A Bookish Coastal U.S. Road Trip: Pacific Coast Highway
We went up and down the eastern coast in our last bookish road trip series: it’s only right that we explore what bookish treasures await along the west coast!
Welcome back to the bookish road trip series. This is going to be an exciting one, folks. We’re going to explore one of the most gorgeous coastlines in the country, and this coastline is hiding some amazing literary gems just waiting for you to discover them. We’re going to travel down the Pacific Coast Highway.
Seattle to San Diego. It may only span three states, but this route covers over 1,200 miles of road. Without stops, that is over 20 hours of driving. Lucky for you, we are making stops — and frequent ones! We’ll be exploring bookstores, libraries, museums, crumbling ruins, castles, redwoods, sand dunes, and mountains.
As always, this not an exhaustive list of all the bookish sites you could see along this route: there are far too many for me to list, so I had to pick the highlights. Let this guide be a series of suggestions for how you might plan your own bookish one route trip down the Pacific coast.
Ready? Buckle up, because here we go!
OPEN BOOKS: A POEM EMPORIUM
You’ll start your journey in a city we’ve previously featured as the starting point for the I-90 cross-country road trip: Seattle. If you ever wanted to find a poetry haven, this little red building is it. Open Books carries new, rare, and out-of-print poetry books, chapbooks, and journals.
ADA’S TECHNICAL BOOKS AND CAFÉ
Next, stop into Ada’s Technical Books and Café for breakfast or lunch, and then enjoy their specialized collection of STEM-forward, technically-minded books for both adults and children alike.
THE ELLIOTT BAY BOOK COMPANY
Make your way to Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, where the Elliott Bay Book Company sits and houses over 150,000 books for you to choose from. This iconic Seattle bookstore runs events on an almost daily basis, so you’re bound to stumble upon a launch party or another delightfully bookish event.
CENTRAL PUBLIC LIBRARY
The downtown branch of the Seattle Public Library is an architectural glass and steel gem. Start from the top to see the stunning diamond-shaped windows from the inside and work your way down. We suggest visiting the reading room on the 10th floor, the collection of old magazines and newspapers on the 6th floor, the red floor on 4th, the indoor garden, FriendShop gift shop, and Chocolati café on the third floor.
Drive 45 minutes south to check out Seattle’s neighbor, Tacoma. Your first stop is their main independent bookstore, King’s Books. They sell new and used books, so take your time perusing; you’ll no doubt find something unique. And keep an eye out for their bookstore cat, Herbert!
Destiny City Comics
Walk next door to see Destiny City Comics, a beloved local gem for comics, graphic novels, and geek swag. They have a great mix of well known and indie comics, and the welcoming staff is always ready with a recommendation.
Tacoma Public Library: Main Branch
Just a few minutes’ drive south is Tacoma’s main public library with its beautiful Art Deco facade. This branch is a Carnegie original, built in 1903. Check out the Northwest Room, which houses local genealogy, the rare book room, and some stunning ceiling artwork.
Your last stop in Tacoma is the bookstore and community space that will feed your mind and your soul. Named after Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, Parable is a Black-owned, woman-owned, and LGBTQ+ owned bookstore that offers books, yes, but you will also find plants, records, art, and more. Once you enter this cozy, welcoming green space, you’re never going to want to leave.
It’s a short 35-minute drive to your next stop in Olympia: Orca Books, which you’ll be able to spot by the bright and whimsical art on the sides of the building. Orca Books is a member-owned and worker-run cooperative bookstore. Enjoy their pleasantly large selection of genres and the friendly atmosphere. Say hello to Orlando the cat!
Walk just a few blocks over to Browser’s Bookshop, another local favorite that’s been around since 1935. This historically woman-owned bookstore boasts two floors of books in a beautiful, tidy little space, and you’ll also find some gifts and little souvenirs to take with you on the road.
An hour west will bring you to Aberdeen’s Tectonic Comics, which has all your comic book and swag needs covered. They boast a pretty wide selection, and carry a number of collectibles you’ll want to check out.
Long Beach, Washington
Drive an hour and a half south and look for the two-story bookstore by the beach boardwalk. Banana Books in Long Beach is a delightful little new and used bookstore with a varied collection of books just waiting to be discovered. Grab a coffee and sit outside on the store’s patio with some light reading.
Just a thirty minute drive and a hop over the Columbia River is Astoria (what a great name for a town). Your first stop here is Lucy’s Books, a cozy and intimate bookstore with delightful window displays. Don’t forget to stop by to see the TARDIS, which is filled with Dr. Who-themed books.
