The 10 best bookstores in Los Angeles

The most filmic of cities, Los Angeles may not strike you as a city of bookworms, but, hidden away from the red carpets and the flashing lights, lies a small army of bibliophiles bringing back the meditative act of bookstore browsing. Whether by the beach or deep in downtown, there are a bunch of independent bookstores in Los Angeles, offering Angelinos a multitude of literary choices, from coffee-table centrepieces to broad contemporary fiction. Get involved to find the best bookish bargains in the city (and maybe a quiet coffee) as well as various opportunities for community events, book readings and more.

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1. Book Soup

First up on West Hollywood’s world-famous Sunset Strip, we find Book Soup and its hugely diverse collection, open since 1975. Today the store has some 60,000 books in its inventory, aligned on floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and spanning the arts, literary non-fiction and more controversial titles among magazines and international newspapers. An emblem of the city’s diverse make up, Book Soup also serves up an extensive collection of LGBTQ titles, as well as more niche works within its S&M and LA history sections. The store is usually buzzing all day long and stays open out of hours for author readings and signings, allowing for brush-ins with both celebrities and LA locals.

2. Arcana: Books on the Arts

One for rare book lovers is the long-standing Arcana: Books on the Arts, a site boasting as many as 100,000 rare and out-of-print titles with a focus on art, photography and design. Established since 1984 and designed by its architect founders within a historic area of Culver City, Arcana Books remains a beautiful and bright neighbourhood staple featuring towering bookshelves and all kinds of design ephemera not found elsewhere. If in doubt, ask the owners for a recommendation or simply browse to discover the works of underappreciated artists, architects, fashion designers, filmmakers and more, an upstanding alternative to Beverly Drive’s more commercial coffee-table bookstore Taschen.

3. The Last Bookstore

Down-to-earth in the heart of Downtown LA is The Last Bookstore, happily providing customers with true community spirit in an airy ex bank building. Besides the grand marble columns and raised mezzanine level, the Last Bookstore invites booklovers to come make friends and trade used books here, indulging in a coffee and a bargain from the $1 section on the upper level. Besides its well-stocked selection of new and used books, The Last Bookstore also schedules regular events after hours, including readings, book signings, writer groups, open mics and live music.

The Last Bookstore | Photo: Riley McCullough

The Last Bookstore | Photo: Jaredd Craig

4. Skylight Books’ Arts Annex

Situated in Los Feliz and satisfying both literary buffs and quirkier customers is one of LA’s most acclaimed independent bookstores, Skylight Books. Running since 1996 and now owned and run by a group of writers (as well as Transparent actor Jeffrey Tambor), Skylight Books has become a key part of the neighbourhood, with a curated collection of graphic novels and comics alongside other works of literary fiction, regional culture and LA history titles. The adjoining Arts Annex is another reason to visit should you need it, with its heavy focus on performing and visual arts. Grab a coffee or sandwich from the main store before scurrying off to the annex to browse the zines ahead of one of the store’s regular book groups or author-led events.

5. Small World Books

Genre-spanning on Venice Beach is Small World Books, opened by a married couple in tandem with next door’s Sidewalk Café. Right on the boardwalk, Small World Books has long been a community favourite, providing quiet reprieve from rowdy beachgoers since 1976. Check out the local authors showcased up front or move down the aisles for rare finds and independent imprints alongside more mainstream fare. Mystery lovers can collude a while in the Mystery Annex or otherwise grab a drink from next door and browse the Venice Art Crawl installations that brighten the walls.

Photo: Jonathan Borba

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One of the largest used bookstores in Los Angeles with tens of thousands of titles to flick through, Iliad Bookshop is also known for its welcoming, cat-friendly vibe

6. The Iliad Bookshop

A trading hub for twenty years, serving both sellers and seekers of rare and out-of-print titles, is Iliad Bookshop in North Hollywood. One of the largest used bookstores in Los Angeles with tens of thousands of titles to flick through, Iliad Bookshop is also known for its welcoming, cat-friendly vibe allowing readers to sit a while in order to narrow down their reading pile (and pet some cats!). Specialising in arts and with a wide range of graphic novels, the Iliad is also appreciated by TV buffs for its occasional appearance in programs such as Storage Wars, Up All Night and Bottom Feeders.

7. Now Serving

Next in Chinatown’s Far East Plaza is the food-centric bookstore Now Serving. A must-visit for any foodie, Now Serving is devoted to housing a broad range of cookbooks and kitchen equipment looking worldwide for culinary inspiration. Opened as recently as 2017, Now Serving solidifies Far East Plaza’s status as a gastronomic hub both past and present, sharing Hill Street with hotspots such as Howlin’ Ray’s, Lao Tao and LASA. Selling both new and used titles categorised by continent and region, Now Serving is the place to come for both out-of-print recipe books and gourmet equipment (including quality Japanese knives), with a full schedule of signings and events often attended by high-profile chefs.

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Headquartered in Tokyo since 1927 and now operating in 68 locations and 28 cities overseas, Kinokuniya Bookstore is your one-stop-shop for all kinds of speciality Japanese paper goods, as well as Japanese-language books and manga

8. Kinokuniya Bookstore

Not for everyone but reaching cult status among Japanophiles is Kinokuniya Bookstore. Headquartered in Tokyo since 1927 and now operating in 68 locations and 28 cities overseas, Kinokuniya Bookstore is your one-stop-shop for all kinds of speciality Japanese paper goods, as well as Japanese-language books and manga. Fans of Hayao Miyazaki (the famed animation director whose brilliant works can now be found on Netflix), should note that Studio Ghibli acts as the official retail partner of the bookstore, making it one of the best places to snap up Ghibli merchandise outside of Japan.

9. Hennessey + Ingalls

Another long-standing institution recently relocating to the Arts District in Downtown LA after 50 years on the Westside, Hennessey + Ingalls easily ranks among the best bookstores in LA. Family owned and passed down from father to son, Hennessey + Ingalls has grown into the largest art, architecture and design bookstore in the whole of the western United States, to cover countless art and design movements throughout the ages. As well as a well-stocked main collection, the store can also surprise with its knowledge on interior design, graphic design and even landscaping, with a section of children’s titles and rare works among it all.

Photo: PJ Accetturo

10. Vroman’s Bookstore

The last of our top ten Los Angeles bookstores is Vroman’s Bookstore, founded by Adam Clark Vroman in 1894 and bearing the accolade of the oldest bookstore in Southern California. After Vroman passed away in 1916, the store was handed down to its long-time employees, and today is owned by a great-grandchild of the original staff. As well as being a piece of living history, Vroman’s Bookstore dedicates its huge space to a wide selection of titles with an added emphasis on history, and a side collection of handmade crafts, stationery and more. What’s more, is that Vroman’s author signings and free community events mean it easily competes with the bigger chains in the Valley.

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