10 Unmissable Independent Bookstores in San Francisco & the Bay Area

February 12, 2022

Are you a bibliophile who craves walking amongst rows and rows of books? Do you seek comfort in the fragrance of sepia colored old books? Do the crisp spines of new books give a fresh spring to your step?

We live in times dominated by the comfort of having everything delivered to us with the click of a button. Therefore, it is almost necessary for pleasure to be a large part of the process when we venture out. So turn left for intergalactic travel, turn right for la belle epoque and look below for directions to the best independent bookstores in the Bay Area. 

Because what can be more pleasurable than wandering the aisles of independent bookstores? Enhancing the romantic appeal of San Francisco and the Bay Area, these bookstores offer a silent world where you can pick which world you want to inhabit.

Moe's Books, Berkeley

Moe's is nothing short of a revolution in itself. Every brick, awning, and shelf is built of passion, and just standing in one of these spaces is enough to spark a creative glow within you. 

Moe's bookstore was opened in 1959 by Moe Moskowitz and his wife, Barbara Stevens, and you can feel his relentless spirit pulsating within the walls. Moe Moskowitz was a champion for people's freedoms and rights, a visionary who recognized the importance of little freedoms. 

Located a block away from the historic People's Park, Moe's Books is as much a symbol of freedom in Berkeley as the park itself. The very City of Berkeley that Moe was often up against honored him with a plaque outside Moe's books

Built on fair trade values and the belief that everyone should have access to books, Moe's still honors those founding principles. They offer the best value for used and new books and are a haven for rare books that are lovingly preserved for the next owner. 

Pro Tip: Leave your car at the public parking a block away from Telegraph Avenue and walk to Moe's to pamper your intellect. ​​

Look for rare and first edition books, purchase a "Moe's dollar," which is a trade slip used to buy and trade books and make sure to check out the posters on the walls. 

The store is filled with the history of Moe's books, including Moe's percentage-based system posters to evaluate books fairly. The walls are throbbing with raw history and a bibliophile mania. Oh, and while you're at it, say hello to his daughter Doris! 

View of the interior of Moe’s Books, stacks of books piled everywhere and books on a wooden shelf on the wall in San Francisco, California, USA

photo credit: Moe's Books via Facebook


Kepler's Books, Menlo Park 

If Moe's is the cultural stalwart of Berkeley, Kepler's does a stellar job holding the culture and community in the Peninsula together. 

Founded in 1955 by activist Roy Kepler, it is a dual-purpose bookstore where the retail end is community financed, and a not-for-profit arm organizes literary events. 

The bookstore in itself is fantastically delightful. Row after row of incredible books is made better by gift bundles, employee recommendations, and specialist books on writing. In addition, it has a particularly academic staff whose monthly book recommendations often accompany some bookshelves.

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 Kepler's has persistently evolved and adapted to changing times, thus cementing its position as an exceedingly treasured and cherished bookstore for residents of Menlo Park and the Bay area in general. 

It is conveniently located less than a block from the Caltrain station, making it incredibly easy to access. The station has a magnificently attractive clocktower which is the perfect spot for a picture. A Philz's coffee in the next block and several restaurants lining the busy downtown lend the ideal ingredients for a satisfying Sunday afternoon.

View of four workers standing in Kepler's Books and Magazines with all of the store shelves behind them on a bright day in San Francisco, California, USA

photo credit: Kepler's Books and Magazines via Facebook

Bell's Books, Palo Alto 

Right in the heart of Silicon Valley sits this gem of a bookstore fulfilling our heart's desire of finding books printed on linen rag paper. Spotted in the store have been rare books and even miniature reproductions of famous classic works such as Shakespeare. 

Initially set up to cater to the students at Stanford, Bell's has survived the changing landscape of the book business since its inception in 1936. 

Walking around in Bell's is reminiscent of the library in Beauty and the Beast. Books line the walls from floor to ceiling in a mix of language and times. The newest books live alongside sepia-colored children's books in French. You won't be able to peel your eyes away from these shelves filled with wonders. 

Museum-style shelves hold treasured books which your heart might delight in. It will exhilarate you, even more to learn that these can be yours! So flash your best smile to the store owner and politely ask to see the book, price permitting you may find yourself in possession of a nineteenth-century rare book! 

Close up of a large book display with several stacks of books and a shelf full behind it at Bell’s Books Palo Alto near San Francisco, California, USA

photo credit: IndieBound via Facebook

Point Reyes Books, Marin County

What can be a better philosophy behind a bookstore than a platform for connecting worlds and exchanging spectacular ideas? Located within the Point Reyes station neighborhood, Point Reyes Books has served the community since 1969. 

This book store has married crowdfunding and business modeling with so much success that it was covered in the New Yorker! You can empower a bookstore to stride into the future confidently for a small contribution. A hundred dollars can buy you membership into a select group of bibliophiles on a mission and a discount on your purchases. 

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An hour north of San Francisco, this bookstore nestles amongst the cozy rural community of West Marin. A bustling town filled with local restaurants and bakeries with niche shops and art galleries, it is the perfect accompaniment to this distinctive portal into the land of books. 

Maintain that bibliophile headiness by taking a trip to the beach at Tomales Bay, trying fresh local oysters and fresh juicy local harvest. 

View of the front of Point Reyes Books at dusk with their lights on so you can see the store full of books and someone shopping in San Francisco, California, USA

photo credit: Point Reyes Books via Facebook

Linden Tree Books, Los Altos 

Ever found a charming little cottage in the middle of the woods? A wooden exterior, covered in a beautiful vine and exuding magic from within. That is what Linden Tree Books feels like. Standing strong among other local businesses in downtown Los Altos, this bookstore is a neighborhood gem. 