Ex Libris Anonymous
Half a mile down the road is Ex Libris Anonymous, where you’ll find gorgeous journals that have been hand-made from vintage book covers. A perfect place to find a unique new journal to take home for yourself or as a gift.
Welcome to Oregon! Follow the coast south and stop by Beach Books in Seaside. This charming bookstore has a wide variety of offerings and a friendly staff ready to make a recommendation — either in person or through the hand-written recs they tuck into books.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
You won’t be in the car long at all before your next coastal town stop. Jupiter’s Books in Cannon Beach carries used and rare books. Wander the filled-to-bursting stacks and you’ll no doubt stumble across some unique finds you won’t find anywhere else.
Cannon Beach Book Co
Walk a few blocks south and visit Cannon Beach Book Co, an absolutely charming bookstore tucked inside a cottage. Enjoy their extensive regional author collection, art supplies, book lights, and gifts, and then take your newest read to Cannon Beach and spend some time there, because it is a beauty.
Cloud & Leaf Bookstore
Drive twenty more minutes down the coast and stroll along the beach in Manzanita to enjoy even more stunning views. Then, walk two blocks into town and stop by Cloud & Leaf Bookstore, owned by author Deborah Reed. Find your next pick from the handwritten recommendations or the local author selections.
I’m cheating a bit. Portland is more than an hour off the coastal highway, but it would be such a shame to miss the bookish spots in this city, wouldn’t it? Of course it would. (And yes, there’s more than just the famous Powell’s bookstore!)
Beaverton City Library
Our first stop is just outside of Portland in Beaverton. Beaverton City Library was built in 1938, and it is a stunner. (Take a shot every time I call something beautiful or stunning or gorgeous in this post. Or maybe don’t, for the sake of your liver.) Sit and relax under the wooden trees supporting the inside of the library, and soak in all the natural light this lovely library lets in.
The Heathman Hotel
Stay at the Heathman Hotel for the duration of your visit in Portland because you’ll want to check out the library located in the heart of the hotel. The Heathman Hotel’s library has more than 2,700 books across its two stories of space, many of which are signed by the authors. How much more bookish can you get with a library inside your lodging?
Multnomah Central Library
Since you’re already downtown, walk a few blocks and visit the Multnomah Central Library, a large stately building with beautiful architectural features. Enjoy the marble columns in the main lobby, the art exhibits on the third floor in the Collins Gallery and, if you visit between April and October, a tour of the grasses and flowers on the eco-roof.
Enjoy a seminar or a poetry reading just a few blocks down from the library at Literary Arts, a community-based nonprofit that offers programs and workshops for readers and writers. They host an annual poetry slam youth competition, readers seminars, writing workshops, and a monthly poetry open mic. They’re bound to have something going on while you’re in town!
Mother Foucault’s Bookshop
Drive across the Willamette River and drop by Mother Foucault’s Bookshop to go treasure hunting for rare, vintage books. This bookstore boasts an eclectic selection of fiction and nonfiction, and they specialize in foreign language, philosophy, and rare collectibles. They also host events on the weekends, so you may just catch a reading or some live music!
Head north for Broadway Books, a quaint little bookstore with a great curated selection that you’ll want to peruse for yourself. It’s well loved by the community, and its staff are friendly and always ready to give a recommendation.
Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden
A little over a mile to the east sits Grant Park, where you’ll find a delightful homage to author Beverly Cleary who gave the world Ramona Quimby. Both Beverly and Ramona grew up in this part of Portland, so Grant Park now houses the Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden. Visit Ramona, Henry Huggins, and Ribsy at the park in their bronze statue forms, and take a peaceful stroll through the park and area that Ramona and Beverly called home.
Green Bean Books
Your next stop is less than a ten minute drive from the park. Green Bean Books is an outrageously adorable children’s bookstore inside a little red house with yellow trim. They have books for all kid age groups, as well as educational toys and gifts. The littles in your life will love something from here.
The Book Bin
Drive an hour south and stop by The Book Bin in Salem, a large and well-loved local used bookstore. You will lose hours here going through their massive selection (and petting their super cute bookshop cat).
Escape Fiction Books
In case you didn’t get your fill of stacks and stacks of books, Escape Fiction Books in South Salem has floor-to-ceiling offerings of fiction and nonfiction. It’s also a paperback haven, and their genre collection is extensive: you’ll find a lot of sci-fi, fantasy, romance, and mystery here.
Lincoln City, Oregon
Bob’s Beach Books
Back to the coast we go! Our next stop is family-owned Bob’s Beach Books, a cute little bookshop with new and used books and gifts.
