The Golden City, The Paris of the West, the City of Fog, and the City that Knows How. These are just a few of the nicknames this place has. With its captivating beauty, it’s no wonder people who visit the place never forget the experience. Even musicians write songs about San Francisco because of how the place affected them. Are you wondering what those songs are? Here’s a quick playlist to listen to when you’re in San Fran!
Songs About San Francisco
1. “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” by Tony Bennett
If you’re looking for a song embodiment of a postcard, say no more. No matter where you are in the world, listening to “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” will bring you to the Golden City. The heartfelt performance of Tony Bennett somehow makes you feel as though the city is calling you home.
The lyrics were written by Douglass Cross, and he painted a clear picture of how the different popular cities of the world just don’t seem to feel as homey as San Francisco.
2. “Lights” by Journey
The thing is, songs about San Francisco sometimes don’t even have to say the name of the city to be recognized as one. The song “Lights” from the legendary rock band Journey is proof of that, having been formed in the City by the Bay.
In this song, Journey sings about one of the most beautiful things you can witness on this planet; the sunset in San Francisco. The song was written while the band was in Los Angeles, which is probably why the persona in the song feels lonely and wants to go back to his home city.
3. “Mission In The Rain” by Jerry Garcia Band
This song is a collaboration between Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia. Hunter is someone who often writes in figurative speech, using metaphors, abstractions, and literary allusions. From his perspective, “Mission In The Rain” is about his journey with the Jerry Garcia Band.
On the other hand, Garcia said that the song is also about his childhood and eventual venture into adulthood while living in San Francisco, his hometown. In the lyrics, the word “Mission” is written with a capital M, a reference to the San Francisco Mission District.
4. “Mission Bells” by Matt Nathanson
Matt Nathanson was originally from Boston, Massachusetts. However, he relocated to the Golden City during the early 1990s. The move somehow inspired him to write several songs about San Francisco, one of which is “Mission Bells.”
The song mainly focuses on a forlorn man arguing with a past lover but at the same time saddened that she’s not with him any longer. However, a few lines show us that the backdrop of the events unfolding in the song is San Francisco.
5. “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)” by Scott McKenzie
On June 1967, a three-day music festival called the Monterey International Pop Festival was held in Monterey, California, which is relatively close to San Francisco. John Phillips was one of the organizers in the event, and he wrote “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)” for it, which also became its unofficial anthem.
The song is basically a message to everyone going to San Francisco and what they should do if they ever come, one of which is to wear flowers in their hair.
6. “(Sittin’ On The) Dock Of The Bay” by Otis Redding
Songs about San Francisco often include the word “bay” in the lyrics or the title since one of its many nicknames is “The City by the Bay.” Otis Redding, despite being born in Dawson, Georgia, found home in the beauty of the city and wrote the classic “(Sittin’ On The) Dock Of The Bay.”
Redding was invited by Bill Graham to perform at the Fillmore West Auditorium. He was then asked if he wanted to stay at a hotel or a boathouse in Sausalito which is just across the Golden Gate Strait of San Francisco. Redding chose the boathouse, which is how he ended up sitting on a dock near the bay.
7. “Save Me, San Francisco” by Train
Love letters don’t always have to be for a person, do they? After all, they are love letters, which means they’re declarations of love. Whatever the answer is, “Save Me, San Francisco” is indeed a love letter to the beloved city where Train first began.
In the song, the persona left home and went on a road trip. He finds himself in Seattle, but he realized he was dissatisfied with his experiences. His appreciation for San Francisco grew bigger, which urged him to go back to the Golden City, and that’s what saved him from his miseries.
8. “San Francisco” by Judy Garland
The music icon Judy Garland is one of the many musicians who were captivated by the beauty of the city. That’s why she also contributed to the growing list of songs about San Francisco by entitling her song after the place.
In this song, Garland expresses how much she loves the streets, hits, and cable cars of San Fran. To top it off, she mentioned that the London Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Bridge of San Louis Ray are all inferior compared to the Golden Gate Bridge. Because of the beauty of San Francisco, she comes home and said she’ll never leave again.
9. “Christmas In San Francisco” by Vic Damone
The celebration of Christmas is beautiful everywhere, but perhaps it won’t be as beautiful as it is in the Golden City. Today’s Christmas in San Francisco includes roasted chestnuts, a giant Christmas tree displayed in Union Square, and nonstop playing of the anthem “Christmas In San Francisco” by Vic Damone.
However, even in Damone’s time, the celebration of Christmas in this city has always been beautiful and memorable. He sings his experiences in the song by talking about lit hills, children’s carols, gifts, and everything else that makes the place look like some kind of fairy land.
