We Californians tend to get a little starry-eyed when talking about our home state, hung up on the rewards of living in a coastal paradise instead of the rougher reality.
That optimism (or willful ignorance, depending on your view) is reflected in the California playlist we have been assembling over the past few years. A few of the 200-plus tracks nod to mixed feelings about the Golden State, but the suite of songs functions mostly as an ode to a land of beauty and opportunity. (Think Best Coast’s cheery anthem “The Only Place,” or “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas & the Papas.)
So today I’m debuting a new playlist dedicated to ambivalence, if not outright contempt, for California. I was inspired by your emails, many of which contained stories big and small of ways California can make you feel terrible.
There are the looming tragedies — the fires we run from and the homes we can’t afford. And the more personal ones — our losses and our loneliness — that play out here and cast a harsh glow on the backdrop of California.
The new playlist includes Dave Alvin’s “California’s Burning” and Death Cab for Cutie’s “Grapevine Fires” — self-explanatory. I’ve also added Tori Amos’s “A Sorta Fairytale,” in which a couple takes a trip up the Pacific Coast Highway and discovers they aren’t meant for each other. There’s also Marc Cohn’s ballad “Lost You in the Canyon” with this repeated refrain: “Do you ever stop to wonder / About that paradise you’ve found?”
You can peruse the full list of California nightmare songs here or listen here.
This soundtrack is obviously a work in progress that we’ll continue editing and building. You can email your song recommendation and a few lines about why you think it deserves inclusion to CAToday@nytimes.com.
And now for more of your recommendations for the new playlist:
“Walking in L.A.” by Missing Persons (1982)
“Featuring former members of Frank Zappa’s band, the song comically makes a statement about how everyone is in their cars. If anyone really is walking it must be some illusion or some extreme situation.” — James Staubes, Culver City
“Drive” by Halsey (2015)
“I drive long hours on packed freeways, full of everything from way-too-expensive Teslas to way-too-modest Toyota Corollas of the last century, all to rush off to a job in L.A. to try to make enough money there to purchase a home in the far-flung suburb I am driving in from.
All I do is drive, often on the 405, all to make a home for myself that is practically unattainable here. And nothing feels better than when I am on an open road, away from it all, a road that often leads me away from here.
For that very reason, I think ‘Drive’ by Halsey represents the ‘Golden’ State as it is now: a state of two realities, made up of those that can enjoy how Golden it is, and those who can’t afford to.” — Harris Valle, Camarillo
“California Über Alles” by Dead Kennedys (1979)
“I remember hearing this song for the first time when I was in middle school in the Bay Area, and it made me question ‘California superiority’ while also weirdly being inspiring, a punk rock call to not let the ‘suede denim secret police’ ‘Zen fascists’ ruin the state. The song came out in 1984 and predicted a lot of California’s current ‘un-sunny’ side. So prescient.” — Parker Ray, New York City
“Too Hot in L.A.” by Woody and Jeremy (2020)
“This song perfectly encapsulates the feeling of a summer heat wave in L.A.; the lyrics speak of cynicism and irritability, but the tune is so upbeat you can’t help but have fun while listening to it. For me it brings back memories of buying an XL Slurpee and having half of it melt on the three-block walk back to my friend’s apartment, or sitting in traffic on the 5 on the way to a concert, in a car with AC that only half works.”— Berkelly Gonzalez, Berkeley
What we’re eating
Gnocchi made with cauliflower and potato.
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from Bruce Cranston, who recommends a trip on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, billed as the world’s largest rotating tram car:
“As a transplant to Southern California who misses my native Montana mountains and wilderness, I enjoy the extraordinary, otherworldly experience of taking the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway from the desert floor all the way up to the top of Chino Canyon to a lookout on Mount San Jacinto at 8,000 feet in under 10 minutes. The desert landscape quickly disappears among the rugged rocks of the canyon, and in a fast, breathtaking ride up one of most craggy, rocky and striking canyons imaginable, you come to a comfortable stop in a fully Alpine setting.
Even today at the end of April there are snowcaps on the mountains overhead, and visitors can’t resist walking in the refreshingly cool Alpine air along a comfortably flat path through the forested paradise just 300 feet from the visitor center at the top of the tram. The giant Jeffrey pine trees tower over the shady, walk-friendly valley where there is much to do and see, and it is a true paradise for hikers with every sort of trail available. Every now and then you might see some hikers who are taking the Pacific Crest Trail make a slight diversion from their path to enjoy this valley.
This cable car escape is extraordinary in every sense of the word. From desert-scape to mountain-scape in a mere eight minutes. It is literally a world unimaginable when you’re looking up at this mountain from the desert floor.”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
And before you go, some good news
Ready, set, shoot!
One of the world’s largest community science events, the City Nature Challenge, returns today for its seventh year — and invites you to start taking photos of your local flora and fauna.
If you haven’t heard of the challenge: In 2016, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and the California Academy of Sciences dreamed up the event as a competition between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
People in each city would take photos of plants and animals in their area, and the museums would then help identify the species to better understand each region’s biodiversity. That year alone, more than 20,000 observations were made and 1,600 species cataloged.
The City Nature Challenge soon went international, and now thousands of people from six continents participate each year. And you can too.