I know what you’re thinking, but this quirky little bookshop is not actually owned by the same folks who own Bob’s Beach Books. Robert’s Bookshop has been around since 1987, and they have been delighting guests with their winding, narrow halls of used, rare, and antiquated books. You’ll find something unique here, I am sure of it. Then you can take your new find over to Nelscott Beach to do some reading!
Books n’ Bears
Drive an hour and a half south along the gorgeous coastline, then stop by Books n’ Bears, a used bookstore that also sells, you guessed it — stuffed bears! You know you want one.
Twenty more miles south on our route will put you right in the path of author Frank Herbert’s inspiration for Dune. Yes, really. Herbert came to Florence and the Oregon Dunes in 1957 for a specific reason: the dunes were taking over the town because of coastal winds. He was supposed to write an article on the phenomenon because the winds were so fierce that sand was swallowing up roads and even homes (strategically planting beach grass eventually helped). Herbert was so struck by the sand’s power that the struggle between humanity and an unforgiving environment such as the desert became a cornerstone of the sci-fi series. You’ll find the tallest dunes just west of Tugman State Park: the Umpqua Dunes can rise up to 500 feet above the ocean!
WinterRiver Books & Gallery
An hour south of the dunes is WinterRiver Books & Gallery, a fun bookstore and gift shop with unique gifts that you’ll love perusing. Take your book purchases over to Bandon Beach and give yourself a long afternoon there to read and walk around the unique rock formations in the sands and the surf.
Gold Beach, Oregon
Gold Beach Books
Another hour south will put you in Gold Beach. Stop by Gold Beach Books & Art Gallery to peruse their used book collection and take a gander at the beautiful art they sell, which includes sculptures, glass art, paintings, and jewelry. Don’t forget to grab a coffee for the road!
A half hour down the gorgeous coast brings you to Forecastle Books, a quaint little used bookstore inside an old seaside cottage. It’s a cozy spot not far from Chetco Point Park, an area so beautiful that it demands exploration.
Trees of Mystery
Welcome to California! You’ve only been on the road again for about an hour, but now we’re in redwood territory. It’s time to check out the Trees of Mystery, a series of walking trails that include a canopy suspension bridge trail 50-100 feet high among the trees. Right outside the entrance, you’ll spot Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox greeting you as you arrive. Paul and Babe are classic fixtures in American and Canadian folklore, and you won’t regret spending a few hours among the stunning redwoods of northern California to see them and walk the trails.
Tin Can Mailman
Drive another hour through the stunning redwoods and stop by Arcata’s Tin Can Mailman, a delightful corner used bookstore. It is stacked full of books on both floors, so enjoy diving into their selection to see what interesting reads you can unearth.
Walk across the street and pop into Northtown Books, a mainstay since 1965. Enjoy their surprisingly large and varied selections.
Drive around the lovely Arcata Bay to visit Eureka. In their charming little downtown, you’ll find Eureka Books, an adorable two-story Victorian front bookstore that you’ll feel right at home in. Take your time here because the historic building is just as lovely to admire as the new, used, and rare book selection.
Now walk right next door because Booklegger is another unique, quaint used bookstore that deserves a look see. You will enjoy getting lost amongst the stacks here.
Legend of Bigfoot
An hour further down our route will put you in the path of Garberville where you’ll find a rare sighting. The Legend of Bigfoot is a quirky roadside attraction filled with odd trinkets and odes to mythical and folktale creatures like, well, Bigfoot. Why am I telling you to come here? It’s a delightfully weird stop along your route, and they also sell books devoted to Bigfoot. Plus, there’s great photo ops. You’re welcome.
Fort Bragg, California
The Bookstore & Vinyl Cafe
Drive for another sixty miles for Fort Bragg where you’ll find The Bookstore & Vinyl Cafe in the downtown area. This family-owned used bookstore has a nice eclectic selection and a homey feel. While you’re in town, check out Glass Beach to see the mounds of sea glass that’s washed up to shore (but don’t take any; that is a no-no).
Another ten miles south along the coast is Gallery Bookshop & Bookwinkles, a charming bookstore in a cottage by the sea. It’s everything you could want out of a seaside bookstore, and they have a huge children’s selection with fiction and nonfiction that includes STEM and art books. Don’t forget to say hello to their bookstore cat, Catsby!
Duncan Mills, California
Poets Corner Bookshop
You’ve been in the car for two hours; it’s time for another break. Stop in at Poets Corner Bookshop in Duncan Mills because it’s the cutest boutique bookshop you’ve ever seen. Step into the little wooden cottage and check out their cultivated selection, as well as their unique variety of gifts just waiting to go home with you.
