Best Bookstores in Northern California

Autumn inspires sentimentality and the glow of leaves at twilight makes Scout melancholy in the best way. Every now and again, Scout savors a melancholy day like he savors a warm cup of coffee. Feeling rather sentimental about his melancholic state, Scout decide to spend Whole40 Challenge week two comfy among the very best bookstores and seasonal beverages. Each book and beverage is a cozy companion. Throw in some bemused bibliophiles and it’s an autumn bliss trifecta.

Loathsome listicles vs. lovable lists

As you know, Scout loathes listicles and loves lists. In keeping with his loathes and loves, this is a lovable list of the best bookstores and beverages. As always, Scout and I visit each and every destination where we take each and every photo. The result? A creatively curated collection just for you.

(Supercilious side note: For this creatively curated collection, we spent a day in San Francisco and a day in Sacramento for a total of seven destinations. Ideally, we’d like to visit a destination a day. But tolls and traffic made that an ineffective endeavor. So we used our $40 wisely and enjoyed two jam-packed days of bookstores. On the other five days, we still adventured around Vacaville. After all, daily adventuring was one of the Guidelines.)

City Lights Booksellers & Publishers

If you haven’t been to City Lights, we truly hope you visit and “see the light”. (Puns… always puns.) Founded in 1955 by the endlessly fascinating Lawrence Ferlinghetti, City Lights is a San Francisco and literary institution. With a focus on poetry and mysterious, unpublished poets, this is a worthy destination for literature lovers and a nonnegotiable mecca for obscure poets and obscure poet lovers. (And by “lovers”, we mean those who love the aforementioned obscure poets and not obscure poets who are also lovers. We also do not refer to these obscure poets’ obscure lovers though they too are always welcome.)

City Lights is one of California's best bookstores
Worth every broken law it took to get there.

When we arrived, Scout and I were utterly astonished to discover street parking directly across from City Lights. Of course, we discovered said street parking in our rear-view mirror once we’d driven past. Not to fear though– there’s always a solution! We simply shifted the car into reverse, slid down a steep hill, drove backwards through a busy intersection, and slammed on the brakes as we snagged that rare curbside parking spot. The city streets even applauded us with many honks and shouts from other zealous commuters driving opposite. What can we say– this city loves us. (Scout tip:Never underestimate highly motivated obscure poetry lovers.)

Founded in 1955 by the endlessly fascinating Lawrence Ferlinghetti, City Lights is a San Francisco and literary institution.

Storied stairwells

When you arrive, please give yourself time to wander all three floors and the storied stairwells. We gave ourselves a mere hour which was meager compared to the rich book selection and autumnal ambiance

One of California's best bookstores stairwells at City Lights
Hallway traffic alert.

When you meander upstairs, be sure to take a moment in the poetry room. Scout was lucky enough to snag a seat as he perused Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.

Books Beverages and Bibliophiles City Lights poetry room
Ah yes. The smell of a San Francisco alleyway breeze through the window.

The Elements of Style

We have but one criticism of City Lights. There was, upon its hallowed bookshelves, an alarming edition of a beloved classic: an illustrated copy of Strunk and White’s definitive reference guide, The Elements of Style. As proud owners of the original, simple but persuasive edition, this grandiose recreation was unsettling to say the least.

The Elements of Style
“To achieve style, begin by affecting none.”
―E.B. White, The Elements of Style

Scout was outraged. I was shocked. All we could think to mumble was, “Why… just why?” The illustrations are undeniably gorgeous. The pull quotes beside the illustrations are timeless. But still, “Why?” The world has such a way of ruining simple treasures and turning them into unnecessarily flashy coffee table books. Reluctantly, we returned this gross misrepresentation of Strunk and White and their elements of style to the now slightly less hallowed bookshelf.

The world has such a way of ruining simple treasures.

Discouraged by this dubious discovery, we trudged upstairs. That’s when we happened upon a copy of A Confederacy of Dunces we simply had to own. Revived by the promise of great literary afternoons to come, we made our purchase and disappeared. (Well, we actually just walked to the car and left a little something on the parking sign. I reassured Scout that no one would know it was us who put the sticker there. Upon reflection, I can see how this might be traced back to us.)

Books Beverages and Bibliophiles street sign
All we ask is that you tell everybody everywhere about us.

Green Apple Books & Music

In honor of banned book week, Scout and I stopped by an indie bookseller known for their broad and sometimes controversial selection: Green Apple Books & Music. Located in the Richmond district, Green Apple Books is a nonnegotiable destination for Bay Area book lovers who want a little “angst” mixed in with their inherent “misfit”.

Books Beverages and Bibliophiles Green Apple Books
Yeah guys…. don’t.

