Where can you find the best independent bookstores in San Francisco?

Where can you find the best independent bookstores in San Francisco?
Source: Dog Eared Books

Are you seeking the best independent bookstores in San Francisco? Go for the neighborhood institutions founded by locals and devoted transplants. As a hot spot for writers and thinkers, San Francisco hosts myriad independent bookstores.

Bookworms flock to these vintage brick-and-mortars crammed with new and used books. After they agonize over which books to buy, they scurry to a stellar coffee shop and settle into a reading chair with a latte and a book. No one does a used book and specialty coffee like foggy San Francisco – not even New York.

Though pitted against monster companies like Amazon, independent bookstores thrive in the Bay Area. Even when threatened with closure due to the pandemic, local bibliophiles banded together to keep them alive.

San Francisco loves its bookish purveyors. They keep shelves stuffed with rare editions sporting gilded pages and brand-new fiction. The community events aren’t in short supply, either. Many authors scramble for the chance to read or speak at indie bookstores in San Francisco.

So, pick out your favorite dark academia outfit, sling your tote bag over your shoulder and head over to these beautiful book nooks which we consider to be the best independent bookstores in San Francisco.

City Lights Booksellers

If you can only squeeze in one bookstore, explore City Lights, an incomparable literary landmark. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, member of the Beats and co-creator of City Lights Booksellers & Publishers, sadly passed away this February. He left behind experimental art and contributed to making American literature more accessible by founding the US’s first all-paperback bookstore in 1953.

City Lights now has three floors of both paperbacks and hardcovers with an amalgamation of works from obscure publishers. It almost closed its doors during the pandemic, but locals refused to lose the bookstore and raised nearly half a million dollars to ensure its doors wouldn’t shut indefinitely.

Buy a book and meander the shelves, but make sure to pursue the poetry room and sink into a chair to read. If you need a change of scenery, take your book haul over to the 1948 saloon Vesuvio, a monument to the Beat Generation. It’s just right across from City Lights.

Green Apple Books

Founded in 1967 by Richard Savoy, Green Apple Books began with a measly selection of used books, graphic novels and magazines. Now, its two locations stock music and DVDs along with an impressive amount of literature.

Green Apple Books has a wide range of books, including new and used fiction and nonfiction, children’s literature, cookbooks, new releases, music, graphic novels and science fiction. The Apple-a-Month Club mails new release fiction paperbacks (selected by passionate staff) once a month to bookworms in the US. They also happen to be the biggest bookstore in the city, with a whopping 8,000 square feet at their original location.

Dog Eared Books

Dog Eared Books has been stealing the hearts of local bibliophiles since 1992. Its two locations display new and used books, magazines and a handful of items like calendars and notebooks. You don’t need to worry about finding Dog Eared Books;  the vibrant exterior with bins of bargain books will instantly arrest your attention.

If an indie bookstore doesn’t have sale selections at the entrance, is it even worth your afternoon? Plus, the natural lighting makes hunting down that elusive book on your TBR a breeze. Check out the section dedicated to local artists and writers.

Christopher’s Books

A 28-year-old neighborhood staple makes for a perfect stop on your San Francisco bucket list, especially if you plow through three books a week. Christopher’s offers a variety of titles, and they make sure to stock bestsellers and new releases.

You can trust the staff to give you an honest opinion on a book. There are no lukewarm takes in this establishment! Their recommendations will make your visit a bright spot in your day, and there’s a good chance you’ll go home with a new book. Stroll across the street for a coffee at Foley’s and claw through your new books. Always read the one with the stunning cover first.

Book Passage

Like many of these bookstores, Book Passage has stood strong in San Francisco for over four decades. The author events, language classes, book groups, annual conferences and more make this indie bookstore instrumental to the literary community. Presidents and Nobel Prize winners have even frequented these shelves.

They host hundreds of authors each year, including both debut and established writers. Though they have a tiny outpost in the Ferry Building, their true location is in Corte Madera. Come for the books and stay for the philosophical events and conversations.


Haight-Ashbury’s bed of counterculture demanded an indie bookstore to complete it. Booksmith was founded in the 70s, and it retained the gritty feel of the neighborhoods through its remodel. The bookstore has hosted renowned writers like Ray Bradbury and Allen Ginsberg.

And if you haven’t heard of a bookstore boycotting certain publishers, now you have. They even sometimes hand out books purchased for the community by anonymous donors. Booksmith embodies the culture of the Beat Generation and the locals living in the area.

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