For bookworms with a soft spot for the nostalgia of independent shops, the Bay Area delivers.
Though small, local bookstores seems to be going the way of dinosaurs, our region is still a bibliophile’s mecca for indie purveyors, where the shelves are stocked with old leather-bound books as well as modern paperbacks, and community programming still includes author readings and signings.
Here are some of our favorite, quirkiest, and coziest book nooks in the Bay Area.
Founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin, book lovers from across the country and around the world come to browse, read, and just soak in the ambiance of alternative culture’s only “Literary Landmark.” The nation’s first all-paperback bookstore, City Lights now offers three floors of both new-release hardcovers and quality paperbacks with an impressive range of titles from smaller, harder-to-find, specialty publishers. It’s a completely unique San Francisco experience, and a must for anyone who appreciates good books. // 261 Columbus Ave. (North Beach), citylights.com
Richard Savoy founded Green Apple Books in 1967 with a stock of used books, comics, and National Geographic magazines. These days, they’ve modernized with a music and DVD collection as well, but it’s hard to find a better-stocked bookstore. // 506 Clement St. (Inner Richmond), greenapplebooks.com
When pro chefs, home cooks, and foodies go searching for vintage and modern cookbooks, they walk their Crocs over to owner Celia Sack’s Noe Valley shop where, since 2008, a stock of new and antiquarian books covering all things culinary has been ripe for the plucking. Here you can pick up a copy of the latest It cookbook from your favorite chefs and restaurants (look for Chris Cosentino’s Offal Good and Elizabeth Pruiett’s Tartine All Day), as well as geekier manuals on everything from roots to pickling. SF foodies also love Omnivore for its cookbook launch parties and readings. // 3855 Cesar Chavez (Noe Valley), omnivorebooks.com
Book Passage has served the Bay Area for more than 30 years, providing the community with an array of author events, writing and language classes, and highly respected annual conferences. You can see everyone from Presidents and prelates to Nobel Prize–winners and first-time novelists speak within their walls, and they average more than 700 author events every year! Book Passage also has a unique program of in-store classes designed for people who want to learn more about writing and the book business, as well as three annual writing classes. And oh yeah, there are tons of books, too. // 1 Ferry Building (Embarcadero), bookpassage.com
Specializing in science fiction, fantasy, and horror (in fact, that’s all they sell), Borderlands has been supplying the nerds of SF with good literature for over a decade. Plus, they have one of the best selections of small-press genre titles in the country with a stock of nearly 14,000 titles. No big deal. // 866 Valencia St. (Mission), borderlands-books.com
A neighborhood gem, Booksmith was founded in the ’70s, and though people held their breaths when it was remodeled in 2007, it’s been over 10 years and the store still captures Haight-Ashbury’s counterculture ambiance as vibrantly as ever. Between boycotting controversial publishers to occasionally giving out books at the counter that mysterious benefactors bought out, the store is a total community hub. // 1644 Haight St. (Haight-Ashbury), booksmith.com
Adobe Books, local champion of SF’s art scene from the literary to the musical, is back and better than ever after falling on hard times last year when they were forced to move from their longtime Mission home. Stop by to peruse the great selection of books, peek into the back gallery where local artists showcase masterpieces, or just hang out with owner Andrew McKinley. // 3130 24th St. (Mission), adobebooks.com
Oakland, Berkeley + El Cerrito
Walden Pond Book Store is a neighborhood gem that’s provided Oaklanders with reading material for over 40 years. About 60 percent of Walden’s more than 100,000 books are used and affordably priced, and the store gladly buys back novels from its customers. The bibliophilic staff is very helpful and can guide you among the teetering piles of fiction, non-fiction, and specialty books to help you find what you’re looking for or make a recommendation. Walden’s Pond also maintains a rare book collection in an upstairs storage room that once hosted readings by Isabel Allende and other literary greats. // 3316 Grand Ave. (Oakland), waldenpondbooks.com
A clever, book-inspired name isn’t all you’ll get at this local bookstore. It’s a small space, but filled to the brim with books of every genre. Plus, there’s a frequent buyer’s club, as well as monthly book clubs for those who like to gush about novels after reading them. Once you’d made your selection, grab a treat at the XOXO truffles store just a few stores up the block. Opt for the hot chocolate and truffles, and snuggle in. // 6120 La Salle Ave. (Oakland), ggpbooks.com
