All hands on deck! Los Angeles’ independent book scene is operating on a skeleton crew with no land in sight: all the better a reason to support them now.
Take a few hours to cruise by a couple of these stalwarts or give yourself an entire weekend to tour all the best bookstores in Los Angeles. You’re sure to find some treasures.
8 Best Bookstores in LA
Small World Books
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Located in the open-air market specializing in bootleg “L.A.” bedecked clothing and weed accessories known as the Venice Beach boardwalk, Small World Books has been operating since 1976. You can just picture the roller-skate disco dancing and short shorts.
The store was empty (I told you, they need help!) so while the attendant busied himself behind the counter doing book store things, I was left to roam about, literally, judging books by their covers. Heaven.
I know from prior experience the Small World staff is well-read, always with a recommendation handy.
However, knowing introverts are over-represented in bookstores, Small World makes prominent signs showing staff recommendations, so you don’t have to ask for suggestions if you prefer to browse in silence.
Need a suggestion? A book by Joan Didion is the perfect way to slouch into Los Angeles.
In addition to a wide selection in all genres, Small World exhibits art during the bi-monthly Venice Art Crawl.
Address: Small World Books, 1407 Ocean Front Walk, Venice, CA 90291
BookMonster is the place to go for that industrial Borders Bookstore experience of yore, being surrounded by books in narrow aisles almost bringing you to the point of despair knowing you’ll never be able to read everything you’d like to.
They’ll have pretty much any book you can think of in hardback, paperback, new or used. For instance, if you need one more Harry Potter to finish your set, no matter which set you have in mind, you’ll find it here.
There’s movies and music too at this LA bookstore. On the way to the register, you can grab a moleskin journal or a Jane Austen themed tote. I went with this eclectic collection of new and used.
Hungry after a browse? Peruse your loot just around the corner on The Georgian Hotel’s patio, noshing on chips and guac.
Address: BookMonster, 212 Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90401
In 1994, Sue and Del Howison started Dark Delicacies, the only dedicated horror/dark fantasy bookstore in the entire country. You’ll find Del behind the counter. He’s more than happy to show you around the shop, pointing out the various arcana.
In between the array of books, this place will have you pleasantly and permanently perplexed. Why are there action figures based on the Haunted Mansion ghosts? Did Disney really license this? They must have.
I’ll never know because I was quickly distracted by their collection of collectibles. If you’ve got a favorite in this genre, Del certainly has something for you.
I left with a bigger haul than expected since this isn’t my milieu but if you think I’ll regret the REDRUM hot sauce, you got a big surprise coming to you.
Address: Dark Delicacies, 822 N. Hollywood Way, Burbank, CA 91505
Vroman’s was once the largest bookstore west of the Mississippi and its thousands of square feet promise to have everything you want in the way of reading material.
Every bookstore has a kids’ section but this one is special, taking up almost the entire second floor. Your little reader won’t want to leave, so it’s a great bookstore in LA if you’re trying to impress upon a young one the love of reading!
In addition to all the publications, they’ve got cards, tchotchkes, mugs, literary-themed clothing (the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy socks were my favorite) and stationery.
Vroman’s hosts hundreds of community events every year, like story-time, crafts, and bake-offs. Amongst their notable author signings are Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Ray Bradbury, Barbara Walters, Anne Rice, and Neil Gaiman.
I got two of these from the Women’s History Month table, one for my son, a passionate skater who also won’t wear a helmet and one to send to my Fox News watching father for his birthday.
Insider Tip: Park around back as the boulevard spots will likely be filled.
Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado, Pasadena, CA 91101
The Last Bookstore
The Last Bookstore, in downtown Los Angeles, is more than a bookstore: it’s a great experience for any book lover, but I’m not gonna lie, the neighborhood surrounding it is rough.
This LA bookstore is in a neighborhood adjacent to Skid Row, where some 5,000 unhoused people live. If you’re from out of town and haven’t been to this part of Los Angeles before, you may feel a little unsettled.
