San Francisco's Bookstores for the Bibliophile
San Francisco hosts a special place in the literary world. It was the breeding ground of the Beatnik generation's leading voices, Jack Keroauc and William S. Burroughs. Mark Twain, Allen Ginsberg, and Dave Eggers have all felt the magnetic pull of San Francisco's city charm. Throw in phenomenal coffee shops, a plethora of chill bars, and lots of outdoor beauty and there's bound to be an uncanny writing environment for all aspiring artists of the written word.
With that said, here's a list of 5 phenomenal bookstores for the bibliophile or general literary lover.
1. Green Apple Books
Since its inception in 1967, Green Apple (located in the Inner Richmond District) has grown from a small collective into a behemoth of literature, a mecca for bibliophiles offering new and used books in every genre under the rainbow. Their storefront seems to go on and on and on. If you need any book they have it here--they even have a second storefront nearby selling vinyl, CDs, and cassettes--and they likely have a used copy for cheap. Good luck though, its easy to get lost in this literary labyrinth. I've never spent less than an hour here, per store. Green Apple is everything a bookstore should be and more. If you say you love books, reading, that musty book smell characteristic of used books, eclectic displays, self-improvement....then this is the place for you.
2. City Lights Booksellers
Located at the end of Jack Keroauc Alley just between Chinatown and North Beach (Little Italy), City Lights is a renowned and iconic San Francisco bookseller offering a premium selection of literature from the Beat Generation, especially its headmasters Jack Keroauc, William S. Burroughs, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg. After World War II Beat writers migrated to San Francisco and poured their gonzo confessions onto the page, covering everything from post-modern disillusionment with materialism, alienation from society, hedonistic psychedelic and sexual experimentation, cross-cultural influence, to an underlying current of anarchy. Even if you don't love Beat literature, City Lights is a phenomenal place because of its heritage in San Francisco literary history.
Right next door is Vesuvio, Keroauc's go-to bar back in the day.
Aardvark is a local's favorite among the bookstores in San Francisco. Like Green Apple, Aardvark specializes in used books spanning all genres, notable galleries for mass fiction, gay literature (it is in the Castro after all), erotica, and graphic novels. Despite having a smaller storefront, Aardvark compensates by entertaining guests with Owen, the store cat. While Owen may get a notorious rap as being a bit of an ass, the employees at Aardvark are incredibly knowledgeable and friendly when it comes to helping you find what you are looking for or discovering what exactly it is you are even looking for. All in all, Aardvark is enchantingly charming, like a time capsule back to the days before kindles and e-readers and the internet when paperbacks reigned supreme.
4. Unbound Collective
Just a few blocks from Haight-Ashbury is Unbound Collective, an anarchist book collective offering a selection of more offbeat reads in cultural & gender studies, anarchist and countercultural literature, a few more specific fiction writers (think dystopian lit like Huxley and Orwell), and generally uncommon literary works. It's a small place so take your time perusing the peculiar titles in their specialized genres or ask one of the employees for their own personal recommendations. Located on Haight Street in the midst of San Francisco's time capsule to the '60s and '70s hippie counterculture movement, grab a beer over at Magnolia Brewing Company then bop in for a literary trip to another world and time.
5. Kayo Books
Operating on a different wavelength than these other recommendations, Kayo Books specializes in more "adult" themed literature. Their fortes include esoteric erotica, smutty paperbacks, and generally sleazy vintage works from the 1940s-1970s. Their store motto says it all: "is that a paperback in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?" This is the smallest storefront of all my recommendations on this list, but it's utterly overwhelming. Some of the titles in there just can't be made up and, frankly, are too vulgar to print here. I can guarantee you haven't seen a bookstore like this before.
However, a warning: Kayo is open only by appointment nowadays so be sure to book in advance and get this "adult" experience for yourself.