Founded in 1970 (when it was stocked with newspapers as well as books), Pegasus has become an East Bay staple with locations in both Berkeley and Oakland. Amy Thomas, who bought Pegasus in 1995, has served as the president of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association as well as on the board of the ABA’s American Booksellers for Free Expression. Needless to say, the people here know what they’re talking about. Plus, you can sell or trade in your old books. // 5560 College Ave. (Oakland); 2349 Shattuck Ave. (Berkeley); 1855 Solano Ave. (Albany); pegasusbookstore.com
If watching Beauty and the Beast as a kid ever made you want to find a hole-in-the-wall bookshop with floor to ceiling books and rolling ladders, look no further than Owl and Company. With rare finds and first-edition books, this store will awaken your love for leather-bound covers and vintage postcards—and the smell of dusty old pages that comes with it. // 3941 Piedmont Ave. (Oakland), owlandcompanybookshop.com
Moe Moskowitz became a Berkeley icon when he opened a bookstore on Telegraph Avenue in 1959, right in the midst of the Free Speech Movement and the political chaos that sparked throughout Berkeley. Now an emblem of Telegraph in the ’60s, the store may not have the signature presence of Moe charmingly sweeping through the shelves with his cigar, but it does still have four stories of used and new books—and the coolest half-tote bags for bringing home your new collection. // 2476 Telegraph Ave. (Berkeley), moesbooks.com
Yes, this bookshop has 11 stores all across the Bay, but you can’t beat a location right in the heart of the Gourmet Ghetto. Books Inc. traces its history as an independent bookseller all the way back to 1851, and with all the newest and local bestsellers—and author appearances pretty much every week—you’re sure to strike gold. // 1491 Shattuck Ave. (Berkeley), and multiple locations, booksinc.net
Drink from the ocean of knowledge at University Press Books, where tomes from all over the globe make their way to the shelves of this homey bookshop. The sophisticated selection finds a humble home in this cozy store, equipped with carpeted stairs and a backroom set up like a dining room. // 240 Bancroft Way (Berkeley), universitypressbooks.com
With an extensive children’s section for the little ones and a full-blown gardening section (yes, it even has indoor succulents hanging overhead) for mum and dad, this store is a must-stop in Elmwood. The book connoisseurs who work there are as friendly as the soothing green walls, and when the store isn’t acting as a safe haven to wandering travelers, it’s prepping for one of its many literary events sprinkled throughout the month. // 2904 College Ave. (Berkeley), mrsdalloways.com
Marin & Wine Country
Chandeliers dangle from the ceiling of this quirky bookshop, which changed hands in January 2017 to a pair of Green Apple Books alum—who got married a month later. The couple has preserved this beloved bookstore’s community spirit while adding their own flair. You’ll find a section in the front dedicated solely to local authors. // 11315 CA-1 (Point Reyes), ptreyesbooks.com
With a prime location in the heart of downtown Petaluma—as well as locations in Napa, Calistoga, San Rafael, and more—Copperfield’s Books is easily the indie bookstore of the North Bay. Enticing window displays, cozy reading nooks, and handmade cards from local artists will fill anyone with warm bookshop vibes. // Multiple locations throughout Marin and Wine Country, copperfieldsbooks.com
The storefront may look narrow from the outside, but don’t be fooled—upon entry, you’ll feel like you’ve wandered off the beach and into Narnia. Besides a good variety of beach reads, this community-oriented bookshop stocks non-literary finds such as maps, trail guides, and even linens. // 3455 Shoreline Highway (Stinson Beach), facebook.com
The South Bay
For over 60 years, this indie bookstore, founded in 1955, is a historical gem. It has learned well all the ingredients to stay afloat in modern times: a cozy reading nook for kids, nonconventional nonfiction, and even a radio podcast, recorded right in the store—you’re still in Silicon Valley, after all. // 1010 El Camino Real (Menlo Park), keplers.com
What started in 1981 as a bookshop specializing in children’s recordings, Linden Tree Books has since branched out to include more than just your standard kidlit—puppets, puzzles, science games, and book-character dolls grace their shelves, offering something for any wild child or young bookworm out there. // 265 State St. (Los Altos), lindentreebooks.com
This article has been updated as of June 2018.
Source: 7×7 sf 20 Independent Bookstores We Love