San Francisco is a bibliophile hot-spot and the birthplace of the Beat Generation. They have dozens of iconic and historic bookstores; places that famous authors revered and even lived above. In SF, you’re never that far from a good bookstore and, in fact, a lot of wonderful, independent bookstores will never make any of these lists.
Additionally, and much to my enjoyment, SF also has an abundance of specialty coffee shops. I’ve found that a lot of them have that industrial vibe that is found in a lot of NYC coffee shops. Even though these places are sometimes packed to the brim, they can be a great place to not only grab a quality cup of coffee, but to also sit down and read one of the treasures that you found at one of the following bookstores 🙂
Real quick, these are my favorite coffee shops in the Bay Area:
- Sextant Coffee Roasters
- Sightglass Coffee
- Folklores Coffee Roasters
- Equator Coffee
- Saint Frank Coffee
- The Coffee Movement
- Four Barrel Coffee
If you’ve been following Slow Boat Library for a while, you know that there are three or four main places I hunt down in every single city I visit. These are weird places that I find through Atlas Obscura, third-wave coffee shops, art museums and galleries, and bookstores. After my past weekend in SF, I couldn’t resist putting down what are, in my opinion, the best bookstores in San Francisco.
Bay Area Bookstores
Dog Eared Books
Dog Eared Books is right on the busy street of Valencia Avenue. It’s extremely well organized, with each section presented by a cute little blurb written by the owner. Among their newly published books, they have a healthy selection of quirky books, zines, notebooks, rare books like the Voynich Manuscript, posters, and sale books.
Address: 900 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110
Book Club of California
Founded in 1912, this non-profit bookstore is the oldest in the city and one of the oldest on the west coast. Nestled in the heart of the Financial District, it’s not easy to miss, as there is always a heavy stream of people coming and going. Besides being a non-profit, the Book Club of California is a membership organization for San Franciscan literary nerds and bibliophiles alike.
Address: 312 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94108
The Booksmith in Haight-Ashbury
The Booksmith is very roomy, very historic, and very photogenic. Since its opening in ’76, it has hosted authors such as Ray Bradbury and Hunter S Thompson. The shop also has a blog on their website, which is a goldmine for book nerds such as myself.
Address: 1644 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117
Just down the street from The Booksmith is Bound Together. Following suit of much of the SF population, the books that they offer are extremely insightful and mildly anarchist. If you’re looking for books that are not at all mainstream, locally-produced zines, vintage posters and artwork, and counter-culture media, check out Bound Together.
Address: 1369 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117
Even though I go through phases of obsessively reading certain genres, my favorite book genres are always sci-fi and horror. While I was perusing around Dog Eared Books, my friend left to go find a bathroom. Once she got back, she said she walked past a bookstore that I would absolutely love. And, boy, does she know me well.
Borderlands is home to an eclectic collection of rare books, horror and sci-fi editions, and even fan fiction. You can always find a gem there.
Address: 866 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110
Perhaps the most popular bilingual bookstore in SF, Alley Cat offers a wide selection of both English and Spanish-language and queer/feminist literature. The store itself is owned by the same person who owns Dog Eared Books, so that fact alone is testament to its quality. Besides the books they offer, the inside of Alley Cat is just genuinely beautiful. It’s heavily decorated with posters, paintings, and knick-knacks, and the shelves are artfully arranged. Even if you aren’t planning on buying anything, it’s very nice to wander around in.
Address: 3036 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94110
City Lights Booksellers & Publishers
Wow. City Lights Booksellers is the single most incredible bookstore that I have ever been to. I couldn’t pin it down to one thing. Everything about it is magical: the generally abundant book selection, the history and fame of it, its history, the fact that its an independent book publisher, the layout, the people who work there, and the people who shop there. Even the location.
Originally founded in 1958 as an exclusively paperback store, it has become the landmark bookstore of California. Over the years, it became a regular hangout space for authors like Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Neal Cassady. If you only have time to visit one bookstore in SF, it should absolutely be City Lights.
Address: 261 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133
Lucky for me, San Francisco is never too far away. In the same way that Los Angeles is, this northern city an easy and refreshing vacation for me. As I mentioned in the previous post about my past trip, I have quite a few people who are wanting to travel up together. I know that next time, I’ll stumble upon even more bookstores. I’ll keep you guys updated on my new discoveries 🙂
In the spirit of good literature, I’d like to leave you with a quote from my favorite author, Carlos Ruiz Zafón.