Washington, D.C., is a city like no other, where local culture and international influences collide to create unique communities, neighborhoods and shops.
In D.C., independent businesses add character to their neighborhoods, especially the indie book and record shops that stick to classic, analog style. Here are six great D.C. record stores and bookstores where visitors can listen, learn, shop and leave the city with something special.
Capitol Hill Books, Capitol Hill
Opened in 1991 and purchased by employees in 2018, Capitol Hill Books is a haven for book lovers in the nation’s capital. Both the neighborhood and this shop brim with eclectic energy and warmth.
The three-story building is like a house with a room for each genre (including the bathroom). The shelves are perfectly chaotically organized, with helpful and humorous labels like “My name’s Alice Munro and I run this town” and “famous ‘D’ authors.” Owner Kyle Burk describes the shop as “packed to the gills and a little weird.”
According to Burk, Capitol Hill Books hopes to offer “really good books” to the community, to help people find new things they perhaps didn’t even know they’d wanted — or had long desired. It’s not uncommon for a customer to leave the store beaming, finally having scored a book they had spent years searching for.
Though Capitol Hill Books can feel like a familiar, well-worn home, it never gets old.
Som Records, U Street Corridor
Hidden under a barbershop between the busy Logan Circle and U Street neighborhoods, Som Records is all about surprises. Inside, it’s like a secret sea of records of all genres waiting to be surfaced. In the bright-orange-hued space, new records and old greats are always in stock.
Don’t miss the dollar bin; the $1 label on these rare and interesting finds may mean they’re priceless. Live rock and soul records or a funky mixtape or EP will surely land in your luggage and atop your home record player.
Politics and Prose, Chevy Chase Heights
A fixture in the cozy Chevy Chase Heights neighborhood since 1984, Politics and Prose — one of D.C.’s most iconic spots — represents the city’s intellectual spirit.
The shelves are stocked with bestsellers and award-winners, an excellent nonfiction selection and an array of local authors’ works. There are books you can’t find elsewhere and books that delve into the details of every niche topic, ranging from photography to foreign politics.
The shop opens to countless literary-related gifts and rows of curated and diverse literary magazines and journals. The basement is a wonderland of books for children to explore.
Don’t miss chances to join the community; the shop houses a lovely all-day café (The Den), book subscriptions and D.C.’s best events. Check the shop’s calendar before your trip to meet special guests, who in the past have included Annie Liebovitz, Barack Obama and Boris Johnson.
Byrdland Records, Union Market District
Byrdland Records, located in the Union Market District of warehouses-turned-small businesses, carries more than 5,000 new and used records. Founded by the team behind celebrated local venue SongByrd Music House, Byrdland Records proves that vinyl is not a thing of the past.
The wide aisles hold a perfect combo of retro and up-and-coming records and a unique selection of hip-hop, reggae, soul and rock. Byrdland sets itself apart with many electronic music options, rare indie finds, D.C.-created music (like Go-Go) and a colorful lounge filled with vintage music memorabilia and leather couches where visitors can cozy up.
The space is always exciting, holding new-music listening parties and open mics for local rising stars. Byrdland focuses on new releases while sticking to the vinyl format.
“Over time, more and more bands are putting in an album with vinyl, and … music lovers are … excited for new releases,” co-owner Joe Lapan said.
Co-owner Alisha Edmonson celebrates that vinyl allows for a “physical collection [that] reminds you of what you love.” And Byrdland is certainly the place to find a love for music.
Kramers, Dupont Circle
Kramers fits perfectly in Dupont, a central Northwest neighborhood of open-air patios and late-night hot spots. The landmark bookstore has been the spot for book lovers to mingle since 1976.
The shop has a variety of mystery, romance, foreign literature, children’s books and anything else you seek. Every surface is a rainbow of books.
Kramers was the first bookshop in the city to double as an (all-day) café — and they do it right — with incredible coffee, wholesome meals and the Fedwich sandwich pop-up collaboration with barbeque phenom the Federalist Pig. Their full-service bar serves local brews and classic cocktails, making it a date-with-a-book destination.
HR Records, Petworth
Petworth — a community of historic townhomes in tree-lined Northwest D.C. — is all about what makes the city special, much like its record store HR (Home Rule) Records. HR Records features classics and rare finds in R&B, funk, jazz, blues and anything with a little soul (rock and rap included).
Music of every soulful genre plays as visitors spend hours browsing rediscovered or soon-to-be-uncovered favorites. Local art and posters (including incredible Home Rule Music Festival ads) adorn the walls.
Vinyl prices start in single digits for rare singles and mixes and remain affordable for sprawling jazz and funk anthologies from the likes of Al Green and D.C.-born Duke Ellington.
HR Records overflows with soundtracks of our lives and cities, perfect for bringing home a bit of D.C. soul.