Recently, the husb and I embarked on a self-guided tour of every decent record store in San Francisco. In one Saturday, we hit up TWELVE record stores from the Mission to the Haight to North Beach. Here are a few highlights:
Amoeba: I know it’s a “chain,” but the musical labyrinth that is Amoeba will always have my heart. I grew up exploring the LA store, but am equally taken with the SF one. I’ve seen countless free performances there (Henry Rollins as a guest DJ? Yes please!) and I always make sure to pick up a copy of their “Music We Like.” The only problem with Amoeba is that everyone hates going with me because I can’t enter without spending several hours looking for and then deciding upon which records I want to buy.
Black Pancake Records: This gem in the Lower Haight specializes in glorious ’70s funk, soul, and rarities.
Downtown and next door to a super-cheap pizza joint, Rasputin has one of the best selections of punk/hardcore in the city. In fact, any record store that actually has separate sections for these genres is a winner in my opinion. Be advised that you WILL have to weave through tourists to get inside though.
Aquarius Records is in the Mission and basically only sells two genres: experimental and metal. Okay, they have a good amount of indie music as well. Most records here feature stickers with lengthy descriptions and reviews composed by the employees. Sometimes they’re helpful, sometimes they’re nearly incoherent or just plain pretentious.
Thrillhouse Records is NOT to be missed. This is my favorite record store in the city, and it just so happens to be located right across the street from my apartment. They have strong ties with Maximum Rock’N’Roll, and they always have obscure punk gems and interesting new releases. Almost exclusively selling vinyl, the joint is volunteer-run, which means it opens “around” noon (see also: 2 PM) and closes “around” 8 PM (The doors are usually shut by 7 PM on weekdays, but there are often punks hanging out there past midnight on the weekends.) The vinyl section is (naturally) alphabetized and the tabs have awesome, inappropriate drawings that correlate with the letters- it’s not the most imaginative, but you can probably guess what’s illustrated on the “D” tab. Finally, one of the greatest things about Thrillhouse is the extensive zine library, featuring international, local, contemporary and historical publications. Best of all, there is a disgusting and ripped up old couch in a little “nook” by the window to soak it all in.
The kitschy Rooky Ricardo’s is an incredible landfill of oldies and curiosities.
North Beach’s 101 Records is easy to miss, but it’s an important part of the SF record store tour experience. If you can squeeze through the heaps of vintage instruments and gramophones to make it to the back, head downstairs where you will find a basement full of thousands upon thousands of records with little to no organization system in place. It’s difficult to navigate but everything is incredibly cheap, and even if you don’t find a treasure, you will certainly find hilarious album art through the decades.