It’s no secret that living in San Francisco is super expensive. The cost of living here is 94 percent higher than the national average, which is a not-so-fun fact that will probably wake you up with terrifying questions about all of your life choices in the middle of the night. But, it’s worth it. Especially since while it’s normal to see a $20 burger on a menu, there’s a bunch of stuff that’s super fun to do and also priced just right. And by “just right,” we mean “free,” like all of the stuff on this list that won’t cost you a penny. With the minor exception of some of the antique arcade games at Musée Mécanique, which will cost you exactly that: a penny.
1. Lose yourself at Lands End Get lost, not literally, but definitely figuratively, with views of old shipwrecks, access to the epic ruins of Sutro Baths, pocket beaches, a hidden Octagon house, three turn-of-the-century gun emplacements and more.
2. Explore the California Coastal Trail Hike or bike the best nine miles of waterfront views from Lands End to the Presidio.
3. Go on an urban hike atMount Sutro or Corona Heights Park Need to get away and get back in touch with nature, but don’t have the time or energy to leave the city? Explore the forests of Mount Sutro or take in the 360-degree views from the top of Corona Heights Park.
4. Dive into the history of Sutro Baths Once upon a time, there was a massive public bathhouse complete with seven pools, a trapeze, multiple slides and high dives right on the edge of the Pacific. Today, all that’s left are the concrete ruins that you can explore on foot. And, yes, the Sutro Baths are technically part of Lands End, but they honestly deserve a trip of their own.
5. Walk or bike across the Golden Gate Bridge There’s a toll to drive across, but walking or biking the iconic bridge is totally free. While you’re there, check out the outdoor mini-museum on the history of the bridge. And be sure to wear a jacket because that bridge is never not windy. Want to learn more about what you’re seeing? Go on Thursdays or Sundays when you can take a free tour.
6. Go back in time at Fort Point “The Pride of the Pacific” as it was once called was built during the Gold Rush to defend the Bay against hostile warships that never arrived and is now a National Historic Site. You can learn all about it during a free guided tour, where they’ll probably also point out that it’s where Kim Novak leaped into the Bay in Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
7.Bike the Wiggle Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle-it’s the key to biking around SF while avoiding major hills. This is probably the most “famous” one, but other hill-free routes include Valencia St, Polk St, Fell & Oak, or 17th St.
8. Listen to free music at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Every fall, over 100 musical artists perform on seven stages throughout Golden Gate Park. For free. And you can BYOB and BYO-pups.
9. Immerse yourself in the ‘Fog Bridge’ at Piers 15 & 17 In case you’re somehow not getting enough of the fog, head to this permanent Exploratorium exhibit where water is pumped at high pressure through more than 800 nozzles lining the bridge to create an immersive environment where you’re shrouded in dense fog. So, basically, it’s just like going to the Golden Gate Bridge in July. The Fog Bridge does its thing daily at 10am, 12pm, 2pm, and 4pm and on Thursday evenings at 7pm.
10.Watch the Bay Lights The magical light sculpture on the Bay Bridge shines from dusk to dawn. A good spot to see them is along the Embarcadero, but you better do it before March 5th because the lights are coming down on that day-hopefully not forever though, assuming Illuminate can raise the $11 million needed to get them back up.11. Walk 17 miles across SF via the Crosstown Trail The Crosstown Trail connects SF from the southeast to the northwest and runs through public parks, tiled stairways, community gardens and more. You can walk it or bike it in both directions and though you don’t have to do it in one day, it’s a more enjoyable experience if you did.
12. Find the tree swing in Bernal Heights And then swing on it.13. Climb the Filbert Street steps Sure it’s good exercise, but the real reason is so you can proudly tell people you climbed one of the steepest navigable streets in the Western Hemisphere and hopefully also see some of those famous parrots.
14.Presidio pet cemetery Though it’s no longer open for new members, this cemetery dates back to 1952 and was the final resting place for the beloved pets of military families who called the Presidio home, including Knuckle Head the parakeet, Woody, “one great wiener dog” and Mr. Iguana.
15.Take a walking tour There are tours every weekday and they include everything from underground tunnels to historic landmarks to Barbary Coast dives.
16. Take a pic in front of the Full House Painted Ladies Everywhere you look, Everywhere you go, There’s a heart (there’s a heart), A hand to hold onto.
