Feature: 24 Must-See Indie Bookstores on the East and West Coast.

By Alyse Mgrdichian

Whether you’re following a well-planned itinerary or are just passing through, it’s fun to explore new cities and experience the different sights that they have to offer. The minute I know I’ll be traveling to a new place (and will have time), one of the first things I do is look up bookstores in the area. To me, the personality of a city can be seen through how it cares for its books. So, as travel bans lift, here is a list of East and West Coast bookstores in the U.S. you should visit if you ever find yourself in the area. This is, of course, a partial list—I have to stick to the coasts for the sake of time, and won’t even be able to cover all the coastal states. So, just keep in mind that this list is not comprehensive. 

First, there’s the West Coast. California has lots of hidden bookish gems, whether they be tucked away in the concrete jungles of LA or in a row of antique shops near the beaches of Ventura or Santa Barbara. Either way, the bookstores in this state are fun and eclectic.

1. The Last Bookstore: Los Angeles, CA

453 S Spring St – Ground Floor Los Angeles, CA 90013 www.lastbookstorela.com

The Last Bookstore is an LA classic, taking up two stories of a 100-year-old bank building. Founded in 2005, and known as the largest new and used bookstore in California, The Last Bookstore sells books, art, records, and comics. It has an Insta-worthy book tunnel, a mini art gallery, and lots of fun little nooks, vaults, and corners to explore. It’s LA, though, so parking is difficult. Being familiar with your parking options before making the trip will save you a lot of trouble.

2. The Book Loft: Solvang, CA

1680 Mission Drive, Solvang, CA 93463 www.bookloftsolvang.com

An academic in Pennsylvania discovers a terrifying trauma from her past after inheriting a house in Cardiff, Maine, from someone she has never heard of. A pubescent girl, overcome with loneliness, befriends a feral cat that becomes her protector from the increasingly aggressive males that surround her. A brilliant but shy college sophomore is distraught to discover that she’s pregnant, and the professor who takes her under his wing may not have innocent intentions. And a woman who marries into a family shattered by tragedy finds herself haunted by her predecessor’s voice, an inexplicably befouled well, and a compulsive attraction to a garage that took two lives.

In these psychologically daring, chillingly suspenseful pieces, the author writes about women facing threats past and present, once again cementing her reputation for ‘great intelligence and dead-on imaginative powers’ (Los Angeles Times Book Review).

3. Dark Carnival: Berkeley, CA

3086 Claremont Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705 

Based in Berkeley and founded in 1976, Dark Carnival is a quirky indie bookstore that carries a large selection of fantasy, sci-fi, and mystery books. Shopping here is like going on a treasure hunt, as you peruse the stacks of books lining the shelves and floor. Dark Carnival’s decorations are eclectic (often including an inflatable dragon outside), and its sister store, Escapist Comics, is right next door.

4. Green Apple Books: San Francisco, CA

506 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94118 www.greenapplebooks.com

Established in 1967, Green Apple Books is a staple bookstore in San Francisco. It has two levels, well-organized sections, and a good stock of new, used, rare, and autographed books. It also offers records, comics, and gifts. With regularly scheduled interviews and signings, Green Apple Books is an active source of book-related events in the San Franciscan community. 

The next West Coast state we’ll look at is Oregon, which houses bookstores that are impressively massive, and others that are comfortably cozy. With Oregon’s metropolitan scene vs. small town energy, you can have the best of both worlds.

5. Powell’s City of Books: Portland, OR

1005 W Burnside St, Portland, OR 97209 www.powells.com

Originally founded in 1971, Powell’s City of Books is the largest new and used bookstore in the world, taking up a whole city block. With a few thousand different sections in its multi-level store, Powell’s has something to offer for everybody, including people looking for out-of-print and hard-to-find titles. Authors and artists visit the store for monthly readings, and there’s a coffee room for anyone looking to sit and take a breather. It’s like Disneyland for booklovers—fun, but easy to get overwhelmed if you’re trying to see everything all at once. Take your time with this one.