10. “San Francisco Blues” by Peggy Lee
This heartbreaking song is about a person who was left by his/her lover by the San Francisco Bay. The persona in the song mistreated his/her partner, but he/she only realized it after they had broken up.
Because of that, he/she got broke and is about to go mad. All he/she could think of is getting back with his/her lover so they can walk down by the San Francisco Bay again.
Peggy Lee wrote a couple of songs about San Francisco, the other one of which is “Fisherman’s Wharf.”
11. “I’m Always Drunk In San Francisco” by Carmen McRae
While the name of this song is already long enough, it actually has an extended version which is, “I’m Always Drunk In San Francisco (And I Don’t Drink At All).” Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by the sheer joy and excitement of simply being in a wonderful place? That’s what this song is about.
In a way, Carmen McRae was so spellbound by the beauty of San Francisco that she doesn’t feel pain while there. Her mind immediately shifts to a certain high that she feels drunk even though she doesn’t drink.
12. “Grace Cathedral Park” by Red House Painters
Gracec Cathedral Park is a real park in San Francisco, located right in front of a cathedral of the same name. The place is rather old, and Red House Painters’ song looked to describe San Francisco before it became the modern city it is today.
The persona in the song somehow sees the old San Francisco while simultaneously realizing that a lot of time has passed since then and it’s different than what it is now. In the song, the inevitability of the changing city is paralleled with having to let go of a lover.
13. “Ben’s My Friend” by Sun Kil Moon
Red House Painters eventually rebranded as Sun Kil Moon in 2003, but they never stopped writing songs about San Francisco. The name Ben in the title refers to Ben Gibbard, the singer for Death Cab For Cutie and a friend of Sun Kil Moon’s lead singer.
While the song might be a bit confusing, we see the band’s love for San Francisco by referencing some of the iconic places in the city.
14. “Planet Fillmore” by San Quinn
Even though San Quinn was born in Oakland, he grew up in Fillmore district in San Francisco. He started rapping at a young age, even going on to open for Tupac Shakur. While he might have been to other places because of his career, he still goes back to his roots by rapping about his neighborhood in “Planet Fillmore.”
He also filmed his first video for the song “Shock The Party” in Fillmore, San Francisco, at a place called Outta Control Project Towers.
15. “All The Lost Souls Welcome You To San Francisco” by American Music Club
Not all songs about San Francisco regard it as a slice of heaven here on Earth. Just as with any city, San Fran can be rather gloomy for a few people. American Music Club, which was formed in San Francisco back in 1983, is not hating on the city in this song.
They’re just saying that lost as they are, they found home in San Francisco where all the other lost souls are. You can argue all you want whether or not the city is a gloomy place, but the song became an obscure anthem for a lot of locals.
16. “Pacific Heights” by Pep Love
Pacific Heights is another one of the many neighborhoods in San Francisco. However, Pep Love’s song “Pacific Heights” references not just the area but the whole of Frisco itself. He talks about the Bay Area, Napa Valley wine, mountainous terrains, and earthquakes, all of which are indicative of the Golden City.
Even though the 90s was an era when hip-hop groups were being more articulate with their lyrics and story-telling, “Pacific Heights” is proof of how much Cali-folks, or San Francisco locals specifically, love their hometown, because of how well-received the song was.
17. “Passenger Side” by Bearstronaut
Musicians who write songs about San Francisco don’t always have to be in the place to feel inspired. They may not have even gone there ever. Bearstronaut proves that the beauty of San Francisco traverse geographical distances with their song “Passenger Side.”
The band wanted to write asong about a place that they’ve never been. Ergo, they made a fictional scenario about getting drunk in Frisco while referencing several places in the city.
18. “Grace Cathedral Hill” by The Decemberists
There’s something about Grace Cathedral that invokes musicians to write songs about San Francisco. The Decemberists also references the place in their song “Grace Cathedral Hill.” The tune and lyrics of the song are just as melancholic as Red House Painters’ “Grace Cathedral Park.”
19. “Glenn Tipton” by Sun Kil Moon
As evidence of Red House Painters’ and Sun Kil Moon’s predisposition to write songs about San Francisco, we have yet another track from them called “Glen Tipton.” It calls to a certain time way back in the past. They also referenced a donut shop called Bob’s Donuts which used to be managed by the owner named Eleanor Ahn.
She’s the person Sun Kil Moon is talking to in the line, “The place ain’t the same no more / Not without my friend, Eleanor.”
20. “Last Days Of Summer In San Francisco” by Matt Nathanson
Matt Nathanson wrote several songs about San Francisco, or at least the place being the backdrop of the stories, in his album Last of the Great Pretenders. His song “Last Days Of Summer In San Francisco” is about a summer love that happened in the said city. While it may have been short-lived, the persona grew as a person through this lover.
