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10 Songs About Northern California: From Big Sur to Ukiah

E. A. Wright particularly enjoys exploring the California coastline and photographing the trails of the Sierra Nevada—a west coast lover.

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

Songs About Northern California

Perhaps because California is a large, diverse and confused state, sometimes the people living there have trouble remembering the state is actually one, unified entity. Instead, they'll talk about "Northern California" and "Southern California," as if the two were separate states (like the Carolinas), or, possibly, separate planets.

As with any good "us" vs. "them" dynamic, there's factual muddling (plenty of what's called "northern" actually falls south of the state's midpoint) and overstatement. There's also competition: for power, for water, for world recognition, and for cultural relevance. Poor Northern California. When it comes to famous songs, Southern California beats the north country down hard. Very hard.

Places like San Jose and Oakland simply haven't proved as popular song fodder as, say, certain boulevards in Los Angeles. Somehow, "The San Francisco Bay Area" just doesn't seem to have the same poetic ring as "L.A." Yet despite the long odds, certain Northern California cities have made it. Really made it—they've had songs written about them.

Big Sur coastline

Big Sur coastline

1. Big Sur

  • Song: "Big Sur"
  • Band: The Thrills
  • The place: Big Sur is known for its dramatic coastline and picturesque winding roads. Apparently, though, this songwriter wasn't interested in composing an ode to a scenic place.
  • Lyric: "Just don't go back to Big Sur."

2. Sacramento

  • Song: "California"
  • Artist: Dan Zanes
  • The place: Sacramento was born with the California Gold Rush, and it is now the state's capital city.
  • Lyrics: "Then ho, boys, ho! to California go. There's plenty of gold in the world, I'm told, 
on the banks of the Sacramento shore."
Folsom State Prison

Folsom State Prison

3. Folsom

  • Song: "Folsom Prison Blues"
  • Artist: Johnny Cash
  • The place: Located near Sacramento in the state's Central Valley, Folsom is home to Folsom State Prison, one of California's oldest.
  • Lyrics: "I ain't seen the sunshine since I don't know when. I'm stuck in Folsom Prison, and time keeps draggin' on."

4. Ukiah

  • Song: "Ukiah"
  • Band: The Doobie Brothers
  • The place: Ukiah is a tiny city on the far northern coast of California, and it remains a place off the beaten path in Mendocino County.
  • Lyric: "Retreat and live off the land, all around Ukiah."
San Francisco

San Francisco

5. San Francisco

  • Song: "San Francisco Days"
  • Artist: Chris Isaak
  • The place: No longer one of the state's largest cities, San Francisco is still one of California's most famous and iconic places, thanks in part to the Golden Gate Bridge, crazy-steep streets, and an ever-present blanket of fog.
  • Lyrics: "Walking down to Market Street feeling my heart skip a beat to see someone who looks like you... San Francisco days, San Francisco nights."

6. Palo Alto

  • Song: "Palo Alto"
  • Band: Radiohead
  • The place: One of those interchangeable Silicon Valley cities where the price of living is high and where now-famous innovations were once cooked up in nondescript garages.
  • Lyrics: "In the city of the future, it is difficult to find a space. I'm too busy to see you; you're too busy to wait."

7. Mendocino

  • Song: "Mendocino"
  • Band: The Sir Douglas Quintet
  • The place: Hippies live on among the towering redwoods of Mendocino.
  • Lyrics: "Please stay here with me in Mendocino, Mendocino, Mendocino, where life's such a groove."

8. Monterey

  • Song: "Monterey"
  • Band: Eric Burdon & The Animals
  • The place: Once the setting for John Steinbeck novels, now the city is a tourist mecca on the moody waters of Monterey Bay.
  • Lyrics: "Even the cops grooved with us, do you believe me? Yeah! Down in Monterey."

9. Lodi

  • Song: "Lodi"
  • Band: Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • The place: Lodi is a mostly agricultural city near Stockton in California's Central Valley.
  • Lyrics: "Ran out of time and money, looks like they took my friends. Oh Lord, I'm stuck in Lodi again."

10. Sausalito

  • Song: "Sausalito"
  • Artist: Conor Oberst
  • The place: Head north over the Golden Gate Bridge arrive in Sausalito, a small city tucked between the bay and Mount Tamalpais.
  • Lyrics: "We should move to Sausalito. Living's easy on a houseboat, let the ocean rock us back and forth to sleep."

10 Northern California Cities With Songs About Them


ccw on May 11, 2015:

What about" san Francisco open your golden gates ,I'm coming home again,I'm coming home"

Mary O. on May 30, 2013:

Where is the best of them all on your list, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco"???

Da guy on November 01, 2010:

California Flight Project.

song 'California Flight". Might be the greatest sleeper ever of all the songs about Northern California and Southern California . Great, great song.

WildIris on May 13, 2010:

Cool list. I never knew there was song with the name of my home town as its title. Otis Reddings "Sitting on the Dock Bay" could be on your list too.