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The 10 Coolest Bookstores In San Franciso

The 10 Coolest Bookstores In San Franciso

Picture of James Sawyer
Updated: 9 February 2017
From its prominent role in the Beat movement to its present-day, staunch advocacy for small, independent business, San Francisco’s collection of independent bookstores is one of the city’s greatest cultural assets. From stores specializing exclusively in fantasy and science fiction, to activist hubs and antiquarian collectors, here is our pick of the 10 must-visit bookshops in San Francisco.

Dog Eared Books

Located on Valencia Street in the Mission District, Dog Eared Books is one of San Francisco’s most beloved literary institutions. With creaky wooden floors, a carefully curated selection of new and used books and a loyal clientele of community readers, Dog Eared Books epitomizes the best, most inimitable characteristics of an independent bookstore. In addition to their general interest stock, the store excels in local literature and small press, as well as Beat and off-beat genres. Dog Eared Books also stocks calendars, magazines, notebooks, and even local works of art. A weekly New York Review of Books reading group brings together local readers on Sunday evenings.

Dog Eared Books, 900 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415-282-1901


Dog Eared Books
Image Courtesy of Dog Eared Books | © Cammie Toloui


City Lights Bookstore

City Lights Bookstore is both one of San Francisco’s most iconic bookstores and the symbol of a famous literary movement hailing from the city. Referencing the bookstore’s historic role in promoting the Beat movement and Allen Ginsberg’s famous poem, bumper stickers can be seen throughout the city proclaiming ‘HOWL if you love City Lights.’ The bookstore specializes in progressive politics, the arts and world literature, and features its own independent press, made famous by the court cases surrounding Allen Ginsberg’s poetry that ultimately led towards greater freedom of the American press. Advocating a culture of critical readership, the City Lights Foundation promotes ‘deep literacy,’ a skill which transcends basic literacy and involves the capacity to shape individual lives, the community and the communication of knowledge.

City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415-362-8193


Modern Times Bookstore

Located on 24th street, also known as calle 24 thanks to its status as an artery of Hispanic culture in San Francisco’s Mission District, Modern Times is the go-to bookstore for literature on political engagement. Between its extensive collection of writings on Latina/o culture and history and its unmatched sections on sexuality and gender, Modern Times Bookstore is a refuge for activists, informed readers and all shades of minority cultures. With its history rooted in the ‘movement’ bookstores of the 1970s and youth activism, Modern Times has since expanded beyond the realm of activist politics, catering to the broader needs of its community through poetry, lifestyle, mystery and even cookbook sections. Modern Times has deep roots in the Hispanic community of the Mission district, and emerged as one of the first community hubs bridging literature, politics, local poets and the community.

Modern Times Bookstore, 2919 24th Street San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415-282-9246


Image Courtesy of Modern Times Bookstore
Image Courtesy of Modern Times Bookstore

Borderlands Books

At Borderlands Books, SF doesn’t just stand for the bookstore’s home city, but for its specialty literary genre: science fiction. Paired with an equally rich collection of fantasy literature, mystery and horror, Borderlands is unparalleled in San Francisco and many other American cities in its scope of the fictional and the fantastic. Borderlands hosts numerous book events, signings and discussions every week while promoting itself as a hub for writers, publishers, reviewers, artists and readers, making the bookstore a must-visit for professionals and enthusiasts of oft-marginalized genres. Borderlands Books adjoins Borderlands Café, where visitors can find immediate gratification delving into their purchases over a drink.

Borderlands Books, 866 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415-824-8203


Borderlands Books
Image Courtesy of Borderland Books

Green Apple Books

Founded in 1967, Green Apple Books continues to be one of San Francisco’s most favored independent bookstores to this day. Started by a young literary enthusiast with little business experience and a credit union loan, Green Apple Books has since been passed on to a younger generation of long-time employees through a model case of succession planning. Not only is the bookstore a landmark of the residential Richmond neighborhood, it is a shining model of the survival and sustainability of much-treasured independent institutions across generations. Despite a face-lift of the store’s exterior and an additional location opened in 2014, the original interior remains much unchanged with creaky wooden floors and gaslight lamps.

Green Apple Books, 506 Clement St, San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415-387-2272


Alexander Book Company

Alexander Book Company is downtown San Francisco’s answer for independent bookstore enthusiasts, with three floors and over 50,000 titles. With collections specializing in African-American literature, children’s literature, graphic design and fiction, the store is a vocal advocate of local business in the heart of an increasingly commercial city neighborhood. Along theses lines, Alexander boasts a frequent buyers’ club, which offers discounts for every 10th book purchased, as well as a coupon program through their mailing list. In what has perhaps been Alexander’s most compelling engagement with the community, the bookshop has committed to planting one tree for every purchase made, resulting in a total of over 48,000 trees planted since 2005 and a strong moral commitment to the sustainability of the printing industry.

Alexander Book Company, 50 2nd St, San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415-495-2992


Books Inc.

Currently operating in 11 locations across California, Books Inc. boasts the title of the West’s oldest independent bookseller, with roots in the California gold rush of the 1850s. The passing of its owner of 50 years in 1996 coincided with the rise of chain bookstores across America, meaning that Books Inc. also took part in the history of independent bookshops: after filing for bankruptcy, it emerged from the ashes and ultimately re-established 11 of the former roster of 12 locations, setting a model for the success of independent bookstores in the face of big business. The shop stands behind an astonishingly large community of book clubs, hosting over 30 with focuses ranging from Silicon Valley and the World Affairs Council to healthy lifestyles.

Books Inc., 2275 Market St, San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415-864-6777


Argonaut Book Shop

Argonaut Books will certainly not be displaced by a chain bookstore any time soon. The shop’s extensive collection of used and antiquarian books gives it a unique spot on the map of San Francisco’s literary establishments. With a focus on the history of California, the American West and Pacific Voyages, as well as a strong collection of illustrated books, maps, prints, photographs, manuscripts and ephemera, Argonaut is a place for history and literature enthusiasts alike. Founded in 1941, Argonaut continues today under the management of the founder’s grandchildren.

Argonaut Book Shop, 786 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415-474-9067


The Booksmith

Located in San Francisco’s historic Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, the Booksmith is run by a couple of literary entrepreneurs alongside Berkeley Arts & Letters across the Bay, which boasts the East Bay’s most acclaimed author event series, as well as Silicon Valley’s famous Kepler’s Books. The Booksmith is also home to a particularly active roster of author events, in line with owner Christin Evans’ vision that independent bookstores should act as community-based cultural institutions. Beyond the Booksmith’s active author event calendar, the bookshop engages in the community through promoting children’s writing classes.

The Booksmith, 1644 Haight St, San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415-863-8688


The Booksmith
Image Courtesy of The Booksmith


Browser Books

Browser Books has been in the service of the readers of Pacific Heights since 1976, offering a friendly atmosphere and thoughtfully selected titles. Noted for its selection of literature and fiction, both contemporary and classic, Browser Books is also outstanding in its collection of books pertaining to philosophy, religion and Buddhism in particular. In a similarly meditative vein, Browser Books advances literature and poetry concerning the search for meaning in life, most recently spearheaded by their own publishing initiative began in 2005.

Browser Books, 2195 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415-567-8027