First off, did you know that there are more than eight bookstores in L.A.? Given how most of my friends back east talk, it seems like that probably needs to be clarified before we can continue. Sure, we’re a city famous for living in an airheaded, laid-back, tabloid-driven bubble, but Los Angeles is actually a surprisingly great city for readers — there many wonderful bookstores here, enough so that I had to pare down my list of favorites in order to write something of readable length.
Thanks to L.A.’s fragmented geography, people really take ownership of their local shops. Because we’re a city that enjoys a chance to be seen, people attend book events in large numbers, and because we’re a city that's used to driving, people venture far outside of their comfort zones to visit our wonderful specialty bookshops. I don’t want to use the word mecca... but I’m going to do that right now. L.A. is a book-lover’s mecca. Sorry to destroy everything you thought you knew.
LA is vast, but I didn’t want to make this list too vast. I’ve excluded some stores that are great, but annoyingly far from central L.A. I made rules, but then I broke them to include Vroman’s in Pasadena, because I’m unpredictable and capricious and I care about you. I was going to exclude the Valley, but then I remembered a great used bookstore and broke my own rules. I’m a maverick, but I did it all for you!
So, readers, if you’re in town, here are the eight bookstores you shouldn’t miss:
1818 N Vermont Ave, Los Feliz
Located in a pedestrian-friendly part of Los Feliz, Skylight may not be Barnes & Noble-sized, but what it lacks in square footage it makes up for in curatorial prowess. Imagine a neighborhood bookstore that carries only the books you want to browse and none of the dead weight of a mega-retailer. Skylight grabs you right off the bat with carefully chosen and arranged displays, inviting you into a store where the staff is knowledgeable and well-read, their selection is well-organized and surprisingly vast, and their reading series is top notch. Come for the best in new novels, but definitely wander over to their art-focused annex, located next door, where books about photography, design, and a serious selection of ‘zines are all on display.
Small World Books
1407 Ocean Front Walk, Venice
Small World Books, like Skylight, has curated displays that could only be the work of a well-read indie bookstore staff. But, unlike Skylight, Small World is located in the center of L.A. beach mania — the Venice boardwalk. It’s a little tricky to find the door since it’s located behind a restaurant in the middle of a stretch of pure beachfront insanity, but once you’re in, it’s a wonderfully abrupt transition from a street performance to an intellectual mecca. Their selection is interesting, recommendations are spot-on, and the beach is right there for when you’ve made your selection and need a quiet spot to read! Prepare, however, to be the most intellectual-looking reader on the beach — this is not the place to buy some forgettable light reading.
Hennessey & Ingalls
214 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica
R.I.P. to its Hollywood outpost, but at least Hennessey & Ingalls still has a location in greater Los Angeles for us design-lovers to explore. If you adore architecture, interior design, urban planning, or just giant pretty books in general, this is the kind of place you could lose yourself in for hours. If you love none of these things, there are pretty notebooks for sale, too!
The Last Bookstore
453 S Spring St, Downtown
This cavernous store is both a location at which you can buy books and a full on aesthetic experience. Downstairs it’s mostly business — new books, some used copies, a few twinkle lights, a café, and sometimes a stage that hosts acts ranging from new authors to local bands. There are some quality recommendations, some great deals, and a crowd that skews just a little cooler than you. Upstairs, however, the simple used bookstore concept turns into a an art project — a sprawling used book sculpture that twists overhead and all around, leading to a frenetic, disorganized jumble of super cheap, super-random used reads. You’ll find what you’re looking for, but you’ll also find a ton of things you didn’t know you needed. Don’t forget your camera for book-spiral photoshoots!
8818 Sunset Blvd, Sunset Strip
Sunset Strip is famous for many things, but most of them are music, nightlife, and restaurant-related. Tucked between the major venue and bar stretches, however, is a wonderful little bookshop that not only offers a great selection of regular reading fare, but also a well-curated selection of photography and design books, including many that focus on the area’s celebrity lore. It’s also got a very knowledgable staff and…. ta-da… parking! Dreams can come true after all.
7623 Sunset Blvd, WeHo
East coasters don’t always get this, but Angelenos actually spend quite a bite of time reading — if you count screenplays. It’s no surprise then that we’re still supporting this gem of a bookstore, where scripts, plays, and books about film and theater are all that’s on offer. Check out the script of your favorite film or revisit your favorite plays — this is one of the few stores left where you can still browse these things in person.
695 E. Colorado Blvd, Pasadena
Imagine if Barnes & Noble still lived up to the promise of their original location in Manhattan, where interesting novels and academic texts commingled, and the staff were falling all over you to tell you about the latest and greatest offerings. Miles of books, but the feel of a giant indie bookstore instead of the feel of being in a Target or Wal-Mart. This no longer describes America’s favorite chain book emporium, but it’s exactly what Vroman’s has to offer. They have two enormous locations, but they haven’t lost their soul in all those shelves. If you need nearly any book but want to support local business and have the ability to of browse for waaaaaay too long, then this store is worth the drive to Pasadena.
The Illiad Book Shop
5400 Cahuenga Blvd, North Hollywood
Who says it’s not worth going into the Valley? (OK, fine, I say this all the time... EATING MY WORDS NOW). Used book shops are only as good as their selection. A lot of the time the effort it takes to browse shelves filled with obscure, not very good books is a major turnoff to even the adventurous among us. The Illiad, however, is a homey mix of surprising finds and organized shelves. It’s easy to browse, but still satisfyingly vast and comfortingly cheap.