Welcome back to our bookish cross-country road trip series! We’re here to help you craft a truly excellent bookish road trip experience, should such an activity strike your fancy, and we’re doing it with single route destinations. The United States has many, many long roads, and you might be surprised just what you can find even along one singular road.
Last time, we covered an I-90 cross-country road trip from Seattle to Boston. This time, I’ve chosen a well traversed route that meanders roughly through the middle of the country: I-70. While this interstate is not technically coast to coast, it stretches across ten states and 2,150 miles of asphalt between Baltimore and central Utah.
As I mentioned for the I-90 road trip, this is a high level sampling of the literary landmarks you could come across on this trip: A complete list of everything bookish along the way would make for a very long post. Also as before, you’ll see a detour here and there. I kept those suggested stops to within an hour’s drive (one way) from the interstate to keep you on track, since this is a 32 hour drive with no stops.
Let’s start from east to west. You begin your journey in Baltimore, Maryland, just a touch east from where I-70 truly begins. Pack your bags, hop in the car, and let’s do this thing!
Since your very first stop will be at a Poe-themed brewery (that is, if you drink alcohol), it’s only right for you to spend at least one night in Baltimore after trying out RavenBeer’s Edgar Allan Poe series, which includes an Annabelle Lee White, a Pendulum Pilsner, and a Tell Tale Heart IPA. Safety first! But seriously, it’s a really cool brewery with Poe swag, and RavenBeer is also a sponsor of The National Edgar Allan Poe Theatre.
Annabel Lee Tavern
You must be hungry now, so it’s time to head over to the Canton area of Baltimore for a tasty meal at the Annabel Lee Tavern. They have a wide array of pub food and Poe-themed drinks and desserts for you to sample, all in a very cool space, both inside and out.
Your first bookstore stop will be at Greedy Reads in the Fells Point neighborhood. The corner store’s bank of windows lets in a lot of natural light, so you can freely browse their collection. They also offer an opportunity to bring a “curated” bag of goodies home as a souvenir or to give to someone you care about; just tell the staff your three favorite books and how you’re currently feeling, and they’ll hand select book recs for you to take home.
Venture to the Hampden neighborhood to fully embrace your book nerd status, for Atomic Books specializes in comic books and small press offerings. Time your visit right and you can partake in some karaoke, which they host on the last Friday of each month.
The George Peabody Library
Arguably one of the most gorgeous libraries in the United States, wandering through the George Peabody Library is a must while you’re in Baltimore. The cathedral-like space houses over 300,000 books, visible across six tiers of cast-iron balconies in the main library space. If there ever was a library to make you feel like Belle in the Beast’s castle, this is it. View some priceless first editions in their collection before you leave, such as Darwin’s Origin of the Species, works by Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville, and even some natural history folios.
Edgar Allan Poe House & Museum
You can’t leave Baltimore without visiting the father of American gothic fiction’s house. Edgar Allan Poe lived at 203 North Amity in the Poppleton neighborhood from 1833 to 1835. The house has some of the original fabric from when he lived there, and although it’s not furnished, it contains some keepsakes of his, including his writing desk and chair.
You’ve got a four-hour journey to your next bookish destination, so of course you’re going to want to get out of the car and stretch your legs at least once. Why not do it in the town of Frederick, where the Curious Iguana bookstore resides? Bonus: They donate a portion of their monthly store sales to a variety of international and local nonprofits, which you can track via the pinned map behind their register.
Braddock Carnegie Free Library
Although Pittsburgh is not directly along I-70, it’s only a 45-minute or so detour from the interstate. Naturally, we can’t just let Pittsburgh go by without stopping, can we? Start your bookish wanderings with the Braddock Carnegie Free Library, housed in an impressively medieval building that the internet tells me is “Romanesque Revival” architecture, but my heart tells me belongs in an Arthurian legend. Check out their art exhibits, ceramic studio, music hall, and of course, the books!
Phantom of the Attic
Drive about 20 minutes west of the library and look for the storefront with the giant yellow pencil leaning against the building. Therein lies Phantom of the Attic, Pittsburgh’s premiere comic book store to satisfy your graphic novel, manga, and comic needs. You can also find board games, RPGs, and other gaming-related paraphernalia!
