Coast is home. Her passions include words, flowers, hiking, and music.
California Songs, California Promises
It may be impossible to capture California's essence in a single piece of music, but the 15 songs on this list are classic attempts at that task.
These 15 California songs—all from the 1960s and 1970s—still manage to capture pieces of the Golden State. The songs cover California: its days and nights, its beaches and cities, its newcomers and fads, its drivers and dreamers.
Listen, and you'll likely yearn for sunshine. Listen, and you may well hear an echo of the California soul.
1) California Day
Starland Vocal Band
The California promise: To ditch stress "big time," break out the windchimes.
What's worth singing about in the Golden State: The weather.
Lyrics: "California day, California weather. Take the clouds away, I'll feel a whole lot better. California day. There's nothing like the sunshine to get me out of doors..."
2) Back to California
The California promise: No offense Georgia, but West Coast longing is powerful stuff.
What's worth singing about in the Golden State: It preserves sanity.
Lyrics: "I've got to make it home somehow before I lose my mind. So won't you carry me back to California? I've been on the road too long..."
3) California Nights
The California promise: Dive into the ocean and fall in love watching the stars.
What's worth singing about in the Golden State: The Pacific.
Lyrics: "Whoa, California nights, when I'm walking with you, hand in hand by the shore. Yes, I love California nights, at the beach where we swim with the tide rolling in..."
4) California Soul
The Fifth Dimension
The California promise: Pat your feet. Don't worry about "how the surf gave birth," just try some "brand new thinking."
What's worth singing about in the Golden State: The groove.
Lyrics: "It's all in the the air, you hear it everywhere, no matter what you do, it's going to get a hold on you: California soul, California soul. They say the sun comes up every morning, and if you listen carefully, the winds that ride on the high time whistle in melody..."
5) San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)
The California promise: Who needs a hat? Grab some flowers and get in motion.
What's worth singing about in the Golden State: The love.
Lyrics: "For those who come to San Francisco, summertime will be a love-in there, in the streets of San Francisco, gentle people with flowers in their hair..."
6) Do You Know the Way to San Jose
The California promise: LA is a great big freeway ... (As is San Jose, now.)
What's worth singing about in the Golden State: Hometown friends.
Lyrics: "Fame and fortune is a magnet, it can pull you far away from home. With a dream a heart you're never alone. Dreams turn into dust and blow away, and there you are..."
The California promise: Getting back to California will just mean everything to you.
What's worth singing about in the Golden State: Everything. Got it?
Lyrics: "California is calling me. California is where I should be."
The California promise: When Spain and Greece can't compare.
What's worth singing about in the Golden State: It's home.
Lyrics: "Still a lot of lands to see, but I wouldn't want to stay here, it's too old and cold and settled in its ways. Oh, but California, California I'm coming home."
9) Hotel California
The California promise: The dream's more complicated than it seems at first glance.
What's worth singing about in the Golden State: The excess.
Lyrics: "I heard the mission bell and I was thinking to myself, this could be heaven or this could be hell."
10) Going to California
The California promise: Come to search, come to start over.
What's worth singing about in the Golden State: Dreams.
Lyrics: "Made up my mind to make a new start, going to California with an aching in my heart. Someone told me there's a girl out there with love in her eyes and flowers in her hair."
11) California Dreamin
The Mamas and the Papas
The California promise: Safety and warmth.
What's worth singing about in the Golden State: Los Angeles.
Lyrics: "I'd be safe and warm if I was in LA, California dreamin on such a winter's day."
The Beach Boys
The promise: Morro Bay to Salinas to Big Sur ... There's more to explore than will fit in a song. And it's all bright and clean.
What's worth singing about in the Golden State: Roadtrips. (And John Steinbeck, apparently.)
Lyrics: "Have you ever walked down through the sycamores where the farmhouse used to be? There the monarch's autumn journey ends on windswept cypress trees."
13) California Girls
The Beach Boys
The California promise: Tans and bikinis.
What's worth singing about in the Golden State: The girls.
Lyrics: "I been all around this great big world and I seen all kind of girls, but I couldn't wait to get back in the states, back to the cutest girls in the word. I wish they all could be California girls..."
14) The Little Old Lady From Pasadena
Jan and Dean
The California Promise: You must learn to drive. Even the grannies will cut you off.
What's worth singing about in the Golden State: Car culture.
Lyrics: "Parked in a old rickety old garage is a brand-new, shiny red super stock Dodge. And everybody's saying that there's nobody meaner than the little old lady from Pasadena."
