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Best Bookstores of San Francisco

Independent Bookstores Thrive in San Francisco's Bohemian Neighborhoods


The combination of compact walkable neighborhoods, high education levels and cultural aversion to chain stores has given San Francisco the best independent bookstore scene in the US (It boasts twice as many per capita as NYC). Bookstores form a vital part of the social life of most San Francisco neighborhoods, where they operate not only as quiet spaces to explore the literary world in private during the day but usually also host readings, art openings and other events at night.

1. City Lights Bookstore

Photo by Ocean Malandra
This North Beach landmark is perhaps the most famous bookstore in America. It was here in the 1950s that Lawrence Ferlinghetti began publishing the writings of the Beat Generation, including Jack Kerouc's famous On the Road and the controversial poem Howl by Allan Ginsburg, which ended up in court on obscenity charges. The three-level bookstore/publisher has not slowed down at all since those days and sports one of the largest poetry rooms in the world, a basement full of politically charged non-fiction and enough fiction from all over the world to keep you reading for lifetimes. Author readings and political events happen here with frequency as well.

261 Columbus Ave, (415) 362-8193 www.citylights.com Read My Exclusive Review of City Lights Books

2. Green Apple Bookstore

Photo by Ocean Malandra
Founded in 1967, Green Apple books has expanded so many times that it is now the city's largest independent bookstore. An absolute treasure trove of hard to find books books as it sells both used and new volumes, Green Apple often sports multiple editions and prices of the same book. Located in the heart of the Richmond District, Green Apple is a bit off of the tourist radar but is famous among locals; come get lost in the labyrinth of books and see why.

506 Clement Street, (415) 387-2272 www.greenapplebooks.com

3. Modern Times Bookstore

A worker-owned collective, Modern Times doubles as the political activist headquarters of the hip and artistic Mission District. With an extensive collection of titles focusing on globalization, media, latin studies and gender issues this is the bookstore to go to sharpen up on what's happening in the world of progressive movements. At night, Modern Times hosts a blockbuster line-up of events from reading, signings and study groups to Queer open mic nights.

2919 24th Street, (415) 282-9246 www.moderntimes.com

4. Browsers Bookstore

A friendly neighborhood bookstore that has been serving the upscale Pacific Heights neighborhood since the early 1970s, Browsers retains a down-to-earth atmosphere amid the trendy boutiques and chic cafes that surround it. Fiction, philosophy, spirituality and poetry are the specialties at Browser's but it is the super knowledgeable staff and the attention they give customers that really makes this unassuming San Francisco independent bookstore shine. Browsers recently started it's own in-house publishing company, reviving the city's strong tradition of independent literary publishers.

2195 Fillmore Street, (415) 567-8027 www.browserbooks.indiebound.com

5. Feild's Bookstore

Tucked into the chaos of mid Polk Street, Feild's is a hidden treasure for those interested in spiritual and new age topics. Located just a half block from the California street Cable Car terminus, Feild's has been quietly serving its devoted client base since 1932, making it one of the oldest bookstores in the city. Besides both best-selling and rare books on topics such as mythology, hermeticism and shamanism, the store also stocks books on all subjects by local bay Area authors and hosts a wide variety of events, including both author readings and special workshops, throughout the year.

1419 Polk Street, (415) 673-2027 www.feildsbooks.com

6. Aardvark Bookstore

A bustling neighborhood hub for the lower Castro District, Aardvark books is the best place in the city to go when you need a cheap dog-eared paperback to enjoy in one of the city's many cafes or in nearby Dolores Park. This old school used bookstore also has a great collection of large coffee table photography books, all at heavily discounted prices.

227 Church Street, (415) 552-6733

7. Borderlands Bookstore

A geeky escape from the fashionistas of ever increasingly hip Valencia Street, Borderlands is a fantasy, horror and science fiction fans heaven. Carrying both new and used books, Borderlands also stocks a wide range of international periodicals related to the genre as well as dvds and videos. Out of print works are a specialty here and the weekly Sci-Fi and Fantasy book club draws an impressive attendance from all over the bay area.

866 Valencia Street, (415) 824-8203 www.borderlands-books

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