Carnegie Library of Oakland
You’re seeing the name Carnegie a lot with these Pittsburgh libraries. There’s a reason: Andrew Carnegie (Carnegie Hall, Carengie Mellon University, the like? Yep, that one) made Pittsburgh his sort-of adopted home town, and while he donated the funds to build over 1,600 libraries in the United States alone in the late 1800s/early 1900s, he had a special affinity with Pittsburgh. The Braddock branch was the very first Carnegie library opened in the U.S., and the Oakland main branch of Pittsburgh opened six years later in 1895. It is a gorgeous must-see with an art gallery, a community garden, and plenty of nooks and crannies to explore.
August Wilson’s Childhood Home
Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright August Wilson grew up in the Hill district of Pittsburgh in the 1940s and 1950s. He famously set his ten-play series in Pittsburgh, collectively called The Pittsburgh Cycle (this series brought us the genius of Fences, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson, etc.). If you drive past 1727 Bedford Avenue, you’ll see the renovated building where he lived until he was 13, on the second floor.
What kind of trip would this be if we didn’t visit another bookstore? Just three miles west is City Books, a used bookstore with a treasure trove of literary goodness. You may even catch some live jazz while you’re there.
Wheeling, West Virginia
The Paradox Bookstore
You’re only in West Virginia for the blink of an eye, but every state along I-70 deserves some bookish love, so here we are at The Paradox Bookstore, a cozy relic filled to the rafters with used and rare books in a wide variety of genres. With 20,000 books in stock, you are bound to find something to take home.
Two Dollar Radio
Two hours from Wheeling, you’ll find yourself in Columbus, Ohio. Start your exploring at Two Dollar Radio, one of the hippest bookstores and indie presses in the Midwest. Two Dollar Radio is the publisher of authors such as Hanif Abdurraqib, Sean Avery Medlin, Katya Apekina, and more. Its headquarters is also a bookstore and café where you can browse books, buy merch, and sit down to a delicious vegan brunch.
The Book Loft
Step into a little slice of Germany by visiting The Book Loft in Columbus’s German Village neighborhood. Better yet, prepare to get delightfully lost as you navigate this bookstore’s 32 rooms (no, that’s not a typo), because my friend, you’ve never been to a bookstore quite like this one. Don’t forget to peruse their clearance outdoor bookish offerings in the courtyard!
Columbus Metropolitan Library
The Columbus Metropolitan Library is just a mile from the bookstore, a large stately building that happens to be another Carnegie-funded library. Time your visit right and you may just catch an author talk from their Carnegie Author Series, free and open to the public.
Thurber House Museum
Next up is Thurber House, a nonprofit literary center living in the former home of New Yorker cartoonist and author James Thurber. Although they specialize in providing writing workshops and youth programs, the house is also a functioning museum you can visit to learn about its history and renovation.
Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum
Drive ten minutes north to Ohio State University where the life’s work of Ohioan cartoonist Billy Ireland resides at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum. Ireland worked for the Columbus Dispatch at the turn of the 20th century. View not just his editorial cartoons, but a wealth of other cartoon art, books, comic books, manga, and comic strip clippings from newspapers all over the country.
Bonnett’s Book Store
An hour and a half further west in your journey will put you in Dayton, Ohio. Make a pitstop at Bonnett’s Book Store, a used bookstore with a charming storefront and surprises waiting above your head as soon as you enter. (Think of it as having a ceiling made of stuffed animals and dolls. You know you want to see this for yourself.)
Indy Reads Books
Welcome to Indianapolis! Downtown, you’ll find one of the most loved local bookstores. Indy Reads Books not only sells new and used books, but it also functions as a nonprofit with a mission to build literacy and job readiness skills for the local population.
Kurt Vonnegut Museum & Library
Given that Kurt Vonnegut was born in Indianapolis, it’s only right and proper to visit the museum dedicated to the Slaughterhouse Five writer. Drive a few miles north of downtown Indy and look for the red brick building. Inside is a space that celebrates Vonnegut’s literary contributions to the world, which includes his drawings, first editions, photos, his typewriter, and more.
Porter Books & Bread
You must be famished by now. Do stop by Porter Books & Bread for some lunch, where the sandwiches and wraps are named after literary works. Maybe you’re in the mood for The Sun Also Rises egg sandwich, or an Austen turkey sandwich, or a Choose Your Own Adventure smorgasbord. Oh, and they have books, too.
Marshall and Greenville, Illinois
Marshall Public Library
This stretch of Illinois is probably not the most entertaining drive, but there are some hidden library gems along the route, like this one. Marshall Public Library is tucked away along the main drag of the town that looks like time hit pause for a few decades. They also have a number of little free libraries hidden around the area for patrons (or travelers) to enjoy.
