Reading probably isn't the first form of entertainment most people associate with Los Angeles. But the city actually has a long history of fantastic independent bookstores. Bibliophiles in search of their new favorite will not have a hard time finding their happy ending in the stacks of general neighborhood gems—complete with shop cats, signed bestsellers, and coffee bars—or in shops that specialize in specific genres like horror, food/cooking, or romance. Start the search for what Henry David Thoreau called "the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations” at the 17 best bookshops around greater L.A.
You might recognize The Last Bookstore from its Instafamous creative tunnel of books and other awe-inspiring sculptural design elements made of spines and pages. But in your tour of L.A., don't stop here just for the pics. Housed within a century-old bank building, The Last Bookstore is a 22,000 square-foot literary wonderland. Among its quarter-million books, you'll find the best used inventory in town, a giant assortment of graphic novels, and mint-condition vinyl records. Art and rare books are nestled into their own annex and the horror section is hidden in the antique vault.
Even more wondrous things like travel guides, tattered sci-fi, yarn, and enamel pins can be discovered amid the second-floor discount bins and local makers' art studios and shops. Sink into loved leather furniture—which sits atop the raised platform used for author engagements—to flip through possible purchases and for unequaled people watching. Thumb's up to their creative book clubs, which cover everything from feminism and Afrofuturism to dystopian literature (the "We're All Gonna Die!" group).
Southern California's oldest and largest bookstore has been the pride of Pasadena since it came on the scene in 1894. And that was before the wine bar was installed or the Art on the Stairwell program kicked off. Among Vroman's shelves are several floors of books in every possible category, a home goods section, one of the best newsstands in the region, and a well-decorated area to park the kids. Besides being a fantastic bookstore (technically now four bookstores with a second brick and mortar in Pasadena and two branded boutiques at LAX), it has carried on its namesake founder's legacy of philanthropy and community engagement. Vroman's Gives Back has donated a portion of sales to local nonprofits, schools, and charities to the tune of $765,513. Plus, it hosts more than 400 free events annually (including trivia nights, bake-offs, and launch parties), and consistently welcomes top-tier talent such as Salman Rushdie, Sonia Sotomayor, Anne Rice, and David Sedaris.
Black lives matter, and at this veteran shop in Leimert Park (dubbed the “Black Greenwich Village” by late filmmaker John Singleton), so does Black literature. Eso Won, which means "water over rocks" in an Ethiopian dialect, has been flooding its customers with tales about the African American experience, the African Diaspora, Black culture, and history since 1990. Co-owner James Fugate has a real eye for talent. Back in the day, he invited one pre-Senate Barack Obama to do a book signing. Though only 10 people showed up, the former president remembered the very prepared audience and made sure to schedule a stop there while making the rounds for "The Audacity of Hope" tour 11 years later. He's hardly the only big name get in Eso Won's history, though. Muhammad Ali, President Bill Clinton, Toni Morrison, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, were/are fans of the vibe James has cultivated.
We’ve all spent far too much time trying to answer the eternal "what’s for dinner" question. Answers might come easier should you step foot into this foodie favorite in Chinatown and find inspiration in the seemingly endless supply of cookbooks, restaurant histories, chef bios, deep dives into particular ingredients, cocktail how-tos, and studies on gastronomical techniques and trends. Husband-and-wife owners Ken Concepcion, a former chef de cuisine for Wolfgang Puck, and Michelle Mungcal devote lots of real estate to used and out-of-print books, made-in-L.A. aprons and pottery, Japanese knives, and gourmet foodstuffs. Whatever you do, don't go in hungry.
As big proponents of store pets, Franny the calico alone would secure Skylight a spot on this list. But even without the feline ringer, the Los Feliz fixture also happens to be a really good neighborhood general-interest book boutique, especially if you're looking for popular new fiction. Despite the brick wall and visible ductwork, Skylight is warm and welcoming. Maybe it's the open floor plan, the brightly lit aisles, or the tree growing in the center of the main room. Perhaps it's the nonjudgmental clerks who encourage browsing and love to give recommendations. Possibly it's the well-curated gift and card section, or the fact that Skylight supports the community by carrying local zines and having a big L.A./California section.
Despite having a population of approximately 500,000, the Northeast San Fernando Valley used to not have any bookstores or art galleries. That is until 2001, when L.A. Poet Laureate Luis J. Rodriguez opened the doors of this café/bookshop combo in Sylmar. Tia Chucha's filled the void in this majority Hispanic community with titles by, about, and for Latinos and Chicanos, including bilingual children’s books and Indigenous histories. The store has spawned a social justice book club and is behind the annual outdoor literacy festival, Celebrating Words. They pair with the offshoot cultural center next door to offer low-cost/free bilingual arts and literacy programming like mural painting and Mexica (Aztec) dance classes, writing workshops, screenings, and open mic nights.
Since its inception in 1975, Book Soup has lived up to its founding claim as the "bookseller to the great and infamous," thanks in large part to its location on the Sunset Strip. And while the West Hollywood shop is certainly known for catering to more stars than any other, it has also built a reputation for carrying 60,000 titles in its floor-to-ceiling shelving units, hosting the most in-demand authors, and having very opinionated (but with the taste to back it up) staffers. Browse the shelves for an extensive LGBTQ+ collection, lots of books about art and entertainment, and a fair number of picks from university, international, and small indie presses.