Launched in 1981, the bookstore initially only dealt in children's recordings. Over the years, it has expanded into a wide selection of books for both adults and children. In addition, the store is a medley of learning books, graphic novels, and many book-based learning aids. 

Head over to Linden Tree Books for a fantastic time of exploration, conversation with the highly knowledgeable staff, and soak up the beautiful atmosphere. 

View of the front of Linden Tree Books Los Altos, wooden siding with a large white sign and book butterflies on a sunny day in San Francisco, California, USA

photo credit: Linden Tree Children's Books via Facebook

Stinson Beach Books, Highway 1

Did anyone ever think of putting up a bookstore on the heavily visited Pacific Highway 1? Of course, they did! 

Highway 1 is the main artery of California that attracts thousands of tourists every year. People come from all parts of the world to revel in picturesque parts of the 840 miles long shoreline. 

As you watch the succulents growing wild, feel the salty breeze in your hair, and breathe in the magical aroma of the sea, consider stopping at Stinson Beach Books to buy a book souvenir. The only bookstore on the San Andreas fault line, Stinson Beach Books offers a great selection of travel and other popular genre books. 

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Although the store appears small at first glance, it is not so, and there are enough books and space to enjoy some hours of peaceful browsing. So hold on to the enchanted feeling by heading down to the beach with your loot and gaze at the ocean while taking in equally beautiful words. 

Close up of the sign for Stinson Beach Books that hangs above their door near San Francisco, California, USA

photo credit: Milena Moser via Facebook

City Lights, San Francisco 

A rare combination of bookstore and publishing house, City Lights stands as strong today as it did when it first opened in the 1950s. The first storefront was destroyed in the great earthquake and fire in 1906, but as the city was rebuilt, so did City Lights, who occupied a part of the building.

In 2000, the entire building was purchased by City Lights Books, and the multi-level bookstore was born. 

Conceptualized by Peter.D Martin, City Lights books were born to support the publishing of a magazine by the same name. It is famously called the "first all paper-bound bookstore in the country," revolutionizing the book publishing business, which was dominated by classic books at the time. 

By a twist of fate, City Lights was bought by Ferlinghetti, who discovered a hidden basement. He negotiated it away from its owners and used one of the scribbles on the wall to turn it into the exciting secret room that visitors get their thrills from. 

Visit City Lights to see history for yourself and shop for your favorite old and new books. Better yet, expand your horizons by attending one of the literary events hosted and supported by the City Lights Foundation. 

Wide shot of the exterior of City Lights San Francisco in the evening with their lights on inside and you can see books through their tall large windows in San Francisco, California, USA

photo credit: City Lights Booksellers & Publishers via Facebook

Adobe Books, San Francisco 

What do you get when you marry books and art? This fabulous bookstore with an art gallery and workspace in the back! 

Encapsulating the spirit of San Francisco within its walls, Adobe Books is a haven for artists, bohemians, and free spirits alike. As far as independent bookstores go, it is probably one of the youngest ones on the block. It's only a little over thirty years old. However, that does not mean that it has any lesser impact than any of the other stores discussed above. 

Adobe Books became community-funded when it ran into issues that have caused many independent bookstores to shut their doors. In their case, the local community came together and raised funds needed to preserve their neighborhood book haven. 

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Today, you can head to Adobe Books to enjoy an afternoon of browsing a fantastic book selection. Or, experiment with your vision of creative artworks in the Backroom with other like-minded individuals. 

View of the interior of Adobe Books with lots of shelves on the wall and tables in the middle of the room plus arched doorways in San Francisco, California, USA

photo credit: Adobe Books via Facebook

Book Passage, San Francisco

Don't skip over the end of this list. Book Passage has a rich history of endurance, resilience, and even fighting book crime!

When one enters an independent bookstore, one expects to find a well-curated selection. But at Book Passage, you will find the invaluable treasure of stories. Stories about how they created the store despite being told that such a venture would run into hardships. Run they did and overcame too, and how! 

Make sure to ask them how they came to be at this location. As well as how they captured the band of thieves that were stealing from them and many other bookstores around. 

Book Passage is a rare store that hosts writing classes for children—striving to nurture the love of books, literature, and writing from a young age. They also encourage the desires of their adult patrons by offering writing classes, workshops, and conversations with authors. This bookstore is practically a world in itself.

View of the brick exterior of Book Passage with bushes and trees along the front and tall windows with a large white sign on a sunny day in San Francisco, California, USA

photo credit: Book Passage Bookstore & Cafe via Facebook

A Great Good Place for Books, Oakland

Books inspire so much in our everyday lives. From thoughts under challenging moments to inspiration and even the name of your bookstore. Such is the case with this bookstore too. "The Great Good Place" by Ray Oldenburg inspired naming this store. 

It is a self-confessed center of handselling and community gossip. Despite having changed owners, the store has remained a pleasant place for indulging in browsing and chit-chat. 

A fairy-tale exterior beckons you into its warm folds of books and intoxicating fragrances. Once you cross the threshold, we guarantee you will find a book that stirs your soul. 

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Like other independent bookstores, the staff is the best part of the store. Friendly, knowledgeable, and willing to share stories, staff at independent bookstores are priceless assets. 

Close up of a book display table for Black History Month at A Great Good Place for Books in San Francisco, California, USA

photo credit: A Great Good Place for Books via Facebook

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The unique appeal of all these bookstores left us a little heady and motivated to bring this list to you. While it remains unknown whether you will be able to visit all of them. We guarantee a good time when you do.

We recommend buying a book from each of these independent bookstores. Don't forget to ask the owner or member of the staff to leave you a message within the book. That way, you get to keep a tiny part of the store in your home.

Which Bookstores Will You Be Visiting?

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