Santa Rosa, California
Charles M. Schulz Museum
Head forty minutes east from Poets Corner because we’re going to Santa Rosa! Your first stop is an homage to the man who gave us Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Peppermint Patty, and the whole Peanuts crew: Charles M. Schulz. The Charles M. Schulz Museum is also a research center that boasts an education room where you can learn how to draw cartoons, a theater to watch Peanuts cartoons, and exhibitions showcasing Schulz’s artwork. Don’t forget to head across the street to Snoopy’s Home Ice for some ice skating, and eat lunch at the Warm Puppy Cafe!
Drive a few miles south for downtown and check out Treehorn Books, a beloved local bookstore where every nook and cranny is filled with new and used books for you to look at. They also feature rare and antiquated books, so you’ll find some lovely gems in here.
Santa Rosa Central Library
A few blocks away is the Santa Rosa Central Library. Enjoy its beautiful architecture, built in 1859 with Carnegie funds. Marvel at the stained glass clerestory windows, its stone garden walls, and fences built from redwood.
Jack London State Historic Park
It’s time for some hiking and literary exploration! Just half an hour outside of town is the state park named after author Jack London. The House of Happy Walls Museum holds exhibits showcasing London’s life and work, and you can also tour the cottage he and his wife lived in. You’ll also find the remains of Wolf House here, which had been London’s dream home. Alas, it burned before they could move in, but the stone and moss remains are still around to wander through. Enjoy the lovely walking trails surrounding London’s favorite place in the world, including the ranch he ran and its eerily gorgeous ruins.
John Muir National Historic Site
Drive another hour south to visit an area dedicated to another Californian writer: John Muir. The John Muir National Historic Site honors the naturalist and conservationist whose writings helped convince the U.S. governments to establish Yosemite, Sequoia, the Grand Canyon, and Mount Rainier as national parks. You can visit John Muir’s house and his gravesite here. Be sure to take a leisurely stroll through his beloved orchard.
Allen Ginsburg Poetry Garden
Your next stop is a Beat poet homage in Berkeley. Across the street from the cottage Allen Ginsburg used to live in on Milvia Street (since demolished), you’ll find the poetry garden, created in his honor in 1999 by the community as well as students, teachers, and parents from Berkeley Arts Magnet at Whittier School.
East Asian Library
It would be remiss of us not to stop by the UC Berkeley campus (with alumni including Jack London, Joan Didion, Beverly Cleary, Terry McMillan, and Charles Yu), especially one of its gorgeous libraries. The East Asian Library holds one of the most comprehensive collections of East Asian language books in the United States, with over one million volumes in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and more. It is only surpassed by the Library of Congress. Walk through the sun-drenched top floor with its floor-to-ceiling windows, then come back at night when the bamboo-like bronze metal screens on the building’s facade turn gold from the light inside the building.
Another beautiful library to visit on campus is the Morrison Library. If you want to relax in an environment with extremely comfortable couches and chairs that will transport you to a bygone era of dimly lit dens and dramatic mood lighting, this is the place to do it. They also host “lunch poems,” so if you come here during the lunch hour, you’ll get to hear a poetry reading.
Head south about fifteen minutes for Oakland, because you can’t miss a visit to America’s oldest Black-owned bookstore. Marcus Books was founded in 1960 and named after political activist and author, Marcus Garvey. They are also a publishing company, so they produce and uplift Black authors. Take your time visiting the iconic bookstore that’s hosted Toni Morrison, Angela Davis, Nikki Giovanni, Chaka Khan, and more.
Owl & Company
Just a mile away lies Owl & Company, another local favorite featuring new, used, and rare books. And if you want to feel like a historian from ye olden days, they have wooden ladders to help you reach the topmost shelves. (I don’t actually know if the staff will let you use them, please don’t tell them Book Riot told you to go for it, maybe ask first.)
Our last bookstore in Oakland (although there are many, many more) is also a scant mile from the previous one. Walden Pond is a used bookstore that also carries a wide range of rare and antiquated books. They boast a great collection of local authors as well. Be sure to visit the bookstore dogs before you leave!
Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon
Drop by Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon for a bite to eat and a pint, not just because of its incredible name, but because this saloon was a favorite haunt of Jack London’s. When you’re done, head next door to take a gander at a replica of the cabin Jack London lived in during the 19th century Klondike Gold Rush. You’ll find this saloon and the cabin in Jack London Square; the entire area is dedicated to London.
San Francisco, California
Allen Ginsberg’s Apartment
Drive across the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge and into San Francisco. Your first stop is a North Beach apartment building at 1010 Montgomery Street. Allen Ginsburg called this place home in 1955 when he wrote Part I of Howl.
