Reports of the death of independent bookstores have been greatly exaggerated—at least in San Francisco.
These neighborhood retailers served as community anchors during the pandemic, comforting readers, collectors, hobbyists and browsers with both printed and spoken words.
“I think there were a lot of people who had been in a reading rut or hadn’t read in a long time,” observed Eileen McCormick, assistant store manager for the Inner Richmond’s Green Apple Books, in an interview with The Standard. “Suddenly, they had this free time with very limited options.”
From the god of modern bookstores, City Lights, to the graphic paradise, Amazing Fantasy, from the social activism of Bolerium Books to the posh titles at Assouline, San Francisco is blessed with more than 40 independent bookstores to serve the diverse desires of city shoppers.
Flip through The Standard’s guide to San Francisco’s independent bookstores below to find an old haunt or a new favorite.
A Guide to San Francisco’s Independent Bookstores
A self-described “authentic, funky” bookstore in the Mission, Adobe has served as a home away from home to artists and art culture enthusiasts since 1989. Be sure to donate to its community fridge, open to anyone in need.
Alexanders offers a wide selection of new books in downtown SF. With its “buy a book, plant a tree” goal, Alexander customers have already helped to plant nearly 611,000 trees.
With a massive collection of new and used books and a bustling event calendar including weekend jazz musician performances, Bird & Becket Books and Records has it all, including an abundance of non-fiction and poetry titles.
Sharing a light and cheerful neighborhood bookstore vibe, Black Bird is packed with hand-selected “of-the-moment” titles and other books reflective of the diversity of the Outer Sunset.
Featuring science fiction, mystery, horror, and fantasy, Borderlands Books has been satisfying avid readers of niche genres for twenty-three years.
With 46 plus years in the independent bookselling business, Book Passage is a premier stop on the book circuit, hosting best-selling authors in its Ferry Building and Marin County locations.
Purchase books and a place to store them at Books and Bookshelves. Since 1985, this independent bookstore has weathered major events, earthquakes, and the pandemic to bring new and used books to the community and bookshelves, storage cubes, boxes, stools, and more.
With a passion for bookselling and the community, Bookshop West Portal, an independently owned and operated bookstore in the heart of West Portal, has been providing a neighborhood meeting spot for book lovers for over 14 years.
A charming corner store hub in Potrero Hill, Christopher’s Books is the idyllic nook for avid readers. Right down to the daily inspirational words etched upon the chalkboard easel set just outside its open doors, this independent book store says welcome in.
More of an institution than a bookstore, City Lights was founded in 1952 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and has since been a popular North Beach gathering spot for writers, readers and artists from far and wide.
Dog Eared Books, aptly named, is a top independent purveyor of used books, but has plenty of new books to offer too. Get lost in their expansive collection of new and previously owned books. Are you looking to sell? Dog Eared Books also buys books.
Lovingly sold to Dog Eared Books’ longtime friend and coworker, Fabulosa Books offers a wealth of new and used books to choose from in the Castro.
Check out the staff picks, curated lists and various novelties at Folio Books. This highly regarded, independently owned bookstore in Noe Valley is a rare gem.
Pacific Heights, Inner Richmond, Sunset
Green Apple Books, founded by Richard Savoy in 1967, has consistently sat atop SF’s best book store lists for ages. Dedicated to providing the widest variety of new and used books on all topics, it has won over its customers year after year and now has three SF stores: Green Apple, Green Apple on the Park and Browser Books.
Formerly known as Alley Cat Books, Medicine for Nightmares offers special events and new and used books in the heart of the Mission district.
Though not exactly “independent,” the Readers Bookstore at the Main Library is the only bookstore in the Tenderloin and has been a go-to source for used books since 1961.
Russian Hill/Polk Gulch
With books, cards, toys and games, no wonder Russian Hill Bookstore is a favorite in the neighborhood. In operation since 1974, this independently owned bookstore offers new and used books.
Marina, Opera Plaza, Laurel Village
With roots dating back to 1851, independently owned and operated Books Inc. has a storied history and currently has 10 stores in the Bay Area, including three in SF. This long-time bookseller prides itself on its customer service focus. Find Books Inc. in the Marina, Opera Plaza and Laurel Village.
With more than 45 years in business, Booksmith made a new home in its Bindery events parlor that offers beer, wine and a full-service café alongside its well-loved bookstore. The Bindery features The Arcana Project: fiction and non-fiction books from all over the world organized chronologically by date written.
Comics & Graphic Novels
Dubbed a “friendly neighborhood” comic store, Amazing Fantasy has been in business for over 20 years. Find comic books, graphic novels, collectibles, games and more at Amazing Fantasy.
Comix Experience has the ultimate goal of “spreading joy and wonder” through their comic book collection. Their focus is more on the readers of comics and not as much on the comic book collectors.
A great spot to find comic books, graphic novels and mini-comics for the old and young alike. Isotope Comics provides a lounge space to read and mingle with others who also delight in this literary space.
Mission: Comics & Art features comics, graphic novels and collectibles right in the heart of the Mission. Find something for everyone.
Looking for fiction and non-fiction books, leveled language learning workbooks, cookbooks, calligraphy books, DVDs, and more in Chinese? Eastwind Books & Arts in North Beach is the place to go.
Celebrating 50 years in business this year, Globus Books is located in the Richmond District and is one of the first Russian bookstores in the United States.
Looking for something to read in Italian? Find adult novels, books on architecture, cooking, psychology, music, cinema, and philosophy at Libreria Pino.
Louie Brothers Bookstore has a great selection of books on Chinese history and politics. It is a legacy bookstore having been in business in Chinatown for over 35 years.
Promoting rich El Salvadorian culture through literature, Luna’s Press focuses on important moments in history to show how beautiful the country, culture and people are.
Located in Chinatown, Sino-American Books & Arts sells children’s books, Kung Fu novels, comic books, martial arts fiction and English textbooks.
Rare & Antiquarian
From pocket fiction novels to hardcover rare finds, Forest Books is dedicated to offering the best “curated selection of exceptional books.”
John Windle Antiquarian Bookseller buys and sells rare books and manuscripts. It specializes in medieval times through the 20th century. Browse over 19 well-organized categories for shopping ease.
Lower Nob Hill
An antiquarian book store in SF since 1941, Argonaut’s focus is on California history and the American West.
Founded in 1915, Brick Row Bookstore emphasizes English and American Literature from the 17th century to the 20th century. It specializes in first editions, rare books and manuscripts.
Assouline is a luxury publisher that runs a bookstore featuring their lavish books and gifts.
Since 1981, Bolerium Books in the Mission has provided books and ephemera on labor and social movements such as Black and Chicano equality, gay liberation, feminism, Asian-American activism and so much more.
An “anarchist collective-run” bookstore carrying titles on queer culture, feminism, national and international politics, alternative culture, poetry, drugs and more.
Lower Nob Hill
Kayo Books has a wide selection of rare and out of print books including hard-boiled mystery, pulp-fiction, gay and lesbian, counterculture, sleaze and erotica and much more.
A culinary dream, Omnivore Books on Food has new, antiquarian and collectible books on food and drinks.
The Green Arcade is celebrating a dozen years in business. Find anything and everything SF and California history related at this neighborhood favorite in the hub.
William Stout Architectural Books stocks out-of-print, rare books, new arrivals and everything in between. Explore the designs of San Francisco, Mexico and El Croquis, learn from the history and theory books and peruse the magazines and periodicals.
Did we hit/miss your favorite spot? Let us know!
Shelley D. Fargo can be reached at [email protected]