Best Bay Area record stores
Decked with neon paint and candy-colored string lights, this store is the whimsical vision of owner Dick Vivian. He launched the shop 30 years ago with a stash of 3,500 records, which he gamely offered for $2 a pop. Today his trove numbers over 40,000, with a specialty in oldies and girl-groups from the ‘50s and ‘60s, particularly 45s. (“SOUL” is spelled out in glowing letters on one wall.) You can browse to your heart’s content, but the best way to shop here is to bring in a list of bands and let Dick steer you in the right direction. He’s a human Pandora of music from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. Want a glimpse into Vivian’s own prized collection? Pick up one of his homemade mix CDs near the register.
This tangerine-hued record shop blends the best of both worlds: The wide variety of a packed-to-the-brim, old-school spot with the curated, orderly selection of a modern store. Owners Matt and Dominic Siracusa are obsessive collectors themselves, which means the turnover here is high. The store is particularly well-known for its assortment of jazz, rock, soul and world music, but it offers a solid selection across genres. Serious collectors check in for rare reissues and LPs, while casual listeners flip through the $1 to $5 bins. One of the best, underrated perks here is the care the shop invests in its vinyl. Each record is cleaned and restored using a high-tech ultrasonic machine before it hits the shelves, meaning you won’t go home with a dud. Bring in your own collection for a deep-clean at $2.50 per record.
If this boarded up corner record store, tucked into the bottom of a Victorian, looks closed, that’s because it usually is. It only opens on Saturday afternoons, and even that schedule can be spotty. But if you’re a lucky enough to find the door cracked, you’ll discover an unparalleled selection within. The store’s previous incarnation opened in 1951 on Haight Street; in 1961, current owners Wade Wright and Norman Pierce bought the stock and moved a few blocks away to his storefront. The walls are covered with black and white publicity stills and concert posters of jazz and country stars from the ‘50s and ‘60s. The selection of 33s, 45s, and 78s is heavy on jazz, soul, R&B and rock, though you’ll also find sections devoted to world music, pop, opera and local hip-hop. “Here you will find thousands of records of the past 50 years,” reads a sign near the register, “...something out of the past for every musical taste.”
Though founders Marc Weinstein and Dave Prinz opened their first record store in Berkeley in 1990, it’s the 20-year-old San Francisco location that has become a national treasure. That’s largely due to its luxurious size: It’s set in a 24,000-square-foot former bowling alley. That means you’ll find thousands of records in every genre, from hip-hop to classic jazz, world music to Top 40. Each section is staffed by an expert in that particular music type, whether reggae or rock. This spot and its sister store in West Hollywood often host concerts and events. In addition to records, you’ll also find a stash of new and used DVDs, cassettes, video games and CDs.
This El Cerrito record store is a Bay Area mainstay, modestly adorned with wood-paneling, fluorescent lighting and vintage posters. It was opened in 1976 by Chris Strachwitz, the founder of Arhoolie Records, a label specializing in down-home blues, folk, Tejano music, Cajun music, zydeco and regional Mexican music. Those influences remain: You won’t find much in the way of new music here, but it’s the niche collection of 33s, 45s, and 78s that draw collectors. A small stage in back hosts blues, folk and bluegrass bands.
When this sunny little Oakland shop opened in 2012, it drew comparisons to Brokeland Records, the fictional record store in Michael Chabon’s novel, Telegraph Avenue. It may be a newcomer by record store standards, but it comes with a pedigree: It was founded by Bill Zindel, former owner of Jimmie Gallery, and Steve Viaduct, head of archival record label Superior Viaduct. The spot specializes in music from the last 40 years—including jazz, folk, international and blues—with a particular emphasis on rock and punk. (There’s a well-curated section devoted to Bay Area punk bands.) The spot has fashioned itself into a neighborhood hang-out, regularly hosting book readings, record release parties, movie screenings and in-store performances. In the summer of 2016, Viaduct and Zindel took over the Aquarius Records on Valencia Street, the oldest independent record store in San Francisco, and turned it into Stranded’s second location.
This isn’t your typical cluttered, dust-ridden record shop. Opened in 2010 by DJ Chris Dixon, the space is spotless and modern with custom-built shelves, gold-leaf signage, color-coordinated displays and friendly service. Dixon makes regular buying trips to Europe to replenish his supply, which focuses on international pop, early blues and Americana, jazz, folk and experimental music. Here, you won’t have to dig through random unknowns to find the real deal. And though Dixon prides himself on his selection of rare finds for enthusiasts, the racks are also well-stocked with classic fare, from the Beatles to The Who.
When the Beastie Boys name check a record shop, you know it’s good. (“This one goes out to my man the Groove Merchant/Coming through with the beats for which I’ve been searchin.’”) Owner Chris Veltri has earned the nickname “Cool Chris” for his encyclopedic musical knowledge and easy manner. Groove Merchant originated as a section in Rooky Ricardo’s; now it’s a stand-alone shop revered for its well-honed selection of funk, soul, jazz and R&B. Serious collectors visit for the stash of rare 45s, but even the $5 and $1 bins are rife with classics.
Owner Steve Stevenson first opened 1-2-3-4 in Temescal in 2008, leap-frogged around to various storefronts, and finally settled in this Oakland location in 2012. With lipstick-red walls and a skull logo out front, the selection skews towards punk and indie rock, but also offers a sizable selection of classic rock and soul. The records line the narrow shop up front, while bands play on the stage in back at all-ages shows. After launching a mini-SF shop out of Lost Weekend Video, Stevenson opened a stand-alone sister-shop at 1038 Valencia Street in 2016. The Mission store is a reflection of its clientele—you’ll find releases from bands like the Replacements and the Ramones.
After working as the electronic music buyer for Amoeba by day and DJing at night, Mike Bee struck out on his own in 2013, setting up shop in the former storefront of Black Pancake Records. Vinyl Dreams is a record store for DJs by DJs, where producers and distributors line up at the listening stations. The focus is on dance and electronic music, including all the sub-genres within: techno, dub, ambient, disco, electronica and more. The selection is heavy on hard-to-find European imports.