19. Check out the boats at Hyde Street Pier It costs money to go inside five historical boats, but it’s totally free to Instagram them from the outside.
20.Crissy Field Who doesn’t like a day at the beach? Plus, you can legally crab and fish without a license at Torpedo Wharf. Cook up your catch (or burgers) on one of the grills, and let your pup run around off-leash (in designated areas).
21. People watch at Dolores Park There’s nothing like grabbing a burrito and heading to Dolores Park at 3pm on a Thursday to remind you that no one in San Francisco maintains any kind of normal working schedule.
22. Listen to live music at the Fillmore Jazz Festival This is the largest free jazz festival on the West Coast and the lineup is always bursting with incredible musicians playing for two days on four stages. There are also 12 blocks of arts and crafts to explore, from an array of local vendors. It almost always takes place around the 4th of July, so plan accordingly.
23. Swing dance at “Lindy in the Park” Twist and twirl through Golden Gate Park as you master the art of swing dancing. Free beginner lessons are available every Sunday from noon to 12:30pm. Then stay and watch, or join in, with the pros until 2pm.
24. Listen to the Wave Organ This man-made organ uses waves and water movement to create music. Super-weird, but also super-cool.
25. Visit Golden Gate Park’s Rose Garden Wander through this stunning garden featuring over 60 rose beds. The peak time to literally stop and smell the roses is during the spring and early, but there’s always something new to discover, no matter the season.
27. Climb to the top of Twin Peaks Second in elevation to only Mount Davidson, you can now safely access Twin Peaks by foot (the gate next to Burnett Avenue is closed to vehicles). And in fact, if you go by car, it’s considered cheating.
28. Play disc golf on the fairways of Golden Gate Park Play 18 holes or drink a tallboy and watch someone else play 18 holes…you’ll have to help get a disc out of a tree either way. Oh, and print out this scorecard before you go, it’s got a map on it.29. Enjoy the beauty of the Palace of Fine Arts Packing a picnic to enjoy by the lagoon isn’t technically free, but climbing it is. (Maybe get yourself a good lawyer though before you attempt that.)
30.Hike the Presidio This national park right in the heart of SF is home to tons of scenic hikes, from forests to coastal bluffs, epic overlooks and a bikeway. If you’re on a date, be sure to check out Lovers’ Lane and keep an eye out for Andy Goldsworthy’sWood Line art installation.
31. Walk down the famous part of Lombard Street All of the tourists wait in line to drive down this crooked street, but you’re smarter than that, so you’ll walk down it instead. The best time to go is spring and summer when everything is in bloom.
32. Take a tour of Japantown Because there’s more to Japantown than really good ramen and karaoke. There’s also awesome gummy candies, arcade games, bookstores and a lot of history.
34. Check out the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival The Yerba Buena Gardens Festival includes over 75 free events throughout the summer in Yerba Buena Park. The entertainment options are endless and include everything from poetry readings to circus acts to jazz ensembles. Pack a picnic or stroll over with a coffee and sprawl out in front of a variety of stages assembled in the park. Performances are typically in the afternoon and are the perfect way to spend a summer lunch break.35. Take a glass elevator joy-ride at the Westin St. Francis orGrand Hyatt Hotel Who gon’ stop you, huh?
36.Climb Strawberry Hill Sure, it costs money to rent the boats at Stow Lake, but wandering around the lake, checking out the (artificial) waterfall and climbing to the highest point in the park doesn’t cost a penny. Plus, if you go at dusk, you might even see the ghost of The Lady of Stow Lake.
37. While you’re in the Castro, pay a visit to Harvey Milk’s apartment Pop into the artist-led gallery and boutique to see the work of underrepresented, disenfranchised and emerging local queer artists and makers and then look up…his apartment used to be right above it.
38. Take a trip to McLaren Park It’s the second largest park in San Francisco and home to Philosopher’s Way: the first and only path built for philosophers in the U.S. with 14 stone markers intended as “musing stations to stimulate contemplation.”