6. Dudley’s Bookshop Café: Bend, OR

135 NW Minnesota Ave, Bend, OR www.dudleysbookshopcafe.com 

Dudley’s Bookshop Café is, as the name implies, both a bookstore and a café. With comfy seating, good coffee, and a carefully curated selection of books on the first floor, this shop is a cozy study spot. It is also a book lover’s dream, with a second level devoted completely to used books across subject and genre. 

7. Bloomsbury Books, Ashland, OR

290 E Main St, Ashland, OR 97520 www.bloomsburyashland.com  

Bloomsbury Books, based in Ashland, specializes in contemporary fiction, children’s books, YA, and local authors. It also has a large selection of Shakespeare and theatre. Originally opened in 1980, the shop is community-focused, housing a monthly book club in order to discuss literary and non-literary themes, and to bring its clientele together in conversation about stories.

8. Smith Family Bookstore: Eugene, OR

525 Willamette St, Eugene, OR 97401 www.smithfamilybookstore.com  

With back to back shelves spanning both levels of the store, Smith Family Bookstore carries a wide and diverse selection of new, used, and out-of-print multi-genre books. Opened in 1974, the shop’s goal has always been to cater to all types of readers while providing affordable prices. Similar to Powell’s, you won’t want to rush this one, or you’ll get overwhelmed. 

For the sake of time, the final West Coast state we’ll cover is Washington. With buildings that mix the historic with the modern, shopping for books here is a fun and unique experience. 

9. Elliott Bay Book Company: Seattle, WA

1521 10th Ave, Seattle, WA 98122  www.elliottbaybook.com

Elliott Bay Book Co., founded in 1973, is located in the heart of Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. The two-level shop offers a variety of new and bargain-priced books, houses a café, and regularly brings in authors for events and readings.

10. Third Place Books: Seward Park, WA

6504 20th Ave NE, Seattle, WA 98115 www.thirdplacebooks.com

Third Place Books sells new, used, and bargain books across genres. Established in 1998, the store is community-focused, striving to bring people together and create a fun, comfortable environment for its customers. With three locations (Lake Forest, Ravenna, & Seward Park), you have options of where to shop. The Ravenna location has an in-store café and a nice patio, which are perks. (I like coffee. Sue me.) 

11. Village Books: Bellingham, WA

1200 11th St, Bellingham, WA 98225 www.villagebooks.com

Village Books, founded in 1980 and located in a historic area of Fairhaven Village, sells both books and coffee. The shop has three levels, offering new, used, and bargain books. It also houses a gift store (i.e., Paper Dreams) that sells snacks, gifts, apparel, and home decor. With good books and great views, you’ll end up staying much longer than you meant to. Village Books also has a second location in Lynden, if you happen to find yourself in that area.

12. Vault Books & Brew: Castle Rock, WA

20 Cowlitz St W, Castle Rock, WA 98611 www.vaultbooksandbrew.com

Vault Books & Brew, originally a bank built in the 1910’s, has been turned into a hipster bookstore café. Established in 2016, the store offers new and used books while serving up coffee, ice cream, and pastries. Included also is a vault, saved from the building’s first life, which is now used as a playroom for children. (No, the kids don’t get locked into the vault.) 

Now let’s move on to the East Coast. Due to time constraints, we will only be looking at Maine, New York, and Washington DC. With Maine, the bookstores are simultaneously quirky and warm, eclectic but welcoming. 

13. Pro Libris Bookshop: Bangor, ME

10 3rd St, Bangor, ME 04401

Pro Libris Bookshop, established in 1980, is located on the corner of Third & Union St. As a used bookstore, Pro Libris offers a wide selection of unique and hard-to-find books. The shop is small, but it’s packed with books, and you could easily spend hours perusing the collection and talking to the friendly and knowledgeable proprietor, Eric Furry. As of the writing of this article, credit and debit are not accepted forms of payment. There’s an ATM in the drugstore across the street, though.

14. The Briar Patch: Bangor, ME

27 Central St, Bangor, ME 04401 www.bookshop.org/shop/briarpatchbooks  

The Briar Patch, which has been going strong for more than 30 years, sells paperbacks, hardcovers, audiobooks, eBooks, and toys. The shop hosts a weekly story time for children, and has a wide selection of children’s lit and YA. It also has a solid collection of adult books and books by local authors.  

