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California Freeway Melody: 10 Songs For A California Road Trip

Updated on August 3, 2012
Photo illustration
Photo illustration | Source

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.


Highway 101

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."

Ventura Freeway

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."

Photo illustration: E. A. Wright
Photo illustration: E. A. Wright


Highway 1

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.

Interstate 5

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."

Will Californians ever end their love affair wtih cars?

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    • profile image

      asleemssadsfsf 7 years ago

      I wonder which of these songs will be famous still, 50 years from now.

    • awsydney profile image

      awsydney 8 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      I'll remember this on my next road trip. Although it won't feel quite the same here in Australia lol! Thanks!

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Great idea for a hub. When I think of California driving songs, I think of mostly older ones (being older my own self) so this was a nice introduction to some later ones. I love the Red Elvises. Could you maybe find some of these on youtube and put them on here for us lazy (or forgetful) hubbers? Bet that would raise the score too.