39.Tell time with the giant sundials in Ingleside Terraces Formerly the “largest and most significant sundial in the world,” the timepiece has been surpassed by the one in Hunters Point with a gnomon (the triangular piece that casts the shadow) that’s 75 feet long-nearly triple the length of Ingleside’s. Still, the one in Ingleside is pretty damn cool, or at least the kids who climb up its arm and slide down on their stomachs think it is.
40.Go on the 49-mile scenic drive Totally free…if you can get someone else to pay for gas or electricity
41.Discover your future at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory Three things you need to know about this place: 1) they’ve been making fortune cookies by hand since 1962. 2) they sell chocolate “adult x-rated” cookies, and 3) if you want to take pictures, you either need to leave a tip or buy some cookies but there’s no way you’re smelling those cookies and not buying a bunch, so that part isn’t actually anything to worry about.
42. See all of the cool art in SF’s Central Subway It’s hard to believe that the Central Subway stretching from Chinatown to South of Market is finally open, but it is. And not only is it making getting around town significantly easier, it’s also full of amazing art.
43.Sip tea at the Aroma Tea Shop If afternoon tea is very much your cup of tea, then a visit to this “tea-tasting utopia” is a must, where you can sample and learn about all things tea for absolutely free.
44.Ghirardelli Square Ask nicely at the Ghirardelli Chocolate Experience Store for free samples and then enjoy them by the fountain. If you want to make a wish however, that’ll cost you at least a penny.
45.Visit one of SF’s many, many farmers markets There’s one in virtually every ‘hood, every single day of the week and most people will let you sample the goods though obviously, it’s nice if you then buy something.
46.Say hi to thebison in Golden Gate Park Ride your bike past Spreckels Lake on your way to the ocean and stop at the buffalo paddock where bison have been residing since 1899. Just keep an eye on their tails-if it’s arched, that means you’re annoying it. Relaxed and swaying in the wind? All is well.
47. Listen to music at the Stern Grove Festival concerts The outdoor concerts at Stern Grove are one of the best things about San Francisco in the summer. The line-up always includes acts to please every kind of musical taste, plus guaranteed appearances by the city symphony or the ballet and sometimes both. Plus, you can BYOB. And while the shows are free, they do ask for a small cash donation as that’s what keeps the festival going each and every year.
48. Get poetic in the Garden of Shakespeare’s Flowers This charming and tranquil garden is hidden in plain sight thanks to a foliage-laden fence around the perimeter. Inside, you’ll find more than 200 flowers and plants that Shakespeare wrote about in his plays. At the farthest end is a bronze bust of the bard, but because it’s so valuable, it’s the only statue in the park that’s locked up. If you see a park official, they might show it to you, otherwise, you’ll just have to entertain yourself by reading the plaques that surround it and contain quotes referencing the flowers.
49.Learn how to lawn bowl Regular bowling not only costs money, but you’re stuck inside while you’re doing it. Lawn bowling on the other hand is free and in nature! Learn how to play with a free lesson, just RSVP to arrange it.
50. Watch three innings of Giants baseball On the McCovey Cove side of Oracle Park, you can take in America’s Favorite Past Time at America’s Favorite Price. Standing room only though.
51. Listen to one of America’s oldest professional concert bands From April to October, you can enjoy the sounds of The Golden Gate Park Band who play everything from Broadway show tunes to operas at the Music Concourse.
53. Walk up and down the gorgeous16th Avenue Tiled Steps Hand-made by 300 local residents, the 163 mosaic steps lead from sea to sky and are definitely among some of the most stunning in San Francisco.
54. Watch an outdoor movie at one of SF’s iconic parks Snuggle up with a blanket and a classic film at eight iconic parks across the city, including Dolores Park, The Presidio and Union Square.
55. See what’s in bloom at the Conservatory of Flowers If you’re an SF resident, you can enter this Victorian greenhouse-and the oldest structure in Golden Gate Park-and explore the five galleries for free.
57. Make s’mores at a beach bonfire There’s no need to go camping to roast hot dogs and marshmallows around a fire. Three to six fire rings are available year-round at Muir Beach and 16 can be used at Ocean Beach, from March through October. Both locations are ideal for watching the sunset over the ocean and they’re free to use.
