The best songs about California reflect the appeal of this popular state, from the gorgeous weather to the melting pot of creativity found in places like Los Angeles.
It’s a place that has inspired many singer-songwriters and bands over the years to write great music, including some of the most iconic tracks of all time.
In this playlist, we’ll break down the best California songs you can listen to that capture the vibe and atmosphere this great state has become renowned for.
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The 23 Best Songs About California of All Time
There are many popular songs about California that explore the state in all its glory, and they can be found in all kinds of music genres.
We’ve ensured this list reflects this diverse approach to California and the many different perspectives that singers and bands have brought to the topic.
Without further ado, let’s begin our playlist of the 23 best songs about California of all time:
23. “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)”- Scott McKenzie
Scott McKenzie epitomized the hippie music scene with his song “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair).”
A huge hit in the late 1960s, this song explores the counterculture movement of the time as thousands of hippies moved to California, especially San Francisco.
“San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)” became something of an anthem for the movement, capturing the spirit of the times.
22. “Los Angeles” – X
One of the most vibrant and iconic cities in California is Los Angeles, the home of the Hollywood movie industry, along with many famous singers.
“Los Angeles” by X tackles the subject of racism, with lyrics about a racist person who wants to get out of the city and move somewhere else.
It’s a powerful song in which the lead vocalist expresses their personal experiences with a racist person. It was released alongside an impressive music video.
21. “California Girls” – The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys released “California Girls” as a celebration of the women living in the state, and it is a catchy tune that proved to be a big hit.
In this song, the lyrics discuss how women all over America are beautiful, but the best of them all are found in California.
The Beach Boys wrote many popular songs, including one of the great songs about the sea, “Sail on Sailor,” another tribute to the Golden State.
20. “L.A. Woman” – The Doors
L.A.-based rock band The Doors captured the hectic lifestyle many people who live in the city experience and how easy it can be to go crazy.
The title track from The Doors’ final album, “L.A. Woman” also explores the various women who inhabit the city.
It’s a track that exemplifies the psychedelic influences that infused the music by The Doors, and one of the great California songs you can listen to.
19. “California Soul” – Marlena Shaw
“California Soul” by Marlena Shaw is the track that catapulted this soulful singer into the spotlight and gained international acclaim.
It’s a breezy, catchy tune with beautiful string arrangements and Shaw’s iconic lush singing style running through the music.
“California Soul” is actually a cover version of an older song released by The Fifth Dimension, a Motown group from America.
18. “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” – Tony Bennett
Legendary singer Tony Bennett is among the most successful artists of all time, with an impressive 19 Grammy Awards to his name and many more nominations.
His hit song “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” is among his best-known compositions and serves as an ode to his love for the city.
The song was originally written in 1953, with Tony Bennett later releasing his version in 1962 on the album of the same name.
17. “Going To California” – Led Zeppelin
There are no prizes for guessing the destination of Led Zeppelin in this great song about California, “Going to California.”
Released in 1971, it’s all about a man heading to California after discovering how beautiful the women who live there are.
It’s another example of the iconic songs released by Led Zeppelin, which includes some of the best songs of all time, such as “Whole Lotta Love,” ranked among the greatest rock songs ever recorded.
16. “California Sun” – The Ramones
Initially recorded by rhythm and blues singer Joe Jones, “California Sun” was later covered by The Ramones, which is our pick for the best version.
They removed the saxophone from the original and replaced it with impressive guitars to deliver a punk anthem.
Released in 1977, “California Sun” was released as part of the album Leave Home and was included in the film Jackass: The Movie.
15. “California” – Lana Del Rey
The aptly-titled song “California” by Lana Del Rey is a fine example of her vocal prowess, as well as a great tribute to the state.
It’s a dreamy and reflective song that shows real love for California and works as a great theme song for anyone visiting the area.
Lana Del Rey released “California” in 2019 on her album Norman Fucking Rockwell!, which references the iconic American painter.
14. “California Sunset” – Neil Young
Moving onto one of the best songs about California to have emerged from the country/folk music scene with “California Sunset” by Neil Young.
This mid-1980s piece was among the best-received country songs of the era and explores the promise and natural beauty that California offers.
No stranger to writing moving songs about nature, Neil Young’s “California Sunset” was released as part of his 1985 album Old Ways.
13. “Hollywood” – Daniel Powter
For a more upbeat and poppy song exploring life in California, our recommendation is “Hollywood” by Daniel Powter.
“I lost my memory in Hollywood I’ve had a million visions, bad and good,” the lyrics share. “There’s something in the air in Hollywood I tried to leave it, but I never could.”
Canadian singer-songwriter Daniel Powter released “Hollywood” on his self-titled second studio album in 2005.
12. “California” – Phantom Planet
Los Angeles-based rock band Phantom Planet released its unique song “California” in 2002, a road trip anthem for the ages.
The lyrics discuss a journey through the state, driving down Route 101, which is more commonly known as the Pacific Coast Highway.
