101 of the Best Songs About California

Katy Perry and Snoop Dogg performed “California Gurls” at the 2010 MTV Movie Awards in Los Angeles.Credit…Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

With its dreamy landscapes and near year-round sunshine, California is the kind of place you could write songs about — and so many people have.

Today we’re unveiling our (highly unscientific) list of the 101 best songs about the Golden State. This is a playlist that my colleague Jill Cowan created in 2019 and that I’ve recently begun adding to based on your suggestions.

The music showcased in the current iteration stretches across decades, genres and geographies. On the list are the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” from 1966, LL Cool J’s “Goin Back to Cali” and Haim’s 2020 bop “Los Angeles.”

As with any playlist, the California Soundtrack is a work in progress that we’ll continue editing and building. You can email your recommendations to me at [email protected].

Below I’m sharing some of the tracks that made the latest cut as well as your arguments for inclusion. I’ll post more of your submissions in the newsletter in the coming weeks.

You can peruse the full list of 101 California songs here or listen here.

But before we proceed, my pick: Rilo Kiley’s “Let Me Back In,” from 2013. It’s an ode to Los Angeles that centers what I’ve always loved about this city — that almost anyone can feel at home here.

Happy listening.

“Lights” by Journey (1978)

“Journey is a Bay Area staple. ‘Lights’ is a love song to the city of San Francisco. The Giants will play ‘Lights’ in between the seventh and eighth innings (if the Giants are winning) and the whole ballpark sings and sways to the music. It is wonderful!” — Robin Blair, Palo Alto

“California Gurls” by Katy Perry and Snoop Dogg (2010)

“I’m 64 years young, born and raised in Southern California, and if there’s another song that so aptly describes life during my younger years, I don’t know what it is. I’ve retired to Arizona but Southern California will always be home!!” — Cheryl Brown, Surprise, Ariz.

“Where the Streets Have No Name” by U2 (1987)

“This is a song that anyone who has been out to the Mojave and has experienced the heaviness of the universe and fragility of their mortality would agree is about the spiritual growth that occurs there. Not to mention the album is called ‘Joshua Tree.’” — Ana Macías-Serpa, Arundel, Maine

“Pacheco / The Red Tailed Hawk” by Kate Wolf (1983)

“When we are driving home, heading north on Route 5 on our way to Santa Cruz, the song describes our ride, and the climb up over Pacheco Pass, perfectly. We always play it as we head up the pass.” — Joyce Smith, Santa Cruz

Florence and the Machine performing at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in 2015.Credit…Kendrick Brinson for The New York Times

“How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” by Florence and the Machine (2015)

“When I saw her in concert, she said she was inspired to write that song as she was coming in to land at LAX.

On a personal note, my girlfriend and I were listening to this album on a trip along Highway 1 in Marin County in 2015 when we came around a tight turn to a breathtaking view of the ocean just as that song started to play. It was an ethereal, perfect moment and I would urge anyone on a Highway 1 adventure to add it to their playlist.” — Holly Ober, Riverside

“Ventura Highway” by America (1972)

“Whenever driving from my place in San Francisco to visit my daughter in Southern California, I remember to put on America’s 1972 release of ‘Ventura Highway’ as the ocean comes into view on the right of Highway 101 and the blue Pacific Ocean seemingly goes on forever until it melds into an equally blue sky. It’s mesmerizing and so California.” — Kathleen Richter, San Francisco

iHealth, which did not start manufacturing at-home Covid tests until late last year, is now a major supplier of them to the federal government.Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

The latest on Omicron and the pandemic

  • Gov. Gavin Newsom and Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles are facing criticism after being seen at a Rams game without masks, The Associated Press reports.

  • The latest coronavirus case map of the United States.

  • At an Orange County hospital, Omicron has left the staff exhausted in body, and sometimes in spirit, Reuters reports.

Supporters of single-payer health care marching to the State Capitol in 2017.Credit…Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

The rest of the news

  • Single-payer: A bill that would have created the nation’s only government-funded universal health care system died in the State Assembly on Monday, The Associated Press reports.

  • The end of death row: After placing a moratorium on executions in 2019, California is moving to dismantle the nation’s largest death row entirely, The Associated Press reports.

  • Fast-food protections: A bill approved by the Assembly could set several new employment standards for fast-food workers, The Associated Press reports.

  • Police weapons: A new bill would require police officers to holster their handguns and stun guns on separate sides of their equipment belts to prevent accidental shootings, The Associated Press reports.


  • L.A. homeless community: In an abandoned building in Koreatown, homeless Angelenos live together in a space to call their own, The Los Angeles Times reports.

  • Unlikely fishermen: A photojournalist takes us to a place where fishing seems almost defiant: urban Los Angeles.


  • Firefighter shot: A veteran Stockton firefighter was shot and killed while responding to a fire on Monday, The Associated Press reports.


  • Drought: Despite an extremely wet December, California’s snowpack has yet again dipped below the historical average, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

What you get

For $1.9 million in California.

Credit…Mark Weinberg for The New York Times

What we’re eating

Honey-roasted brussels sprouts with harissa.

Where we’re traveling

Today’s travel tip comes from Michael Hamilton, who recommends La Cumbre Peak, the tallest mountain overlooking Santa Barbara:

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

Tell us

With Valentine’s Day coming up, we’re asking about love: not who you love, but what you love about your corner of California.

Email us a love letter to your California city, neighborhood or region — or to the Golden State as a whole — and we may share it in an upcoming newsletter. You can reach the team at [email protected].

Chinatown residents in Oakland shopped for fruits signifying luck and wealth to celebrate the Lunar New Year.Credit…Mike Kai Chen for The New York Times

And before you go, some good news

Today is the Lunar New Year, which means the moon is entering a new phase, the Year of the Tiger is beginning and many Asian families will be celebrating with cut fruit.

Eating or giving fruit is a beloved Lunar New Year tradition, with different fruits carrying different meanings.

Apples are supposed to bring peace, and so are pomelos. Golden-hued fruits like oranges, tangerines and kumquats are believed to bring wealth to those who eat them, as their gold colors are reminiscent of money.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Coin toss call (5 letters).

Mariel Wamsley and Jonah Candelario contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].


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