Though San Francisco may not feel like a bookworm’s natural habitat, the City by the Bay has a rich literary history. SF has provided — and continues to provide — inspiration for countless literary legends, from classic authors like Mark Twain to anticonformists like the Beatniks to contemporary writers like Alice Walker.

And so, it’s not surprising that this city is filled with nooks and crannies for avid readers, book-friendly cafes, and landmarks for literature geeks. Here, we’ll take you through some of our favorite spots to curl up with a book in San Francisco.

For the literary history lover: get your fill of both books and literary landmarks in North Beach

San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood mingles so many different identities. It’s the city’s Little Italy, featuring some of the Bay’s best Italian food; a favorite sightseeing location, teeming with tourists year-round; and the historic epicenter of the Beat Generation’s San Francisco Renaissance. Perhaps more importantly, though, it’s full of rich literary history.

Vesuvio — At Vesuvio, you’ll find a little piece of San Francisco as it used to be. A favorite haunt of Beatniks like Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassidy, this divey little saloon is a literature geek’s dream spot. Climb upstairs, take a seat in the window overlooking Jack Kerouac Alley, and immerse yourself in your favorite story. Hours: 8 am to 2 am

 

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City Lights Bookstore — On the other side of Jack Kerouac Alley, you’ll find City Lights Booksellers, a landmark bookstore that’s been selling and publishing literary classics since the early 50s. Here, you’ll find no shortage of reading material — there are three floors full of almost any kind of book you can imagine: from nonfiction to poetry to local literature and far, far beyond. Strongly influenced by the Beatniks, the bookstore still features a progressive bent. And if you’re looking for a book that’s not quite mainstream, City Lights sells rare books from smaller publishers. While you’re there, pick up the Books to Bikes map — a guide that’ll take you through a 7.1-mile bike tour of 12 San Francisco streets named after local writers — perfect for another day of literary tourism. Hours: 10 am to 12 am

 

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Caffe Trieste — This cozy little cafe feels very different from the sterility of more modern San Francisco coffee shops. Nonetheless, it’s a trendsetter: established in 1956, Caffe Trieste was the first espresso coffee house on the West Coast. Soon, it became a favorite gathering spot for the Beat Writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Later on, actors, screenwriters, and other artists frequented the cafe — Francis Ford Coppola is said to have written much of The Godfather at this North Beach staple. Hours: 6:30 am to 11 pm

Washington Square — When the weather permits, set yourself on a bench or on the grass of Washington Square. Think the church looks familiar? It was featured in the 1971 film Dirty Harry.

literary tour of san francisco - washington square park
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Roof of the San Francisco Art Institute — Often described as a “hidden gem,” this deck is open to the public and features spectacular city views. Best of all, there are bathrooms, so you won’t have to put down your book for the sake of your bladder. While you’re there, be sure to check out the Art Institute’s galleries and exhibits.

 

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Beat Museum — If you’re a big fan of the Beatniks, you may want to stop by the Beat Museum on Broadway. This mini-museum is a kind of shrine to the Beat artists, featuring their books, music, and artifacts. Hours: 10 am to 7 pm

 

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And of course, if you’re looking for something new to read, don’t forget about the North Beach Library!

For the urban reader: get lost in a book in San Francisco’s trendy Hayes Valley

This small, centrally-located neighborhood is a favorite among young professionals. It’s not hard to see why: an abundance of chic shops, fine dining, and a manicured green set on a manageable, hill-free landscape make it a perfect spot to relax with a book. Also, I live here, so I’m a little bit biased.

Patricia’s Green — Built in 1999, this relatively new urban oasis sits at the heart of Hayes Valley. It’s well-situated to remain more or less wind-free, and it’s filled with ample, well-spaced seating. Though it’s a perfect place to plop down for a break during the week, beware: it may be a little too hectic for your weekend reads.

Mercury Cafe — This is my all-time favorite cafe (and where I wrote this article). It gives off definite workplace vibes, so you can typically count on a quiet atmosphere. But beware: on busier days, it’s often bustling with tech networkers. Order a coffee, grab a table, and sit with a book for as long as you want — Mercury’s full menu ensures that you won’t get hungry. Oh, and definitely don’t miss out on their scones while you’re there. Pro tip: bring a sweater for maximum comfort on a cold day. Weekday hours: 7 am to 5 pm, Weekend hours: 8 am to 5 pm, Friday hours: 7 am to 8 pm

 

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Cafe La Vie — Cafe La Vie is an inconspicuous cafe in a prime location. Centrally positioned just across from Patricia’s Green, Cafe La Vie’s unpretentious entrance gives it an off-the-beaten-path feel. It’s generally quiet at Cafe La Vie, so its limited seating rarely poses a problem. But when it’s busier, you might find yourself sharing tables with strangers. Hours: 7 am to 6 pm (except Sunday, when it opens at 8 am)

 

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20th Century Cafe — Inspired by owner Michelle Polzine’s love of Eastern Europe cafes, 20th Century Cafe is unlike anything else you’ll find in San Francisco, featuring great coffee, unique pastries, and a uniquely European vibe. The cafe has made the bold choice not to offer any Wi-Fi — making it easier for readers like yourself to avoid the many tempting distractions of the internet. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday hours: 8 am to 5 pm, Saturday hours: 10 am to 5 pm, Sunday hours: 10 am to 4 pm, closed Monday & Tuesday

 

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San Francisco Wine & Cheese — Step into this unassuming shop on Gough Street, and you’ll suddenly find yourself surrounded by quality European groceries. Keep walking straight to the back of the store and out onto the patio for a quiet place to plop down with a glass of wine, some cheese, and your book of choice. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday hours: 11 am to 7 pm, Friday & Saturday hours: 11 am to 9 pm, closed Sunday and Monday

Alamo Square — Okay, so this iconic park isn’t actually in Hayes Valley. But just one 10-minute uphill walk away, and you’ll be living out your wildest 90s dreams. Most millennials will recognize this park and its view of the Painted Ladies from the Full House theme song — which is why the east side of the park is almost always bustling with camera-toting tourists. And while the Olsen twins never actually did live in those houses, the writer Alice Walker actually did. For a quieter experience, make your way west and you’ll find plenty of benches amongst the Monterey Cypress trees. A word to the wise: bring a jacket. It can get chilly up on the hill.

literary tour of san francisco - Alamo Square

That’s just the beginning of all the San Francisco spots for readers and literature nerds — after all, we only covered two neighborhoods. But don’t worry, we’re not done here yet; there are lots more literature-related places throughout the city, and we’re just getting started with this tour.