California Freeway Melody: 10 Songs For A California Road Trip
California Freeway Melody
In California, life takes gasoline. A car is not optional.
The need for wheels is a true California obsession, and the state is home to 171,000 miles of roadways and more than 33 million vehicles. So it's no surprise that cars and car culture star in so many California songs.
10 Songs For A California Road Trip
Driving is a statewide passion — a metaphor for life and obligatory material for California songwriters.
The songs on this list glorify both fancy, "borrowed" wheels and barely functional clunkers. The songs explain the joys of driving, with or without a destination in mind. Songs like these have made the state's freeways famous.
Hit the road and enjoy.
ABOUT THE ROADS
101 runs north from San Diego, more or less following the old paths that connected a string of Spanish missions in California. The road is still known in places as El Camino Real, though not along the portions Californians would consider "freeway" driving. What's now U.S. 101 begins in Los Angeles and heads north to Washington state. As a route out of the Los Angeles basin, Highway 101 is more scenic than Interstate 5.
Note: To Southern Californians, the road is "The 101." Many Northern Californians simply call it "101."
This freeway is the name for the portion of U.S. 101 connecting central Los Angeles with Ventura. North of Oxnard, 101 joins Highway 1 and starts to hug the Pacific coastline.
Note: The speed-demon granny in "The Little Old Lady From Pasadena" roars down Colorado Boulevard, near the Ventura Freeway.
1) "California 2005," Phantom Planet
- The road: The 101 in Southern California.
- From the song: "We've been on the run, driving in the sun, looking out for number one. California here we come, right back where we started from."
2) "California One," The Decemberists
- The road: Highway 1, starting in San Francisco.
- From the song: "Take a long drive with me, on California One, on California One. And the road a-winding goes from Golden Gate to roaring cliff-side."
3) "Venice USA," Red Elvises
- The road: PCH
- From the song: "Sweat is dripping off my face, dreams are melting in the sun, I'm rolling down on PCH..."
4) "Ventura Highway," America
- The road: Probably the 101
- From the song: "Ventura Highway in the sunshine, where the days are longer, the nights are stronger than moonshine."
5) "101," Albert Hammond Jr.
- The road: The 101
- From the song: "If we don't know somewhere to go, back to the 101."
The road is winding, narrow, desolate and fog-draped in parts of Northern California. It's the coast road through Big Sur up to Monterey and on to Mendocino. In southern California, Highway 1 is the beach road. South of Ventura, PCH never leaves the edge of the Pacific Ocean. The road cuts a path between the sand and the Santa Monica Mountains past Malibu then on to Santa Monica. From there, it runs south to the beach cities of Huntington and Laguna in Orange County.
Note: California 1, Pacific Coast Highway and PCH are other names for Highway 1.
The route out of the Los Angeles basin on I-5 is known as the Grapevine. Going over the Grapevine is a good workout for most cars, as the road rises quickly from sea level to the passes of the San Gabriel and Tehachapi Mountains. The elevation at Tejon Pass is about 4,000 feet.
Note: Relatively minor snow flurries at the pass in winter can close the interstate.
6) "Siren on the 101," Over It
- The road: The 101
- From the song: "Sun on your skin, all smiles, a star at your side, you fly, hands on the wheel..."
7) "Pacific Coast Party," Smash Mouth
- The road: Highway 1
- From the song: "Get your motor running, California Interstate 1..."
8) "Sausalito Summernight," Diesel
- The road: Interstate 5
- From the song: "We blew a gasket on the Grapevine and eighty dollars on repairs."
9) "Summer '79," The Ataris
- The road: Pacific Coast Highway
- From the song: "Everyone sing along with these anthems of our generation. Cruising down Pacific Coast Highway, put the top down, crawl into the back seat."
10) "(More Bounce In) California," Soul Kid #1
- The road: The 101
- From the song: "If ya stuck in rush hour traffic out on the 101, just blaze up and roll the top down beneath that California sun."
Where To Find More California Playlists
- Songs of California: 100 Songs About California
100 songs about California: The ultimate California playlist.
- California Calling: 10 Songs About Moving to California
Thinking of leaving home for California? These 10 songs will get you packed up and moving to the Golden State. California's calling.
- 10 Songs About Northern California
Few cities in Northern California get sung about the way Los Angeles does. Here's celebrating 10 Northern cities that have made their way into song.
- 10 Songs About Southern California
These 10 songs about places in Southern California trace the region from San Diego to San Simeon.
- 10 California Beach Songs
California beach songs are as bright and mellow as sunshine itself, and these 10 songs are great for a California beach party.
- 15 Classic Songs About California
A list of the best California songs from the 1960s and 1970s, including "The Little Old Lady From Pasadena."
- California Dystopia: 10 Songs About California and Broken Dreams
Some California dreams are broken, and not everything in the state is golden. These 10 songs about California detail the state's flaws and letdowns.
California Road Links
- National Geographic: California's Pacific Coast Highway Drive
Get a driving guide for California's Pacific Coast Highway and check out other Drives of a Lifetime.
- Smithsonian Magazine: The Ups and Downs of Highway 1
More About California
- California Trips: An Ideabook
All trips to California require some tough choices: what to see, and what to skip. The state is simply too expansive and varied to take in everything all at once. To help make those choices easier, here are some suggested itineraries focused on Calif
- Death Valley Flowers: Spring Wildflowers in a Desola...
Death Valley National Park is a striking place, a place with extremes in topography and temperature. And some years, if the conditions are just right, the park erupts with a wild show of wildflowers.
- Big Sur: Driving the California Coast
In Big Sur, towering mountains drop away to meet the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean. This is some of California's most dramatic scenery.
More by this Author
In Central Park, winter gives way to spring colorfully and obviously, with sprouts, shoots, buds and blooms in April.
15 Classic Songs About California: A list of the best California songs from the 1960s and 1970s.
Funny American place names abound, from Gun Barrel City, Texas, to Why, Arizona. This list celebrates towns and cities with names worth a second look, a smile, and a smirk.