Parking is scarce in downtown LA, so you’ll pay at least $10 to park in an alley or dark underground structure. However, it’s absolutely worth it, as this is one of the best bookstores in Los Angeles.
Located in a 22,000-square-foot abandoned bank, this bookstore is home to more than 250,000 new and used books and records.
Upstairs, you’ll find the Arts and Rare Book Annex, Labyrinth Above, Gather Yarn Shop, and Spring Arts Collective Gallery and a pleasing view of the store below.
The real-life vault looks cool and (if you’re fond of mildewing paper) smells even better, but nothing’s for sale. Besides, you’re probably not looking for old legal books or Volume 23 from the 1958 Encyclopedia Britannica TEXTILE to VASC.
Insider Tip: If you’re an aspiring writer, musician, poet and/or comedian show up for Speak Easy: Open Mic Mondays. Sign-ups start at 7:45 p.m.
Address: The Last Bookstore, 453 S. Spring Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013
On the Sunset Strip, doors down from the notorious Viper Room, Book Soup is a megalopolis with over 60,000 titles spread around its split levels.
In addition to the massive collection, you’ll find signed copies and a packed calendar. The place is a mainstay of author tours and has been a neighborhood and celebrity staple since 1975.
Sadly, on my last visit to this beloved LA bookstore, I arrived one minute before closing, of which I was immediately informed.
In the time I was there, I appreciated the store’s layout taking advantage of its irregular configuration of floors and ceiling-high shelving, requiring those sexy rail-mounted ladders. It really is a wonderful store and I vowed to revisit another time, earlier in the day.
I ended up taking home Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun. It had a “Good Morning America Book Club” sticker on it so how bad could it be?
Address: Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA 90069
Mystery Pier Books
Literally right next door is Mystery Pier Books, Inc. — not that you’d know it. Unless, that is, you’d parked in the rear parking lot it shares with Book Soup, as I did.
From the boulevard, if you’re lucky, you’d notice a glassed door display of books next to a hookah bar/Persian restaurant. Following the sweet smell, the narrow alley opens up to the most unexpected, delightful English cottage you’ll ever find.
The bookstore is cozy, more like a sitting room, with an Oriental rug covering the hardwood floor and books everywhere.
One corner of this LA bookstore is home to a bevy of pictures of the owners with top-notch celebrities. Apparently Bono likes rare books too. Natalie Portman said she could spend days there. Julie Louis-Dreyfus claimed, “This may be the most lovely bookshop I have ever visited.” After ten seconds, I already knew it was the same for me.
Their collection is bonkers, giving me that museum feeling of not wanting to get too close: James Joyce first editions, 18th-century Shakespeares, signed Salingers; Hemingways, all too impressive to even ask about. I’m putting out Schmiegel vibes. Preciouses.
I got to see J.K. Rowling’s first published piece of work, a scholarly scholarly piece in Exeter’s journal Pegasus, and several other incredible rare books worth obscene sums. Definitely a must for book nerds.
Address: Mystery Pier Books Inc., 8826 Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069
Chevalier’s Books is the oldest indie bookstore in Los Angeles, located in Larchmont Village in Hancock Park. Joe Chevalier founded it in 1940 and if that’s not a helluva name I don’t know what is.
At a few hundred square feet, Chevalier’s is inviting and more than manageable. If you get overwhelmed by choice easily, this is the perfect LA bookstore to act as antidote.
As proclaimed, they’ve got a book for every age. To that end, at least half their floor space is dedicated to young readers, so it’s great for families with book-loving kids.
Insider Tip: Try to end up here around dinner time because the rest of the street is delightful. There’s an old-school pizzeria like you might find in New York nearby a very California poke bowl place. For dessert, try Jeni’s right next door. Get a pint to-go, and make sure one is the coffee with cream and sugar.
Address: Chevalier’s Books, 133 N. Larchmont Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90004
Contributing Writer: Eric Ullerich