The Bay Area's Most Beloved Independent Bookstores
The independent bookstore doesn't get much more iconic that City Lights, in San Francisco's North Beach. (via Wiki)

The Bay Area's Most Beloved Independent Bookstores

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For bookworms with a soft spot for the nostalgia of independent shops, the Bay Area delivers.

Though small, local bookstores seem 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.


Each year on the last Saturday in April, hundreds of small bookstores nationwide host special in-store and online events for Independent Bookstore Day. See which of your local shops have something 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 over half a million dollars to keep this unique SF experience shining bright. // 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 events. // Open 10am to 9pm daily at 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. These walls have seen everyone from Presidents and prelates to Nobel Prize winners and first-time novelists speak, with an average of more than 700 author events every year (except during Covid). You can register for the series and also watch archival interviews. And oh yeah, they have tons of books, too. // Hours vary; 1 Ferry Building (Embarcadero) and 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 6pm 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 noon to 7pm daily; 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 8pm weekdays, 11am to 8pm weekends; 3130 24th St. (Mission), adobebooks.com

The East Bay's Best Independent Bookstores

(Courtesy of @moes_books)

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 10am to 7pm daily; 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. // Hours vary; 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. // Opens at 11am daily; 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. // Open 11am to 7pm daily; 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—you're sure to strike gold. // Open 10am to 7pm 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. // 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. // Open 10am to 6pm Monday through Saturday and noon to 5pm Sunday; 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 weekdays and till 6pm weekends; 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. // Hours vary; 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 (closed Tuesdays); 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. // Opens at 10am daily; 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. The shop also offers free local delivery on orders $50 or more. // Closed Mondays; 265 State St. (Los Altos), lindentreebooks.com

Bell’s Books

Founded by Herbert Bell in 1935, this popular bookstore was originally a place for Stanford students to purchase textbooks, but after realizing textbooks didn’t sell so well, The College Book Company, as it was then called, changed to Bell’s Books. The family-owned shop has been serving the Palo Alto community with its vast collection of new, used, and collectible books and has an assortment of genres including children’s fiction, art, poetry, history, cooking, gardening, philosophy, religion, and classic literature. // Open 11am to 6pm daily; 536 Emerson St. (Palo Alto), bellsbooks.com

Feldman’s Books

Founded by Jack Feldman, Feldman’s Books is the beloved independent used bookstore in the heart of Menlo Park. A lot of people may remember the shop being located on El Camino, but as of recently, Feldman has found a new home for his store on Curtis Street, which resides on the busy and popular Santa Cruz Avenue where many people go to dine and shop. When entering the shop, you will be greeted by the owner himself, Jack Feldman, or one of his staff members, who are all willing to answer any of your book related questions. Masks are not mandatory, but are suggested. // Open Noon to 5pm daily; 1075 Curtis St. (Menlo Park), facebook.com

Encore Books on the Square

In the heart of downtown Redwood City sits the grand and magnificent San Mateo County History Museum where people can learn about the incredible history of the Peninsula. While the museum tends to attract many visitors from around the Bay Area, many people may not know that one of the largest used bookstores in the Peninsula sits right underneath the museum. Before walking up the main steps toward the museum entrance, be sure to take a sharp left down a short ramp. There, you will be greeted by a large selection of used books sold at fair prices. Encore Books accepts cash only. // Open 10am to 3pm Saturdays; 2200 Broadway, lower level (Redwood City), historysmc.org

B Street Books

Founded by Lew Cohen, B Street Books is the only used bookstore in the city of San Mateo and has been serving the community for over 10 years. Though the shop may look small on the outside, B Street books has more than 40,000 titles that include fiction, art, travel, graphic novels, history, and children's. The shop buys books from owners every Wednesday through Sunday from 2:30pm to 4pm, but if anyone wishes to sell their books to the store, they must first make an appointment. Book owners have the option to either receive cash or store credit. // 11am to 6pm Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday; 11am to 8pm Friday and Saturday; 301 South B St. (San Mateo), bstreetbooks.com


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