San Francisco is a great literary city. Many authors choose to live there, lots of books are set there and independent bookstores abound. A book lover could easily skip some of the more touristy sights of SF and still finds lots of things to do by visiting San Francisco bookstores and literary sights. The Mission District in the southern part of the city is a great place to start if you want to practice literary tourism. The Mission is a great walking neighborhood and it houses a high density of street art, cafes, restaurants…and…bookstores.
Visit San Francisco Bookstores in the Mission District
Alley Cat Books
Alley Cat books will be be easy to visit if you are also taking my street art tour of the Mission as it’s located on 24th street right in the heart of the Mission. The Alley Cat is a general purpose store and carries a mix of new, used and remaindered books. They also have a cool art gallery in the back. If you are like me, you’ll buy a stack of books and want to start reading right away. So head on over to the Philz coffee across the street where you can get a strong cup of individually brewed coffee from one of the 20 interesting choices.
Needles & Pens
Needles & Pens is a quirky store that carries an oddball assortment of indy books, ‘zines, jewelry and greeting cards. They may not be a conventional San Francisco bookstore but they are definitely worth a visit. Their ‘zine inventory represents a cool selection of local authors and illustrators with titles such as “You Stop Me From Being Bummed”, “Broccoli”, “Guide to Being Alone” and “The Urge to Regurge”. You can pick up your guide to regurgitation and head across the street to Ritual Coffee (on 21st) and settle in for a delicious read.
Dog Eared Books is a somewhat smaller store carrying mostly new books but also some used. They don’t have piles of inventory, but they do have a well-curated staff pics table that calls out local authors such as Michael Chabon, Amistad Maupin, Raymond Chandler and Isabel Allende. And when I visited, they had two of my favorite books featured: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and Super Sad True Love Story. A great staff pics table is always a good sign that the store cares about quality. Get your nearby caffeine fix at Blue Fig coffee on 21st.
Borderland Books & Cafe
San Francisco bookstores will also give you a dose of the otherworldly. Borderlands specializes in sci-fi, fantasy, mystery and horror. It’s a nerd’s delight with a large number of specialized titles. You don’t even have to leave the premises to get your coffee as they have a cafe attached to the store. They encourage browsing and lounging, which makes it a very comfortable and welcoming place to hang out.
And if you really love coffee, check out this local Barista’s guide to coffee shops in SF
Teaching Kids How to Write in the Mission District
The proliferation of San Francisco bookstores in the Mission District do their part to create a literate community. But so does the nonprofit 826 Valencia. 826 Valencia was founded by the author Dave Eggers and its mission is to support under-resourced kids by teaching them a love for the literary arts and the skills to help them become great writers. They have programs in schools but also host kids for an after-school program in their pirate-themed location on Valencia. There is a store attached to the program space and it really is worth a visit. It’s fun and kooky and you can pick up all sorts of pirate paraphernalia. They publish a quarterly literary anthology of the student’s work, which you can purchase in person or from their online store.
Read Books Set in the Mission District
- Dave Eggar’s book A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is a bildungsroman memoir chronicling his evolution into adulthood as he cared for his younger brother. It’s set all over the city but since 826 is in the Mission, I always associate this book with the Mission. It’s heartbreaking. And genius.
- Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother follows hacker teenagers from a fictional Mission high school as they get spied upon and subsequently arrested by Homeland Security. The book’s big brother surveillance themes bring to mind a 1984 that is disturbingly real in a modern day America.
- Emma Donaghue’s Frog Music seeks to solve a murder mystery in 1876. The main characters, a burlesque dancer and a cross-dressing con woman, are caught up in an unforgiving San Francisco during the throes of a heat wave and small pox epidemic. They hide out in what was then a rural berg and what is now the thriving Mission neighborhood.
- So if you are looking for things to do in San Francisco, you can’t do better than a literary tour of the Mission. Don’t rush it. Make a it perfect afternoon by giving yourself a few hours to stroll this great neighborhood. Buy yourself a stack of books and settle down with a strong cup of coffee and enjoy a good read.
More to do in San Francisco
- Get the local’s guide to cool things to do in SF.
- Find a great neighborhood to stay in.
- Explore the Golden Gate Bridge views from every angle.
- Take a walking tour of street art in the Mission.
- If you are a foodie, check out the Ferry Building.
- Follow this tour of Angel Island.
- Take a weekend getaway to Santa Cruz.
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