“California” will be familiar to anyone who has watched the television series Orange County, having been used as the theme song for the series.
11. “California Sun” – The Rivieras
Heading back once again to the 1960s for one of the best songs about California from the era, “California Sun” by the Rivieras.
As with the Beach Boys, “California Sun” is one of the better pop songs of the time, as well as a worthy celebration of the gorgeous weather residents are accustomed to.
A Top 5 hit in 1964, this excellent song was initially released as a B-side but proved to be so popular it earned a re-release as a lead track.
10. “It Never Rains In Southern California” – Albert Hammond
“It Never Rains in Southern California” might be stretching the truth a little, but there’s no denying the state’s reputation for stunning, sunny weather.
Albert Hammond’s lyrics are actually less about the weather than the title would suggest, with the song exploring his experiences moving to Los Angeles from the United Kingdom.
One of the biggest hits for Albert Hammond, “It Never Rains in Southern California,” is second only to “Freeride” in terms of his chart successes.
9. “Los Ageless” – St. Vincent
St. Vincent has some fun with her contribution to the great songs about California, with “Los Ageless” being a nice play on words.
In “Los Ageless,” she sings about the superficial and surface-level lifestyle of many people who live in Los Angeles and their obsession with eternal youth.
It’s another great song with beautiful vocals and instrumentation from St. Vincent, whose real name is Annie Clark.
8. “California Love” – 2PAC
Our first hip-hop entry on this complete playlist exploring the best songs about California is “California Love” by 2PAC.
It’s one of 2PAC’s most iconic songs, exploring the rapper’s deep love and respect for Cali, from San Diego to Santa Monica.
2PAC explored many topics during his career, from the best songs about change to great music about his experiences with the Black Panther political movement.
7. “California Stars” – Wilco
Released in 1998 on the album Mermaid Avenue, “California Stars” by Wilco explores the kind of dreams people experience when sleeping out in the open.
It’s a wonderful folk song about California nights and the possibilities and opportunities people have when living on the West Coast.
Wilco collaborated with Billy Bragg on “California Stars,” although the lyrics are much older, dating back to the 1930s.
6. “Queen Of California” – John Mayer
Another catchy folk song with a country music vibe that explores life in California is “Queen of California” by John Mayer.
In it, Mayer sings about how he’s become tired of the glamor associated with being a celebrity in California and his desire to escape and focus on writing music.
While “Queen of California” is one of his lesser-known songs, it’s a great tune that deserves to be included on any self-respecting California playlist.
5. “California Gurls” – Katy Perry
Katy Perry is among the most successful pop singers working today, with multiple No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 charts to date.
In this song, Katy Perry sings about how awesome the girls from California are and how once you’ve met one, you won’t forget her in a hurry.
“California Gurls” is one of the great pop songs about California and was written by Perry as a response to the song about New York, “Empire State of Mind.”
4. “Californication” – Red Hot Chili Peppers
California-based rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers has written several songs about the Golden State, with “Californication” perhaps their best known.
It’s a satirical swipe at the lifestyle of people in places like Beverly Hills and the slow, inexorable decline of society trying to live up to the Hollywood image.
“Californication” pairs well with the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ excellent song about guilt, “I Could Have Lied,” which explores similar cynical themes.
3. “Malibu” – Miley Cyrus
One of the most iconic locations in California is Malibu Beach, which forms the basis for the Miley Cyrus pop song “Malibu.”
Cyrus released “Malibu” while striving to shake her more family-friendly persona from the Disney era with a more adult-themed approach to music.
Miley Cyrus released “Malibu” on her album Younger Now, exploring new acoustic ballad themes and casting aside her teeny-bop image.
2. “California Dreamin’” – The Mamas & The Papas
No playlist exploring California songs would be complete without “California Dreamin'” by The Mamas & The Papas, one of the more entertaining pop songs ever recorded.
Well known for its iconic flute solo, “California Dreamin'” is an incredibly memorable song that is widely played around the world to this day.
This great song was released in 1965 and proved to be an instant hit and is frequently ranked high among lists of the best rock songs of all time.
1. “Hotel California” – The Eagles
“Hotel California” by the Eagles is another iconic song that is frequently listed among the best karaoke songs ever recorded.
This song is open to interpretation, covering everything from the problems associated with substance abuse to avoiding the trapping of a materialistic lifestyle.
Regardless of the cryptic lyrics, “Hotel California” is another enduring classic from the Eagles, as well as one of the best songs about California of all time.
We hope you’ve enjoyed these excellent songs about California you can include on your next playlist, whether you’re a fan of classic rock or modern hip-hop.
The Golden State has been the go-to destination for musicians and other creative people for decades, so it’s not surprising it’s been featured in many songs over the years.
With plenty of other famous songs that mention California, the scope for expanding this playlist with your personal favorites is endless.
What song best captures the essence of California, in your opinion? Leave a comment below.
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