15. Mockingbird Bookshop: Bath, ME

74 Front St, Bath, ME 04530 www.mockingbirdbookshop.com 

Mockingbird Bookshop, a newer entry on this list, carries a wide selection of books, and offers its customers hot tea while they browse. Great combo, right? The store also currently has quarterly teatime events for its clientele, offering hot tea, sweets, and savory treats for all who sign up. It will begin author events in Spring 2022 and story times in Fall 2021. This shop is small and comfortable, and is very community-focused.

16. Old Professor’s Bookshop: Belfast, ME

Old Professor’s Bookshop, found on Main St. in Belfast, is charming and intellectual. The store strives to satisfy your innate desire to learn, and carries a wide selection of new, used, and rare books that will help with that. Topics covered include science, anthropology, psychology, philosophy, religion, mythology, poetry, literature, and more. 

17. Strand Bookstore: New York (Manhattan), NY

828 Broadway, New York, NY 10003 www.strandbooks.com 

Strand Bookstore is a NYC staple, and has been going strong since 1928. The shop carries over 2.5 million new, used, and rare books, and also carries gift items. With four floors packed to the gills with books, The Strand is a store you’d be glad to get lost in. My favorite level is the fourth, which houses the store’s antique books. There are lots of affordable options up there, and the expensive ones are just fun to look at.

18. Argosy Bookstore: New York (Manhattan), NY

116 E 59th St, New York, NY 10022 www.argosybooks.com

Remember how I was saying the antique section of The Strand was my favorite? Well, Argosy is an entire shop dedicated to those types of books. Spanning a whole six levels, Argosy specializes in antiquarian and out-of-print books, and is the oldest entry on this list, having been established in 1925. Seriously, if you’re even slightly interested in old books, you need to experience this place. It’s really something else. 

19. Books Are Magic: New York (Brooklyn), NY

225 Smith St, Brooklyn, NY 11231 www.booksaremagic.net

Books Are Magic is a fun, well-organized, and well-stocked bookshop. Founded in 2017, this aesthetic store offers a wide selection of books, hosts readings and panels, and has lots of quirky little features, like reading hidey-holes and a gumball machine filled with poetry.

20. The Spotty Dog Books & Ale: Hudson, NY

 440 Warren St, Hudson, NY 12534 www.thespottydog.com

The Spotty Dog, established in 2005, is a combo between a bookstore and a pub. Located in an old firehouse that was built in the 1890s, the building is entrenched in history, and the Spotty Dog helps maintain old traditions while introducing new ones. The store carries over 10,000 new books, and serves hand-crafted ales and ciders.  

Finally, there’s Washington DC. The bookstores here tend to be a blend of intellectual and modern, feeling both academic and hipster. 

21. Kramers: NW Washington DC

1517 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC www.kramers.com

Kramers, established in 1976, is a bookstore café with great atmosphere. Along with its books and coffee, the shop is also a restaurant, bar, and event space. It’s a great place to discover new titles, have a good meal, or just hang out with friends. 

22. Capitol Hill Books: SE Washington DC

657 C St SE, Washington, DC 20003 www.capitolhillbooks-dc.com

Capitol Hill Books, founded in 1991, is a three-story bookshop specializing in used books, first editions, and rarities. With winding rows and aisles of secondhand books, the atmosphere of the shop is disorderly, but in a charming way. (If things are too organized, then exploring isn’t nearly as fun.) 

23. Second Story Books: NW Washington DC

2000 P St NW, Washington, DC 20036 www.secondstorybooks.com

Second Story Books, established in 1973, carries used, out-of-print, and rare books, as well as maps and prints. Located in the heart of Dupont Circle, the shop is easily accessible, and is a great place to duck into if you find yourself in the area. With six locations, you have options of where to shop this store’s vast collection.

24. The Potter’s House: NW Washington DC

1658 Columbia Rd NW, Washington, DC 20009 www.pottershousedc.org

The Potter’s House is a nonprofit bookstore and café. Founded in 1960 in the Adams Morgan neighborhood, the focus of this company is to build bridges across our differences. With live music, art displays, and readings, The Potter’s House uses its events to support its vision of solidarity and justice.

Continue Reading:

Article originally Published in the August / September 2021 Issue: Summer Reads.

Continue Reading.