Greenville Public Library
In an hour and a half, you’ll reach the little town of Greenville, where a breathtakingly gorgeous public library hides. The Greenville Public Library‘s architecture is simply beautiful, and it’s well worth a stop on your trip before you make your way to St. Louis.
St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis Central Library
You’ve crossed the Mississippi River, and now you’ve made it to St. Louis. Get out and stretch your legs at the statuesque Central Library branch downtown — you won’t regret it. Grab some lunch at the library’s café after you’re done perusing the stacks and admiring the truly stunning reading room.
But save some room for more coffee at High Low, a literary arts café where you can view art exhibitions, attend a poetry reading or a book signing in the listening room, and take a peek at their book collection, all in one afternoon.
Left Bank Books
Drive just a few miles west to check out Left Bank Books in the Central West End neighborhood, the oldest independent bookstore in St. Louis. Time your visit right to catch an author signing or discussion, or perhaps just enjoy taking in their large book collection.
St. Louis Walk of Fame
Drive west to Delmar Boulevard, then get out and walk for a spell to see if you can spot the stars on the sidewalk for some of Missouri’s most beloved authors, such as: Maya Angelou, William Burroughs, Kate Chopin, Gerald Early, T.S. Eliot, Tennessee Williams, and more.
While you’re on Delmar, pop into Subterranean Books, a women-owned, six staff bookstore full of books and bookish swag to take home. Not only will you find big five publisher novels (er, big four), but they also stock small press fiction and nonfiction.
EyeSeeMe African American Children’s Bookstore
Head about a mile north for your final stop in St. Louis to visit EyeSeeMe, a Black-owned independent bookstore that carries the largest collection of African American books for children in the nation. In addition to offering diverse reading for kids, EyeSeeMe offers book bundle collections for educators across all grade levels to provide comprehensive and diverse reading selections in classrooms and school libraries.
Yellow Dog Bookshop
Two hours west of St. Louis, be sure to visit Columbia’s Yellow Dog Bookshop, a delightful local joint with festive window displays and a great selection of used books. Come in and find a treasure!
Kansas City, Missouri
Another two hours’ drive will bring you to Kansas City. Your first stop is Prospero’s Books, a used bookstore housed in a historic KC building. Take a peek at their vast book collection, find a chair and read for a bit, and maybe even catch a reading or a book release party.
You knew I was taking you to a library. Drive five miles north to the financial district and get a gander at the Kansas City Central Library in all its Parthenon glory. The building used to be a bank, and now the vast lobby is filled with books waiting to be checked out, a grand reading room on the third floor, and film showings inside the old bank vaults.
Bliss, Books & Wine
Stop in, order a glass of wine, and read some books in this Black women–owned bookstore haven, where the wine is ever flowing and the literary discussions are ever present. The Bliss, Books & Wine storefront will be opening soon, so be sure to check it out while you’re in KC!
William Burroughs House
Just 45 minutes on I-70 will bring you to Lawrence, Kansas, which is a hotspot for literary things to see and do. Start your adventure at 1927 Learnard Avenue, where Beat writer William Burroughs spent the last 16 years of his life. The little bungalow is privately owned and not open for tours, but you can view some of his writings and artwork at Kansas University’s Kenneth Spencer Research Library.
The Dusty Bookshelf
Head to Lawrence’s historical downtown to check out The Dusty Bookshelf, a bookish treasure trove of new and used books sometimes found in literal stacks next to their fully stocked shelves. Be sure to find and greet Dinah, the bookstore cat!
Lawrence Public Library
Got your book haul from The Dusty Bookshelf? Good, now drop it off at your car and walk a block over to the Lawrence Public Library, a sleek building that manages to be both retro and ultra modern. Open, airy spaces, shelves upon shelves of books, and a warm, friendly bookish environment awaits you.
Langston Hughes Childhood Home
Although poet Langston Hughes was born in Missouri, he spent much of his early childhood in Lawrence with his grandmother. Visit the Watkins Museum of History to check out the permanent exhibit dedicated to him, which includes a statue of a young Hughes. Don’t forget to drive down Alabama Street, where he grew up, and where he attended church at St. Luke African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Round Table Bookstore
It’s only a 30 minute drive to your next stop: Round Table Bookstore in Topeka. Enter the cheerful purple storefront and browse their new and used books to your heart’s content. Admire the cool art scattered all over the space, check out their swag, and order a coffee for the road ahead.
