5 Great Independent Bookstores in San Francisco

The city's literary legacy lives on in these neighborhood shops.

San Francisco has a history of attracting artists, writers and dreamers with its inspirational vistas, progressive attitudes and Mediterranean climate. Today the city is home to an active community of readers and authors who support a slew of exceptional independent bookstores. Here are a few highlights.

1. Green Apple Books

Green Apple Books

Out in the Richmond District, this is a wonderland of new and used books spanning a wide range of genres that’s been adored by San Franciscans since 1967. Perfect for a rainy day, booklovers could spend hours perusing the shelves in this gigantic, historic store that features an annex and mezzanine (and generally oozes with character). 506 Clement St. San Francisco, 415.387.2272.

2. City Lights Bookstore

City Light Books

Located near the Beat Museum in North Beach, the epicenter of the movement, this store and independent publisher, owned by Lawrence Ferlinghetti since 1953, is a global stalwart for alternative culture, attracting visitors from around the world. In addition to stocking global literature and books on art and politics, it hosts readings upstairs in the poetry room devoted to Beat literature. 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco, 415.362.8193.

3. The Booksmith

The Booksmith

Right in the middle of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, former home of the Grateful Dead and the Summer of Love, this is a first-rate independent bookstore with an excellent assortment of new books, including robust fantasy and pop culture sections, and a full calendar of author events. 1644 Haight St., San Francisco, 415.863.8688.

4. Book Passage

Book Passage

If you’re visiting San Francisco, you’ll want to visit the magnificent temple to Bay Area artisanal bounty known as the Ferry Building, which is also home to this small and mighty bookstore with a superb offering of titles by local authors, cookbooks and readings. This is the sister store to the famed Corte Madera location, known for its relationship with authors such as Joan Didion and Isabel Allende as well as prestigious classes and conferences. 1 Ferry Bldg., San Francisco, 415.835.1020. 

5. Chronicle Books

Chronicle Books

The San Francisco-based publishing company’s shiny bookstore in the Metreon in the SoMa neighborhood feels like a museum for books with its sleek look and artistic displays. Its volumes are known for local ties and sophisticated design. The store offers a manageable selection of gifts, coffee table books and cookbooks. 165 4th St., San Francisco, 415.369.6271. 

Rachel Ward
About the author

Rachel serves as the San Francisco editor fo...