The Beat Museum
That was just your first stop in the magical mystery Beat poetry tour that we’re embarking on for the first leg of San Francisco. Walk down the street to The Beat Museum and quench your thirst for this era of creativity through the museum’s collection of Beat memorabilia, original manuscripts, letters, and personal effects. The museum also hosts readings, book launches, and special events celebrating Beat poet milestones.
Round the corner from the museum and stop by City Lights, which is both a bookstore and a publisher. The bookstore was founded by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1953, and he launched the publishing company in 1955. Wander their three floors full of books and stay long enough to catch an event while you’re there.
Right next door is the Vesuvio Cafe, a favored spot of the Beat generation poets including Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Neal Cassady. The cafe was new when they first visited, established in 1948, and when you visit now you’ll see the weight of history in the walls, the light fixtures, and the art. Grab a drink, stay for a reading, and let the creativity in the air inspire you.
I’m sure you plan on spending a few days in San Francisco, so the Beacon Grand should be on your list of places to stay in. Formerly known as the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, Ginsberg was inspired by this hotel for Howl, and actually wrote some of it here. It’s also a gorgeous old piece of Art Deco with gilded ceilings and wonderful views of the city. Find the secret door by the fireplace and enter the Library for dinner and drinks.
Less than a mile south of your hotel is Arkipelago Books. This Filipino-owned bookstore is one of just two distributors of specialty books outside of the Philippines. They carry not only Filipino fiction and nonfiction, but cultural and historical Filipino fiction for libraries and educational institutions.
Presidio Branch Library
Now we’re visiting one of the most beautiful libraries in the city. The Presidio Branch Library was established in 1898 with Carnegie funds, and built in an Italian-Renaissance style. Sit for a spell in their lovely reading spaces. If you have time, visit some of the other beautiful libraries in SF, specifically: the Chinatown Him Mark Lai Branch and the Mechanics’ Institute Library and Chess Room.
Your next stop is Green Apple, a massive treasure trove of new and used books. Get lost among the stacks in this old school bookstore, because they have just about everything you could ever want in a bookstore.
Dog Eared Books
Your last stop in SF is Dog Eared Books, which you’ll know by its delightful store front and signage. While they carry standard new and used literature, they also specialize in carrying small press and local books, and they have a massive collection of LGBTQ+ literature. This bookstore is an absolute treat. Fun fact: Green Apple and Dog Eared Books are two of the three bookstores to receive legacy business status by the city’s Small Business Commission (the third being Booksmith).
San Mateo County, California
Burlingame Main Library
Drive fifteen miles south and stop by the Burlingame Main Library, built in 1931 in an Italian Renaissance style. Grab lunch here at the Fika Cafe and wander the gorgeous interior and its spacious reading rooms. You won’t regret stopping by to relax and enjoy this gem of a library.
The Reading Bug
About ten miles down the road lies The Reading Bug, an adorable children’s bookstore decorated to look like an enchanted forest. The little ones in your life will love any books, gifts, or educational toys from here!
Drive five more miles south and check out Kepler’s Books, a beloved local bookstore in Menlo Park. They constantly host events and literary seminars, including a speakers series that pulls in subject matter experts from a wide variety of topics. Catch an event, find a new read, and enjoy!
Cecil H. Green Library
You’ll find Stanford University just a few miles away. Visit the Cecil H. Green Library, which is the university’s main research library. It contains four million volumes, special collections, vast reading rooms, and exhibits for you to enjoy.
Los Altos, California
Linden Tree Children’s Books
Drive another fifteen minutes to pop into Linden Tree Children’s Books, a delightful spot to find a vast selection of children’s literature as well as stuffed animals, educational toys, puzzles, and more.
Leigh’s Favorite Books
This part of the trip is great because every new cool bookish thing is just another fifteen minutes down the road. Leigh’s Favorite Books is a local favorite that sells new and used books, as well as great bookish swag to take home.
Another ten minuetes away is Soyodo Books, a Chinese bookstore that carries Chinese literature for adult fiction and nonfiction as well as for children. They also carry calligraphy and painting supplies!
San Jose, California
Your next stop is, you guessed it, about fifteen minutes south into San Jose. Recycle Bookstore sells used books in a wide variety of genres (with robust selections in science fiction and mystery), so you will no doubt find something unique. Say hello to their lovely bookstore cats!
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library
Head downtown for the San Jose State University campus. There, you’ll find the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library, an eight-story library that positively gleams with all the light those glass windows let in. Visit the Steinbeck Center (open to the public on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays) to see the memorabilia and personal items of John Steinbeck on display, including original letters, manuscripts, and first editions. The library also houses an Africana, Asian American, Chicano, and Native Americans Study Center, a Beethoven Center, and a California Room for local and Californian history.