Take a slight detour off I-70 and head north for about ten minutes until you hit Wamego. You’ll know what your destination is as soon as you see the amazing technicolor front: the Oz Museum shouts its subject matter from the rooftops with its emerald green exterior and yellow brick road siding. Stop in to see props from The Wizard of Oz and The Wiz films, as well as Wicked the musical, Oz paraphernalia and collectibles from all over the world, scene recreations, and even a chilling walk through the Haunted Forest.
Ad Astra Books & Coffee House
In another hour and a half you’ll be in Salina; you’ve got time for another bookstore stop. Head to Ad Astra Books & Coffee House, a fun and quirky bookshop full of comfortable seating, green spaces, and naturally, books. Fuel up again on coffee and grab a pastry for the road, because it’s a long way to Denver!
It took you six hours from your last stop, but you finally made it to the mile high city. It’s only right that your first stop be the most famous bookstore in the area: the Tattered Cover. You have a few locations to choose from, but the LoDo store is the most historic. Take your time exploring the two stories of books they offer, and you might even catch one of the many author events they hold while you’re there.
My Brother’s Bar
Next, head across the South Platte River to visit one of the oldest bars in the city for lunch, which also happened to be a favorite haunt of the Beats Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg, and Neal Cassady. My Brother’s Bar has delicious classic pub food, so please do indulge and wash it down with a pint or two.
West Side Books
Go west another mile and a half and find West Side Books in the Highlands neighborhood of Denver, serving up used, rare, and “unusual” books for your bookish needs. If you visit on a Friday, you’ll be treated to live music on their patio, and if you’re there on a Sunday, you can peruse their sale fare on the patio as well.
End your Denver adventure at Bookbar, a cozy book and wine shop a mile and a half north of West Side Books. Look through their bookshelves with a glass of wine in hand from the bar, and maybe even grab a small bite to eat or dessert while you’re at it. Time it right and you might be able to enjoy happy hour storytime!
We know it’s out of the way, but Boulder is only 35 minutes north of Denver, and it is worth a stop. Head to Pearl Street and check out Lighthouse Books. They have a large collection of spiritual, metaphysical, philosophical, and new age books, as well as a variety of gifts, candles, incense, and more to take home.
While you’re here, walk down the street and pop into Boulder Bookstore, a huge space filled to the brim with books across three floors. You will not want for reading material, swag, and gifts in case you want to bring home some souvenirs, and you may just catch an author signing while you’re there.
Boulder Public Library
Just half a mile away next to Boulder Creek, you’ll find the Boulder Public Library main branch, a glass and stone beauty set against the backdrop of the mountains. Wander the wide, airy inside, walk through the garden, cross the bridge over the creek, and view the latest art exhibitions on display.
Next Page Books & Nosh
We’re in the home stretch, friends. You’ve been on the road for a little under two hours, driving through some stunning mountain ranges. Take a break in Frisco, a little town nestled up to the Dillon Reservoir, and stop by Next Page Books & Nosh. Review their nice selection of books and order a tea to go.
Another 40 minutes west on I-70 will put you in Edwards, where The Bookworm resides. This darling bookstore is ready to serve your bookish needs with its collection. Find a story and sit down to lunch in their cafe as you get lost in the tale.
Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Continue forging your path west for Glenwood Springs, home to beautiful hot springs and Book Grove, a charming little used bookstore inside an old house. Find new and used books, get some great recommendations, and enjoy the home-like atmosphere.
Grand Junction, Colorado
Out West Books
In an hour and half, you’ll reach Grand Junction on the Western Slope of Colorado. Seek Out West Books on Main Street, a local favorite with a nice selection of everything from bestsellers to regional authors.
Mesa County Central Public Library
It’ll only take you a few minutes’ drive to reach the city’s central public library, welcoming patrons in with its long bank of windows and red brick exterior. Be sure to walk down the block to meander through the the library’s Discovery Garden, which features a community garden, a children’s garden, a seed house and a pollinator garden full of flowers.
Richfield Carnegie Library
You’ve driven three hours through the heat of central Utah, and now your journey is complete. What better way to conclude your road trip than with a library that looks like a gingerbread house straight out of a fairy tale? Your last stop is Richfield’s Carnegie Library (yes, he even funded a library way out here). This Craftsman style building is a local gem and the cherry on top of your road trip sundae.
I hope this literary road trip across the central U.S. using I-70 inspired you to consider making such a journey. Don’t forget to check out the I-90 route, too! Happy travels!