The vast array of San Francisco music stores have long made the town a record collector's Mecca. From tiny, obscure shops selling sounds you've never heard before, to universally known corporate chains carrying U2's entire catalog, the city by the bay has it all. Here's our guide to the best of the best San Francisco music stores:
1855 Haight Street (between Shrader and Stanyan Streets) (415) 831-1200 Amoeba Music
Without a doubt the best known and loved record store in San Francisco, Amoeba Music carries a massive (We're talking thousands upon thousands) selection of both new and used CDs, LPs, DVDs, Laserdiscs, video and audio cassettes, and even 45s and 78s. This overwhelmingly gigantic store covers every genre of music imaginable (what other record shop has a Death Metal section?), and offers thrifty shoppers the chance to pick up lots of new CDs without draining their bank account (I got a used copy of R.E.M.'s "Monster" here for $1.99!). As sales of DVDs have taken off, Amoeba has become a top destination for movie freaks-their selection encompasses everything from the latest Julia Roberts film to obscure titles like "Black Christmas" and "Salo." Be sure to check their website for word on live in-store performances-past performers include Sonic Youth, Blackalicious, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, Puffy AmiYumi, and the White Stripes.
San Francisco Music Stores: Aquarius Records
1055 Valencia Street (between 21st and 22nd Streets) (415) 647-2272 Aquarius Records
This cozy Mission District record and CD shop caters to those with highly specialized tastes in music. If you're looking for a record by a doom metal band from Mexico City whose name you can't remember, chances are the employees at Aquarius will know exactly what you're talking about and know where to point you. A wonderful selection of alternative and experimental rock albums, as well as obscure soundtracks, free jazz, electronica, hip-hop, and world music. I've discovered some terrific bands through Aquarius' listening station, which usually consists of about 15 CDs the employees of the store are currently grooving to. I know people who have complained about the staff here being a bit stuck up, but I've always been treated kindly and given great assistance.
Open Mind Music
327 Divisadero Street (at Oak St.) (415) 621-5424 Open Mind Music
This independent music store is a vinyl collector's heaven. There are CDs for sale, but the specialty is vinyl-lots of it. You'll find both new and used rock, hip-hop, jazz, soul, techno, house, and county music LPs (many of which you won't find anywhere else in the city) in the store's well tended to bins, as well as friendly and helpful service from the always-eager employees. I recently set out in search of an obscure album on vinyl and hit just about every record store in the city (I'm not kidding) before finding it at Open Mind.
San Francisco Music Stores: Streetlight Records
2350 Market Street (at Castro Street) 415) 282-8000 Streetlight Records
Beloved neighborhood record store is a great spot to hit when you need to purchase a new album the day it comes out-they always have new titles out on the floor just as soon as their doors open, and most of the times, new releases carry solid sale prices. You'll also find new and used DVDs here in addition to new and used CDs and LPs. The bargain bin upstairs offers amazing savings on CDs from such genres as rock, pop, electronica, soundtracks, and country. If you have a lot of CDs and DVDs you no longer want, take them to Streetlight to sell for either cash or in-store credit. The salespeople here seem to know everything about every genre of music there is. An additional location is at 3979 24th Street (at Noe Street), (415) 282-3550.
2280 Market Street (at 16th Street) (415) 621-0588 Tower Records
Popular, longstanding, instantly recognizable chain now has two separate stores within its one Market Street location-the downstairs carries DVDs, videos, toys, and an enormous selection of magazines and zines from all over the world. Upstairs it's all about music, and all the bases are covered-rock, jazz, electronica, dance, country, and soundtrack CDs await you, and the classics of each of those genres sometimes carry price tags as low as $9.99! This Tower location is well liked for its selection of dance and electronica singles, too. There is an additional location in North Beach, at 2525 Jones Street (at Francisco Street), (415) 885-0500.