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10 Must-Visit Bookstores Around the U.S.

Literature lovers seek out these local gems in Nashville, New York and more great cities

Strand Book Store
Strand Bookstore, New York City
Mykhailo Palinchak / Alamy Stock Photo

Coast to coast, America is filled with pilgrimage-worthy independent bookshops, and they’re anything but one-size-fits-all. From a birthplace of the Beat movement in San Francisco to a Black-owned community hub in D.C., a used-book behemoth in Detroit to a Native-owned shop in Minneapolis, these 10 bookstores should be on every literature lover’s must-visit list. 

Strand Bookstore, New York City

First opened in 1927 by Lithuanian immigrant Benjamin Bass, the Strand moved to its current location near Union Square in 1957, and now houses more than 2.5 million used, new and rare books on every topic imaginable. You can easily get lost perusing the labyrinthine shelves, with their more than 18 miles of books (as the slogan goes), but save time to shop for their cult-favorite canvas tote bags. Former employees include Patti Smith, Sam Shepherd and Mary Gaitskill, and the cavernous space has been featured in Six Degrees of SeparationSex and the City and Julie & Julia.

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Also check out: Books Are Magic, owned by novelist Emma Straub; McNally Jackson, an indie shop with four locations around the city; Café con Libros, an intersectional feminist bookstore and coffee shop in Crown Heights; and The Lit. Bar, an Afro-Latina-owned shop that’s currently the only indie bookshop in the Bronx.

Visit: 828 Broadway, strandbooks.com

City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco 

City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco, California
Stefano Politi Markovina / Alamy Stock Photo

Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and college professor Peter D. Martin opened this indie bookstore and publisher in San Francisco’s North Beach in 1953, and it’s been a haven for progressive politics and world literature for nearly 70 years (explore its fascinating history on its website). City Lights had a hand in kick-starting the Beat movement when they published Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems, which resulted in a widely publicized obscenity trial. During your visit, don’t miss the Zapatista mural on neighboring Kerouac Alley.

Also check out: Omnivore Books on Food, the only culinary bookshop in the Bay Area; Green Apple Books, celebrating its 55th anniversary this year; and Borderlands Books, dedicated to fantasy, sci-fi, horror and mystery. 

Visit: 261 Columbus Avenue, citylights.com

Powell’s City of Books, Portland, Oregon

Powell's City of Books bookstore in Portland, Oregon
Greg Vaughn / Alamy Stock Photo

So just how big is the world’s largest independent bookstore? Its headquarters occupy an entire city block in Portland’s Pearl District, with 3,500 sections spread across nine color-coded rooms. While much of the rest of the store is brightly lit and industrial-feeling, there’s a hidden gem of a Rare Book Room tucked upstairs, complete with antique furniture, dark-wood shelving and once-in-a-lifetime treasures like a two-volume set of Lewis and Clark’s published journals from 1814 that are priced at a cool $350,000.

Also check out: Floating World Comics, a bookstore that doubles as an indie publisher; Green Bean Books, specializing in kids’ literature and featuring whimsical dioramas; and Annie Bloom’s Books, which runs a bicycle-based mobile library for the city’s unhoused population.

Visit: 1005 West Burnside Street, powells.com

MahoganyBooks, Washington, D.C.

Mahogany Books in Washington, DC
The Washington Post / Getty Images

Founded in 2007 by husband-and-wife entrepreneurs Derrick and Ramunda Young, MahoganyBooks is dedicated to books written for, by or about people of the African Diaspora. They were online-only for their first decade, before opening this brick-and-mortar spot in D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood, just a half-mile walk from the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. During the height of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, they launched a National Harbor outpost nearby in Prince George’s County, Maryland.  

Also check out: Capitol Hill Books, a three-story used bookstore in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol; the locally beloved Politics and Prose, which has three locations and is now owned by former Washington Post reporter Bradley Graham and Hillary Clinton’s chief speechwriter, Lissa Muscatine; and Kramers, a Dupont Circle mainstay with an attached café and bar and special events like Sunday-night jazz, trivia and comedy open mic.

Visit: 1231 Good Hope Road SE, mahoganybooks.com

The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles

The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles, California
Kathy deWitt / Alamy Stock Photo

A major part of downtown L.A.’s revitalization in the last two decades, this ultra-popular shop opened in a loft in 2005 as a defiant stand against the closure of bookstore chains and the rise of e-books. In 2011, it moved into its grand current home, the 1915 former Citizens National Bank, which is marked by 25-foot-tall marble pillars, vaulted ceilings and quirky installations, like an Instagram-famous tunnel made of books. This being Tinseltown, you might not be shocked to hear it’s appeared in films like Gone Girl and Under the Silver Lake.

Also check out: Skylight Books, a sunny spot in Los Feliz centered around a huge indoor ficus; Book Soup, a West Hollywood shop that bills itself as “Bookseller to the Great & Infamous”; Children’s Book World, a great place on the Westside to pick up forward-thinking books for your kids or grandkids; and Secret Headquarters, a stylish take on a comic book store in Silver Lake.

