15 Classic Songs About California

California surf / E. A. Wright 2005
California surf / E. A. Wright 2005

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

Carole King

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

Lesley Gore

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..."

California wildflowers / E. A. Wright 2005
California wildflowers / E. A. Wright 2005

5) San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)

Scott McKenzie

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

Dionne Warwick

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..."

7) California

Georgia Prophets

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."

8) California

Joni Mitchell

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."

California coast / E. A. Wright 2005
California coast / E. A. Wright 2005

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

Led Zeppelin

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."

California Coast / E. A. Wright 2005
California Coast / E. A. Wright 2005

12) California

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."

California hills / E. A. Wright 2005
California hills / E. A. Wright 2005

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."

California Favorites

What's the best classic California song?

  • California Day, Starland Vocal Band
  • Back to California, Carole King
  • California Nights, Lesley Gore
  • California Soul, The Fifth Dimension
  • San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair), Scott McKenzie
  • Do You Know the Way to San Jose, Dionne Warwick
  • California, Georgia Prophets
  • California, Joni Mitchell
  • Hotel California, Eagles
  • Going to California, Led Zeppelin
  • California Dreamin, Mamas and the Papas
  • California, The Beach Boys
  • California Girls, The Beach Boys
  • The Little Old Lady From Pasadena, Jan and Dean
  • Talk to Me of Mendocino, Kate and Anna McGarrigle
See results without voting

Comments 15 comments

Aqua profile image

Aqua 7 years ago from California

Great idea for a hub! I wanted to vote for both California Dreamin AND San Francisco - it was a tough choice :-)

Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom 7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

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

awsydney profile image

awsydney 7 years ago from Sydney, Australia

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!

BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

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!

tony0724 profile image

tony0724 7 years ago from san diego calif

Nice job , all great songs by great artist .13,11,10 and number 5 are on my IPOD

Erick Smart 7 years ago

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.

dohn121 profile image

dohn121 7 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

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!

E. A. Wright profile image

E. A. Wright 7 years ago from New York City Author

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!)

Shadowblack profile image

Shadowblack 5 years ago from England

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

psychedelic band."

Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 5 years ago from The Beautiful South

Gee. great hub but why not a sample?

brook0208 profile image

brook0208 4 years ago

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 !

gsurvivor 3 years ago

I believe Lenny Kravitz also has a "California" track. Great hub, a vote up from here! :)

Hendrika profile image

Hendrika 2 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

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.

ajwrites57 profile image

ajwrites57 2 years ago from Pennsylvania

Fun Hub E. A. Wright! :o)

Sara Psychedelic profile image

Sara Psychedelic 2 years ago from Cincinnati, OH

-"The Only Place" Best Coast

-"California" Phantom Planet

Otherwise, superb xD

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