Books and boba

Of course, this is a books and beverages tour so Scout insisted on peach tea with boba from the Mr. & Mrs. Tea House next door. This shop doesn’t have a website, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. If you don’t go for the delicious tea, you should go for the off-the-grid nostalgia of times gone by.

boba tea
A leaf after a leaf after a leaf is tea.

Bibliophiles at their best

If Scout was an over-educated and under-understood twenty-something, this bookstore would be his second home. (Or his first home, depending on his negotiation skills.) Now Scout is not an over-educated and under-understood twenty-something, but he still loved Green Apple’s unapologetic aesthetic. From the cardboard signage to the handwritten book reviews on index cards, this is a bookstore for bibliophiles who love to hide in a corner and read for days in darkness. It’s kind of a bookstore for literate, pretentious misfits.

Books Beverages and Bibliophiles Green Apple Books bookshelves
Hello, literate pretentious misfit.

It also appears to be a bookstore for people who love unidentified, symbolic masks. We asked, but received no answer.

Books Beverages and Bibliophiles Green Apple Books mask wall

Irresistible index cards

As previously mentioned, Green Apple Books is overflowing with irresistible index cards featuring the staff’s reading recommendations. Scout and I particularly enjoyed Molly’s reviews. We liked her straightforward recommendations and unpretentious handwriting. At first glance, we assumed Molly was rather anti-women, but upon further review of her reviews, we found her unexpected offerings insightful.

Books Beverages and Bibliophiles Green Apple Books book review
Yes, you might just find a Scout sticker of your very own sometime somewhere.

Of course, we wished we could read each and every recommendation. Alas, time constrained us. Should we return in the future, we can find retired reviews in this envelope. (Scout tip: Never fear goodbyes. And also, find that envelope.)

Books Beverages and Bibliophiles Green Apple Books neon sign

The Annex

Green Apple Books & Music also manages an adjoining music annex that may or may not be inhabited by ghostly figures. Then again, it might just be those literate, pretentious misfits with a Vitamin D deficiency.

The original 1960’s floors creak with each step as antique lights sway in an inexplicable breeze. This is a bookstore and annex you’ll get lost in, whether you want to be lost or not.

Books Beverages and Bibliophiles Green Apple Books music annex
Opera and N’Sync together. The world is a’ changin’.

With a chill down our spine and dusk quickly approaching, Scout and I escaped through the back after a quick postcard purchase. San Francisco’s third bookstore awaited and our time was fleeting.

Books and Buena Vista Park

As Scout and I drove toward our final San Francisco bookstore destination, Scout jumped on the dash and demanded that I stop IMMEDIATELY. Startled and a little stunned, I couldn’t imagine what possessed Scout to jump out of his seat and onto the dash. But then I saw it too: a gorgeous, shimmering hilltop calling out for us to stop and read.

Located in the Haight-Ashbury and Buena Vista Heights neighborhood, Buena Vista Park is not only San Francisco’s oldest park, but also home to one of the City’s last ocean oak groves. It boasts breathtaking hilltop views and is, quite simply, the perfect place to sit and read.

Buena Vista Park
This view is okay, I guess.

Dog Eared Books

After our brief detour and a dramatic public reading of A Confederacy of Dunces, we fought traffic and made it to the next bookstore on our list. At this point, we must confess that our last San Francisco bookstore, Dog Eared Books, was the bookstore we most wanted to visit. It’s located on Valencia street in a beautiful San Francisco neighborhood among notable restaurants frequented by fashionable people. It’s a bookstore filled with original artwork and hand crafted cards. We were, in a word, biased. Scout and I knew, without a doubt, that Dog Eared Books would be our favorite destination thus far.

Books Beverages and Bibliophiles Dog Eared Books
We’ll take a hug, Green Art Lady.

Unfortunately, we were wrong. It’s true that this bookstore looks warm and inviting with it’s eclectic selection and natural light. But it was actually a bit cold. As we walked inside, we said “hello”, but were greeted with a nod. When I asked an associate where I could find cookbooks, he abruptly reminded me to, “put things back where I found them”. When we purchased several postcards and inquired about a local coffee shop, the sales associate just laughed. Not a word. Just a laugh.

It was strange and disappointing. It’s possible that we came on the wrong day. It’s also possible that we were part of some elaborate, nonverbal prank. Or maybe, just maybe, we didn’t look, sound, or speak like the kind of patron they want. Whatever the reason for their coldness, we didn’t particularly enjoy this stop.

Should you go? Absolutely. We may be wrong and you may love it. Can we recommend it with confidence? Not exactly. It was a bittersweet end to a lovely day in San Francisco.