Visit: 453 South Spring Street, lastbookstorela.com

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Birchbark Books & Native Arts, Minneapolis

Birchbark Books Storefront
Birchbark Books

Last year’s Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, Louise Erdrich — an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa — owns this Native American cultural hub, which sells everything from Indigenous language learning materials to graphic novels, memoirs to cookbooks. Aimed at what the management calls the Indigirati (aka “literate Indigenous people who have survived half a millennium on this continent”), the shop also hosts frequent readings and events with authors like Morgan Talty and Staci Lola Drouillard, and recently unveiled a free native seed library out front to help area pollinators.

Also check out: Black Garnet Books, a Black woman-owned bookstore in Saint Paul; Once Upon a Crime, a mystery shop with a cheeky corpse-shaped sign; Wild Rumpus, an indie children’s bookstore that’s home to cats, chinchillas and other pets; and Strive Bookstore, which opened downtown this summer and is dedicated to Black narratives.

Visit: 2115 West 21st Street, birchbarkbooks.com

John K. King Used & Rare Books, Detroit

bookshelves at John K. King Used & Rare Books in Detroit, Michigan
Amy Cicconi / Alamy Stock Photo

Since opening in 1965, this behemoth has grown into the country’s largest used and rare bookstore, with more than 1 million books in stock. Be warned that the vast majority of the collection (save for the rare books section) is not catalogued with a computerized search, so you’ll have to rely on the expertise of the red-apron-wearing employees to help you navigate the stacks. Among the treasures currently available are signed copies of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird and Walt Whitman’s Two Rivulets, a Harry Houdini autograph, a note written by Jackie Kennedy after the president’s assassination and a $145,000 original leaf from the 1455 Gutenberg Bible.

Also check out: Source Booksellers, a nonfiction-focused store owned by retired educator Janet Webster Jones; and Pages Bookshop, which features a special selection of books about Detroit or by Detroit authors.

Visit: 901 West Lafayette Boulevard, johnkingbooksdetroit.com

Parnassus Books, Nashville

Parnassus Books
Courtesy Parnassus Books

Owned by novelist Ann Patchett and her business partner, Karen Hayes, the store takes its name from Mount Parnassus, the home of literature, learning and music in Greek mythology — perfect for a city that’s been nicknamed the Athens of the South. Patchett called the shop, “so beautiful, I can’t even make sense of it,” in her memoir This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, and it now boasts an online magazine and an airport outpost. If you want to fit in with the Nashville cool kids, don’t leave without nabbing one of the shop’s Greek goddess T-shirts or the kids’ tee, featuring shop dog Mary Todd Lincoln.

Also check out: Rhino Booksellers, which focuses on rare, used and endangered books, plus instruments and vinyl records; and McKay’s Nashville, part of a regional minichain that encourages readers to trade in gently used items for store credits so they can keep reading more and more in an affordable fashion.

Visit: 3900 Hillsboro Pike, Suite 14, parnassusbooks.net

The Wild Detectives, Dallas

The Wild Detectives, West Eighth Street, Dallas, Texas
Mattia Sobieski / Alamy Stock Photo

What it lacks in size, this bookstore/bar/cultural venue makes up for in prodigious charm. In 2014, Spanish engineers Javier García del Moral and Paco Vique converted a 1940s Craftsman house in Oak Cliff’s Bishop Arts District into this intimate neighborhood hub, which takes its name and its ethos from Roberto Bolaño’s Los Detectives Salvajes. The selection of books is tightly curated, the space is cozy and the drinks are innovative, including the Memoirs of a Geisha, made with local brandy and homemade orgeat and bitters.

Also check out: Interabang Books, where co-owner Lori Feathers hosts the Across the Pond podcast about the most discussed books in the U.K. and the U.S.; Deep Vellum Books, an indie bookshop that houses the largest publisher of literature in translation in the country; and The Taschen Library, an outpost of the German artbook publisher housed in the luxe Joule Hotel.

Visit: 314 West Eighth Street, thewilddetectives.com

Women & Children First, Chicago

Author Samira Ahmed talks with Laura Gluckman during a book signing at Women & Children First bookstore
Author Samira Ahmed at a book signing at Women & Children First bookstore
Chicago Tribune/Getty Images

Opened in 1979, this progressive spot in Andersonville is one of the largest and last-remaining feminist bookstores in the country, now owned by two former staffers who bought it from the founders. They’ve stock the shelves with a carefully selected roster of works by and about women, children’s books and LGBTQIA+ literature, and their robust calendar includes events like the Bake Sale for Reproductive Justice, Bookstore Romance Day, signings and Q&As.

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While you’re in town, check out: Heirloom Books, an eclectic used bookshop with comfy chairs for reading before you buy; Unabridged Bookstore, which includes personal, handwritten recommendations from employees on the shelves; Myopic Books, a three-story space that hosts live music and poetry readings; and Semicolon Bookstore & Gallery, the city’s only Black-woman-owned bookstore.

Visit: 5233 North Clark Street, womenandchildrenfirst.com