The ultimate California road-trip playlist (or not)

Planning our California road trip and browsing online for songs that could complete the ultimate California playlist, I felt that most hits people recommend for such a trip are pretty much stuck somewhere in time. The Beach Boys, The Mamas and the Papas, old school “surfing” bands and the likes.

Don’t get me wrong, I like music from those times too, but I thought for our road trip we’d like to enjoy something a bit more contemporary, but without heading towards Katy Perry’s California Gurls side of things either! We crave beats that make our rock hearts pump. And that can keep us company cruising down Pacific Coast Highway, while inspiring us to enjoy the places we get to drive by.

California is home to so many bands I have spent countless hours of my life listening to! Thrice, No Doubt, Audioslave, Green Day, Linkin Park, System of a Down, Rage Against the Machine or Incubus, to name a few. This place has to have something to inspire such great artists: is it the sun, hanging out by the beach, road tripping, material living, shallow life style, so many possibilities for social critique? Different sources of inspiration for different artists, I suppose. But this is no dull place, that is for sure!

Here are some tracks from our California road trip playlist. If, like us, you enjoy this kind of music, you might want to listen to them too when you hit the roads of California!

This playlist has been divided according to different stages of the the typical California road trip, from North to South. From the ocean-side roads to the big city, obviously not covering everything geographically.. but you get the point! ;)



AM: Get inside the car..

Road Trippin’  by Red Hot Chili Peppers

“Road trippin’ with my two favorite allies
Fully loaded we got snacks and supplies
It’s time to leave this town
It’s time to steal away
Let’s go get lost
Anywhere in the U.S.A.”

Obvious choice, yes, but this is Ashray’s favorite band and no band in the world right now says “CALIFORNIA!” like RHCP!


Mid AM: Drive past San Francisco

San Francisco by The Mowgli’s

“I lost my head in San Francisco
Waiting for the fog to roll out
But I found it in a rain cloud
It was smiling down
Do you feel the love? I feel the love
C’mon c’mon, lets start it up!
Let it pour out of your soul”

We came across this song in California itself, after we had already been to San Francisco. If I ever go there again, this song is going to be playing on repeat for sure! Such good vibes, happy lyrics and contagious energy. Love it!


Noon: Enjoy a sunny day driving by the coast

Summer of 79 by The Ataris

“Cruisin’ down Pacific Coast Highway,
Put the top down, crawl into the back seat.
Let’s create anthems of our own tonight”

Now, one of my favorite bands: this song sounds like youth, like freedom. And that is exactly the feeling that a road trip should be all about.


Highway 101 by Social Distortion

“Take a drive baby up the coast, yeah highway 101
I’ll pass Ventura and Santa Barbara too, just as fast as my motor runs
Gotta pocket full of memories, some happy and some are sad
Gotta girl standin’ by my side through the good times and the bad”

Still on Highway 101, creating memories as the wheels go round.


Big Sur by The Thrills

“Just don’t go back to Big Sur
Hangin’ around, lettin’ your old man down
Just don’t go back to Big Sur
Baby baby please don’t go”

I came across this song while listening to the soundtrack of the TV show The O.C. This was years ago and although I liked the song, I didn’t even know what Big Sur was until I was planning our US trip. Now, to the contrary of what the songs says, I want to go back to Big Sur one day.



PM: Reaching the big city, LA

Holly Wood Died by Yellowcard

“Night life the high life she just wants a good life
So someone remembers her too
But somewhere she heard there was some place to go
when you die when you live like we do”

In the big city there are many paths one can follow. This is the result of choosing the wrong one. This song is ace!


Entertainment by Rise Against

“We’ve all made petty fortunes but we can’t afford a life
Confined to pull-out quotes and hotel rooms
They all scream California and its toppling empire
But can’t you see the end is coming soon”

It’s amazing how many songs there are about California and its sometimes shallow life-style. This one is by Rise Against, which means the lyrics are good and the music is intense!


Leaving Jesusland by NOFX

“Queers, transgens and lesbians
Vegan kids and vegetarians
All you brownish, red and yellow ones
Come and join us on the coast”

Such a well-written song about hypocrisy and about how everyone ultimately has a place in California. No wonder this is such an entertaining place!


Beverly Hills by Weezer

“Beverly Hills – Rolling like a celebrity!
Living in Beverly Hills…
Look at all those movie stars
They’re all so beautiful and clean
When the housemaids scrub the floors
They get the spaces in between”

Weezer are a bunch of witty guys and this sarcasm charged, super fun catchy song is a proof of that. We couldn’t stop thinking about them and singing this song out loud as we were roaming around the perfectly manicured streets of Beverly Hills, in LA!


Antennas by Rancid

“Your selling sexism your selling racism
your selling anything you get your fucking hands on
An understanding, you got a plan in a
Presentation to advertisers who demand it
When you plan that
Your antennas are pointed in the right direction
You make a deal in any situation
So with no evacuation
Let California fall into the fucking ocean”

Punk-rockers Rancid look at life in LA with even more of a critical tone than Weezer above. Straight to the point!


Los Angeles is Burning by Bad Religion

“When the hills of Los Angeles are burning
Palm trees are candles in the murder wind
So many lives are on the breeze
Even the stars are ill at ease
And Los Angeles is burning”

Bad Religion sings out a metaphor to criticize the media and their sensationalist reporting on California issues. It actually feels quite accurate with what we observed over there: whatever affects California is like “the end of the world”. As if this US state was the epicenter of the world and its residents couldn’t sometimes see there’s a whole world outside their borders too.


Late PM: Before the end of the day

From California by The New Amsterdams

“The distance is only an obstacle
Hardly a match for a miracle
I’m finally ready to go to California”

The story about a love in the distance, mellow and beautiful.


Song for Kelly Huckaby by Death Cab For Cutie

“Photographs of the best time you had,
windows smugded by the speed.
Leaving home with our bags from Iron street
as morning turned into California.”

A song about a West Coast road trip that ultimately ends in California. No better end for our playlist too.


What are your favorite songs about California? 

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