The Bay Area has a musical history steeped in deep-rooted legends and ahead-of-the-times trends. Be it the free-wheeling hippies who migrated to colourful Haight Ashbury, guitars in hand, or the now student-centric Berkeley, once the birthplace of Jimi Hendrix, San Francisco is heaving with the ghosts of music past.
Perhaps because of this beat loving culture, it’s so easy to stumble upon adored record stores filled with dog eared vinyl, iconic band t-shirts and plenty of temptations to let you splash some cash. There are five stores you really can’t miss, and this record trail shows you how to find your way.
#1 Amoeba Music
Where: 1855 Haight Street, San Francisco
Start your trail under the neon sign – Amoeba is located at the top end of Height Ashbury, trimming the edge of Golden Gate Park. Since 1997, this former bowling alley has been the one-stop-shop for music nerds. If you want to live out your Empire Records fantasies, look no further.
One of three Ameoba stores, the staff here are super knowledgeable and more than happy to help you navigate through the maze of stock that will dazzle you on entry. Trawl through racks on racks of CDs and dip into the biggest stock of vinyl in the world. Check out their vintage handbill and flyer collection for a step back in time, and watch their award winning doco seriesWhat’s In My Bag?, profiling artists and tastemakers sharing the purchases they found at Amoeba. There are even live in-store performances most weeks too.
Where: 1672 Haight Street, San Francisco
Funky smells and chaotic clutter are all part of the charm of Rasputin, which first opened in 1971. This place is stacked five floors high with all music genres, from reggae to rap. Sticking to the sign of the times, most of the stock is CDs and DVDs, but there are still old-school gems to discover.
Very occasionally they put on live shows – Metallica made a rare in-store appearance in 2008, which was their first in almost a decade, as part of Record Store Day. So you never know who or what might turn up.
#3 Jack’s Record Cellar
Where: 254 Scott Street, San Francisco
Next stop on the trail is an underground relic, frequented by serious music lovers. Don’t expect to find your usual roll call of artists and albums here – Jack’s Record Cellar is for the vinyl lover keen to discover something new and something unusual.
Dig through crates of vinyl and 45s for old soul, R&B, roots and blues. There are plenty of foreign artists as well as American heroes. Be warned! You’ll need to set aside a few hours to sift through all the goodies. Take a plunge on a purchase and walk away with a story to tell.
You won’t find them online, and Jack’s is usually open on Saturdays only or by appointment all other days. Good luck!
#4 Rooky Ricardo's
Where: 448 Haight Street, San Francisco
Soul lovers take a breath. To complete the trifecta of Haight Ashbury’s must-visit record haunts, Rooky Ricardo’s is your missing puzzle piece. Deep soul, crooning barbershop-hop and charming girl groups are all yours for the taking. There are many bargains to be found here, with some 45s starting from just $2.
The owner of the store is a bit of a hero in San Fran, famous for his incredibly inviting store, and ’50s era rock’n’roll dance skills. If you’re lucky he might just give you a twirl.
#5 Aquarius Records
Where: 1055 Valencia Street, San Francisco
For the last stop, venture south towards the Mission District to uncover Aquarius Records. Another shop born in the ’70s, this laid back nook has a great reputation – run by a small team of staff, they hand pick every item for their store.
This is the go-to for an obscure range of alternative rock, metal and experimental. Have a little explore and let their expertise guide you. Or, if you’re exhausted with all this record shopping, gravitate to the back of the shop and vague out on their vintage arcade games.