Whether you love the cluttered, indie character of a Shop Around The Corner-style bookstore, or you’re a bookworm who simply can’t resist the sleek and modern vibes of a place like Fox Books (you’re following these You’ve Got Mail references, yes?) there are some totally beautiful bookstores in the United States that you’ve just got to check out. Some stick with the tried-and-true classic — think vintage love seats, stacks of giant pillows, resident bookstore cat — while others have turned book selling into art installations via creative shelving and gravity-defying stacks. Still more have made beautiful use of unusual spaces — an old glove factory, a re-purposed milking house and barn. There are even not one, but two outdoor bookstores on this list, that you’ll just have to see to believe.
In my book-loving mind, the only thing better than buying books, is buying books that have been housed in a beautiful space; clearly by folks who love books as much as I do. From California to New York, there is something for every book lover on this list. Take a look at 12 of the most beautiful bookstores in the United States — shops that should definitely make every book lover’s bucket list.
1. The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles, California
Find them at: 453 South Spring Street, Los Angeles, California 90013
Boasting 22,000 square feet of literature, The Last Bookstore is California’s largest independent bookstore, and without a doubt one of the most gorgeous booksellers in the United States. High ceilings and tall, white columns define the space, which is known, in part, for its creative shelving. Most notable is the book tunnel, which takes readers to the second floor “Labyrinth” — a maze-like space of over 100,000 used books, selling for one dollar each.
2. Small World Books in Los Angeles, California
Find them at: 1407 Ocean Front Walk, Venice, California 90291
Located on the iconic Venice Boardwalk and just steps from the beach, Small World Books has been holding its current space since all the way back in 1976; and the inside as just as beautiful as the ambiance outside. At 2,000 square feet, Small World Books carries a wide selection of titles published by both major and small presses, and is a great place for lovers of art — they support tons of local artists and the bi-monthly Venice Art Crawl — as well as lovers of books.
3. Bart’s Books in Ojai, California
Find them at: 302 West Matilija Street, Ojai, California 93023
The first outdoor bookstore on this list, Bart’s Books is another southern California gem, recognized for being the largest independently owned and operated outdoor bookstore in the country. Since opening in 1964, Bart’s Books has expanded into the sunny and palm-tree lined space it is today. Nearly one million books have come and gone since Bart’s Books’ inception, and the outdoor books are still sold on the bookstore’s traditional “honor system” which began when patrons were free to take any of the titles and leave their payment in coffee cans on top of the bookshelves.
4. Armadillo's Pillow Inc. in Chicago, Illinois
Find them at: 6753 North Sheridan Road, Chicago, Illinois 60626
Specializing in common, uncommon, and hard-to-find used books, the Chicago-based Armadillo's Pillow Inc. is super quirky and cluttered, filled with haphazardly-placed comfy chairs and plenty of incense — exactly how I love my bookstores. Don’t expect to catch them open before noon though. As their website advises: “Many week days we randomly and unofficially open at 9:00 am, but don't count on it.” Gotta love it.
5. Prairie Lights in Iowa City, Iowa
Find them at: 15 South Dubuque Street, Iowa City, Iowa 52240
Iowa City’s Prairie Lights is one of my absolute favorite bookstores in the world — their crowded shelves, great author events, and proximity to the brilliant literary minds at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop make for a trifecta of bookstore bliss. The store boasts three (and a half) floors of work by local, national and international writers — and the half floor is for their café.
6. The Book Lady Bookstore in Savannah, Georgia
Find them at: 6 East Liberty Street, Savannah, Georgia 31401
Do not turn abruptly or carry a large bag into Savannah, Georgia’s The Book Lady Bookstore — you will definitely knock something over, creating a domino effect that very well might take down the entire store. That is to say, The Book Lady features books on top of books on top of books, stacked on shelves and tables and mantles and ladders and stair cases. The store has been located in downtown Savannah’s Historic District since 1978, and features over 50,000 new and used titles.
7. Brattle Book Shop in Boston, Massachusettes
Find them at: 9 West Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02111
In addition to being one of the largest and oldest used bookstores in the United States (founded in 1825), Brattle Book Shop offers shoppers both an indoor space and an outdoor sale lot — making them the second outdoor bookstore on this list. Located in the heart of downtown Boston, Brattle Book Shop features three stories of used books & magazines, and their collection of rare and antiquarian books, and first editions, is definitely not to be missed — even if all you can afford is a little lustful window shopping.
8. John K. King Used & Rare Books in Detroit, Michigan
Find them at: 901 West Lafayette Boulevard, Detroit, Michigan 48226
Comprised of four floors and over 900 categories of a million-plus uncomputerized (let me repeat: uncomputerized) books, John K. King Used & Rare Books is the kind of bookstore you could literally spend the rest of your life in and still not manage to take in everything it has to offer (think Rory Gilmore standing outside the Harvard Library.) Located in a former glove factory in downtown Detroit, John K. King Used & Rare Books specializes in rare, out-of-print, and totally out-of-the-ordinary books and archival materials, and without a doubt isn’t like any bookstore you’ve ever been in before.
9. Faulkner House Books in New Orleans, Louisiana
Find them at: 624 Pirate Alley, New Orleans, Louisiana 70116
This former home of William Faulkner now plays host to an independent bookstore — or, as Faulkner House Books describes themselves “a sanctuary for fine literature.” Aka: exactly where I want to spend my all of my time and money. Located in the heart of New Orleans’ French Quarter, Faulkner House Books features new titles, as well as rare, signed, and out of print books. Their chandeliers-and-shelves vibe makes this bookstore super beautiful. And yes, they really are located on Pirate Alley.
10. Housing Works Bookstore Café in New York City, New York
Find them at: 126 Crosby Street, New York City, New York 10012
Housing Works Bookstore Café isn’t just a beautiful bookstore for its NYC setting and relaxed vibes—it also supports a beautiful, and essential mission. Founded in 1990, the New York City-based Housing Works is a social enterprise–business that provides housing, medical, prevention, and support services for over 20,000 homeless and low-income New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS. Offering a great selection of new books, movies, and music, Housing Works Bookstore Café is almost entirely volunteer-staffed, and 100% of their proceeds go towards Housing Works’ mission.
11. Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar in Asheville, North Carolina
Find them at: 1 Page Avenue #101, Asheville, North Carolina 28801
Battery Park Book Exchange is another one of my absolute favorite bookstores in the world. With two floors of winding, maze-like shelves and cozy seating areas, it’s a bookstore you can actually get lost in — especially if you hit their champagne bar first. Located in the heart of downtown Asheville, Battery Park Book Exchange sells thousands of new and used books, and some rare first editions. Their book selection is constantly changing, so if you see something you just have to have, be sure to scoop it up immediately.
12. Baldwin Book Barn in West Chester, Pennsylvania
Find them at: 865 Lenape Road, West Chester, Pennsylvania 19382
Built as a barn and milking house in 1822 and converted into a bookstore in 1946, Baldwin's Book Barn is five stories of new and used books and nooks, stone walls and wood-burning fireplaces, arched doorways and wooden rafters, as well as a selection of antiquarian and rare books, maps, manuscripts, and prints. In addition to the myriad printed materials for sale, Baldwin’s Book Barn, which is nestled in the charming and whimsical Brandywine Valley, also features a collection of paintings, estate antiques, and other valued collectibles.