From a landmark store that’s an icon of the Beat Generation to a tiny community shop nestled blocks away from the beach, San Francisco has plenty of bookstores that offer a vast selection of titles, genres and authors. Here are the top eight bookstores not to miss when visiting this famously literary city.
City Lights Booksellers & Publishers
City Lights is an independent bookstore and publisher in San Francisco
Located in the heart of North Beach, City Lights is an unmissable San Francisco icon. Founded in 1963 during the height of the Beatnik era, the bookstore began as an all-paperback store but now offers a wide variety of both major publishers and independent ones. City Lights itself is an independent publisher of alternative politics, world literature and art books as well as acclaimed titles such as Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. Try to catch one of the bookstore’s frequently held author signings or events, and be sure to grab a postcard or bookmark on your way out.
Dog Eared Books has been part of the San Francisco literary community since 1992. The bookstore has two locations – one in the Mission and one in the Castro – and offers new and used books as well as magazines, calendars, cards and notebooks. With a hard-to-miss turquoise facade, bargain bins greeting you upon entrance and a colorful, sunshine-filled interior, Dog Eared Books provides an inviting space to pull up a chair and grab one of many staff-picks at the ready. With an entire section dedicated to local artists and writers, both locations are worth a visit for the uniquely San Francisco atmosphere.
Green Apple Books has two locations in San Francisco
Green Apple Books started in 1967 as a small used bookstore and has now grown to an established San Francisco mainstay with both an Inner Sunset and Inner Richmond location. The latter boasts a main storefront with new and used non-fiction, kids books, cookbooks and new releases; a couple of doors down houses new and used fiction, music, graphic novels and science fiction. The Apple-a-Month Club sends staff-picked, new release fiction paperbacks once a month to customers anywhere in the United States.
Located a block away from the Haight-Ashbury intersection, The Booksmith has a storied history. Originally opened in 1976, the bookstore often hosted celebrated authors – Hunter S Thompson, Ray Bradbury and Allen Ginsberg, who gave his very last reading here, were featured speakers. The space is inviting with vibrant interiors and prominent tables stacked with staff recommendations; cards, calendars and other gifts are found at every turn. Check out The Booksmith blog for book suggestions, updates and events such as poetry readings, author signings and book parties at a nearby event space, The Bindery.
Under the same ownership as Dog Eared Books, Alley Cat Books in the Mission is an even more art-filled space than its sister establishments. Posters, prints and paintings line the walls, and eclectic – sometimes humorous – signage guides patrons through the store. With an art gallery stocked with works by local artists, the store often hosts events such as oil painting and writing workshops. It also offers a community-driven writing residency program for aspiring writers. The store buys, sells and trades both new and used books, and titles come in both English and Spanish.
You’ll find only one literary genre at Omnivore Books – food and drink. Located in Noe Valley, the bookstore features new, antique and collectable cookbooks (separated in store by country and region) and titles focused specifically on food. The interior is sophisticated with bright yellow walls, white bookshelves neatly lined with books and featured titles stacked on display tables. Owner Celia Sack leverages Twitter, Facebook and email mailing lists to keep customers up to date on store happenings such as events, cooking demonstrations and author talks. Omnivore Books also offers a personalized cookbook club where members receive a signed copy of a cookbook from featured chefs four times a year.
While you won’t find shelves jam-packed with every title imaginable, the sunny and inviting Black Bird Bookstore carefully curates a diverse set of titles, including many by women of color, children’s books, and contemporary fiction and non-fiction. A short walk from the beach, the bookstore’s interior is airy and bright, with both a reading area near the back and a plant-filled outdoor patio. Black Bird Bookstore features locally designed wood shelving from Woodshop, and the adjacent Trouble Coffee invites patrons to pair a good book from Blackbird with an espresso and cinnamon toast.
Dubbed Potrero Hill’s neighborhood bookstore since 1991, Christopher’s Books is delightfully old-school, having been in the same location for 25 years and taking orders by phone, email or, of course, drop-in. The bookstore offers a wide inventory of calendars, books and notebooks as well as children’s books and toys. Christopher’s Books is surviving the Amazon age with a focus on face-to-face interaction with customers. The beloved bookstore is both pet-friendly and often holds book drives for local charities.