His songs “Sky High Honey,” “Taraval,” “Birthday Girl,” “Kinks Shirt,” and “Annie’s Always Waiting (For The Next One To Leave)” from the same album also pays homage to different places in San Francisco.
30. “Come Back From San Francisco” by Magnetic Fields
This song is about a long-distance relationship between a guy in New York and a girl in San Francisco. Apparently, the guy misses the girl so much and he’s scared that she’s going to betray him, so he wants her to come home.
Well, we don’t know about that, but what we know for certain is that he has a bigger rival to worry about; the beautiful city of San Francisco.
31. “Cold Wind” by Arcade Fire
This grim song is about a guy who’s on his way to San Francisco to probably end his life. It’s quite uncertain whether that really is his intention, but he asks the listener to “lay some flowers on the grave stone” and to “tell the papers” about the “cold wind” if “they ever find me.”
Maybe the “cold wind” or the song itself is a metaphor for something else. Nonetheless, it does point to ending a life since the Golden Gate Bridge has been infamous for people jumping off the bridge, with an estimate of more than 1,700 people since 1937.
What we can hope for is that the guy in the song found the glory of San Francisco instead of its gloom, leading him to persevere and overcome his miseries instead.
32. “San Francisco B.C.” by Silver Jews
San Francisco is a place where countless people find love, but it’s also a place where breakups are quite common. “San Francisco B.C.” is a comedic take about a time in the persona’s past where he lived with the woman she loved the most. It’s one of the many stories told in songs about San Francisco.
However, they eventually ended their relationship because the woman was in shambles after her father was beaten to death. This led the persona to live a life of crime. His lover found another man, and he decided to become a burglar under the supervision of a certain Mr. Games.
Lo and behold, when he met Mr. Games, he was with the persona’s past lover. Consequently, Mr. Games was the father of the guy who killed the woman’s father.
33. “We Built This City” by Starship
This song was written by Bernie Taupin, the songwriting partner of Elton John. Martin Page then added music to it for the demo before giving it to Starship. However, the producers said the band need to make alterations on the song before they can record it.
Starship then decided to make the song more personal by adding lines such as “Looking out over that Golden Gate bridge.” Starship was formed in San Francisco during the 60s, initially called Jefferson Airplane.
That’s why when asked about the backstory of the song, Starship would often say that it’s about them not being allowed to play at the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco for a free concert in 1977.
34. “San Francisco (You’ve Got Me)” by Village People
The Village People became famous for their songs “Y.M.C.A” and “Macho Man.” However, did you know that they also contribute to the growing list of songs about San Francisco? The Village People is widely regarded as a gay disco group, and if you’re unaware, San Francisco has a huge LGBT community even back then in the 70s, earning them the nickname Gay Mecca.
The original version of the song was said to be full of sexual innuendos and other gay lingo and concepts, at times borderline offensive. Because of this, Phil Hurtt edited the lyrics and made it a bit cleaner and more ambiguous.
The song regards San Francisco as the city of freedom; a place where you can be yourself without judgement from other people.
35. “Alcatraz” by June Carter Cash
San Francisco is not just famous for its Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay, or its gay community. It’s also popularly known for its then high-security prison, Alcatraz. While June Carter Cash doesn’t talk about the prison in detail, this is still one of those stories told in songs about San Francisco.
It’s about a man who seemingly regrets his past in San Francisco, and was looking to get out of the city. The refrain also indicates that the man spent time in Alcatraz, and it was perhaps his time to be free, a completely different take on Frisco being the city of freedom.
However, by the time he was pardoned, it seems that it’s already too late, for he talks about “a time when things were good,” but somehow he’s already tired of it all and just wants to leave.
36. “San Francisco Days” by Chris Isaak
As this list has proven multiple times, songs about San Francisco are also sometimes songs about love and heartbreak. In “San Francisco Days,” Chris Isaak sings about not being able to forget a lover from San Francisco.
Despite meeting a new girl while in a different country, he just can’t stop thinking about his past lover and the days and nights they spent in San Francisco. He then references Market Street, saying he thought he saw her there.
Finally, Isaak decides to go the Golden Gate to look for her.
37. “Golden Gate Bridge” by Ocean Colour Scene
The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most famous tourist spots in San Francisco, which is why it’s not surprising to find bands using it as the title of their tracks. In this song, Ocean Colour Scene talks about looking forward to spending the rest of your life with the person you love the most.
However, the persona in the song seems to have worries if the other person feels the same way, which is why he asks, “And I need to know I can trust you with my life / On the Golden Gate bridge.”