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Not really a question about traveling itself, but thought I could ask for some help. I'm scheduled to visit the US in about a week or so, and wanted to pay a visit to some bookstores if I can. In case you're wondering, I'll be visiting San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles.

The particular bookstores that I have in mind are those that are large enough to hold a variety of books, including textbooks (usually books used from the university-level and upwards). My home country of Korea has a company that is known for operating very large bookstores (Kyobo in case anyone's wondering) and this store sells books from fiction, nonfiction, hobby, high school textbooks, foreign books, college textbooks, test preparation books, etc.

I was wondering if there would be stores of that caliber in the places I visit. Any tips are appreciated. Thanks in advance.

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    For university/college textbooks, I assume there are specialized bookstores for them, close to university/college campuses; those books are not usually found in regular book stores. – Max Jan 27 at 14:25
  • @Max I actually wanted to mention this in my answer, but I fear that even those bookstores become increasingly rare. I most definitely hope someone contradicts me! – jcaron Jan 27 at 15:55
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Depends what you want. The US has two distinct types of shopping:

  • Local beloved one-off shops and restaurants, including uniquely curated general bookstores, used bookstores and specialty bookstores. They're akin to what you might find in Europe.
  • Mass-market stores which are deliberately generic rubber-stamps of each other, you've seen one, you've seen them all. These are in the suburbs typically, and are designed for people with cars. I mention this because some foreigners find this interesting.

For the mass-market experience your best option is probably Vegas, because most shopping in Vegas is optimized for tourists. (the town also has normal suburban malls intended for residents, and they're not far out; it's not a huge city).

For used or specialty bookshops with character, L.A. has some, but they're all over the map which is a serious impediment if you do not drive.

The San Francisco Bay Area is certainly the undisputed king, however. There are some clusters (Mission, and Berkeley) and the rest are scattershot around the region.

  • There is a minor cluster of such bookstores in the North Beach area, centered on City Lights bookstore.
  • A large cluster is in the Mission Street area (think: Mission and Valencia from 14th to 26th St., with a spur out 16th to the Church-Market->Castro-18th area.
    • Also in nearby Noe Valley, along 24th Street between Church and Castro.
  • The Haight-Ashbury, extending out to 9th/Lincoln.

While everything in San Francisco has good transit, Berkeley across the bay is even better for those with limited time, because everything is in walking distance and in two big clusters, one right at the BART station.

  • There's quite a grouping on Shattuck from University to Dwight.
  • South of Campus (Telegraph from Bancroft to Dwight) is a tiny shopping district, a shadow of its former self where books are concerned, but still Moe's, University Press books, and the UC Student Store.
    • And all of the University of California specialty libraries, which are public access (to browse) and indexed on melvyl.
    • Not to mention both Amoeba and Rasputin Music, side by side, the biggest, most diverse and eclectic used/new record stores I have seen anywhere in the US. (Amoeba's Hollywood and Haight-Ashbury locations are also excellent).

San Francisco is second only to Paris for food. If you want to eat at Taco Bell, do it at Incheon Airport, get it out of your system, then come to SF and have a Mission St. burrito. Or better!

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  • If you want to eat at Taco Bell, come to San Francisco and get a ride to the world's greatest Taco Bell just over in Pacifica. I mean, eat better food too certainly, of course. – Zach Lipton Jan 28 at 3:13
  • While some of UC Berkeley's libraries are open to the public, their main stacks are not. – Nate Eldredge Jan 28 at 3:33
  • From 14th to 26th what? Is there a word missing here? – gerrit Jan 28 at 8:42
  • @gerrit, from 14th street to 26th street. There is not a word missing in common U.S. usage, although I can see it may be unclear for others. – user4556274 Jan 28 at 14:32
  • It was ambiguous, but also not. SF has both streets and avenues. But they're in different zones miles apart. None intersect, and I can't think of any named streets that enter both zones (and even if one did, it's unlikely the numeric values would overlap). Thus "#th and X" is never ambiguous. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jan 28 at 14:48
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In San Francisco:

City Lights Bookstore

Near San Francisco:

Moe's Books in Berkeley

Cal Student Store in Berkeley

Stanford University Bookstore in Palo Alto

Berkeley is accessible from San Francisco by the BART regional train system.

Palo Alto is accessible by the CalTrain commuter heavy rail system.

In my experience, the Stanford store has a better selection of technical and academic books than the stores I mentioned in Berkeley. But Moe's is better for literature and out of print books, and a short walk from the Cal Store, where you'll find at least a small selection of academic books.

In either case you should probably expect to spend a full day getting to the location, visiting the bookstore, visiting other nearby sights, and returning to SF.

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Another starting point may be to check out Evelyn Leeper's Bookstores lists available here. They're sorted into major metropolitan areas or larger areas like southwestern USA, Benelux, etc.

She relies on people reporting changes so you will have to check each listing that you find interesting to make sure that it's still open and/or in the same location. For example, The Bookman in Orange just moved last fall.

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There are a few, but they're becoming quite rare these days, many have closed down as e-commerce and digital (read: Amazon) have changed people's habits, while others have reduced dramatically in size.

The largest bookstore chain in the US is Barnes & Noble, and you can find their locations using the store finder on their website. Stores can vary quite significantly in size, though. The other significant player used to be Borders, but they're long dead now.

There are also a few independent bookstores, but those are few and far between, and often have more used (second hand) books rather than new ones, so it depends a lot on what you are looking for.

Note that the Los Angeles metropolitan area is very large, so you should probably give a more specific area. A nice bookstore in Anaheim isn't quite very useful if you are staying in Santa Monica, for instance.

You probably have the best chances of finding interesting bookstores in San Francisco. See for for instances the lists here and here.

As for Las Vegas... I think it qualifies for the proverbial desert.

If you are looking for specific books, though (rather than just wanting to browse physical books), I'm afraid your best bet is most probably Amazon. There's a reason they killed everyone else...

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    You're extremely unlikely to find actual textbooks in any bookstore that doesn't specifically cater to the local school though. Nobody buys those except for students actually taking a class requiring them. – pboss3010 Jan 27 at 15:23
  • The trouble is that even university-related bookstores seem to have a tendency to disappear, do they not? – jcaron Jan 27 at 15:44
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    @pboss3010, College bookstores historically could be pretty big. Before B&N and Borders came along, they were typically the largest bookstores available. At least at big enough schools. – The Photon Jan 27 at 17:14
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    I think you'd be surprised about bookstores in LV, NV. I just googled it and there are a fair number, including a B&N. On the other hand LV, NM has only 2 small bookstores ;) – Peter M Jan 27 at 18:33
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    I think you'll actually have an easier time finding a big bookstore in Las Vegas than San Francisco, due to space constraints and property values. SF has a lot of small interesting ones, but the nearest big generalist one might be the Barnes and Noble in San Bruno. – ex-user3761894 Jan 27 at 19:58
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As far as the Bay Area is concerned, there aren't that many large bookstores, which was surprising to me as a European.

Even San Francisco's semi-famous City Lights felt by no means big if you were to compare it to the large European bookstores (think Waterstones, Dom Knigi, etc.). Couldn't find books on many topics, natural sciences in particular. Trendy stuff only! "Moderately sized" is how I would describe it.

What I did ultimately find worth browsing were the Half Price Books stores which sell both old and new books. Different locations vary in size, e.g. the Berkeley one is pretty huge while the one in Fremont is smaller. However, all of the chain's bookstores had some really nice surprises on their bookshelves, from foreign literature to things that had been out print for years. You might want to see if there's one nearby!

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