Note: These are only my opinions and impressions of bookstores, book fairs, book sales, and/or other book-related events I’ve visited. I am not reviewing or ranking them because I’m sure other people will visit these places and have diverging opinions. Everyone has their own ideas and preferences of what a great bookstore should be. If you have a suggestion, feel free to comment on this post and take a look at my bookstore list in progress to make sure your suggestion doesn’t overlap with a place I already know about.
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Paulist Center Bookstore (614 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA) | Website
This Catholic gift shop is located on the edge of Chinatown and to me, seems rather out of place. There’s religious knick knacks and gifts here, of course, but there are also books. Most of it is of a Christian bent so of no interest to me. However, they also do sell a few used books and I was somewhat surprised to find several Danielle Steel novels on sale. I’ve never read a Steel novel, but I didn’t think they were particularly religious…
Louie Brothers Book Store (754 Washington St, San Francisco, CA)
I had been here before to buy a few postcards. The store itself is narrow, but neat. The selection here is mostly Chinese literature (in Chinese, of course), but you can also find greeting cards in the front (I bought a Chinese New Year card for my parents here). There are also Asian skin mags near the front counter, which seems somewhat unusual.
Sino-American Books & Arts (751 Jackson St, San Francisco, CA)
I had been visiting the fortune cookie factory and I turned a corner and there this store was, squeezed in between some other food stores. When I visited, there was a blaring television and the whole store seemed to channel a paper factory explosion. They do have a lot of manga/graphic novels and books in the same series were tied together into bundles with twine and stacked like abandoned cords of firewood. The aisles are extremely narrow with barely enough room for one normal sized person. Again, it’s mostly literature in Chinese. There might be some great stuff in this store, but the general disorganization makes the neat freak in me cringe.
City Lights Booksellers & Publishers (261 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA) | Website
This is the iconic bookstore in San Francisco, located on the edge of Chinatown and Little Italy. Every time I come here, there’s always something new to see. The first time I came to the store, the booksellers were very helpful with finding a book I had been trying to locate forever. The front door to the store is narrow and when it’s crowded with tourists, it’s impossible to navigate (I had gone there once when it was bursting with tourists, but I gave up quickly after one step into the store and found that I could not move anywhere—this would be frustrating for other tourists, but at least I had the luxury of living in the Bay Area and coming at a different time). The second floor is devoted to poetry, the first floor is fiction, and the bottom floor is non-fiction. I spend most of my time on the bottom floor, wishing I had enough money to buy their entire mythology and folklore section. When I visited this place last Sunday, there were a moderate number of patrons, which was great. I really don’t like crashing into other people every time I want to browse books.
Eastwind Books & Arts, Inc. (1435 Stockton St, San Francisco, CA) | Website
I mentioned this store in a previous post on this store’s Berkeley branch. This particular store is located next to a bank down some stairs on the lower level. Right outside the door of the store are carts of sale DVDs, CDs, books, and magazines. Most of the store’s inventory is Chinese media and literature (the stuff in English is tucked away all in the back). It’s a large, well organized store with books available in many subjects. When I last visited there, they had Chinese New Year cards on sale (without the envelope) and I discovered they had a large cook book section. If my parents visit me again, this would be a place I’d recommend they check out.
Coit Tower Gift Shop (1 Telegraph Hill Blvd, San Francisco, CA) | Website
I walked to the Coit Tower from Chinatown, but if you’re feeling lazy and don’t want to scale Telegraph Hill, you can take bus 39 or drive (warning: extremely limited parking). Getting up the tower itself will set you back $8, but if you’re just there for the gift shop, you’ll find a lot of Coit Tower knick knacks, overpriced postcards, prints, and vintage books for $10 each. Personally, I’d say go for the views from Coit Tower and avoid the gift shop. You can get better deals of the postcards and books elsewhere. You won’t be missing much.