58. Take advantage of free admission days at local museums Soak up some culture this summer without breaking the bank by visiting some of the city’s best museums. The de Young and Legion of Honor are free for SF residents on Tuesdays and everyone on the first Tuesday of the month. The SFMOMA is free for all Bay Area residents on the first Thursday of the month. The Contemporary Jewish Museum is free for everyone on the first Friday of the month. The Asian Art Museum is free on the first Sunday of the month. And through the Museums for All initiative, those receiving food assistance can get free or reduced admission at more than 1,000 museums in the United States just by presenting their EBT card. Find out which SF museums participate here.
59. Visit the Japanese Tea Garden The Japanese Tea Garden is an oasis of serenity in the heart of Golden Gate Park and it’s full of wandering paths, zen gardens and tranquil ponds. Tourists have to pay to get in, but residents get in for free.
61. Take in views of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Presidio’s Tunnel Tops park It’s a 14-acre park built on top of a highway tunnel, which pretty much makes it one of the coolest parks ever. Add in views of the bridge and downtown, a campfire circle, stunning overlooks, a food truck park and more…well, you get the idea.
62. Discover an enchanted lighted meadow Every year in the winter (usually from December to March), Peacock Meadow in Golden Gate Park transforms into an illuminated forest with shifting lights and colors.
63. Explore the Ferry Building Okay, so it’s going be tough to enter this epicurean destination and not spend some money, but many of the gourmet food shops give out samples as do the farmers who work at the famous farmers market.
64. Get a little (or a lot) kinky at the Folsom Street Fair Celebrate sexual liberation and get weird at the Folsom Street Fair, which takes place every September. The annual BDSM and leather subculture festival is free, but donations are always appreciated.
65. Play in the streets during Sunday Streets On select Sundays during the summer, miles of our streets transform into car-free spaces where you can rollerskate, bike, skip, dance, skateboard, or just enjoy a leisurely stroll while connecting with local businesses and neighbors.
66. See a walrus penis bone at Specs’ Twelve Adler Museum Cafe This legendary watering hole has a treasure trove of memorabilia, including a petrified soda bottle from a shipwreck, old maps of Chinatown and an oosik (that’s a walrus penis bone, BTW). By all means, walk in and check everything out for free, but you’re going to want to stick around for a drink or three. Luckily, they’re pretty cheap. And very strong.
67. Chill in the sun (or fog) at one of SF’s best POPOS San Francisco has some pretty sweet publicly open, privately owned (POPO) spaces and now that far fewer people go to work downtown, you can often be totally alone at the ones in the Financial District and SoMa.68. Show your pride at SF’s Pride Week & Parade It happens every June and is always one of the most joy-filled weekends of the year.
69. Visit de Young Hamon Observation Tower It’s free to go to this floor of the museum, which is 144 feet in the air and has panoramic views of the city. Once your feet are back on the ground, be sure to check out the sculpture garden (also free), and don’t miss James Turrrell’s Three Gems skyspace.
70. Learn about the Gold Rush at the Wells Fargo History Museum Warning: Being among the cool, golden stagecoaches and mining artifacts might make you feel nostalgic for the 19th century, saloons, steam trains and dysentery, but it’s still worth checking out, especially since this is the only Wells Fargo museum that remains in the country.
71. See vibrators from the 1800s at the Good Vibrations Antique Vibrator Museum Buzz on over to Good Vibrations’ Polk Street location to see all kinds of antique sex toys from the late 1800s up to the 1970s.
72. Get that bread, or at least see it being made at the Boudin Flagship location San Francisco may be the home of inventions like denim, popsicles and green goddess dressing, but those are all, ahem, half-baked ideas compared to sourdough. Check out Boudin’s flagship location and see the bakers busy at work-and ask them questions). Learn the story behind the famous sourdough and much more, but good luck not spending any money; it’s impossible to smell that kind of deliciousness and not want to buy as much as you can carry.
73. Hike along the Battery Bluff in the Presidio Another new park in the Presidio. This is a multi-use path surrounded by 60,000 plants and picnic areas in a giant, green space with jaw-dropping views that never get old.
74. Spend a day at the beach SF might not get stereotypical beach weather, but it makes up for it with stunning views, great surf, and clothing-optional sands.
75. Swim laps in the Bay Despite being surrounded by water on three sides, there aren’t many places for swimmers to get their feet wet. But if you’re willing to brave the cold temps, you can dive into the Bay at Aquatic Park, a swimmer-friendly cove near Fisherman’s Wharf.
