Whether you’re heading out on Route 66 or another fabulous California road trip, you will need some tunes to bob to on the drive. I have a giant list of road trip songs, but if you want something a bit more specific to California for when you hit the Cali portion of Route 66, this list is only songs about California so you can stay in a California state of mind.
At the bottom is a free California Spotify playlist that you can use on your trip!
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The 25 Best Songs about California
Here are the best songs about California. How many have you heard?
Dani California (The Red Hot Chili Peppers)
It won’t shock you that the Red Hot Chili Peppers appear on this list more than once. They did release the album Californication after all! However, “Dani California” actually appeared their later album Stadium Arcadium.
Dani, the titular heroine, is a composite of multiple women in Anthony Kiedis’s life. She appears in multiple RHCP songs, though you might not realize the connection if you aren’t a true fanatic.
When You Get to California (Hoodoo Gurus)
‘When You Get to California’ was released as a music video by the Hoodoo Gurus as part of their album Mach Schau. Starting with a woman driving past cornfields and shots of people and places along the way, interspersed with the band performing, this is high energy driving music that lifts your spirits and makes you want to get to California faster!! -Christina from Travel2next.com
California Sun (The Ramones)
‘California Sun’ was first recorded by Joe Jones an R&B singer in 1961. Covered by artists from The Offspring to Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon this rocking song quickly became an ode to all those headed to the sunny shores of California.
The Ramones made it theirs in 1977 removing the original sax and piano accompaniment adding a driving guitar and bass beat making it a punk anthem.
It can be found on their eponymous Leave Home Album and has been used in several feature films including Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, Jackass: The Movie, and in the famous scene in The Doors film when Jim Morrison arrives in Venice Beach. -Faith, Xyuandbeyond.com
Route 66 (Chuck Berry)
One of the best songs about California is “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66”. It was written in 1946 by Bobby Troup and first performed by Nat King Cole. Many different artists have covered the song over the years including Bing Crosby, Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones, and Depeche Mode.
John Mayer’s version was used in the Disney Pixar ‘Cars’ movie. Route 66 starts in Chicago Illinois and travels all the way to LA California. This song really gives you a great sense of just how epic the 2448 mile road trip is, with California as the ‘finish line’! -Kylie from Between England and Iowa
California (Phantom Planet)
Even those who haven’t watched ‘The O.C.’ are surely familiar with its theme song – ‘California’ by Phantom Planet. Thanks to the show, the song, which is about driving on Route 101 and going to see a concert, got major attention in the US and Europe. Later on, it was covered by several artists like Mates of State and the virtual band Alvin & the Chipmunks (featured in their 2007 video game).
Without a doubt one of the best songs about California, this is one of those tracks that can make anyone want to get in their car and go on a road trip, and it certainly brings back a sense of nostalgia. -By Or from My Path in the World
California Love (2Pac)
A hip hop classic that is synonymous with summer on the west coast, California Love was Tupac Shakur’s comeback song after his release from prison in 1995 and quickly became his most successful single ever. It sat on top of the Billboard Top 100 for 2 weeks.
The song was written by 2Pac and produced by Dr. Dre, with a beat that is instantly recognizable to any hip hop fan decades later.
California Love is widely regarded as one of 2Pac’s best works, and earned him 2 posthumous Grammy nominations, after his death the following year. -Dani from Diapers in Paradise
San Francisco (Scott McKenzie)
Nothing says Hippie music more than the song ‘San Francisco’ by Scott McKenzie (written by John Phillips). The song was an instant hit and became one of the most sold singles in the 60s.
It was often coined “the unofficial anthem of the counterculture movement”. And this fits the song perfectly. It captured the spirit of the time and inspired thousands of hippies to move to San Francisco in the late 60s to fight for equality, peace, and freedom from societal norms. -Maria Haase from SanDiegoExplorer.com
Queen of California (John Mayer)
Released way back in 2012, I’d say John Mayer’s ‘Queen of California’ is one of his most underrated songs to date. Dulcet tones meet a catchy, folk-pop/country melody to create an upbeat, positive vibe that you can’t help tapping your foot to!
Fed up with the glitz and glam of the celebrity status to which he’d grown accustomed in California, the lyrics (apparently) describe his move back to a simpler life based around quality music. Whether that’s true or not I’ll never know. One thing’s for sure, though, he wrote an absolute tune that rarely gets the recognition it deserves! -Danny Newman, What’s Danny Doing?
Big Sur (The Thrills)
If you’re looking for a feel-good summer song with melodic guitar riffs, then take a listen to ‘Big Sur’ by The Thrills.
Big Sur was released in 2003 and has that quintessential coming of age feel to it. The song is carefree and lighthearted.
Ironically, despite the song title, the band was actually from Ireland. The song had moderate success in the charts; the band was a bit of a one-album-wonder. However, Big Sur still seems to be a firm favorite on any summer bbq party album. -Becki from Meet Me In Departures
La La Land (Bryce Vine)
A bit newer on the scene, Bryce Vine combines hip hop and R&B for a unique sound that emulates California’s cool demeanor and laid-back vibes coupled with heavy bass and honest lyrics. One of his biggest hits last year, “La La Land,” is about the classic Southern California dream – meeting someone at a chill house party and wasting time cruising through California.