Welcome to the first bookstore in the country (and still one of only two) dedicated entirely to the romance genre. Started by sisters Bea and Leah Koch in Culver City in 2016, all 5,000 titles in their inventory—from Jane Austen and "Bridgerton" to "Zane"—are filled with stories of love and loss; furtive glances and bad first dates; randy pirates, supernatural sirens, and charming princes. Find your people at trivia nights, book clubs, and stand-up comedy shows. Or dream up something someone else can obsess over—or Netflix can turn into the next national guilty pleasure—in writing classes.
This niche Burbank business proclaims to be the Home of Horror, catering to fans of scary stories about bloodsuckers, giant sharks, serial killers, plagues, apocalypse scenarios, cults, and anything that goes bump in the night. Opened in 1994 by a couple who commit 100 percent to the theme (they even married in the store on Halloween!), the stock is unrivaled in the genre and includes both new and used books, DVDs, soundtracks, action figures and toys, spooky soaps, apparel, posters, and games. Capitalizing on the collector and Comic-Con crowd, they regularly schedule signing sessions and speaking engagements with writers, actors, behind-the-camera crew, and subject matter experts.
In the quaint burb of Montrose sits the nation's oldest children's bookstore, established by mom/artist Jane Humphrey in 1966. It's hard to top the adorableness of Harry Potter parties, social media shorts starring the house plushies, and Pippi the cat dealing with the sometimes too-strong love toddlers dole out—but the sweetest part of OUAT's story happened when the original owner retired in 2003 and couldn't find a buyer. A young regular wrote a letter to the "LA Times" pleading for someone to save the store. That someone ended up being her parents as the note made them realize how important it was to their children and the community. The Palacios run it to this day, stocking books for every stage of childhood and parenting, stuffed animals, and gifts.
It's only fitting that the Entertainment Capital Of the World has a tome tour de force that specializes in all things film, television, theatre, and celebrities. Open since 1939, it's the holdout on Hollywood Boulevard, once lined with both industry offices and bookstores. The stock isn't limited to celebrity-penned novels, biographies, film critiques, reference books, or film history books. They also have a world-class selection of set photographs, movie posters, lobby cards, scripts, and other memorabilia. Larry Edmunds has also starred in the likes of "Melrose Place," "Beverly Hills 90120," and "Alex In Wonderland."
Another neighborhood mainstay, this general trade bookstore has played a crucial part in constructing the hip yet homey persona of Larchmont Village's main drag in Hancock Park for eight decades. With an inventory that is varied and up to date, they organize lots of author visits and run both a fiction and YA book club. Stumble upon something interesting yourself or ask the staff—these book keepers live for finding your next page-turner or the perfect gift for a picky reader. Or as they promise, "We are confident we can find a book for anyone from the 7-year-old who exclusively reads about dinosaurs to the literary connoisseur in the mood for a Bulgarian epic."
When you walk into the brand's first U.S. outpost, it's normal to do a double take to make sure you entered a bookstore and not an art gallery or fancy hotel lobby by mistake. Fronted by a huge window and elegantly appointed in mahogany, brass, and decorative glass, the emporium of expensive coffee table books is simply breathtaking. Conceived by Phillippe Starck and inspired by the Sistine Chapel, TASCHEN's high ceilings and walls are splashed with wild "Computer Paintings” by German artist Albert Oehlen. Boasting a floating glass cube and a tiled rooftop patio, the high-end bookshop offers glossy works on sneakers, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Ferrari (that will set you back $6,000!), and Muhammad Ali (limited editions signed by the champ).
Reginald Hennessey may not have set out to build the Western United States' largest art, architecture, and design bookstore when he started in 1963—but that's exactly what he accomplished with later help from his son and grandson. Hennessey + Ingalls is where design firms, academics, and libraries alike turn when they need rare or new releases covering topics ranging from photography to interior design to landscaping. In 2016, the Hennesseys pulled their longtime Santa Monica stakes to join the hip exodus inland to the Arts District downtown, setting up shop on the ground floor of a building with befitting flair.
Love the smell of old books in the morning? Just off the Sunset Strip sits a delightful green cottage run by an affable whip-smart father-son duo. It's a treasure trove of first editions, signed copies, and out-of-print masterpieces by classic authors (think Dickens, Ian Fleming, Raymond Chandler, and Hemingway) and modern storytellers (including Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Joan Didion, and Toni Morrison). The inventory is rare, in-demand, and well cared for and the prices reflect that. It's always a good idea to call ahead; as they have an extensive list of celebrity clients who value privacy, the store closes periodically for appointments.
Given the fantastic worlds, colorful characters, and beautiful scenery that scream "notice me!" from the covers lining the shelves of this gem, the shop's design and exterior are rather nondescript in comparison. But that's not why you make the trek out to Torrance. The draw of this bookstore is its singular focus on books about illustration, animation, artist sketchbooks, and comic art (or as they like to say, "what other booksellers normally classify as art reference"). There's also an extensive collection of annuals, fanzines, surveys, histories, and tomes on art techniques and instruction.
Hovering a few blocks north of Hollywood Boulevard is Counterpoint, which has dealt in new and used books and records in the bustling Franklin Village since 1979. More recently, they've added CDs, DVDs, and ephemera to the mix. The shop's inventory lacks the depth and breadth of other stores on the list, but it's exactly the kind of mom and pop that should be cherished for its quirkiness, character, and a wee bit of attitude. Plus, you're sure to find something you didn't know you needed but now can't live without. Counterpoint is an especially good stop should you be in the market for vintage paperbacks, obscure occult volumes, jazz 33s, soul 45s, or punk 7-inches.