76. Prelinger Library Hard-to-find and out-of-print books are this privately owned library’s speciality. Its schedule is kinda quirky, so be sure to check online if it’s open before you go.
77. Skatin’ Place Sunday’s in the summer, you’ve got a place to go where people won’t make fun of you for wanting to strap on your skates. Or that you own them to begin with.
78. Watch the San Francisco Opera at Oracle Park
79. Go to the largest cherry blossom festival on the West Coast Nothing says spring in San Francisco quite like the cherry blossoms. The Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival takes place over two weekends during April and includes music, cultural performances, tons of food, a parade and more.
80. Ring in the Lunar New Year The Chinese New Year Parade is one of the few remaining illuminated parades in North America and one of the largest celebrations of its kind. During the parade, you’ll hear over 600,000 firecrackers and see elaborate costumes, gorgeous floats and the 268-foot Golden Dragon.
81. Get crafty at the Renegade Craft Fair This craft fair comes to SF every spring and winter and features cool stuff from craft designers, artists, and creatives. It’s free to attend but good luck not buying anything while you’re there.
82. Sing, dance, clap, and sway to the music of the beloved Glide Ensemble Catch one of the best free concerts in San Francisco every Sunday at Glide Memorial Church when the Glide Ensemble and Change Band perform during the Sunday Celebrations.
83. See the Coit Tower murals It costs to go up Coit Tower, but that’s okay, because the (once-upon-a-time controversial) fresco murals that depict California during the Great Depression are mostly on the ground floor. Bonus points if you do #13 on this list to get there.
84. Check out some of SF’s coolest public art in Clarion Alley What could’ve been another smelly, gross alley is instead the hands-down-coolest alley in the city thanks to colorful socially relevant, and thought-provoking murals.
86. Get eyes on the Precita Eyes Murals Started in the ’70s, the probability is high that you’ve seen these eponymous Eyes around the Mission district, but the storefront has maps to other locations.
87. Eat, drink, and dance at the North Beach Festival For two days every June, the streets of North Beach are filled with arts and crafts booths, gourmet food vendors and multiple stages with live entertainment.
88. Play old school video games for free all day long Show off your skee ball, Ms. Pac-Man, Super Mario and pinball machine skills at Detour on the first Tuesday night of the month. Okay, so technically you have to buy something (food or drink) from the bar, but all of the machines are on free play all night long.
89. Take a yoga class in a rooftop park The Salesforce Tower may be useless in a post-pandemic world, but at least the rooftop park is still pretty cool, especially considering you can take free workout classes, including yoga. zumba and bootcamp.
90. Visit the Randall Museum This is more than just a natural history or science museum, it focuses on the cultures and environments of the San Francisco area and incorporates a program of hands-on learning that is almost certainly guaranteed to appeal to both children and adults alike.
91. Go to one of the earliest Chinese temples in Chinatown Dedicated to Mazu (Empress of Heaven) as gratitude to the Chinese immigrants who came before them, the Tin How Temple was founded in 1852. Photography is not allowed inside the historic temple, but the birds-eye view of Chinatown is a great place to feel grateful.
93. Go to a cool museum inside of a historic bathhouse The San Francisco Maritime Museum sits inside an art deco bathhouse and is full of murals from the 1930s by Sargent Johnson and Hilaire Hiler, lithographic stones, the city’s role during World War II and more.
95. Wander around City Hall It’s called the “People’s Palace,” so we might as well take advantage of it. Plus, it’s pretty gorgeous inside and there are all kinds of cool exhibits on display. Go on a Friday at 11am or 1pm for a free tour.
97.Watch the Blue Angels OK, so technically you’re paying for this annual airshow when you pay your taxes, but that’s just all the more reason to make the most of Fleet Week and check out all of the boat shows, air shows and more.
98. See the first fire engine built in California at the Fire Department Museum The only thing that would make this museum full of cool history and rarely seen photos of the 1906 fire would be if there were a pole to slide down.
101. Climb Mount Davidson At 938 feet, this under-the-radar park is the highest point in the city. It’s also home to a huge variety of birds, and you can trek among the towering trees on the network of trails. When you get to the top, there’s a 130-foot concrete cross to greet you.