In fact, most of Bryce Vine’s songs are great for traveling through California, most of them focused on life in Los Angeles and the Inland Empire. -Kay from The Awkward Traveller
California Girls (The Beach Boys)
‘California Girls’ by The Beach Boys is one of the band’s greatest hits celebrating California women and how no one else compares! Written by band members and cousins, Brian Wilson and Mike Love, this catchy single was released in the summer of 1965.
The upbeat song is a perfect addition to your BBQ and party playlist for those warm summer nights in California! Rolling Stone magazine classified California Girls #72 of “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” David Lee Roth famously covered the song in 1985 topping #3 on The Billboard 100. -Erin McLaughlin from The Gal On The Go.
It’s a Longer Road to California than I Thought (The Wind and the Wave)
It’s a Longer Road to California than I Thought depicts a relationship on its last legs. The narrator drives in silence with her partner, alternating between reminiscing on the past, wondering where things went wrong, and pondering where they might be going.
Despite the heartbreak theme, the artist, The Wind and the Wave have written the song with an upbeat tempo and plenty of California imagery, such that the listener feels they’re in the car too. This is the most popular song from their album From the Wreckage. It’s a Longer Road to California than I Thought is an excellent song to play while driving alone or staring out the window. -Mikaela from Voyageur Tripper
California Waiting (Kings of Leon)
The fourth single taken from the Youth and Young Manhood album by the Kings of Leon, California Waiting describes the negative aspects of fame. This is amplified when in a relationship and the reference to California is the very real possibility of the end of a relationship resulting from success in the industry.
Released in 2004, this song is actually an alternate version of the song that appears on their debut the EP Holy Roller Novocaine which was recorded in a rush to finish the record. However, the band wasn’t completely happy with the outcome and recorded this version instead. -Rai from A Rai of Light
California Dreamin’ (The Mamas & the Papas)
This song was written by John and Michelle Phillips, both members of the famous American folk-rock group The Mamas & the Papas. And while the best-known version is the one recorded by that group, the original was actually sung by a lesser-known singer-songwriter named Barry McGuire.
The Mamas & the Papas sang backup on that original version, and they later went on to record their own version in 1965. The narrator of the song is singing from New York City in the dead of winter, where he is pining for the warm weather of Los Angeles. -Wendy Werneth from The Nomadic Vegan
L.A. Woman (The Doors)
Although never released as a single, “L.A. Woman”, the title song of the 6th album released by The Doors, still resonates with the southern California vibe almost 50 years later.
A meld of rock and blues, lead singer and songwriter Jim Morrison belts out the poetic contradictions of Los Angeles, calling it both the city of lights and the city of night. There has always been speculation over the deeper meaning of the song, but it is filled with vibrant guitar riffs and catchy metaphoric phrases- one can’t help but sing along. Although it was covered in 1990 by Billy Idol, it will always belong to The Doors. -Roxanna Keyes, Gypsy With a Day Job
Surfin’ U.S.A. (The Beach Boys)
Perhaps no song captures the California vibe like “Surfin’ U.S.A.” by The Beach Boys. Released in 1963, this song is a classic that everyone will recognize. “Surfin U.S.A” is essentially a collection of some of the most popular surfing spots in California.
From the beaches of San Diego in the south to Santa Cruz in the north, you’ll be transported to a California surf spot every time you hear this song. And after all, isn’t surfing, sunshine, and the ocean what California’s all about? -Ale from Sea Salt & Fog
Hotel California Song (The Eagles)
One of the favorite songs that would give nostalgia to many is Hotel California. This is one of the most iconic songs by The Eagles band from the album by the same name released back in 1977.
The song won many awards and accolades including the Grammy Award for Record of the year 1978. The song remained a chartbuster across the globe on many charts and rock music lists. It is even listed in the Greatest songs of all times by Rolling Stone magazine.
The songwriters were the members Don Felder, Don Henley, and Glenn Frey. The lyrics were conceptualized during a drive to L.A. at night. The drive from SFO to LA anyhow is one of the Best road trips in the USA that definitely inspires many. -Neha Kulshrestha of Travelmelodies.
Going to California (Led Zeppelin)
‘Going to California’ is a romantic travel song which was written and performed by the rock band Led Zeppelin in 1971. It’s a very old song but the meaningful lyrics will touch your heart if you are still looking for your dream girl. Assume your girl is somewhere in California and you are going to find her.
Play the song on your California road trip, you can relate yourself with the song. You will be amazed to know that this acoustic ballad was made with only two guitars and a mandolin. If you are going to visit California, be sure to keep this song in your playlist. This song will surely make your road trip more exciting, beautiful, and memorable. -Trijit Mallick from BudgetTravelBuff
Californication (Red Hot Chilly Peppers)
Californication appeared in 1999, giving the same name to the seventh album of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. It is one of the band’s most popular songs and it’s been performed in almost all live shows of the last 20 years.
