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Get Lost in the Stacks: A Guide to SF’s Independent Bookstores

Written by Shelley D. FargoPublished Apr. 30, 2022 • 7:56am
The City Lights Bookstore is an independent bookstore founded in 1953. | Getty Images

English

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.

The landmark City Lights Bookstore was a hangout of Beat Generation writers and artists, including Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. | Getty Images

“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


SF Favorites

Adobe Books & Art Cooperative

The Mission

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.

Alexander Book Company

SoMa

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.

Bird & Becket Books and Records

Glen Park

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.

Black Bird Bookstore and Café

Outer Sunset

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.

Borderlands Books

Mission

Featuring science fiction, mystery, horror, and fantasy, Borderlands Books has been satisfying avid readers of niche genres for twenty-three years. 

Book Passage

Embarcadero

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.

Books & Bookshelves

Duboce Triangle

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.  

Bookshop West Portal

West Portal

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.

Christopher’s Books

Potrero Hill

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.

City Lights Booksellers & Publishers

North Beach

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

Mission

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.

Fabulosa Books

Castro

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.

Folio Books

Noe Valley

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. 

Green Apple Books / Browser Books

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.

Medicine for Nightmares

Mission

Formerly known as Alley Cat Books, Medicine for Nightmares offers special events and new and used books in the heart of the Mission district.

Readers Bookstore at the Main Library

Tenderloin

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 Bookstore

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. 

Books Inc.

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.

Booksmith

Haight

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

Amazing Fantasy

Inner Sunset

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

Lower Haight

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. 

Isotope Comics

Hayes Valley

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

Mission

Mission: Comics & Art features comics, graphic novels and collectibles right in the heart of the Mission. Find something for everyone.

Foreign Language

Eastwind Books & Arts

North Beach

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.

Globus Books

Inner Richmond

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.

Libreria Pino

North Beach

Looking for something to read in Italian? Find adult novels, books on architecture, cooking, psychology, music, cinema, and philosophy at Libreria Pino.

Louie Bros Bookstore

Chinatown

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.

Luna’s Press Books

Mission

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.

Sino-American Books & Arts

Chinatown

Located in Chinatown, Sino-American Books & Arts sells children’s books, Kung Fu novels, comic books, martial arts fiction and English textbooks.

Rare & Antiquarian

Forest Books

Japantown

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

Union Square 

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. 

Argonaut Book Shop

Lower Nob Hill

An antiquarian book store in SF since 1941, Argonaut’s focus is on California history and the American West.

Brick Row Book Shop

Union Square

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. 

Specialty Books

Assouline at SJAS

SoMa

Assouline is a luxury publisher that runs a bookstore featuring their lavish books and gifts.

Bolerium Books

Mission

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. 

Bound Together Bookstore

Haight

An “anarchist collective-run” bookstore carrying titles on queer culture, feminism, national and international politics, alternative culture, poetry, drugs and more. 

Kayo Books

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. 

Omnivore Books on Food

Noe Valley

A culinary dream, Omnivore Books on Food has new, antiquarian and collectible books on food and drinks. 

The Green Arcade

Hayes Valley

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

Financial District

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!

English

Shelley D. Fargo can be reached at [email protected]




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