102. Land’s End Octagon House This eight-sided building was once a watch-house for incoming ships at the Golden Gate. Now, it’s abandoned and hidden in a grove of trees.
103. Go swimming in one of SF’s public pools If you want to take a dip without a side of hypothermia, the place to do that is in one of SF’s public pools. Usually there’s a nominal charge to enjoy these facilities, but if you get a “Discover & Go” pass using your SF Library credentials, you can get in for free. Incidentally, the Mission Community Pool is the only outdoor public pool in the City.
104. Hang out at Hippie Hill If you can handle a drum circle, this sun-drenched hill in Golden Gate Park provides excellent people-watching. Hippies have been hanging out here since the late ‘60s and though smoking is not technically allowed in the park, it’s definitely very 420-friendly.
105.Play tennis As long as you’ve got the racket and the balls, you don’t need a dime to play at most of San Francisco’s public courts, a ton of which are even lit at night.
106. Yoda statue, do visit If you’re in the Presidio, it’s almost disrespectful not to stop by the life-sized Yoda Fountain in the courtyard of the Lucasfilm offices.
107.Go to the library San Francisco has some great public libraries and you can do a whole lot more than just borrow books and movies. Join a book club, use the internet, read the latest newspapers and magazines, do some work and take classes in everything from “how to write a resume” to “mindful meditation” and “learning the ukulele.” Prefer reading on your Kindle? You can even check out ebooks on their website.108. Free email alerts about free and/orsometimes free stuff Every penny counts.Sign up here for our daily San Francisco email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun SF has to offer.
Daisy Barringer is a freelance writer who calls San Francisco home, which means she’s all about the free stuff. Follow her on Twitter @daisy.
A couple of years ago, the legendary Powell’s Books in Portland released a perfume designed to evoke the smell of a bookstore. The scent has notes of wood, violet, and the lovely and unusually precise word biblichor, the particular aroma of old books. The reality of the scent is what it is-mostly sweet and floral-but more important is the imagery it conjures. The best bookstores are both cozy and mysterious, familiar and surprising, with endless potential for discovery.
Los Angeles has a wealth of independent book sellers, including beloved legacy shops like The Last Bookstore, The Iliad, and Chevalier’s. But a new wave of bookstores has been growing over the last few years, shops that eschew the traditional one-of-everything mindset to focus on specificity, curation, and point of view. There are bookstores with themes, bookstores that double as event spaces, bookstores that reflect their neighbourhoods, bookstores that take inspiration from a specific person-whether that’s the shop owner, a historical figure, or a little bit of both-and so many more.
Like the niche-ification of the internet and the culture at large, these new and new-ish bookstores provide a space to discover books, ideas, and perspectives led by an expert, the kind of things that you may never have found on your own. They can also be a safe harbour for pure nerdiness, a place to dive deep into your favourite category or cause. To help you on your way, we’ve put together a list of some of the best new bookstores in LA, with a focus on curated shops with their own specific perspectives.
Pasadena is a famously book-friendly city, with bookstore royalty in the form of legendary Vroman’s and its own literary alliance. Now it has one of the most exciting new bookstores too. Octavia’s Bookshelf is owner Nikki High’s tribute to the science fiction master Octavia E. Butler, who was a Pasadena native herself. The name of the shop provides a clue into High’s inspiration, titles she imagines Butler would have had on her shelves, with a focus on BIPOC authors. The storefront is small, but the collection is impeccably curated and the space is cozy and welcoming for readers of all backgrounds.
Vertical integration can be a beautiful thing, especially when it allows independent creators more control over their products. The new North Figueroa Bookshop is a shining example of the concept, a storefront built on a collaboration between two publishers, Rare Bird and Unnamed Press. North Fig features titles from those presses, of course, including lots of striking literary fiction and memoir, but it also features a curated collection of other books. They’ve made it a point of emphasis to serve the needs of the local Highland Park, Glassell Park, Cypress Park, and Eagle Rock community-there’s lots of fiction from fellow independent publishers, other general interest titles with a focus on California history and literature, and plenty of Spanish-language books.
