(Courtesy of @citylightsbooks)

20 Beloved Independent Bookstores in the Bay Area

By

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—even during the Covid-19 pandemic, when book launches and author conversations have all gone virtual.


More than 600 small bookstores nationwide will be hosting in-store and online events for Independent Bookstore Day on Saturday, August 29th. See which of your local shops have something special planned, or just celebrate all things literary by sending love to our favorite, quirkiest, and coziest book nooks around the Bay Area.

The Best Independent Bookstores in San Francisco

(Courtesy of @greenapplebooks)

City Lights

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 this 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. During the Covid-19 pandemic, City Lights nearly went dark forever, but San Franciscans stepped up, raising nearly half a million dollars to keep this unique SF experience shining bright. Until IRL event return, check out their regular virtual readings. // Open daily noon to 8pm, 261 Columbus Ave. (North Beach), citylights.com

Green Apple Books

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 no matter which location you visit. Look out for Book of the Month recommendations and online events. // Open 10am to 8pm daily (till 9pm at Clement St.), 506 Clement St. (Inner Richmond); 1231 Ninth Ave. (Inner Sunset); and Browser Books, 2195 Fillmore St. (Pacific Heights); greenapplebooks.com

Omnivore Books on Food

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. Follow Omnivore on Instagram for their latest rare and kitschy finds. // Open 11am to 6pm Monday through Saturday and noon to 5pm Sunday; 3855 Cesar Chavez (Noe Valley), omnivorebooks.com

Book Passage

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. In pre-Covid times, you could see everyone from Presidents and prelates to Nobel Prize winners and first-time novelists speak within their walls, with an average of more than 700 author events every year. During the pandemic, Book Passage is hosting online conversations with authors. You can register for the series and also watch archival interviews. And oh yeah, they have tons of books, too. // Open Friday through Sunday at 1 Ferry Building (Embarcadero) and 10:30am to 4pm daily at 51 Tamal Vista Blvd. (Corte Madera), bookpassage.com

Borderlands Books

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 20 years. 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. // Open 11am to 5pm daily; 866 Valencia St. (Mission), borderlands-books.com

Booksmith

A neighborhood gem, Booksmith was founded in the '70s, and though people held their breaths when it was remodeled in 2007, 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. // Open 11am to 2pm daily with curbside pickup until 6pm; 1644 Haight St. (Haight-Ashbury), booksmith.com

Adobe Books

Adobe Books is a longtime local champion of SF's art scene from the literary to the musical. 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. As of Summer 2020, Adobe is also home to the City's first community fridge, so feel free to bring fresh groceries for donation next time you stop in. // Open noon to 7pm daily; 3130 24th St. (Mission), adobebooks.com

The East Bay's Best Independent Bookstores

Walden Pond Books.

(Courtesy of @happycamperbooks)

Walden Pond Books

Walden Pond Books 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. The store also sells books online via bookshop.org and rare and collectible books on eBay. // Open for front door pickup 10am to 5pm daily by calling 510-832-4438; 3316 Grand Ave. (Oakland), waldenpondbooks.com

A Great, Good Place for Books

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 an online book club and virtual author chats. // Open daily (hours vary); 6120 La Salle Ave. (Oakland), ggpbooks.com

Pegasus Books

Founded in 1970 (when it was stocked with newspapers as well as books), Pegasus has become an East Bay staple with locations in Berkeley, Oakland, and Albany. 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. Check out their anti-racism reading list. // Open for pickup 10am to 5pm daily; free shipping and local delivery ($3 for orders under $50) are also available; 5560 College Ave. (Oakland); 2349 Shattuck Ave. (Berkeley); 1855 Solano Ave. (Albany); pegasusbookstore.com

Owl and Company Bookshop

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. // Open for curbside pickup noon to 4pm Monday through Saturday; 3941 Piedmont Ave. (Oakland), owlandco.square.site

Moe's Books

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. Shop online at bookshop.org, and support Moe's during the pandemic by donating to their GoFundMe. // Open for curbside pickup 11am to 5pm Monday through Saturday; 2476 Telegraph Ave. (Berkeley), moesbooks.com

Books Inc.

Yes, this bookshop has 11 stores 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 (pre-Covid)—you're sure to strike gold. During the pandemic, look for book launches and author events online. // Open 10am to 6pm daily; 1491 Shattuck Ave. (Berkeley), and multiple locations, booksinc.net

University Press Books

In June 2020, 46-year-old University Press Books was forced to permanently close its Berkeley brick-and-mortar due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The homey bookshop was beloved for its knowledgable staff and sophisticated selection of tomes from all over the globe. While we can no longer shop IRL, University Press continues to sell a wide selection of books, as well as ebooks and audio books, online and will ship orders of $75 or more anywhere in the U.S. Donate to show your support. // universitypressbooks.com

Mrs. Dalloway's Bookstore

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. Looking for an exciting new arrival? Order a copy of Obi Kaufmann's beautifully illustrated The Forests of California. // Open for pre-paid pickup and at-the-door purchases 1pm to 6pm Tuesday through Saturday; 2904 College Ave. (Berkeley), mrsdalloways.com

The Best Independent Bookstores in Marin & Wine Country

(Courtesy of @pointreyesbooks)

Point Reyes Books

Chandeliers dangle from the ceiling of this quirky bookshop, which changed hands in January 2017 to a pair of Green Apple Books alums—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 as well as a schedule of virtual events. // Open daily 10am to 5pm; 11315 CA-1 (Point Reyes), ptreyesbooks.com

Copperfield's Books

With nine North Bay locations including a prime spot in the heart of downtown Petaluma and a new store on Napa's First Street, Copperfield's Books is easily the indie bookstore for literati north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Enticing window displays, cozy reading nooks, and handmade cards from local artists will fill anyone with warm bookshop vibes. // All locations are open 10am to 5pm daily for indoor and curbside service; copperfieldsbooks.com

Stinson Beach Books

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. // Open 10:30am to 5pm daily; 3455 Shoreline Highway (Stinson Beach), facebook.com

The South Bay's Best Independent Bookstores

(Courtesy of @keplersbooks)

Kepler's Books

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. Adapting for Covid-10, Kepler's is currently offering shopping on its outdoor plaza with booksellers on hand to make recommendations and facilitate purchases from inside the store. // 11am to 5pm Tuesday through Friday, 10am to 3pm Saturday, and 10am to 2pm Sunday; 1010 El Camino Real (Menlo Park), keplers.com

Linden Tree Books

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. Tune in for story time on Facebook Live Tuesdays and Sundays. During the pandemic, the shop is also offering free local delivery on orders $100 or more. // Open 11am to 3pm Wednesday through Sunday; 265 State St. (Los Altos), lindentreebooks.com

This article has been updated as of August 2020.

Related Articles
Most Popular
Neighborhoods
From Our Partners