24 Best Songs about San Francisco, the Golden City

Ah, San Francisco. The city built on seven hills. The home of the Golden Gate Bridge. The city with the world’s second-largest Chinatown outside of Asia.

It’s a stunning, exciting city popular among tourists, upscale locals, and many others who simply love the incredible charm of the City by the Bay. And the number of songs written about the city helps show much the place really is loved.

Check out these fun, romantic, exciting, and intriguing songs about San Francisco.

(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay – Otis Redding

One of the earliest legends of rock, Otis Redding, gave us the song, ‘(Sittin On) The Dock of the Bay,’ a tune about the city by the bay, San Francisco. The song was released approximately one month after the singer passed in a plane crash in the late 1960s. The song was his biggest hit and was the first number-one single posthumously. The singer wrote the song about the dock at the bay, reflecting on his time in San Francisco doing some gigs.

Related: This song features on our list of water themed songs.

Lights – Journey

Rock band Journey formed in San Francisco, so it’s no surprise the group recorded a hit about the fabulous city. The song is one of the first from the band to feature Steve Perry as lead singer. Funny enough, the song was written not while the band was in San Francisco but after they relocated to Los Angeles. ‘Lights’ was originally written about LA, but Perry explained in an interview that it just didn’t feel right. San Francisco, though, was the perfect setting for the song.

Related: Check out our playlist of Los Angeles songs.

San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair) – Scott McKenzie

‘San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)’ was written by John Phillips from The Mamas And The Papas. The song was an unofficial anthem for the Monterey Pop Festival near the Golden City. Scott McKenzie covered the song and did actually wear flowers in his hair when he recorded the song, which might have helped it even more as it found its way to the top of the hippie hits chart in the Summer of Love 1967.

Related: See our playlist of songs with hair in the title.

I Left My Heart in San Francisco – Tony Bennett

Maybe the most well-known song about the Golden City, ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco,’ as recorded by Tony Bennett, is a romantic, emotive song many of us can sing along to. The song was written in 1954 by George C. Cory, Jr. and Douglass Cross, then unknown in the music world. The song was originally titled ‘When I Return to San Francisco,’ but the new title is definitely the winner here.

Fake Tales of San Francisco – Arctic Monkeys

English indie rock band Arctic Monkeys originally released the EP of ‘Fake Tales of San Francisco’ in 2005. The song’s lyrics narrate the band’s story as they form in Sheffield, doing gigs at local bars there, and how they compare to other bands. The concept is about bands portraying themselves falsely for the media and public, in a surprisingly wise view of the world, by the then 18-year-old writer, Alex Turner.

Grace Cathedral Hill – The Decemberists

‘Grace Cathedral Hill’ by the Decemberists is a melancholy, emotional tune that often brings listeners to tears as they wander through the narrative with the band. The song is rumored to have been written about the death of the lead singer’s then girlfriend’s dad and their going to Grace Cathedral Hill in San Francisco for the funeral on New Year’s Day.

Related: Next time you have a funeral, here are some songs to remember loved ones.

San Francisco Blues – Peggy Lee

Peggy Lee sings us this delightful blues melody, ‘San Francisco Blues.’ The song is about her eagerness to go off and see the sights, like the Golden Gate Bridge, and explore the famous city’s exciting and intriguing hot spots. But her boyfriend was off painting somewhere, and she was stuck. “I got the blues from my baby; left me by the San Francisco Bay, the ocean liner’s gone so far away. Didn’t mean to treat her so bad. She was the best girl I ever have had.” Interestingly, the song is written from the man’s perspective, reflecting on how he treats Peggy Lee.

Related: If you liked this song, you’d love these classic blues songs.

Cold Wind – Arcade Fire

Arcade Fire, a Canadian band, released the single ‘Cold Wind’ in 2005. The song can’t be found on their studio albums, just live recordings and singles. The song refers to San Francisco via the lyrics and was featured on the TV soundtrack album “Six Feet Under, Vol. 2: Everything Ends.”

Save Me, San Francisco – Train

A love letter to the Golden City, ‘Save Me, San Francisco’ by the band Train, is about the lead singer, Pat Monahan, leaving the Bay Area for a road trip and finding himself unsatisfied with his experience in Seattle. The song is about the newfound appreciation for his hometown, San Francisco, where Monahan can feel safe and whole once again. The song has a few twists and turns, especially when you watch the video, that leads back to the safety of the City by the Bay.

Related: Driving somewhere? Here are the perfect songs for a car ride.

San Francisco Days – Chris Isaak

On Chris Isaak’s fourth album of the same name, ‘San Francisco Days’ released in 1993. The album’s overall vibe was more upbeat than Isaak’s previous works, changing the musician’s game a bit. The song is a folk-infused piece showcasing Isaak’s smooth baritone perfectly with the acoustic guitar, brushed drums, bass, and funky piano. The song is littered with stunning imagery of beautiful San Francisco.

I’m Always Drunk in San Francisco – Carmen McRae

‘I’m Always Drunk in San Francisco’ elicits some immediate reactions to the song’s title by Carmen McRae. But when you listen to the lyrics, you realize it’s not really about being plastered when you hit the Golden Gate City, but rather the intoxicating nature of the alluring city herself that McRae’s singing about. “I’m always drunk in San Francisco; I always stay out of my mind. But if you’ve been to San Francisco, they say that things like this go on all the time. Yes, I’m drunk in San Francisco, and I don’t drink at all.”

San Francisco – Ben Gibbard and Jay Farrar

As a side project for Jay Farrar of Son Volt and Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie and Postal Service, ‘San Francisco’ is their unique take on the city. The lyrics have a melancholy tone to them, referencing church bells with “sad windblown” names ringing out, memories of times past, and much more that isn’t necessarily clear to every listener. The song is a bit of a word salad of memories and thoughts, but it’s striking and somehow gives that vibe of the Golden City somehow.

