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Literai Bookstore in Ann Arbor
Photograph: Courtesy Literati Bookstore

The best independent bookstores in the U.S.

Whether you're into graphic novels, romantic fiction, or the latest bestseller, the best bookstores in the U.S. have you covered

Written by
Clara Hogan
Aleenah Ansari

Every great city has a great bookstore. That’s just a fact of life. Because even as we navigate a digital world, there is something sacred and comforting about wandering the aisle of an independent bookshop.

The best bookstores in America are cultural landmarks and vibrant hubs of intellectual exploration. Our list includes those in major cities like The Strand, a historic New York City haven with miles of books, to City Lights Booksellers in San Francisco, hub of beatnik culture, and others spread throughout small and mid-size cities across the country. No matter its location, each bookstore has a distinct personality, shaped by its history and supported by its community.

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Best independent bookstores in the U.S.

Powell’s might as well have its own zip code. The largest independent bookstore in the world, Powell’s City of Books is home to more than 1 million new, used and rare tomes. Indeed, it's easy to get lost here among the 68,000 square feet of store, spread across nine rooms, three floors and roughly 3,500 sections—bookworms can find plenty to do and take home in this labyrinthine store. A total of 1.6-acres of retail space means a section, postcard or gift for every book lover.

Located in downtown Los Angeles, The Last Bookstore is the largest new and used bookstore in California. Check out the book tunnel, selection of records, art studios, yarn shop, and novels that are perfect for any book lover. You can also explore a room full of first-edition rare books and collectibles in the Arts and Rare Books Annex, buy, sell, and trade books, and contribute to the 250,000 used and new books in the store. 


No bookstore list would be complete without The Strand, which boasts 18 miles(!) of books, not to mention souvenirs, mugs, cards, and their signature tote bags (you’ll probably spot a few while you’re out and about). Peruse paperbacks and more across four floors, including a special store section dedicated to rare books. You can also pick up literary-themed goods like stickers and notebooks. If you’re looking for a deal, check out the dollar section outside and see if you can find a book on your list.

Since its first outpost opened in Miami’s Coral Gables neighborhood, Books & Books has expanded to several locations across the city. The store is well-stocked with bestsellers but also lots of small publishers. Its wooden-floored rooms include one devoted to antiquarian rarities and another to kids’ books. The on-site cafe serves Cuban sandwiches and local draft beers while you nestle into your recent purchase. 


Looking for an independent bookstore, cafe, and full-service bar all wrapped up in one? Look no further than Kramers. There’s a large selection of books, cards, and Washington, D.C. postcards if you want souvenirs to send to your loved ones. It even has a covered patio with additional seating to enjoy breakfast all day. 


Elliott Bay boasts 150,000 books, magazines and zines displayed prettily on cedar shelves, as well as cards and giftable products from small, local businesses. Feeling overwhelmed? Helpful reviews from bookstore staff will lead you to your next bedtime read. The shop also hosts virtual and in-person conversations with authors and book groups where you can join virtual discussions on the book of the month. 

Though this Andersonville shop has a definite feminist slant (and is one of the largest feminist bookstores in the country), all can find something here. The store stocks more than 30,000 books by and about women, plus children's titles, and it's considered one of the city's best sources for lesbian and gay fiction and nonfiction. It's also an active location for author readings and community events, and it's the endearing inspiration for Portlandia's Women and Women First bookstore sketch.


Fun fact: Iowa City, Iowa was the first U.S. city to receive the UNESCO City of Literature designation—largely thanks to being home to the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop, considered the best writing program in the country. But Prairie Lights, a literary institution, helped make its case, too. Established in 1978, Prairie Lights is a cozy bookstore in downtown Iowa City and a dynamic hub for literary engagement, hosting events with some of the most renowned authors in the world.

Located in the NoMad neighborhood of New York, Rizzoli is a publisher of high-end art, photography and architecture books, and this classy bookstore is full of the company's visually stimulating work. You'll find stunning painted ceilings, cast iron chandeliers, and large illustrated books on design, fashion, cooking, and more. Don't miss the section dedicated to the long and storied history of New York.


Situated in the heart of Ann Arbor, Literati is a testament to the city's vibrant literary culture. It is more than just a bookstore and a community gathering place. The cozy ambiance allows you to lose yourself while browsing the shelves, stopping to read hand-written book recommendations from staff, while the café invites you to stay awhile. Literati also hosts many author events and book clubs. But out of everything, the store may be best known for the old-school typewriter that invites the public to write anonymous notes, poems, or other thoughts, which they published in a collection called "Notes from a Public Typewriter."

Verbatim Books is a secondhand bookstore full of gently used novels, curated classics and new releases. Check out the zine corner to find issues from small presses and micro-distributors, and don't miss the book sculpture spelling out the name of the store and the rainbow of books lined with dinosaur figurines. Verbatim also has a beautiful 90-foot bookshelf mural on the side of the building, created by Tijuana-based artist Armando Elizarraras. 


This store sells new and gently used LGBTQIA+ books, clothing, housewares, art, and more. This bookstore originally opened as Giovanni’s Room in 1973 and has since been purchased by Philadelphia Aids Thrift, which has kept the legacy going. It continues to be a cultural center and hub for the LGBTQIA+ community, and you can even order books online and have them shipped out.

This bookstore-and-bar hybrid space was born from a friendship between two Spanish civil engineers who wanted to create a community gathering spot for people to get drinks, open up, and have conversations that would change their worldview. The books in the space are curated by local publishers and booksellers in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas and beyond. 

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