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8 Incredible Independent Bookstores In San Francisco

Picture of Courtney Holcomb
Updated: 8 September 2016
Known for its rich literary history and thriving cultural scene, San Francisco is home to a number of independent bookstores. These stores host everything from cultural events to rare and out-of-print books. Step inside one of our favorites to browse through floor-to-ceiling stacks, finding that perfect paperback you’ve been searching for or a unique gift for a loved one.
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City Lights Booksellers & Publishers

City Lights is one of the most famous literary landmarks in San Francisco, located on Columbus Avenue in North Beach. Founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin, City Lights was the nation’s first all-paperback bookstore. Ferlinghetti himself went on to become one of the most famous writers of the Beat generation, and during the 1950s and 1960s the shop became a hub for Beat writers. After the publication of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems, the store was famously sued for obscenity, but won the trial – a win for free speech activists across the nation. Today, the store is still thriving, offering three stories full of new and used literature.

City Lights Booksellers & Publishers, 261 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA

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Aardvark Books

Aardvark Books is an independent bookstore in the vibrant Castro district, crowded with stacks of new and used books to browse through. The prices are extremely affordable, making it easy to snag a copy of whatever’s next on your reading list. In addition to fiction, there is a great selection of graphic novels and every genre you can imagine. The staff is incredibly knowledgeable and can be quite helpful if you’re trying to pin down something specific. As a bonus, you may even find the store’s notorious tabby cat browsing the stacks alongside you.

Aardvark Books, 227 Church St, San Francisco, CA

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Christopher’s Books

Christopher’s Books is a friendly neighborhood bookstore located in Potrero Hill, open since 1991. The store is small and charming, and while it does not have an extensive selection to choose from, it makes up for it with quality curation and more unique options. The staff is super friendly and can easily help you out by recommending a great read or a special gift for a loved one. Whatever you’re looking for, this quaint shop is sure to make you feel at home.

Christopher’s Books, 1400 18th St, San Francisco, CA

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Dog Eared Books

Dog Eared Books has been in the city since 1992, located on the corner of 20th and Valencia in the Mission district. The shop specializes in ‘Beat, off-beat, small press, and local literature,’ but it has a wide selection of other items to choose from, as well, making it the perfect place to look for gifts. Magazines, calendars, and notebooks are commonly available. If you’re looking to sell your used books, this Dog Eared buys them. The shop supports the local art community by displaying art from local artists, too.

Dog Eared Books, 900 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA

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Green Apple Books

Green Apple Books frequently ranks in one of the most beloved bookstores in San Francisco by locals and news sources alike. You can spend hours browsing the stacks here, finding more unique gems than you ever imagined possible. In addition to paperback and hardcover, new and used books, the store offers e-books, audiobooks, and a selection of music. The shop also hosts a variety of literary events for the public to enjoy. The primary location is located in the Inner Richmond, but the store also recently opened a second location in the Inner Sunset.

Green Apple Books, 506 Clement St, San Francisco, CA

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Kayo Books

Kayo Books is a unique bookstore located in the Lower Nob Hill neighborhood. More than just a bookstore, Kayo serves as a mini-museum, providing a variety of rare and out-of-print books for readers and collectors. The books cover a variety of genres from the 1960s and 1970s, covering everything from pulp fiction and sci-fi to counterculture and erotica. The books are quite cheap, and there is also a variety of gifts and other goods to choose from. Be sure to visit soon, because the store will be open only by appointment starting in November 2016.

Kayo Books, 814 Post St, San Francisco, CA

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Bird & Beckett Books & Records

Bird & Beckett Books & Records is a staple in the Glen Park neighborhood. The store goes beyond the standards of a quiet, neighborhood bookstore, engaging with the community with plenty of live music, poetry readings, open mic nights, and other events. With an emphasis on jazz, the store brings groovy vibes to the neighborhood. Stop by to enjoy the music and browse the great selection of books, always excellently curated to draw you to the stacks – but be warned, you may get lost in them.

Bird & Beckett Books & Records, 653 Chenery St, San Francisco, CA

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Russian Hill Bookstore

Russian Hill Bookstore is one of the last family-owned independent bookstores left in San Francisco, popular among local artists, writers, and other creatives. Located on the popular Polk Street, it has expanded since its opening in 1993 to incorporate an excellent selection of greeting cards, board games, toys, and other gifts, in addition to its thriving collection of new and used books. The store offers the option of buying or trading for your used books, so clear out your bookshelf and stop by.

Russian Hill Bookstore, 2234 Polk St, San Francisco, CA