Santa Cruz, California
Bookshop Santa Cruz
Back to the coast we go! Drive thirty miles south for Santa Cruz because we’re stopping by Bookshop Santa Cruz. This bookstore boasts an impressive collection of fiction and nonfiction, is well loved by the community, and has a very pretty storefront to boot. They also put together birthday care packages; a perfect gift opportunity for someone back home.
Two Birds Books
Not far from Cliff Beach is Two Birds Books, a pleasing and cozy little bookstore with locally-themed gifts begging to be taken home. Be on the lookout for the bookstore dogs, Tito and Marshmallow!
National Steinbeck Center
Welcome to Nobel Prize winning author John Steinbeck’s hometown. There are many, many places to see that are significant to a number of Steinbeck’s books, but we’ll start first with the National Steinbeck Center. It’s one of the largest literary museums dedicated to just one author, and dives deep into Steinbeck’s life and inspirations. Enjoy the interactive exhibits and the visually cool ways they depict the travels Steinbeck went on during his life.
The Steinbeck House Restaurant
Stop for lunch at Steinbeck’s childhood home — yes, you read that right. This Queen Anne style Victorian, built in 1897, was John Steinbeck’s birthplace and childhood home, and it’s now a restaurant. They also offer weekend afternoon tea. Don’t forget to check out the gift shop for some literary swag!
Downtown Book & Sound
Just half a mile from the house is Downtown Book & Sound, a used bookstore that also specializes in carrying vinyl, old movies, and even old magazines. While you’re downtown, don’t miss the murals dedicated to Steinbeck, a few of which are on the Chamber of Commerce building and the Salinas Californian Newspaper Building.
John Steinbeck Library
Walk a few blocks to visit the John Steinbeck Library, named after the author in 1969. Admire its modern architecture and lush green grounds, and say hello to the bronze John Steinbeck sculpture.
Robert Louis Stevenson House
Drive twenty-five minutes to the former rooming house where Robert Louis Stevenson, responsible for giving us Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, lived. The Robert Louis Stevenson House used to be known as the French Hotel, and Stevenson stayed there for a few months in 1879.
Your Steinbeck pilgrimage is not yet complete! Steinbeck set his novel, Cannery Row, in Monterey; more specifically along Ocean View Avenue. Thirteen years after he published the novel, Monterey renamed the street to Cannery Row in his honor. Have dinner at The Sardine Factory, named as such because of the book. Check out the bronze monuments of characters from the book, and stroll past the Pacific Biological Laboratories, which was Doc’s Lab in the novel.
Stop for a snack and coffee at the independent bookstore Bookworks because the coffee is delicious and you need something tasty to enjoy while you’re perusing their shelves, don’t you? Of course you do.
Drive fifteen minutes south toward the coast to see the most beautiful, romantic home on this route. Alongside the contractor, poet Robinson Jeffers built Tor House by hand for his wife and twin boys using stones found in the cove below. He wrote the majority of his poetry here, and hosted other authors and poets at the house, such as Langston Hughes, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Robert Bly.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
Put on your hiking shoes because you’ve got some nature to see! The Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, located just ten minutes south of Tor House, is so wildly beautiful that it’s been featured in a number of novels and movies. To name a few: Stevenson’s Treasure Island, The Iron Mask movie, and the Rebecca movie. Walk along the rocky coastline, explore the coves, and you just might see some seals on your hike.
Big Sur, California
Henry Miller Memorial Library
I hope you enjoyed the forty stunning minutes of Big Sur landscape and coastline that it took to get here. Might as well get out and stretch your legs again to visit the Henry Miller Memorial Library, dedicated to the author of Tropic of Cancer. Think of it as more of an arts center and nonprofit than a dedicated library, but it is all the more delightful for it. Check out the art installations and art gallery, the bookstore, and the library’s center, which displays Miller’s memorabilia, letters, books, and more. There’s always performances happening, too, so definitely time your visit to catch one.
San Simeon, California
Bet you didn’t think you’d have an honest to god castle to visit on this road trip, did you? And yet: an hour and a half down Highway 1, a castle you shall find. Hearst Castle is a massive estate built by newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst and his architect Julia Morgan between 1919 and 1947. You can tour this gorgeous Mediterranean Revival castle, which includes the suites, grand rooms, kitchens, and the stunning outdoor pool. If you book an evening tour, it becomes a 1930s era party where guests and the staff dress up!