Speaking of vertical integration, there’s another new combined publisher and bookstore on the other side of town. Zibby’s Bookshop is the brainchild of Zibby Owens, Sherri Puzey, and Diana Tramontano, and it’s the physical home of Zibby Books, a literary press that releases one featured book a month. That system is designed so that each book gets the full attention and resources of the press. Owens is an author, podcaster, and book-fluencer, and she has become something of a lit-world mogul with a magazine, podcast network, event business, and an education platform too. The shop has a unique sorting system, built around a feeling for each book-in store many of the shelves are labelled by interest or personality type, like “For the foodie,” or “For the pop culture lover.” On their webshop, you can browse for books that make you cry, escape, laugh, lust, or tremble. There are recommendations from Owens and the staff, sections for local authors, family dramas, and books that have just been optioned. If this all seems a little overwhelming, you should probably avoid the section dedicated to books that make you anxious.
Inglewood native Asha Grant opened The Salt Eaters Bookshop in 2021 with a mission in mind-to centre stories with protagonists who are Black girls, women, femme, and/or gender-nonconforming people. Over the last year and change that it’s been open, it has also become a community hub, a place for Inglewood locals and people from across town to drop in, to see what’s new and to discover incredible works in the Black feminist tradition. They also host regular events like readings, discussions, and parties.
Thankfully, legendary downtown bookshop The Last Bookstore’s name is hyperbole, and owners Josh and Jenna Spencer have even gone so far as to open a second shop, Lost Books in Montrose. Instead of the technicolour whimsy of the book tunnel at The Last Bookstore, Lost Books has a tunnel of plants that welcomes you into the shop, which opened in the summer of 2021. They sell those plants in addition to books, and coffee and vinyl too, which makes Lost Books a lovely destination and a fun little surprise in the quaint foothill town just off the 2 freeway.
Ok, this one is fudging the criteria a little-Stories has been open for almost 15 years. But over those years the shop has become a pillar of Echo Park community life, hosting readings, discussions, and events, and their cafe tables function as a de facto office for about half of the neighbourhood on any given afternoon. After the tragic recent passing of co-owner and Echo Park fixture Alex Maslansky it seemed like the shop’s future was in doubt, but thankfully after a brief hiatus co-owner and co-founder Claudia Colodro and the staff were able to band together to reopen and keep the beloved cafe and bookstore going strong.
The name alone makes it clear what you’re getting at Page Against the Machine-revolutionary progressive books, with a collection centred on activist literature, socially conscious writing, and a whole lot of political history. The shop itself is small but the ideas are grand, with fiction by writers like Richard Wright, Colson Whitehead, and Albert Camus next to zines about gentrification and compendia of mushroom varieties. They also host regular readings and discussions.
Boyle Heights has its own small but mighty combined bookstore, art gallery, gathering space, and small press in Viva Padilla’s Re/Arte. Padilla is a poet, translator, editor, and curator, and as a South Central LA native and the child of Mexican immigrants, she’s focused on Chicanx and Latinx art, literature, and social criticism. Re/Arte’s collection has a wide range of books, from classic Latin American literature to modern essays and everything in between. Re/Arte is also now the headquarters for sin cesar, a literary journal that publishes poetry, fiction, and essays from Black and Brown writers. There are always community-focused events happening too, from regular open mics and zine workshops to film screenings and more.
Most bookshops host events, but few host them with the regularity of The Book Jewel, the two- year-old independent bookstore in Westchester. Their calendar is so full with readings, several different book clubs, signings, and meet and greets that there are sometimes multiple events on the same day. The shop also hosts a ton of family-focused readings, with regular storytime on Sunday mornings often followed by a talk with the author. It’s a great fit for the relatively low-key (but not exactly quiet) suburban neighbourhood, and it’s no coincidence that storytime lines up with the Westchester Farmers Market, which takes place right out front.
Most bookstores lean into coziness, aiming to be a hideaway for some quiet contemplation or maybe a quick sotto voce chat-not so at Reparations Club, the exuberant and stylish concept bookshop and art space on Jefferson. Owner and founder Jazzi McGilbert and her staff have built a beautiful and vibrant shop full of art from Black artists, including books but also records, candles, incense, clothing, and all sorts of fun things to discover. There’s a perfect seating area to sit and hang out for a while, and they host a range of wild and fun events from readings to happy hours, panel discussions to karaoke nights and more.