Bookstores, Etc.

Online reading is cool and convenient, with so many options at one’s disposal, but do you ever miss the feel of paper and ink between your fingertips?  Do you ever feel like just unplugging everything and going out for a good, old-fashioned hands-on experience?

I wanted to create a detailed list of some of my favorite bookstores and other preferred haunts.  Unfortunately, many of the cherished old bookshops have since closed down.  But here is a few of the remaining, as well as different types of unique establishments where I’ve had good experiences.  They are all located in Northern California, as that is where I’ve been spending most of my time lately.  If you ever find yourself in the vicinity of any of these places, it would definitely be worth the stopover:

3166 16th St. (btwn. Valencia and Guerrero)
San Francisco, CA (415) 864-3936
Open noon til midnight everyday.
This is my all-time favorite bookstore.  It is located in San Francisco’s Mission District.  I loved the way it was before they organized everything; there were books in tumbling stacks everywhere, you could barely walk down some of the isles!  A down-home used book paradise.  Since they did a very impressive job of tidying up, it is still by far the best of its kind.  The window displays and shelves of books and periodicals in the doorwell will draw you in and have you mesmerized before even entering the place.  This is the type of bookshop that really speaks to you; as you walk through the room, whatever type of material is on your mind, it will practically jump off of the shelf…it’s almost magical…a bookstore that truly delivers!  {Very sad to report this legendary little store has disappeared, as has many cool establishments these days in the Mission…The building is now a designer sports shoe/comic world store…Very nice proprietors but a sad sign of the times…Another truly awesome book shop bites the dust…}

900 Valencia St. (at 20th St.)
San Francisco, CA (415) 282-1901
Hours:  Mon.-Sat. 10am to 10pm.  Sun. 10am to 8pm.
Another great Mission District bookstore, this one has survived, carrying new and used books alike.  As with the Adobe, there is always something going on.  They usually have bins of inexpensive and free books out on the sidewalk.  Makes it hard not to stop and browse!

786 Sutter St. (btwn. Jones and Taylor)
San Francisco, CA  (415) 474-9067
Hours:  Mon.-Fri 9am to 5pm.  Sat. 10:30am to 4pm.
This shop is located in the neighborhood which was once referred to as Polk Gulch, but is now known as Lower Nob Hill.  It is a long-time local family business, and carries used and vintage books and prints of historic San Francisco.  The proprietor will always stop and talk of the old town with you!

261 Columbus Ave.
San Francisco, CA
(415) 362-8193
Open 10am to midnight everyday.
This world famous bookstore is located in North Beach, at the top of Chinatown near where Grant Ave. crosses Columbus.  A 1950’s mecca of writers and poets, it is remnant of the heyday of Jack Kerouac and friends.  Books on street level and in basement, with a poetry nook on the ground floor carrying quite an array of unique chapbooks and periodicals.  Also, up a creaky old wooden staircase on the top floor is the poetry room;  ghosts of many a dead poet hang there.  For me the room just rattles and breaths!  City Lights is also still a book publisher and puts out about a dozen titles a year.

Owner:  Lanny Davidson
130 4th St.
Santa Rosa, CA (707) 526-5611
Hours:  Tues-Fri 2 pm to 5 pm.  Sat & Sun 12 pm to 5 pm.  Closed Mon.
Located upstairs at Whistle Stop Antiques, a collective antique store in old town Santa Rosa (Sonoma County), near railroad square.  Specializes in rare and hard-to-find copy.  Also, an impressive collection of old magazines and periodicals.

667 Lighthouse Ave.
Pacific Grove, CA (831) 372-2242
Hours:  Mon, Wed, Thurs, Fri & Sat. 10am to 6pm.  Sun. 12pm to 5pm.  Closed Tues. (I think now called “The Works”)  Stepping out of the salty, foggy Monterey Bay air into the aroma of fresh, crisp pages and coffee beans is always a special treat for the senses!  Yes, I believe this store is part of a chain, and I try to “shop small” whenever possible, but let’s face it; sometimes those big businesses have what we want or need…This is a quaint, personable shop, with cafe in back.

AND while you’re in Monterey, take the time to walk down Alvarado St; down to the old plaza, customs house and the wharf.  A good portion of downtown is a part of the Monterey State Historic Park, and many old adobes from California’s earliest days still stand there.  It is an area rich in history, art, literature, culture and, well, the very atmosphere itself has a rather “otherworldly” feel to it:  amidst the ever-expanding traffic and tourist hustle bustle of any given day you’d think you could see the ghosts of ancient Natives, missionaries or old ship captains wandering the sidewalks!  (I’ve quite a few ghosts of my own wandering those old byways!)


703 Guerrero St. (at 19th St.)
San Francisco, CA (415) 206-1832
Hours:  Weekdays 6:30am to 6pm.  Weekends 7am to 6pm.
In a neighborhood (the Mission) where coffee houses come a dime a dozen (some impressive, some not so much) this is one of my old favorites.  Off the beaten path; it is small, friendly and comfortable.

801 Valencia St. (at 19th St.)
San Francisco, CA  (415) 642-1882
Hours:  Mon. through Fri. 11am to 2:30pm and 5pm to 9:30pm.  Sat. 9am to 2:30pm and 5pm to 9:30pm.  Sun. 9am to 2:30pm.
I didn’t really want to do a restaurant review, but this place is definitely worth mentioning!  It is small, privately owned and operated, and has the best value for the most delicious foods by far for many miles…For a very reasonable price you can get awesome breakfasts, meat and fish dishes, a wide variety of pastas and the best pizza around (and I know my pizza!)