Books Beverages and Bibliophiles Dog Eared Books bookshelf

Insight Coffee Roasters

After our first bookish day in San Francisco, Scout and I were completely hooked on this whole books, beverages, and bibliophiles adventure. However, we decided that herbal tea just wasn’t going to cut it on day two. We also wanted a chauffeur so, bright and early on a crisp autumn morning, Daniel of Team Frymire drove us to our first Sacramento stop: Insight Coffee Roasters in the Southside neighborhood.

coffee at Insight Coffee Roasters

There are two things you need to know about Insight Coffee Roasters:

1) the coffee is exceptional and

2) the customer service is even more exceptional

Insight Coffee Roasters ethically sources organic coffee beans from across the globe. Then, they expertly roast them in-house before brewing you, lucky future patron, an undeniably delicious coffee beverage. Their espresso is nutty and rich, but never overpowering. It tastes almost wholesome in the way you hope coffee will taste from your favorite mug on a camping trip. This is the kind of coffee that everyone can agree on: smooth and balanced with a rustic finish.

Their espresso is nutty and rich, but never overpowering.

If the coffee isn’t enough to convince you, the baristas here are friendly, timely, and accurate. There is literally nothing more one can ask for in a barista. To put it simply, these people and their coffee are ABSOLUTELY Scout Approved.

Insight Coffee Roasters barista
Aaaaaannnnndddd…. smile NOW.

Beers Books

Now that Scout was sufficiently caffeinated, he suggested a stroll down the road for beer and books. Well, Beers Books, that is. (Scout tip: Beers Books really is just around the corner from Insight Coffee Roasters so make a morning of it!)

Beers Books storefront
Beverages not included.

Contrary to popular belief, Beers Books is not named after a favorite fermented beverage. Instead, its namesake is Mrs. Nellie Beers, a former clerk. Still, Scout loves the irony of a books and beverages adventure at Beers Books.

This unassuming Sacramento treasure first opened in 1936 and has existed at numerous locations throughout the years. Beers Books predominately sells used books and its survival throughout the ever-changing book industry is a testament to it’s owners and dedicated following. Of course, we aren’t terribly surprised since Beers Books instantly inspires nostalgia. This is, without a doubt, the most library-esque bookstore we’ve ever visited. It even has a checkout that looks just like a reference desk.

Beers Books checkout
When in doubt, ask a librarian.

If you’re a book nerd in search of nostalgia, Beers Books is your answer. You’ll love perusing the old and new finds as the clerks assist you in hushed tones. It’s a cozy library where you never have to return the book! (Just pay for it first.)

Beers Books aisles
You can never have too much neon or Freon.

Time Tested Books

After so many books you’d think Scout would be booked-out, but he wasn’t. He has such an affection for literature and grammar that, without any hesitation, he hurried us along to our final destination: Time Tested Books.

Time Tested Books

Bookstores really are a reflection of their time (Puns… always puns.) Time Tested books does our time and Sacramento credit with its mismatched bookshelves and relaxing reading recliners. This is a bookstore for readers in search of the quietude only a good book can provide. Here, no one will disturb or hurry you. And that, dear readers, is a rare find for our time.

Time Tested Books reading area
Time Tested Books shelf
“Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!” —Hamlet

Adventure budget

Seven destinations on a $40 budget is a daunting task. But Scout mostly succeeded. (For reference, you can find the Whole40 Challenge Guidelines here.) Scout’s total spend breakdown is:

  • Gas: FREE (the carpooling perk)
  • Bridge tolls and trolls: $6
  • Parking: $5 (street meter parking)
  • Peach boba tea: $4
  • A Confederacy of Dunces from City Lights: $17.36
  • Miscellaneous postcards from Green Apple Books and
  • Dog Eared Books: $2
  • Americano and muffin at Insight Coffee Roasters: $6
  • Grand total (with tax): $40.36

Upon reflection

Scout’s “best bookstores and beverages week” exceeded his expectations. As he adventured, he experienced that perfect blend of sentimental reflection and melancholy self-doubt. It inspired him to be a better reader and an even better rabbit. In Scout’s words, “Books are powerful and underappreciated… like rabbits.”

And that, dear readers, is the end of week two. It was, once again, very much Scout Approved.

scout approved seal

Author: Scout and Anna

Scout and Anna are everything you'd expect from a blogging partnership comprised of a young professional and a world-traveling, foodie rabbit. Scout is the author of this blog and Anna is his scribe, of sorts. Like all rabbit bloggers, Scout is terrible at typing and wonderful at commanding so the partnership was natural. The power struggle, however, is nothing short of deeply complex.

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  • At last I’ve read your last two blogs in their entirety!! I don’t understand why you concluded that this bookstore post was not a good choice for your followers. Í thoroughly enjoyed the descriptions and takeaways and I’m not even a literary lover. I’d say, try it again another day. Maybe a close up photo or two of real people (with permission) in addition to the rows of orderly bookshelves. 😊