The Best Libraries In San Francisco

Library | © Diliff/Wikipedia
Courtney Holcomb

If you’re looking for a new study spot or a place to pick up the next book on your reading list, look no further. From gorgeous reading rooms to galleries hosting cultural artifacts, these six libraries are some of our favorite spots in San Francisco.

Prelinger Library


© Paul / Flickr
If you find yourself in SoMa, be sure to check out Prelinger Library, open to anyone looking for ‘research, reading, inspiration, and reuse.’ An independent research center founded in 2004 by Rick and Megan Prelinger, the library prides itself on being home to a community of artists, writers, activists, and other creatives. Prelinger hosts a collection of print memorabilia from the the 1800s and 1900s, primarily consisting of works published in the United States, giving visitors a taste of the less-mainstream American culture of that time. The library is open every Wednesday from 1pm to 8pm, with additional days scheduled periodically.

SFPL Main Branch


Looking down on the SFPL Main Branch
© Joe Mabel/Wikipedia
The San Francisco Public Library Main Branch is the most widely known library in San Francisco. Open to the public daily, the library is consistently filled with tourists and locals looking for shelter from the cold. The Main Library serves as the primary resource center for the entirety of the SFPL system, hosting a variety of collections like the San Francisco History Center, the African American Center, the Chinese Center, the James C. Hormel Gay & Lesbian Center, the Steve Silver Beach Blanket Babylon Music Center, the Wallace E. Stegner Environmental Center, and the Marjorie G. & Carl W. Stern Book Arts & Special Collections Center.

Mechanics’ Institute Library

Building, Library

Mechanics’ Institute Library
© Chad K/Flickr
Founded in 1854 as a place for mechanics to satisfy their educational needs, the Mechanics’ Institute is home to both a stunning library and an elite chess community. Today, the nine-story building has become a haven for readers and workers of a variety of occupations. The library hosts over 160,000 volumes, including print resources on subjects such as literature, fine arts, history, philosophy, performing arts, business, and finance, in addition to a growing audiobook, e-book, and music collection. Visitors are encouraged to take part in one of the institute’s book discussion or writing groups.

SFPL Potrero Hill Branch


SFPL Potrero Hill Branch
© throgers/Flickr
The Potrero Hill Branch was the 22nd branch established in the San Francisco Public Library system. It was renovated in March 2010 to include an expanded second floor with gorgeous views of the city, a community program room, plenty of seating, computers with wireless internet, and a teen area. The library hosts children’s Spanish, Chinese, and Italian collections, as well as a seed library, from which visitors can take seeds to plant and later bring back the best seeds from what they have grown. The library has meeting rooms available for the public to reserve after hours, as well.

SFPL Bernal Heights Branch


SFPL Bernal Heights Branch
© Eric E Castro/Flickr
The Bernal Heights Branch of the San Francisco Public Library system has been around for over 75 years, developing a unique and active library community. The library features a laptop program, allowing the public to borrow laptops for in-house use. What really makes this place shine, though, are its community programs. The Bernal Book Club has been thriving for 22 years, and it is accompanied by programs such as the Bernal History Project and the Bernal Jazz Quintet. Look out for monthly LEGO nights, Origami Club meetings, poetry workshops, Phonographic Memory nights, watercolor studios, and Teen Fridays. Plus, you can come check out one of the library’s weekly story times for families with children.

UCSF Library


The main UCSF Library is located on the Parnassus campus, open daily. The space is sectioned off into a variety of gorgeous reading rooms, study rooms, and computer rooms. Printing, scanning, and copying services are available, in addition to a variety of computer resources. Books and articles are available to borrow with a library account, in addition to a variety of online resources. Some of the library’s highlights include a maker room, a Quiet Study Room, a music room practice space, a simulation lab, and a reading room open 24 hours a day.
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