Morro Bay, California
Drive thirty miles further south along the route and drop by Coalesce Bookstore, an utterly charming bookstore that carries new and used titles. After you’ve picked your book of choice, wander out back and enjoy their sweet little garden and wedding chapel.
San Luis Obispo, California
San Luis Obispo Library
Another thirteen miles down the route will bring you into San Luis Obispo. Your first stop is the library. Look up when you enter to see the art on the walls, and sit and relax in the reading patio. If you’d like to see the original San Luis Obispo Carnegie library, it’s now the County Historical Museum and open to the public.
Walk down the block from the library and stop by Phoenix Books, a charming used bookstore with exposed brick walls and a treasure trove of books to discover.
Captain Nemo Games and Comics
Half a mile down the road lies Captain Nemo Games and Comics, which will fulfill all your comic book, graphic novel, and manga needs. They also have a game room where they host game nights, and even sell vinyl, music, and movies.
The Book Loft
Drive for another hour and you’ll find yourself in a town that looks like it belongs in Denmark because Solvang was largely settled by Danish immigrants and is filled with Danish-style architecture. You’ll find The Book Loft in one such building. This bookstore’s been around since 1970 and carries new, used, and antiquated books.
Hans Christian Andersen Museum
The bookstore is more than what it seems: it’s hiding a museum, too. Upstairs, you’ll find the Hans Christian Andersen Museum, an homage to the famous children’s author from Denmark. The museum contains information about Andersen’s life, exhibits, and Danish history. Before you leave Solvang, cross the street and admire the Little Mermaid statue, a replica of the original in Copenhagen’s harbor.
Santa Barbara, California
Another forty minutes puts you in Santa Barbara and in close proximity to this city’s beautiful beaches. Stop by Mesa Bookshop first (which is right down the road from Leadbetter Beach) and explore their tiny but mighty space with its eclectic selection.
Drive two miles to downtown and check out the Book Den, one of California’s oldest bookstores. It began in 1902 in Oakland before relocating to Santa Barbara in 1933. You’ll find new, used, and antiquated books here.
Santa Barbara Public Library
Since you’re here, walk next door to visit the Santa Barbara Public Library. It is a stunner with its tall arched windows letting in copious amounts of sunlight. Relax in the air conditioning and read some of the books you’ve bought along the way before we move on.
Los Angeles, California
Small World Books
Welcome to the L.A. area! We’re visiting Venice Beach first: there, you’ll find Small World Books, right on the boardwalk and ready to offer you some air conditioning and a great selection of books. It’s a perfect time to grab a beach read before you relax in the sand.
The Ripped Bodice
Your next stop is a renowned and well-loved bookstore: The Ripped Bodice. This adorable bookstore is the only exclusively romance bookstore in the country, and it is woman and LGBTQ+ owned. You will find romance novels and novels featuring romance galore, and an abundance of amazing swag to boot.
Drive four miles east to check out Reparations Club, a woman-owned and Black-owned bookstore and creative space. In addition to their wide selection of Black authors, they regularly host events, and offer cozy seating and other locally made art and gifts.
Head to West Hollywood for Book Soup, another local favorite that pulls in some high profile events you won’t want to miss. They have more than 300 events and signings a year, so you can make this trip any time of the year and get lucky. It’s also quite a large bookstore, so plan to stay awhile and peruse!
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Final Home
Drive a mile and half down Sunset Boulevard and look for 1443 North Hayworth Ave. This apartment house is where F. Scott Fitzgerald died in 1940. He spent most of the last few years of his life in West Hollywood, and although he passed away in this building, his actual apartment was a block away, where he lived next door to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. This is a private residence, so it’s not available to tour.
Joan Didion’s Home
Another mile down Hollywood Boulevard is a Greek-columned, white, two-story house at 7406 Franklin Ave. This is where Joan Didion lived from 1966 to 1971. Didion frequently mentioned this house in her writing, particularly The White Album. It’s now the center of a spiritual retreat.
Musso & Frank’s
Stop for a bite to eat at the restaurant that was a favorite among the literary giants of the 1930s to the 1950s: Musso & Frank’s on Hollywood Boulevard. Their Back Room became a writing room for the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Dorothy Parker, T.S. Eliot, and John Steinbeck. When the Back Room closed, other regulars poured in to eat, drink, and work on their craft: Charles Bukowski and Kurt Vonnegut were a few. Treat yourself to some delicious food, and sit inside the history of countless great American writers gathering under the same roof, in the same booths.
Hop back to Franklin and take it all the way down to Skylight Books. Although it’s a cozy space, it is filled to the brim with a wide variety of books and gifts, and yes, it does have a tree growing right in the middle of the bookstore out through the skylight.
