Literary City Spotlight: San Francisco

It’s easy to imagine you’re in a book when climbing the San Francisco hills, riding the trolley, or looking out over the fog-covered Golden Gate Bridge—to sum it up, the city has major main character energy. This charm, excitement, and opportunity has led many writers to call the city home throughout the last two centuries, from classic poet Robert Frost to beloved modern-day voice Kim Addonizio. Notably, San Francisco also boasts more than 40 independent bookstores. If you’re visiting the Bay Area, here are some can’t-miss literary sites to add to your list. 


City Lights Booksellers & Publishers

261 Columbus Ave.


No literary roundup of places to visit in San Francisco would be complete without City Lights, one of the most famous indie bookstores in the world. The bookstore’s modern-day iconocography is just as significant as its revered history—in fact, City Lights was founded by a poet, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, in 1953. Beats generation poets like Jack Keroauc and Allen Ginsberg regularly hung out at the shop, a legacy that can still be felt while browsing its storied, homey aisles. The store carries titles across many different genres and also hosts events multiple nights a week.


Jack Kerouac Alley

257 Columbus Ave. 


Jack Kerouac Alley is right next to City Lights, so traipse through it on your way out to step even further back in time. The one-way alleyway—which connects the bustling Chinatown and North Beach neighborhoods—pays homage to Kerouac, as it’s next to not only his favorite bookstore but also his favorite pub. Readers can literally retrace the writer’s steps, as well as enjoy murals and engraved writings from Kerouac, Maya Angelou, John Steinbeck, and other American literary icons. 


Adobe Books & Arts Cooperative

3130 24th St. 


As its name suggests, Adobe Books & Arts Cooperative brings together the worlds of literature and art under one charming roof, and has become a beloved community space. In an interview, the store’s founder expressed that his mission was always “selling good, interesting, and useful books at low prices.” This aim is still at the heart of the volunteer-run co-op, which has since expanded to also spotlight art and welcome authors, musicians, and other artists for events. 


The Beat Museum

540 Broadway


The Beat Generation stands out as one of the most prevailing and prolific literary movements. Seen by many in the genre as ushering in the current popularity of spoken word, these poets emphasized radical themes in poetry, the genre’s capacity to spur protest and social change, and informal, spontaneous writing. The Beat Museum cements these writers’ role in literary history, as well as the part they played in the history of San Francisco in particular. 


The American Bookbinders Museum

355 Clementina St. 


Not only is literature itself an art, but so is the bookbinding process. The quaint and unique American Bookbinders Museum spotlights this art form. The museum features hand-bound books from before the 19th century, plus impressive machines like a printing press, an embossing press, a board shear, and multiple book-sewing machines. See how books came together and spot trends in book production. 

Looking for more locales to put on your literary tourism map? Check out our bookish recs for writerly hotspots like Minneapolis, Chicago, and Portland.