California Coast Playlist

By Aaron Carnes, Music Editor

California’s dramatic, moody coastline pulls at your heartstrings from every conceivable angle, so bring along a playlist to listen to as you saturate yourself in the pensive beaches and capricious cliffs of Highway 1. Below is the full playlist (in order) and excerpts from a 21-song playlist, perfectly timed to take you from Santa Cruz to San Francisco.

Wait until you’re near the end of Santa Cruz’s Mission Street and the landscape opens to an ocean view that turns your world into 21 shades of silvery blue. Yo La Tengo’s “Big Day Coming” kicks things off; a slow, minimalistic tune that inches forward with repetitive keyboards and a promise of momentous revelations on the horizon. “I can hardly wait,” singer Ira Kaplan quietly utters.

Later and up the road, creep through sand-worn Davenport. Wye Oak starts up. “You of all People,” an ethereal psych-folk song shrouded in layers of mistrust and seeping with disappointment at its core. Can you trust yourself? Can you trust people who are not you? Stare at the cement plant machinery as you leave Davenport and contemplate the conflict between human construction and the need for nature’s chaotic beauty.

Pass the wind-swept coastal oaks of Ano Nuevo while Blu & Exile goes into “True & Livin,” one of the most joyous hip-hop songs you’ve heard in ages. The choir “ooh-ah” sample repeats throughout, and each time stirs a bubble of tear-inducing happiness in your heart. It reminds you of the first time your parents brought you to see the elephant seals. Monstrously magical creatures that couldn’t care less when you stared at them with unblinking wonderment.

Speed past the turn to the hostel lighthouse, because Thundercat’s “Show You the Way” comes on. He enlists yacht rock icons Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins on this funky soft-rock track. You’ll feel embarrassed by their earnestness at first. But notice how the beat matches the tempo of the waves and get lost in the rhythm.

Rolling into charming Half Moon Bay, Phosphorescent croons beautifully about heartbreak on the alt-country track “Song for Zula.” He’s thoroughly wrapped up in his “love gone sour” story, and it reminds you that sometimes the worst emotions are the toughest to let go of. Half Moon Bay, you think, has changed. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. Who are you to say? Maybe you’ve changed, too.

As you approach the gusty beaches of San Francisco, the final track begins, a collaboration between comedian Tim Heidecker and Weyes Blood, the decidedly serious track “Oh How We Drift Away.” Lush, brooding vocals seem to relish the impermanence of life. You lose touch with friends. You get older. And the towns you visited as a child eventually slide into the vast embrace of the Pacific Ocean.

And the last song ends. Think about road trips and playlists and emotional journeys that bring us all closer to our truer selves. And when combined, you see meaning everywhere you look.