Related: Don’t forget to listen to these songs about remembering.

Got the Gate on the Golden Gate – Mel Tormé

First recorded in 1957, ‘Got the Gate on the Golden Gate’ is a unique jazz take on the city of San Francisco. The original song is part of a “California Suite” in which the singer explores concepts and topics surrounding the Golden State. Mel Tormé was known for his impeccable timing and smooth voice, earning him the nickname “The Velvet Fog.” As you listen to the vocals, you understand why. “Went for a walk one day alone down around the bay. I guess you could say that it was fate. How else could I have met my love on the Golden Gate?”

Piazza, New York Catcher – Belle and Sebastian

For some reason, the character in ‘Piazza, New York Catcher’ is talking about a proposed elopement but keeps throwing out random baseball references in the song. Belle & Sebastian apparently are singing about the catcher for the New York Mets, Mike Piazza, going up against the San Francisco Giants. The song isn’t the typical reference song for the city, but somehow it still fits. The song was also featured on the soundtrack of Juno, a bit of a quirky piece in and of itself.

Related: You can hear this song on our baseball songs playlist.

San Francisco – Judy Garland

If you love old movies that have some history infused into them, you’ll likely want to look up the film San Francisco if you haven’t already seen it. The film features moments from the 1906 earthquake, and the song of the same name winds up becoming the anthem for the survivors in the story. Originally, it was sung by Jeanette McDonald several times in the film, but Judy Garland later made it her own and often performed it in her concerts.

Saint Dominic’s Preview – Van Morrison

A song with a narrative moving from France to San Francisco, ‘Saint Dominic’s Preview’ is a unique take on the cities in the song, as felt and known by Van Morrison. The song was released in 1972, on his sixth album, as a stream-of-consciousness song reflecting on his life movements in recent days. The song contains a lot of intriguing references, as well as deep introspective emotions and thoughts.

We Built This City – Starship

Performed by American rock band Starship, ‘We Built This City’ was released in 1985. The song was originally about Los Angeles by Martin Page and Bernie Taupin. But when the band took the song on, they referenced San Francisco instead, as that was their hometown, as well as for the band’s previous artists in other iterations known as Jefferson Starship and Jefferson Airplane. They added the radio DJ’s spoken-word interlude, “I’m looking out over the Golden Gate Bridge.”

Related: Hear this song on our list of good throwback songs.

San Franciscan Nights – Eric Burdon & The Animals

During 1967, the Summer of Love, San Francisco was a booming locale for the hippies and flower children. ‘San Franciscan Nights’ was one of the flower power odes to the city roiling through difficult times in that era. The Animals, a band from England, felt welcomed to America, along with other British Invasion groups, and wrote the song as their protest against the Vietnam War.

Related: Take a stand with these songs about rebellion against society.

Welcome to Paradise – Green Day

Green Day wrote this song about when all the band members moved out of their parent’s houses in San Francisco and into an abandoned house in Oakland. Other friends joined them, and despite the decrepit house, it became a real home for everyone living there. So the song acts as a letter to the singer’s mom. The first verse takes place about three weeks after leaving, saying how scared he is, and the next verse is six months later when the singer is happy to be living on his own.

San Francisco Knights – People Under the Stairs

People Under the Stairs was a hip-hop duo formed in 1997 and broke up in 2019. The entire basis of their working relationship was to have a DIY work ethic in how they created their art. This duo was from LA, but you can feel the warmth of their love for San Francisco. Most of the song is a stream of conscious flow as the rappers explore San Francisco late at night.

Mission in the Rain – Jerry Garcia Band

Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead was raised in San Francisco. The song ‘Mission in the Rain’ is about his hometown, though Robert Hunter wrote it with him. The song was written around 1975, in their early collaboration days. The “mission” in the song references the San Francisco Mission District named after Mission Dolores. Hunter lived near the mission as part of the band in his early days.

Related: Listen to the best songs with the word rain.

Don’t Marry Her – The Beautiful South

‘Don’t Marry Her’ is the opening track on The Beautiful South’s fifth studio album. The singer is begging a man to run away with her instead of marrying the woman he’s already engaged to. She tells him what she thinks married life will be like for him, with unpleasant details. The song references San Francisco Bay a few times, planting the story in the California city.

Related: Wishing you could be with someone? Here are some songs about needing someone.

San Francisco – Vanessa Carlton

Using the imagery of ocean-kissed shores, sunsets, and wine on a summer’s eve, ‘San Francisco’ by Vanessa Carlton is a love song about a naïve boy and girl trying to make things work, despite a past of question marks. Some people think the song is about her relationship with Stephen Jenkins, but there’s not much known about everything, save that it takes place in San Francisco.

San Francisco Street – Rai Thistlethwayte

Released in 2013 by Sun Rai (also known as Rai Thistlethwayte), ‘San Francisco Street’ is a sort of jazz, soul, R&B, pop fusion song. Rai is an Australian singer and songwriter who’s been a part of Thirsty Merc but has taken on solo projects, including the one under which he performs as Sun Rai. The song references San Francisco and Los Angeles through its indirect lyrics, looking at life, relationships, and more.

Photo of author

About Ged Richardson

Ged Richardson is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of ZingInstruments.com. He has been featured in Entrepreneur, PremierGuitar, Hallmark, Wanderlust, CreativeLive, and other major publications. As an avid music fan, he spends his time researching and writing about new and old music, as well as testing and reviewing music-related products. He's played guitar in various bands, from rock to gypsy jazz. Be sure to check out his YouTube channel, where he geeks out about his favorite bands.

Read more