(credit: Laurie Jo Miller Farr)
How many books are piled on your bedside table? Or, does your tower of books actually substitute as a piece of furniture? Do you adore the musty scent of old books or the glorious aroma of freshly printed ones? Book lovers are passionate about the shrinking world of brick and mortar bookstores, a much-loved feature of San Francisco’s urban landscape past and present. It’s our support of independent booksellers like these that guarantees their future, so we’re shining a spotlight on six of the best leading up to National Read Across America Day on March 2.
261 Columbus Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94133
In North Beach, San Francisco’s most revered independent bookstore is also one of America’s best known. City Lights, co-founded by Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1953 as the nation’s first all-paperback bookstore, is the literary landmark that was ground zero for a homegrown counterculture called The Beat Generation. Quotes and photographs featuring Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg are displayed throughout the store. Pass the sign that reads, “where the streets of the world meet the avenues of the mind” to browse the shelves where mainstream meets alternative and poetry gets its due across the entire third floor. Open daily from 10 a.m. to midnight, long may the lights stay lit at City Lights.
1644 Haight St.
San Francisco, CA 94117
In Haight-Ashbury, crowds gather here for occasional evening book parties organized as an author presentation with a white elephant twist. In addition to a bar and dinner, your ticket includes the author’s latest book, plus the swap of a book you’ve brought from home with someone else’s contribution. Or come in for an open bar during a Shipwreck event on the first Thursday of the month, when six authors dissect one erotic piece of fiction, looking for your vote. Book and author evenings dot the event calendar throughout the week. Fans love the mini reviews on staff picks, the music books and extensive children’s section lit by cheerful skylights.
Green Apple Books
506 Clement St.
San Francisco, CA 94118
Book worms re-charge their creative side at Green Apple Books. No question, they have the magic touch. For more than 40 years, devotees could say “There’s only one Green Apple Books,” until they opened a second one in the Inner Sunset, that is. At the independent book shop founded in 1967, employee-owned since 2000, the sprawling premises have grown from 750 square feet to 8,000. Find new and used books, a bargain corner, new hardback releases, remainder copies, signed best sellers, paperbacks, hard-to-find books as well as 800 magazine titles and DVDs. Appreciate squeaky wooden floors, packed shelves, an upstairs corner, book and author events year-round and late night hours.
One Ferry Building
San Francisco, CA 94111
Grab yourself an ice cream cone or a cup of coffee and wind up on the beautiful bay-facing side of the historic Ferry Building. It’s the perfect place to pass some time on the off chance that you’re early for the ferry or, heaven forbid, yours is just pulling away from the dock. You could always buy a book and take a seat on one of the benches along the waterfront for a front row seat with the gulls. Although the majority of the language classes, conferences, lectures and book readings take place in the sister shop in Marin County, the city-based Book Passage is the one that city dwellers and visitors will stumble across. Book Passage has been a San Francisco Bay Area fixture for more than 40 years, hosting 700-plus events every year.
601 Van Ness Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94107
Long lines formed early last summer when former president Jimmy Carter conducted a book signing here with his memoir, “A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety.” The West’s oldest independent bookseller has a busy program of book signings and book clubs meeting inside their shops sprinkled about the city in Laurel Village, the Castro and the Marina. At Civic Center, where a Peet’s Coffee is adjoining and a movie theater is tucked away in the plaza, the largest location occasionally collaborates with the City Arts and Lectures series to present book tour talks. They support local authors, The New York Times bestsellers are well stocked in addition to indie bestsellers, non-fiction, paperbacks, children’s books and more.
Argonaut Book Shop
786 Sutter St.
San Francisco, CA 94109
Fans of film director Sir Alfred Hitchcock will appreciate that these very premises provided inspiration for Argosy Book Shop in “Vertigo,” the 1958 psychological thriller. One of a kind, this shop for antique books is family-owned and operated since 1941. You can expect to meet Bob, the historian/owner, or his daughter when you stop in. Prints of engravings, maps and photos on the walls, including one taken the day after the earthquake of 1906, complement handsome leather bound tomes, including 16th century volumes, in mahogany and glass-fronted cases. Ask to see the gilt-edged 1855 book, “The Annals of San Francisco,” telling the history of the newly-born city. This is as much a museum as a book shop, where the treasures are for sale.