Go Independent: 7 Must-Visit Bookstores on the West Coast

Chocolate, beads and books. That’s what I brought home from a trip to Portland. And not just one book, but books, the result of the five hours I spent at the Powell’s Books downtown headquarters.

This isn’t a rare occurrence. In almost every new city or town I visit, I seek out an independent bookstore, not only because I love reading and buying books but because these shops are full of local flavor. The books on display are different in every indie bookstore, representing the mindset, values and reading preferences of the people who work and shop there.

As I was putting this list of my favorite indie bookstores on the West Coast (below) together, I realized that the books I purchased at each were evocative of my mindset at the time and the town I was in. I love that.

What are you’re favorite independent bookstores? Here are a few of mine:

1. Powell’s Books (Portland, OR)

Be prepared to spend hours perusing both new and used books at the multilevel downtown headquarters, which occupies a whole city block, of this Portland-area chain of independent bookstores. (Just in: Powell’s has a robust e-commerce site for both new and used books with $3.99 flat-rate shipping.)

Books I took home: Blue Nights and Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion, Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson (love his TED Talk), Start With Why by Simon Sinek and What We Talk About When We Talk About Love: Stories by Raymond Carver

2. Small World Books (Venice, CA)

One of my favorite things to do after an intense day at “the office” is to ride by bike down the beach path to my local bookstore, Small World Books, on the Venice boardwalk and pick out a new read. Warning: Unless you access by bike, it can be a little difficult to get here. Parking in Venice is always tricky.

Books I’ve taken homeQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain (she has a TED Talk too), Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple (formerly of Los Angeles, current Seattle resident), The Yellow Birds: A Novel by Kevin Powers  and my most recent buy–A Tale For the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

3. The Last Bookstore (Los Angeles, CA)

Hardly the last, independent bookstores are actually on the rise, The Last Bookstore is an essential stop before grabbing a bite at at any of the number of good restaurants popping up in Downtown L.A.

Book I took home: The White Album by Joan Didion (One of my favorites.)

4. Sky Light Books (Los Feliz, CA)

Small and intimate, this bookstore is in the cozy Los Feliz neighborhood of L.A. Stop in for a book (or a browse), grab brunch in Silverlake (I have my eye on Sqirl) and head to Griffith Park.

Books I took home: Moleskin notebook for journaling.

Books I wish I took home: California Classics Box Set with Ask the Dust by John Fante, Hollywood by Charles Bukowski, Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin and Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard

5. Bart’s Books (Ojai, CA)

Only in Southern California would an outdoor bookstore be possible. Bart’s sells mostly used books, with a small selection of new. Dogs are welcome but watch out for the resident cat who is not a lover of canines.

Books I took home: A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

Pages (Manhattan Beach, CA)

I’ve long envied the name of this bookstore–Pages. So simple. I’m not a huge fan of Manhattan Beach, but Pages is certainly one of its redeeming qualities, that and its beaches.

Book I took home: The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams and Williams Nicholson (a gift to friends)

6. Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA)

My sister (another book nerd) moved to San Francisco for about a second and this was her neighborhood bookstore. As a “welcome to California” gift, I bought her Joan Didion’s Slouching Toward Bethlehemanother personal favorite.

Books I took home: Prague Winter: A Personal Remembrance and War by Madeleine Albright

7. City Light Books (San Francisco, CA)

In all my trips to San Francisco, I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve never made it here. A independent bookseller and publisher, I just know I could (and will sometime soon) spend hours here.

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