458 Geary St.
San Francisco, CA (415) 441-8840
Hours:  Mon. through Wed. 10am to 6pm.  Thurs. through Sat. 10am to 9pm.  Sun. 10am to 5pm.
In a ruthless sea of downtown art and photo galleries, this one stands out: featuring incredible vintage rock n roll photographs and other rare surprises.

Pier 45 (on Fisherman’s Wharf at the end of Taylor St.)
San Francisco, CA (415) 346-2000
Hours:  Mon. through Fri. 10am to 7pm.  Sat, Sun. and holidays 10am to 8pm.
This is another of my all-time favorite stomping grounds.  A real prize, it is a privately owned collection of antique arcade games (still in working order), Playland artifacts and other old carnival delights!  You have to see it to really get just how wonderful this place is.  It used to be located in a small, dungeon-like room beneath the old Cliffhouse Restaurant (the pre-Planning Department fiasco Cliffhouse); a perfect atmosphere for such rustic treasures.  But since they moved it to a huge old warehouse at the piers, it is still a fabulous spot.  It also features on display a vintage, steam-run motorcycle, still in operating order!  Admission is free, but trust me, you’ll want to have a pocket  full of quarters!

1691 Hwy. 116
Sebastopol, CA (707) 823-8661
Open 8am to 8pm everyday.
Located in Sonoma County, people come from neighboring counties to shop here; there is not another market around like it!  A huge variety of fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts, as well as a whole foods market with impressive selection of natural products, herbs and supplements.  If you’re ever passing through the area, you’ll definitely want to stop by and load up!

122 N. Main St.
Sebastopol, CA (707) 823-7664
Hours:  Weekdays 10am to 6pm Sat. 10am to 5pm.  Sun. 11am to 4pm.
In operation since 1969, this is the oldest standing retail store in Sebastopol.  Sheet music, strings, picks and other musical supplies; as well as one of the most extensive collection of instruments I’ve ever seen.  They even have a guitar-shaped cake pan for rent if you are throwing a party for the rock star in your family.  Rental fee:  a slice of cake!

132 N. Main St
Sebastopol, CA  (707) 829-2539
Hours:  Mon. through Sat. 10am to 6pm.  Sun. 11am to 5pm.
If you take your herbs and supplements in capsule or tablet form, then this store is not for you.  They carry primarily tinctures, creams and other natural products; and they have the largest, cleanest, most organized selection of bulk herbs I have ever come across.  Whether you are healing yourself the natural way, enjoying herbal teas or cooking a killer pot of spaghetti sauce, you’ll find whatever herb or spice you are looking for!

3737 Main St.
Kelseyville, CA
Hours:  Mon, Thurs. and Fri. 10am to 5pm.  Sat. and Sun. 11am to 5pm.  Closed Tues. and Wed.
Located in Lake County, this shop is a wonderland of collectibles, antiques, crystals and gemstones.  Reasonably priced, the store originated from the proprietor’s personal collection, and she has quite the artistic knack for displaying her wares.  Very friendly place, she will talk with you about old family heirlooms, etc. whether you buy something or not!  {Moved…New location in downtown Kelseyville}

16187 Main St.
Lower Lake, CA (707) 995-2558
Hours:  Mon. through Fri. 6:30am to 4:30pm.  Sat. 8am to 2pm.  Closed Sun.
Also located in Lake County, this coffee house just has a real good atmosphere; real down-to-earth and comfortable feel to it.  They have internet access (slow, but free) but, like the “old” days, you can still engage in a game of chess, the artwork on the walls or a hearty conversation!

16080 Davis
Clearlake, CA
Open Fri, Sat. and Sun. 9am to 4pm.
Do you ever wonder what happened to the good old flea market concept?  Most of them these days have evolved to either “antique fairs”  or an outdoor “Walmart”.  The days of treasure hunting through junk piles are practically over, but not so here.  This flea market is very small and not much to look at from the outside, but just get inside the gates and let the magic begin!  Items illustrating your childhood memories will surface in the most unlikely spot; you’ll run across things you had forgotten about for years!  One man was selling his entire collection of vintage typewriters (at least 4 or 5 of them) for fifty dollars!  Located outside the town of Clearlake, if you’re ever passing through on the weekend and you are a treasure seeker, it’s worth stopping and taking the time to find.  Happy hunting!!!


6 Responses to Bookstores, Etc.

  1. ohh, I love CITY LIGHTS BOOKS! I’ve been to a few poetry readings in their little poetry section upstairs—there is such a quaint charm to that store…Nice pick!

  2. I love going to the used bookstore/library..but my e-reader comes in handy when I’m in the elevator reading, or out in public in general. I love to stay ‘under the radar’, but the topics I love to read draws attention “self help? is she depressed?”…I guess a book cover investment wouldn’t hurt. 🙂

    • Unsungpoet says:

      It’s good to be versatile, but I’ll always prefer the old-fashioned way of things and I miss the simpler days and ways of doing things…how people actually gathered knowledge before the internet…before there was no such thing as “just google it”!! Old bookstores still rule; sometimes I like to just walk through and let the shelves speak to me….I know what you mean about the privacy issue, I just can’t stand someone looking over my shoulder if I’m reading or especially writing anything!

  3. JHaeske says:

    Good post, makes me want to go back to SF and California (not that I have seen that much of it apart from SF and the train journey to Denver anyway) straight away, but sadly that will have to wait a while.

    • Unsungpoet says:

      Hopefully it will be here for awhile longer! Thanks for the encouraging words…I’m glad you found this page, as there is so much around these parts you would likely love, because of your love and passion for the life of one JLK and that old beat era, and the fine details of his life…Subtle things you might find between the lines in his writings, little everyday things…I think that the trip you took is awesome, shows so much heart and, of course, it’s subject matter I carry a great affinity for as well!

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