The name refers to the transformation of society into a Hollywood-like culture, where the movie industry creates a reality based on looks and sex, celebrity, and money.
Carnage Visors, an instrumental song by The Cure influenced the guitar and bass play in Californication. -Anda from Travel for a while
California Gurls (Katy Perry)
Recorded in 2009, California Gurls by Katy Perry featuring Snoop Dogg was the West Coast’s response to Empire State of Mind, the anthem about New York City by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys.
California Gurls was written by Katy Perry and Snoop Dogg (California natives) among others, and promotes a loud and proud California vibe with fun, sunny imagery of beaches and driving along the Pacific Coast Highway. This lively pop song is a staple for any California road trip and will have you dancing in no time! -from Alanna Koritzke at Periodic Adventures
California Soul (Marlena Shaw)
California Soul catapulted Marlena Shaw into the musical stratosphere, securing her status as a soul icon. Shaw’s soulful tones evoke a dazy dreaminess that perfectly captures a snapshot of life by the ocean in 60s California. There’s something about this song that makes it feel like sunshine on your face. That’s the magic of California Soul.
Few people know that this funk-soul tune is a cover of an earlier release by Motown group ‘The 5th Dimension’. Aside from this one, there are multiple covers of California Soul worth listening to (try the version by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell). More recently, California Soul has been sampled in loads of Hip-Hop, Rap, and R&B songs which just shows its timelessness. -Amber from Ambers Destinology
Christmas in San Franciso (Vic Damone)
“Christmas in San Francisco” is one of the best Christmas and romantic songs at the same time. It was written by Tony Romano and released in 1988. The first and most famous performer of the song was Vic Damone.
The song depicts the beauty of the Christmas season in San Francisco and it puts you into a holiday mood right from the first notes. Though San Francisco might not come to mind to most people as a prime Christmas destination there are so many wonderful events happening in town this time of year that you should not miss. -Tatiana Sorokina, Family Road Trip Guru
California (Joni Mitchell)
The song “California” by Joni Mitchell is one of my favorite songs about my home state.
She starts the song in Paris, “reading the news and it sure looks bad,” thinking about all the places she still has in the world to see. But then in the next few lines, she sings “still a lot of lands to see, but I wouldn’t stay here, It’s too old and cold and settled in its ways here.”
As a Californian with intense wanderlust that has brought me all over the world, the way she vocalizes “oh, but California, California I’m coming home” brings a little chill down my spine — it’s a sentiment I can relate too all to well.
Throughout the song, she keeps traveling to the Greek Islands and Spain, and while she’s having a great time traveling, she keeps thinking back to California, hoping it’ll take her back, “take her as I am” in her words. The song’s relationship with both a love for travel and intense homesickness for California is a dynamic I feel in my bones! – By Allison of California Crossroads
25 More California Songs for Your California Playlist
Twenty-five songs simply aren’t enough to cover all the great California songs, so here are another twenty-five.
- It Never in Southern California (Albert Hammond)
- Beverly Hills (Weezer)
- California One / Youth and Beauty Brigade (The Decemberists)
- San Diego (Atlas)
- Los Angeles (HAIM)
- California Stars (Billy Bragg, Wilco)
- I Love L.A. (Randy Newman)
- Malibu (Hole)
- Santa Monica (Everclear)
- Going Back to Cali (LL Cool J)
- Ventura Highway (America)
- Do You Know the Way to San Jose (Dion Warwick)
- All I Wanna Do (Sheryl Crow)
- I Left My Wallet in El Segundo (A Tribe Called Quest)
- Illl. Telegraph Ave. [“Oakland” by Lloyd”] (Childish Gambino)
- Los Angeles, I’m Yours (The Decemberists)
- Hollywood Freaks (Beck)
- Back in L.A. (B.B. King)
- Straight Outta Compton (N.W.A.)
- California Paradise (The Runaways)
- San Fernando Valley (Nancy Sinatra)
- Pretty Girl from San Diego (The Avett Brothers)
- [More Bounce in] California (Soulkid #1)
- Heads Carolina, Tails California (Jo Dee Messina)
- Ode to L.A. (The Raveonettes)
- Why You’d Want to Live Here (Death Cab for Cutie)
- This Town (The Go-Go’s)
Save this Free California Playlist
To save this playlist, open in Spotify and hit the “follow” button. Then you’ll be able to stream it on your very own California road trip!
Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!
Before you leave for your trip make sure you have a valid Travel Insurance Policy because accidents happen on the road. I have used World Nomads when I travel since 2016, and I happily recommend them.
Getting coverage is important whenever you’re more than a hundred miles from home in case of an accident, sickness, theft, etc.
Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.
Pin these California Songs for Your California Playlist
Stephanie is a born-and-bred Oklahoma mom and travel expert who has been to over fifty countries. After living in Eastern Europe for four years, she has moved with her family back to Oklahoma to write about her favorite places growing up: Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, & Route 66!