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Where to Find the Best Bookstores in San Francisco

Last Updated on 7th March 2023 by Sophie Nadeau

It’s pretty safe to say that I could spend hours in a bookshop, especially when the bookshop in question offers more than just the usual popular titles, such as boasting friendly staff, or unique books, or alternatively a bit of history (and preferably a combination of all three). Thankfully, there’s a myriad of bookstores in San Francisco where loitering is welcomed and exploration encouraged…

golden gate bridge

Whether you’re looking for used books, speciality books or the newest bestseller, there is an independent bookshop for you in the City of the Golden Gate. Like the many unique neighbourhoods in the city (check here for what to do in San Francisco and how to spend three days in San Francisco), each of these bookstores also has distinct charm and personality.

Read on for some insider suggestions and tips (from a local) on where to find the best bookshops in San Francisco…

City Lights – The Most Historic Bookshop in San Francisco 

Address | 261 Columbus Ave, San Francisco

A home to the beatnik generation, City Lights is an iconic San Francisco bookstore and an official historic city landmark. You can find City Lights at the border of the Chinatown and North Beach neighbourhoods. Established in 1953 by two poets, City Lights has always been a home for rising and unique voices in literature.

Not only did City Lights publish Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems in the mid-1950s, but this unique San Francisco destination was also a frequent hangout for Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady.

The bookshop specifically specializes in literature, the arts and political titles. Visiting this bookshop is pretty much akin to travelling back in time and experiencing San Francisco counterculture.

Although the bookstore is famous now, City Lights still maintains its independent flare and progressive advocacy. From handmade signs to framed black and white photos, City Lights is more than a bookshop, it’s truly a San Francisco institution…

The Most Historic Bookshop, City Lights Address | 261 Columbus Ave, San Francisco 

Green Apple Books – The Best Neighbourhood Bookshop

Address | 506 Clement St., or 1231 9th Ave, San Francisco

Green Apple Books has two locations but my favourite is on Clement Street. It doesn’t get more local than Green Apple, this bookshop has been around since 1967.

With a busy event calendar and participation in several community initiatives, the store is everything a neighbourhood bookstore should be, and then some.

The staff are extremely knowledgeable and as one of the larger independent bookshops, there will be a book for everyone and anyone. Whenever I visit Green Apple I make an event out of the day and stroll along Clement Street.

Just an idea: in between the two Green Apple stores is Golden Gate Park, why not walk from one store to the other and stop off in the park (with your new book) along the way? Free to visit, this green space is larger than Central Park in NYC and is the fifth most visited city Park in the USA!

Dog Eared Books – The Best Used and Second-Hand Bookshop in San Francisco

Address | 489 Castro St., San Francisco

Dog Eared Books has new and used titles spanning an array of genres. Located on Valencia Street, the hip bright blue store blends right in with the neighbourhood. I appreciate this store because I always come away with unexpectedly good titles from the staff picks section.

Right down the street is another good bookshop for your decidedly specialized titles, Borderlands caters to science fiction, horror and fantasy. Actually, while you’re at it, round off a visit to Dog Eared and Borderlands bookstores with a visit to 826 Valencia, which is otherwise known as the Pirate Supply Store!

The store supports a nonprofit dedicated to assisting kids and young adults to develop their writing skills and is the perfect place to find a whimsical accessory to pair with the adventurous tales bought from the nearby quirky bookshops. 

Dog Eared Books - The Best Used and Second-Hand Bookshop in San Francisco
Dog Eared Books - The Best Used and Second-Hand Bookshop in San Francisco

Bird & Beckett – The Best Bookshop for Finding Unique Titles

Address | 653 Chenery St., San Francisco

Every year my father asks for an obscure title for the holidays, and every year the fine folks at Bird & Beckett are there to help. From first edition titles to almost-out-of-print international publications, they are my go-to store for the quirkiest tomes, novels, and books in town.

The dedication of Bird & Beckett truly shows… After all, in 2018, this independent San Francisco Bookshop was awarded “Best Store Staff” by the Bay Guardian readers poll.

The shop also has a large record collection and hosts many musical events. Oh, and aside from books and music, they also publish! Tucked away in Glen Park, this is the perfect shop to spend a cosy rainy afternoon in. 

Omnivore Books – The Foodie Lover and Cook’s Bookshop 

Address | 3885 Cesar Chavez, San Francisco

Two of my favourite things in the world, books and food, come together in this speciality cookbook shop. Omnivore Books is located off a main San Francisco street and the bright and airy store is filled with amazing titles that will inspire even the most basic of chefs.

From Portuguese cuisine to vegan recipe indexes, there is a book in this beautiful store for every cook! I recently bought a beautiful book on cooking for newlyweds as a wedding present for a friend. Out of all the San Francisco bookstores on the list, I always leave this one inspired… and, of course, a little hungry! 

The Cook’s Bookshop, Omnivore Books Address | 3885 Cesar Chavez, San Francisco
The Cook’s Bookshop, Omnivore Books Address | 3885 Cesar Chavez, San Francisco

Folio Books – The Best All-Around Bookshop

Address | 3957 24th Street, San Francisco

Folio Books is located on one of the quaintest shopping streets in San Francisco and is one of the commercial highlights. Folio has great variety in titles, friendly staff, good events and a strong community of patrons, prompting me to dub it the best all-around bookshop in the city. You would be hard-pressed to not leave Folio without a few new books and a smile on your face.

For even more West Coast inspiration, be sure to check out our guide to the best things to do in California and our guide to the top hidden gems in California.

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A passionate and frequent traveler, Johanna loves walking tours, bookstores and eating her way through any new place. When she is not traveling, Johanna works for gender justice, does a lot of yoga and can often be found in either a library or a cafe. A storyteller in her spare time, Johanna is always looking for the next adventure to write about.

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