10 Songs About Northern California

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 cultural relevance.

And 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 been sung about.

Here are 10 of them.

Big Sur coastline / E. A. Wright 2005
Big Sur coastline / E. A. Wright 2005

1) Big Sur

"Big Sur," 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.
  • From the song: "Just don't go back to Big Sur."

2) Sacramento

"California," Dan Zanes

  • The place: Sacramento was born with the California Gold Rush, and it is now the state's capital city.
  • From the song: "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 / Public domain image from Wikimedia.
Folsom State Prison / Public domain image from Wikimedia.

3) Folsom

"Folsom Prison Blues," 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.
  • From the song: "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

"Ukiah," 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 Menodcino County.
  • From the song: "Retreat and live off the land, all around Ukiah."

San Francisco / Public domain image from Wikimedia.
San Francisco / Public domain image from Wikimedia.

5) San Francisco

"San Francisco Days," 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 everpresent blanket of fog.
  • From the song: "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

"Palo Alto," 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.
  • From the song: "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

"Mendocino," The Sir Douglas Quintet

  • The place: Hippies live on among the towering redwoods of Mendocino.
  • From the song: "Please stay here with me in Mendocino, Mendocino, Mendocino, where life's such a groove."

8) Monterey

"Monterey," 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.
  • From the song: "Even the cops grooved with us, do you believe me? Yeah! Down in Monterey."

9) Lodi

"Lodi," Credence Clearwater Revival

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

10) Sausalito

"Sausalito," Conor Oberst

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

About this article


All text by E. A. Wright.


"Big Sur Coastline" photo by E. A. Wright; "Golden Gate Bridge" is from bigfoto.com; other photos are in the public domain.


10 Northern California Cities With Songs About Them

show route and directions
A markerMendocino -
Mendocino, CA, USA
[get directions]

B markerPalo Alto -
Palo Alto, CA, USA
[get directions]

C markerBig Sur -
Big Sur, CA, USA
[get directions]

D markerSacramento -
Sacramento, CA, USA
[get directions]

E markerSan Francisco -
San Francisco, CA, USA
[get directions]

F markerMonterey -
Monterey, CA, USA
[get directions]

G markerLodi, CA -
Lodi, CA, USA
[get directions]

H markerSausalito -
Sausalito, CA, USA
[get directions]

I markerFolsom -
Folsom, CA, USA
[get directions]

J markerUkiah -
Ukiah, CA, USA
[get directions]

Ukiah

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Comments 4 comments

WildIris 6 years ago

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.


Da guy 5 years ago

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.


Mary O. 3 years ago

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


ccw 16 months ago

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

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