15) Talk to Me of Mendocino
Kate and Anna McGarrigle
The California Promise: It's better than New York, and it's better than South Bend.
What's worth singing about in the Golden State: Redwoods
Lyrics: "Let the sun set on the ocean, I will watch it from the shore. Let the sun rise over the redwoods, I'll rise with it till I rise no more."
Where to Find Other Songs About California
- 100 Songs About California
The ultimate California playlist.
- 10 Songs About Northern California
Few cities in Northern California get sung about the way Los Angeles does. Here's celebrating 10 Northern cities that have made their way into song.
- California Calling: 10 Songs About Moving to California
Thinking of leaving home for California? These 10 songs will get you packed up and moving to the Golden State. California's calling.
rubberpaul on September 01, 2017:
i remember a song about california when i was a child, i never found it since... i only remember a few lyrics..."kalalabooliga (or something) you been on my mind most all the time, i'll write you if i can, but the california freeway is driving me out of my mind.." Anyone enlighten me?
Sara Psychedelic from Cincinnati, OH on July 30, 2014:
-"The Only Place" Best Coast
-"California" Phantom Planet
Otherwise, superb xD
AJ Long from Pennsylvania on June 27, 2014:
Fun Hub E. A. Wright! :o)
Hendrika from Pretoria, South Africa on February 01, 2014:
Interesting, I mostly remember the Mamas and Papas and the beach boys. These songs made California sound like heaven on earth for us here in South Africa.
gsurvivor on August 18, 2013:
I believe Lenny Kravitz also has a "California" track. Great hub, a vote up from here! :)
brook0208 on January 17, 2012:
Great hub ! Im really into Hotel California and the guitar part
By the way im studying on a topic about American people's feelings to california and the songs about it so your hubs on this really helped a lot ! thanks !
Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on July 24, 2011:
Gee. great hub but why not a sample?
Shadowblack from England on February 28, 2011:
Just as an aside, The Mothers of Invention's "Flower Punk" could have been included:
"Hey Punk, where you goin' with that
flower in your hand?
Well, I'm goin' up to Frisco to join a
E. A. Wright (author) from New York City on September 11, 2009:
The Red Hot Chili Peppers certainly can't be ignored when it comes to California music, and I'm sure the group's songs will make many "Classic California" lists in years to come.
For now, you'll find the Red Hot Chili Peppers earned a place among my picks for the best songs about California's un-sunny side. Check out California Dystopia. (Though, dohn121, looks like you already have. Thanks!)
dohn121 from Hudson Valley, New York on September 07, 2009:
Love it, E.A. Wright. I chose "San Francisco," just because it just fits like a glove. Being a huge Red Hot Chili Peppers fan, I would've chose, "Under The Bridge," but that song is a bit more recent! Great job on writing this! Us New Yorkers don't have such a nice spread of music as does Cali. Oh well. Thank you for this!
Erick Smart on September 04, 2009:
Ah, California! Great list of songs, many of them get stuck in my head when I drive there every year to run in the Big Sur Marathon.
tony0724 from san diego calif on September 04, 2009:
Nice job , all great songs by great artist .13,11,10 and number 5 are on my IPOD
BkCreative from Brooklyn, New York City on September 03, 2009:
The San Francisco song got my vote and was my favorite. I still know the words today - and for no particular reason may start singing it! It had so much meaning.
Thanks for this fun hub!
awsydney from Sydney, Australia on September 03, 2009:
EA, I love the way you take photos! They are absolutely fantastic. This hub is so good because you have given a run down of each song. It gives me an idea for a hub which I wrote about Gershwin and put up a selection of songs. I should give a brief for each as well. Hope you can visit the hub and give me some advice. Well done. My fav is Hotel California and Do You Know The Way To San Jose. I also like Carole King's music. It reminds me of my childhood in the 70s. Instead of the Beatles, I kinda grew up listening to the Carpenters and their songs still bring a tear to my eye whenever I listen to them. Thanks so much for sharing!
Susan Reid from Where Left is Right, CA on September 03, 2009:
Very well done. I love the way you set up this hub -- made your song selections more powerful.
Gotta vote for "I left my heart in San Francisco" by Tony Bennet as my personal fave.
And hey -- for a New Yorker, you sure do know your Golden State tunes! MM
Aqua on September 02, 2009:
Great idea for a hub! I wanted to vote for both California Dreamin AND San Francisco - it was a tough choice :-)