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Here's How to Nail California Slang From the Bay to the Beach

Here's How to Nail California Slang From the Bay to the Beach

Want to talk like a Californian? Here are some of the strangest California slang words you need to know about.


5 min read

February 13, 2021

California is an incredibly diverse place. From the arid landscape of Death Valley to the snowy mountain peaks of Lake Tahoe, the Golden State has a lot to offer, so no matter where you go, you are guaranteed a completely different experience. Each region in California not only has its own distinct scenery, but also its own unique community and slang words.  

Northern California is famously home to the vibrant city of San Francisco and the booming tech hub of Silicon Valley, while Southern California is known for its beautiful beaches, surf culture, and movie industry—and the differences between NorCal and SoCal don’t stop there. The slang words used in these areas greatly differ, too. 

In SoCal, you might hear locals say, “Drive down the 101” when referring to freeways, and in NorCal, you may hear residents say, “That’s hella cool” when describing things. Each region is proud of its California slang, so the words make up a big part of Californians’ vocabulary and contribute to the state’s broader culture.

The California slang words you need to know 

Whether you’re planning a trip to California or looking to learn more about the place you live in, here are some of the strangest California slang words used in Southern and Northern California. 

Bay Area Slang

1. The City 

Especially if you live in the Bay Area, you know that when people say “the city,” they are referring to San Francisco (aka “The City by the Bay”). San Francisco is the most revered and well-known metropolis in Northern California, so locals just call it “The City.” 

Example: “I’m also heading to The City this weekend if you need a ride.”

2. The Town

Just as “The City” is used as a Bay Area slang word for San Francisco, “The Town” is used to refer to the city of Oakland. If you get into a cab and mess these two California slang words up, you’ll face some pretty costly consequences.

Example: “I really need a break, so I might go to The Town for a while.”

3. Hella

This word is a remnant of the hipster culture from the 1960s when youths took to the streets and advocated for peace. Now, wherever you go in NorCal—but especially Berkeley and San Francisco—you will hear everyone around you say “hella.” Synonymous with “very,” this slang word has an incredible amount of cultural significance for Northern California.

Example: “I’m hella excited for our road trip next week.”

You may have heard these terms on screen, but now you know where they stemmed from.

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4. Zombie Mood

If you’ve ever been a BART rider and noticed someone who absolutely refuses to look up from their phone (or bumped into something because you were staring at your phone very intently), then you’ve probably been subject to “Zombie Mood.” Given the rise of the technology industry in Silicon Valley, it’s not a surprise that residents have developed a Bay Area slang word to describe those who are severely addicted to their technological devices. Just remember to look up every once in a while…

Example: “He bumped into me and didn’t even apologize. He was in a full-on zombie mood.”

5. Man

Through the years, Californians have called their friends many names such as “bro” or “homie.” While those words are still used statewide, in the Bay Area, some have resorted to using “man” as a term of endearment. 

Example: “Nice to see you, man! How have you been?”

6. Good Looks

To avoid sticking out like a sore thumb in San Francisco, you need to have a good grasp of Bay Area slang. Start by showing your appreciation to someone who has helped you in any way by using the term “good looks.” A shorter version of the phrase “good looking out,” this term can serve as a substitute for “thank you” and is used to show gratitude.

Example: “Can you give me a hand with this?” “Sure.” “Good looks.”

7. Slaps

This California slang word has gained more popularity over the last few years thanks to the Internet. If something is “hella good” (as the locals might put it), you can say it slaps. Although this Bay Area slang word is most commonly used to describe music, it can be used in other situations as well.

Example: “Have you heard this new song? It slaps.”

Southern California Slang

8. The 101

The southern end of the state has long been famous for its gorgeous weather and beaches, it is also notorious for its congested highways. (It is reported that SoCal residents spend an average of 119 hours a year stuck in traffic.) Southern California highways used to be called specific names, but this became increasingly difficult to keep up with as more and more highways were built, so locals just started putting “the” before any highway. 

Example: “I’m calling to tell you I’m going to be late. I’m stuck on the 101.”

9. Post Up

There have always been many different ways to ask a friend to meet up—such as, “let’s hang out” or “come through”—but there is yet another slang term that means the same exact thing: “post up.” Originating in Southern California, this word simply means to chill somewhere; however, it can also mean to stay in a particular location. You may hear many SoCal natives say, “Post up here until she shows up” or “Post up at the In-N-Out Burger later tonight.”

Example: “Post up at my place after school?”

Los Angeles slang


10. Angeleno

Starting off with the basics of L.A. slang, “Angeleno” is a term used to describe those who hail from the City of Angels or have lived there for a significant amount of time. If you want to sound like an Angeleno when you speak, you’ll want to check out the newcomer’s guide to Los Angeles slang.

Example: “Is she from here?” “Yeah, she’s an Angeleno through and through.”

11. Stoked

If you want to show your enthusiasm about something the L.A. way, you say you’re stoked about it. A substitute for the words “excited” or “thrilled,” this California slang word is a great way to express exhilaration for an upcoming endeavor.

Example: “Heard you got that job you applied for.” “Yeah, man, I’m stoked!”

12. Like

Before the movie Clueless came out in 1995 and all of California was introduced to the Valley Girl, “like” was used by any and all who grew up in SoCal. Nowadays, many native Southern Californians use this word in every single sentence without even noticing. 

Example: “How long is the ride there?” “Like 30 minutes.”

San Diego Slang

13. Dude

While this slang word is used all over California, it’s particularly popular in SoCal, thanks to the surfers who began saying it a lot. “Dude” has more than one meaning, though; it can be used as a term of endearment (like “man”) or be used to say “hey,” “wait,” or “no way.” 

Example: “I finally got my driver’s license.” “Dude, congrats!”

14. Shred

This California slang word is used as an informal compliment when talking about activities like surfing, skating, or skiing. When someone tells you that you shredded some waves after you’re done surfing, they’re trying to tell you that you did very well.

Example: “Dude, I’m proud of you for shredding those waves.”

Each California slang word represents the unique history and culture of a particular area and allows us to appreciate the different regions of the state. So hopefully, the next time you hear Californians say, “post up” or “The City,” you’ll know not only what the terms mean, but also exactly where they came from! What are the California slang words you often use or hear?

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