I left San Francisco at the end of August. However, between last-minute preparations (no matter how well I think I’ve plan a trip, there’s always something missing) and 10 hour-long flights, I just couldn’t find a time of the day to sit down and write.I’m finally settled down in Scotland, but there’s still so much of California to talk about. So I thought about resume the posts talking about one of my favourite things: books.San Francisco has some of the best bookshops I’ve ever seen. The city is surrounded with plenty of these quirky, alternative sanctuaries for book lovers. And the prices are not bad either!I dragged my parents up and down San Fran, armed with my camera and an empty purse (otherwise I knew I’d have had an overweight baggage for sure) and decided to find the best bookshops in the city. So here it’s my list!
1. ALEXANDER BOOK COMPANY
I was a bit skeptical about Alexander Book Company since it is located in the heart of the financial district. Prejudging much, I know. But my mind couldn’t seem to agree with the image of a lovely independent bookshop in the middle of such a posh place.
In any case, I was pleasantly surprised when I entered the place. On the outside it looks like a tiny and not very busy store, but the inside it’s a whole other story. You are welcomed by a rack of discounted-priced books that lead you to a three-floor shop covered in books.
This is not a second-hand bookshop, but the prices are quite fair. Besides, if you go to the third floor, they offer editions with a 30% discount.
The setting is very pretty and hip and they also offer not-so-common titles. I was so upset I couldn’t get anything for myself that I ended up buying a pin, just out of despair.
2. DOG EARED BOOKS
Though the name makes me cringe a little bit (only monsters dog-ear books, after all), this bookshop is definitely worth a visit.
Settled in a very cool, hipsterish neighbourhood, Dog Eared Books is an amazing second-hand bookshop and also a sort of art gallery.
With a window display covered in Michael Jackson and other pop culture icons’ drawings, they specialize in small press, local literature. It is an amazing place to find books that cannot be found anywhere else and the staff is quite friendly as well.
The walls display the work of locally known artists and most of them are for sale. It is a tiny store, but charming, nevertheless. Since most of the titles I saw were unknown for me, I though it’d be an incredible opportunity to browse around and just wait for a book to call you. I couldn’t allow myself to carry more books on my luggage for the moment, but next time, Dog Eared Books, next time…
3. BORDERLANDS BOOKS
If you are a fan of Sci-Fi or Fantasy books, this is your place. Borderlands Books is just a few steps away from Dog Eared Books and has a collection specialized for the geek in all of us.
With a lugubrious atmosphere enhanced by the wooden floors and dark curtains, the place offers a collection of used and new books for even the pickiest connoisseur. Besides science fiction and fantasy, you can also find horror books and mystery (how cute is this sign?).
The perks of Borderlands Books go beyond its amazing collection (though is really, really great). The bookshop also features a lovely café next door where they sell an amazing chai and bagels.
The prospectus of a quiet afternoon reading your new acquisition in the coffee shop and enjoying the view of the neighbourhood outside the window should definitely be in the bucket list of any book lover traveller that visits the city.
4. ALLEY CAT BOOKSTORE
A sister to the equally charming Dog Eared Books bookshop, Alley Cat maintains that alternative charm that is so appealing for most book enthusiasts.
I’m going to be completely honest in here and say that, although the bookshop is amazing, the area in which it’s located didn’t seem that friendly to me, at least. I ventured there alone and I was cat called a couple of times, something that had never happened me before in this city.
However if you make up your mind, I really think it’s worth a try. As in Dog Eared Books, they also feature local artists and display poetry and photography exhibitions in the back.
The titles are quite rare and the categories are displayed in this really cool-looking cardboard signs. Also, the prices are amazing; so make sure to have a look if you are looking for not-so-mainstream-books.
5. CITY LIGHTS BOOKS
You can’t really write a post about San Francisco’s book stores and do not include City Lights. This place is everything you imagine an independent bookshop to be. They specialise in world literature, art and politics, they have a room specially dedicated to poetry, they host plenty literary events and they are also publishers!
I love the fact that they offer plenty of staff recommendations (I’ve listened to several of them before, and I have no regrets). Also, their basement is so cool! To get there, you have to go down a steep staircase and discover this sort of underground heaven that offers an amazing collection of children books (I love them, can’t help it).
The location is amazing also, since it’s very near the Italian district, and what is better better in this world than books and coffee.
This last one was a happy accident and it was, by far, my favourite. I was just visiting the hippie district in Haight Ashbury for the mere fun of it when I found Booksmith.
My parents were tired after a long day of walking and I had promised them that I was done for the day, but I couldn’t resist. Any bookshop that displays a window with hand-made potion bottles deserves my attention.
Unlike Bordelands Books, Booksmith does not specialize in Fantasy literature, but it sure has a quirky appeal for an eccentric booklover such as myself.
With titles such as “Adulthood is a myth” and “Learning diabetes with owls”, Booksmith has an appeal hard to resist. Most of the selves display notes with hand-written summaries and recommendations. Also, they have classics with the loveliest editions ever.
Their illustrations books section is also incredible! And, since I’m an illustration enthusiast as you can see here, I could have spent hours there if I hadn’t had two famishing parents craving clam chowder.
But Booksmith does not only sells books. It also offers a very unconventional line of literary products such as quill-shaped pens and book-themed condoms (didn’t elaborate in the last one, since, you know, parents).
Booksmith was definitely the highlight of my literary escapade, so make sure to pay it a visit if you are ever in a bohemian mood.