Before I moved to California any mention of the sunshine state evoked images of sunny beaches, movie stars, Hollywood glamour, and the hippy movement in San Francisco.
One thing that surprised me since I came to San Francisco is discovering the sheer volume of classic and popular literature set and authored throughout California.
If you’re a bookworm or literature lover, here are some suggestions for what you shouldn’t miss on your California road trip!
The Last Bookstore
Located in downtown LA, The Last Bookstore is honestly the only thing that made my visit to that area worthwhile. Two floors of books (new and used) are arranged so artfully in places that it would be a shame to remove one from the display.
Although the West Coast is home to many literary giants, in LA I’m going to recommend non-fiction for a fascinating read that takes you from Hollywood to the dizzy heights of international superstardom. The autobiography of Anthony Kiedis, who moved to Hollywood aged 12, follows his story of excess, growing up in California and the journey to huge success as part of his band The Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Throughout the town of Monterey, you’ll find statues and homages to John Steinbeck but the real joy is in seeing the actual places he wrote so eloquently about in Cannery Row.
Standing on Cannery row if you squint hard enough (and use your imagination) you can see the vacant lot, Lee Chong’s grocery, and Docs laboratory as described by Steinbeck. The only thing missing is the humdrum of the sardine factories, long replaced with the world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, tourist attractions, and upmarket gift stores.
Vesuvio Cafe and City Lights Bookstore
No visit to San Francisco would be complete without paying your respects to the Beat Poets, whether that’s by drinking in one of their favorite haunts (Cafe Vesuvio) or popping next door to City Lights Bookstore which is now an official historic landmark.
The streets of North Beach and Chinatown and seeped in history and it’s certainly worth doing a walking tour or simply exploring the area on foot.
Tales of the City
In preparation for moving to San Francisco (having never visited), I read Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City. The series epitomizes 80s San Francisco and takes you back to a time before the dotcom and tech booms changed the city.
Many of the haunts featured in Tales of the City are alive and thriving today. Some of my favorites include;
Lothario Brian picked up women on his bar shifts at this San Francisco bar and eatery. Perry’s is still going strong and is now a well-established restaurant serving hearty American fare at its two locations (the Marina and Embarcadero).
These days you’re more likely to find a few thousand people doing yoga than a cannibalistic cult, but the beautiful Cathedral and maze are still exactly how Maupin described them.
28 Barbary Lane
The actual address doesn’t exist but it’s widely assumed that Macondray Lane atop Russian Hill was the place that inspired Barbary Lane. It’s a 5-minute walk from where Jack Kerouac lived in Neil Cassady’s house at 29 Russell Street, so real bookworms can easily visit both locations (stopping between the two at Swenson’s Ice Cream store, ideally).
Some other great spots in San Francisco
Of course, living in San Francisco I know more about the places to visit here than LA and Monterey. I’ll leave you with some San Francisco bookish gems I discovered;
Cool Grey City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco – By Gary Kamiya is a love letter to all 49 square miles of the City.
Dog Eared Books – Two locations (Castro and the Mission) offer a wide selection of new and used books.
Green Apple Books – Also offers two locations (Inner Richmond and Inner Sunset), check out the Inner Richmond branch on Clement Street for a wider selection of used books and records too.
Crossroads Cafe – A hidden gem of a cafe/bookstore in the residential South Beach neighborhood.
Novela – An upmarket bar in the SOMA neighborhood where the walls are lined with books and the cocktails are named after characters.
Caffe Trieste – Although not strictly a bar, this classic North Beach cafe is where Francis Ford Copolla is said to have written most of the Godfather (which I appreciate is a film script, rather than a book!).