Whenever I travel, I tend to look for bookstores to visit. Luckily for me, San Francisco is one of the few cities that has a strong independent bookstore scene, and I love the city for that. I am now experiencing slight separation anxiety as I think about leaving this behind.
I love the nice, homey, community vibe that I get each time I walk into an indie bookstore. I
waste spend a lot of time in bookstores, especially when they have a lot of staff recommendations scattered around, and I have, more often than not, accidentally spent a fortune buying pretty books from the shelves.
So if you find yourself in San Francisco and bookstores are part of your travel itinerary, I have six (I couldn’t bring it down to five) bookstores I recommend you visit. Admittedly, this isn’t a full list of the best bookstores in San Francisco, but these are the ones that I’ve enjoyed. I would probably trek the city for these, but good thing San Francisco is only 7×7 miles (and some of these bookstores are in close proximity to each other). OK, here is my list!
City Lights Bookstore
- Where: Columbus Ave in North Beach
- Website: http://www.citylights.com/
- Visit for: the vibe and aesthetic. City Lights is a cultural landmark. There’s a poetry room (upstairs) that houses—you guessed it—poetry, but is also a nice and quiet place to sit
and meditate. I also love how there are stairs that take you down to a basement level full of books books books, and you can look at the books and posters that line the staircases. If you only have room for one bookstore to visit, I suggest this place because I have not met anyone (even my brother who just does not like to read) who didn’t enjoy a visit to City Lights.
Green Apple Books
- Where: Clement St in Inner Richmond (but also an annex on 9th Ave in the Inner Sunset)
- Website: https://www.greenapplebooks.com/
- Visit for: the wide selection and the great staff recommendations. This is my favorite bookstore in San Francisco (though I prefer the Sunset location) because they (1) highlight the best books in the shelves closest to the entrance, drawing you into the bookstore; (2) host several events/readings per months, so you get an opportunity to meet some of your favorite authors; (3) exude a community feel with all of those handwritten staff recommendations scattered throughout the bookstore; (4) sell a lot of signed books, and they have a shelf dedicated to discounted brand new books; etc.
- Where: Valencia St in the Mission
- Website: https://borderlands-books.com/
- Visit for: the potential to discover your next sci-fi/fantasy/horror/mystery read. Yeah, that’s a lot, but a lot of bookstores tend to focus on more popular or mainstream reads. This bookstore showcases genres that regular bookstores only dedicate one shelf or a tiny section to. They also have a cafe connected to the bookstore, which has complete amenities (restroom and wifi) and which serves loose leaf tea as well as coffee.
Dog Eared books
- Where: Castro St (but there is one on Valencia St in the Mission as well)
- Website: http://www.dogearedbooks.com/
- Visit for: the LGBT and women selections. The bookstore carries a variety of books, but has a bigger section than usual to tackle LGBT topics. This bookstore is also very politically aware: they provide post cards and postage and encourage you to take a stand and to write to your leaders.
- Where: 24th St in the Mission
- Website: http://www.adobebooks.com/
- Visit for: the less mainstream collection and the art gallery at the back. There are enough books up front to keep you busy, but if you go all the way to the back, there’s a small gallery that features an artist for a month or so. There’s also a cute reading nook at the back, so it’s easy to
get stuckstay inside for a bit longer than planned.
Black Bird Bookstore
- Where: Judah St in Outer Sunset
- Website: https://www.blackbirdbooksf.com/
- Visit for: the curated collection and the outdoor patio. If you are walking to or from the beach, the bookstore is only a few blocks away. It houses a smaller collection of books, and there is a kid’s section that actually looks quite cozy. Out back, there’s a nice patio with a lot of succulents, and it really is a relaxing spot. It’s a nice change from the busy-ness everywhere else in the city. Bonus: This is close to my favorite coffee shop in the city, Andytown Coffee Roasters. These were featured in a previous post, Gems in the Sunset.