Los Angeles Central Library
Head downtown to visit one of the most gorgeous libraries in the state. The Los Angeles Central Library is a stunning building with Modernist and Beaux Arts architectural influences, and its crown jewel is the mosaic tiles decorating the inside of the central tower. They have a vast historical photo collection as well as other curated special collections. Take your time admiring this beauty.
The Last Bookstore
A pleasant half mile walk from the library is L.A.’s favorite independent bookstore: The Last Bookstore. I hope you’re ready to do some exploring because this bookstore is massive, and one could get happily lost among the stacks. The bookstore is inside an old bank building, hence the giant Greek columns inside. Feast your eyes on their art installations and the famous book tunnel. They also offer book bundles with curated selections that you can have sent home for yourself or a loved one.
Walk a few more minutes down the road to visit an old haunt of Ray Bradbury’s. This delightfully weird and eclectic cocktail lounge used to be called Clifton’s Cafeteria, and it was a theme restaurant that made patrons feel like they were dining in an enchanted forest. Bradbury came here often, and there is a booth on the third floor Gothic Bar named after him. Clifton’s Republic still retains some of that magical forest vibe, so drink it in while you enjoy a libation here.
Hoose Library of Philosophy
Four miles south will bring you to the University of Southern California. If you want to see another truly stunning library, visit the Hoose Library of Philosophy. This library will make you feel as if you’ve been transported to another time, especially the reading room.
Long Beach, California
Drive half an hour and visit Bel Canto in Long Beach, a gorgeous Filipina-owned bookstore that curates its book selection based on monthly themes and emphasizes fiction by women and people of color. You will love wandering this lofted, airy space filled with books, gifts, and art.
Fahrenheit 451 Books
Drive an hour south and visit Fahrenheit 451 Books, a quaint little bookstore by the ocean. They carry new, used, and rare books you might not be able to find anywhere else.
San Diego, California
San Diego is also featured as the first stop in the Southern Pacific cross-country U.S. road trip post, for those interested in knowing which cities intersect with other routes!
We end our road trip at one of the coolest looking libraries…ever. The Geisel Library is the University of California in San Diego’s main library, named to honor Audrey and Theodore Geisel (otherwise known as Dr. Seuss) because of their contributions. This eight-story building was designed with impressive geometric shapes in mind, and it does not disappoint. Be sure to meander down the Snake Path through the garden on the east side of the building, visit the Silent Tree at the south entrance, and check out their special collections to see what they have on display (which, to no surprise, includes a Seuss Room).
Head five and a half miles south toward the ocean and you’ll find the oldest continuously family-owned bookstore in the country (since 1896). Warwick’s has an impressive collection of books, as well as gifts, stationary, and other fun knick knacks. You’re bound to catch an author event here during your visit because that calendar looks full all the time. They also host Booked for Lunch, where you can have lunch with an author at a Warwick’s chosen lunch spot nearby.
MYSTERIOUS GALAXY BOOKSTORE
Drive another nine miles to visit the spot for mystery, fantasy, science fiction, YA, and horror. Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore has all your genre fiction favorites, and you’ll love browsing their collection for your next read. If you want to spread the bookish love, they also curate care packages with hand-chosen books and literary accessories that you can either send back home to someone you love, or send to yourself!
SAN DIEGO CENTRAL LIBRARY
In downtown East Village, you’ll find another architectural wonder in the form of the San Diego Central Library. This gorgeous library houses art installations, an art gallery, a Dr. Seuss themed children’s library, a rare books room, and a lofted ceiling, light-filled reading room on the top floor. Don’t forget to walk around the grounds to visit the garden, see its sculptures, and lounge outside on the 9th floor in the Qualcomm Dome Terrace.
Your final stop is another bookstore staple in the North Park neighborhood: Verbatim Books has all the used and rare books you could want in an exceptionally cool space. With its cozy old chairs, tall bookshelves, old timey touches, memorable artwork, and a veritable forest of plants, plan to spend a good amount of time exploring this bookish space.
You did it! You traveled from Seattle to San Diego, and you got to see so many amazing literary sites along the way. I hope your car is full of books and bookish merch that you picked up during your travels, and I hope you gained new memories you’ll cherish.
Want to do another bookish road trip? I’ve got some routes for you:
- Bookish Coastal U.S. Road Trip: I-95
- Bookish Cross-Country U.S. Road Trip: I-90
- Bookish Cross-Country U.S. Road Trip: I-70
- Bookish Cross-Country U.S. Road Trip: Southern Pacific Highway