How to Navigate S.F.'s Record Stores (Without Crying)
You're new to San Francisco. Or maybe you're not. Either way, we have a ton of awesome record stores that are quintessentially San Franciscan (read: weird) and navigating them isn't always the easiest thing in the world. You're just buying music, right? Wrong! Here's a guide to the finest purveyors of music this city has to offer.
Amoeba Music (1855 Haight at Stanyan.)
This is a no-brainer, right? There are branches in Berkeley and L.A., so even people from other parts of the state know what to do in here. Wrong! The rookie move that gets most people, is thinking that you can just pop in here to pick up the two things you want to pick up. Not gonna happen. This former bowling alley requires you to put aside at least two hours of just-in-case time. Four hours if you're going to start rooting through the joyous and wondrous section known as Dollar Vinyl (don't wear clean pants or a short skirt here if there's even a remote chance of that happening -- Amoeba floors aren't the cleanest, and you have to crawl around the floor if you're going to find that much-needed copy of She's So Unusual by Cyndi Lauper). Also, if you're trying to get out in a reasonable amount of time, for god's sake, don't ever be tempted to wander into DVDs after you're done with music. You'll never get out.
Rasputin (69 Powell at Market)
If you have CDs to sell, this is the place. The guys who do the buying are always happy and cordial and chatty (unlike the buyers in Amoeba, who often look like they want to jam whatever you're trying to sell them straight down your throat). They also have a solid system here, so you don't feel like you're getting ripped off. As for the actual music for sale, the most exciting section in here -- the one that always gets us wanting to buy things we didn't know we needed -- is the Music DVD rack. You'll be surprised how many DVDs you require once they're presented all neat and alphabetized.
101 Music (513 Green at Grant)
The greatest exterior of any record store, in any city, that has ever existed. We're not kidding. Weird old instruments and curiosities upstairs, awesome vinyl downstairs. Done.
Aquarius (1055 Valencia at 17th St.)
Be prepared to not understand anything that goes on in here. We're music journalists, paid to be music nerds, and we still only recognize about five artists these guys stock. If you ever have obscure musician friends from Europe visiting, take them in here and let them explain what everything is. But be warned, it'll sound like this: "Oh, wow! I can't believe they sell that here! This is a band from Great Yarmouth that my mate Chris put out on his label two years ago and it's this amazing post-industrial ambient jazz-punk, with, like, psychedelic overtones. You should totally buy this." Uh-huh ...
Shaxul Records (1816 Haight at Stanyan)
DEATH TO FALSE METAL! *Grunt*
Grooves (1797 Market at Valencia)
This place should be considered a tourist attraction, given its record-covered exterior. It's like being in the store Molly Ringwald worked at in Pretty in Pink. Grooves is great for a geeky afternoon spent rummaging through old vinyl. The people who work here are quintessential music nerds. Not only will they geek out with you over the records, but they'll help you replace that needle on your old record player that you simply cannot find anywhere else. Note: This is a great day out for music nerd dads who want to reminisce about their youth.
Thrillhouse (3422 Mission at 30th St.)
This is where the punk rock purists buy their records -- and we mean that in a good way. True punks refuse to acknowledge that other genres even exist, and this place enables them to continue to do so (again, we do mean that in a good way). This is run by volunteers so, according to the website, the hours are "Sometime around high noon to a little bit after dinner" (love it!). This is probably where people who volunteer for Maximum Rocknroll buy stuff -- support your local punk rock community, you bastards.
Rooky Ricardo's (448 Haight at Fillmore)
If you consider yourself a soul and R&B connoisseur, you already know about this place. If you are not a soul and R&B connoisseur, you should probably come in here anyway to enjoy (a) the smell of old records, and (b) pretend to live in another decade. Gorgeous.