Your Guide To The Best Independent Bookstores In San Francisco

Ashlyn Davis Ashlyn Davis

best independent bookstores in San Francisco

Here’s a list of the best places to pick up a good book in the city.

While the digital age has largely stripped us of the joy of thumbing through printed pages, it has also inspired a fiercely loyal community of book-lovers that are keeping the city’s independent stores in business. San Francisco has been drawing bookish crowds since its literary renaissance in the 1950s. It’s home to some incredible bookstores—some of which have become global institutions—and a nurturing local literary community. Here is a guide to a few of the best. [Featured image by Black Bird Bookstore

1.Black Bird Bookstore, Outer Sunset

This community hangout not only has an excellent selection of curated books, but it comes with a number of gorgeous nooks to settle in and peruse them. Titles are placed facing forward like artworks along the clean wooden shelves made by the incredible craftsman at Woodshop. From the bench on the sidewalk, the sun-soaked couch in the window or the hammock in the plant-filled backyard, Blackbird is a taste of beachside life that you’ll never want to leave.

🤫SSF TIP: Grab a seat outside, browse the plants and gifts in the shed, then buy a book of poetry and head to the beach.

2. City Light Booksellers & Publisher, Financial District

This cult bookstore and publisher, founded by laureate Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1953, is a must for beat-generation fans and those interested in progressive literature. Musicians, celebrities, beat-nerds and intellectuals alike make the pilgrimage to this quirky little corner to expose themselves to some of the most impressive minds and meet fellow free-thinkers.

🤫SSF TIP: Keep an eye out for events or readings and check out the mural around the corner in Kerouac Alley.

3. Dog Eared Books, Mission District

Dog Eared Books has been feeding the word-hungry bibliophiles with new, used, and unsold books since 1992. The inviting book-clad interior is home to mostly outlandish, small press and local literature, along with all sorts of inspiring obscurities like a rare vintage set of The Memoirs of Casanova. If you don’t find something here, you can always stroll down to their sister store in Castro, which offers an equally engrossing experience.

🤫SSF TIP: Their second sister, Alley Cat, is a book and art gallery which hosts workshops, poetry reading and even offers residencies for writers.

4. Borderlands Books, Mission District

A mecca for science-fiction, fantasy, mystery and horror literature aficionados. The owner, Alan Beatts, is committed to giving readers what they deserve; a highly specialized bookstore focused on giving you an excellent selection of new and used books at affordable prices. While the cafe section closed down earlier last year due to lack of funding, he managed to secure $2 million which has given him the opportunity to purchase a new space in Upper Haights, according to Mission Local.

🤫SSF TIP: Follow it up with a stroll through the park and stop by the Mission Pool and Playground mural.

5. Green Apple Books

This late-night book haven for bookworms began as a passion project of Rich Savoy in 1967. The 25-year-old small inventory in the little green shop quickly turned into an establishment that is loved and lauded by the community and an apotheosis of keeping the legacy of an independent merchant alive. The store has expanded from its initial Clement St. spot—which is positively brimming with 60,000 used and 100,000 old books now— to the second store in the Sunset, and Browser Books in Filmore which they are taking over.


🤫SSF TIP: Don’t miss the Fiction & Music Annex at 520 Clement St., featuring new & used fiction, music, movies, graphics novels, science fiction, and mystery.

6. Alexander Book Store, Downtown SoMa District

This is on the larger end of the independent bookstore scale. Boasting three floors of 50,000 new books, just around the corner from Union Square. You’ll find anything from all the classic genres to slightly niche ones like African-American fiction and animation. If you can’t find what you’re looking for they can order any book in print in the U.S. for you.

🤫SSF TIP: If you’re a serious reader (or buyer) they offer a frequent buyer program which will get you a lot of books on sale and a 25% discount on all adult hardcover fiction once you’ve spent a certain amount.

7. Russian Hill Books, Russian Hill

Russian Hill Bookstore is where local artists, designers, architects, writers and art collectors come to find essential resources and inspiration. The store buys up the used gems from the city and helps new owners find something they never knew they needed. Here, locals and tourists alike can find some of the city’s best books, board games, toys, party games and cards.

🤫SSF TIP: Check out their San Francisco history and memorabilia section






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