Raising a Reader: Our Favorite Independent Bookstores

Nothing piques their curiosity like scanning shelves upon shelves of books written just for them. The internet may be quick and easy, but buying books online doesn’t come with storytime, a museum made up of props from their favorite tales, or a corner full of toys. So next time you’re in need of a new title (for you or your little literati) pop into one of the the Bay Area’s best independent bookstores—we bet you’ll find a whole lot more than just a good read.

stack of books                                                                                                                                                                                          Photo credit: msbhaven via Flickr Creative Commons

San Francisco

Bookshop West Portal
It doesn’t get much more kid-friendly than Bookshop West Portal. With built-in benches for lounging and a good third of the store dedicated to children’s lit, this understated bookshop is the indie darling of the City. The open layout means that you can browse for grown-up reads and still keep an eye on the kiddos. Bonus: The YA section is outstanding.

80 West Portal Ave.
San Francisco, Ca

Hours: 10 a.m.–9 p.m. every day
Online: bookshopwestportal.com 

green apple flickr john mosbough                                                                                                                                                                                  Photo credit: John Mosbough via Flickr Creative Commons

Green Apple Books
Green Apple remains unparalleled in SF: They’ve got everything from the latest NY Times best sellers to some seriously hidden treasures. Located in the Inner Richmond in the heart of  bustling Clement Street, it’s been around since 1967, selling both new and used books. The small but well stocked kids’ section is very affordable. Plus, you can bring in your old books to trade — just make sure they are in decent condition (read: not covered in spit-up).Check out the bargain bins out front for some discounted kid’s books, then snap a photo with Mergatroid, their jester-like mascot who sits by the front door. Green Apple recently opened a second location on 9th Ave. in the Inner Sunset.

506 Clement St.
San Francisco, Ca

1231 9th Ave.
San Francisco, Ca

Hours:  Sun.–Thurs., 10 a.m.–10:30 p.m.; Fri. & Sat., 10 a.m.–11:30 p.m.
Online: greenapplebooks.com  


The Booksmith
Your little ones will make a beeline for the mushroom stools in the back of the store, where you’ll find a wide selection of books for babies, toddlers, kids, and young adults. With just a smattering of toys, their focus will really be on the books (though “they” may get distracted by the Fraggle Rock puppets). The Booksmith offers complimentary gift wrap and has one of the best selections of greeting cards in the city, so you can one-stop-shop for that last-minute birthday gift. This fall, The Booksmith is offering writing classes for kids 8-12. (Note: Occasionally the music is surprisingly loud, but we’ve found that a polite request to the friendly staff is heeded.)

1644 Haight St.
San Francisco, Ca

Hours: Mon.–Sat., 10 a.m.–10 p.m.; Sun., 10 a.m.–8 p.m.
Online: booksmith.com

Christopher Books
Located in the ground floor space of an oh-so-San-Francisco Edwardian, this charming neighborhood bookstore offers a super hassle free return policy (just bring it back even without a receipt for an exchange). That plus free gift wrap makes this a double-win for gift buying in case your bestie already has a copy of Goodnight Moon for her newborn.

1400 18th St.
San Francisco, Ca

Hours: 10 a.m.–9 p.m. every day
Online: christophersbooks.com

East Bay

Pegasus Books
Books, books, and more books. New books, used books, big books, small books. No Bay Area indie bookstore list is complete without mentioning the beloved Pegasus. There are now three locations of Pegasus, and all of them are awesome. The Solano Ave. store probably has the biggest kid’s section, but each location has something for everyone.

1855 Solano Ave.
Berkeley, Ca

2349 Shattuck Ave.
Berkeley, Ca

5560 College Avenue
Oakland, Ca

Hours: Mon.–Thurs., 9 a.m.–10 p.m.; Fri. & Sat., 9 a.m.–10:45 p.m.; Sun., 10 a.m.–10 p.m. (All locations)
Online: pegasusbookstore.com 

California Bookstore Day celebration at Mr. Mopps' Children's Books!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Photo credit: Mr. Mopps

Mr. Mopps’ Children’s Books
This annex of the beloved toy shop, Mr. Mopps’ Children’s Books is located four doors down from the toy store and is a bookstore built with little people in mind. While moms and dads won’t find much reading material for themselves here, they’ll definitely find plenty to read to the kids—including some nostalgic favorites. At the time of this article, the store was organizing a weekly story hour, so give them a call or check the website for current schedule. Click here to read more about our recent visit to the store.

1417A Martin Luther King Jr. Way
Berkeley, Ca
Hours: Tues.–Fri., 10:30 a.m.–6:30 p.m.; Sat. & Sun.,9:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; closed Mondays.
Online: mrmopps.net/books 

The Book Shop
With an impressive array of books both new and used, this is one of the few places where you can snap up gently used kid’s books (including board books!) and trade in your own. A friendly staff and a host of recommended picks, this is one of those bookstores that is both well-organized but also a treasure-hunt. Going strong since 1960, this is a bibliophile’s dream.

1007 B. St.
Hayward, Ca

Hours: Mon.–Thurs., 10 a.m.–6 p.m.; Fri., 10 a.m.–8 p.m.; Sat., 9 a.m.–8 p.m.; closed Sundays.
Online: haywardbookshop.com  

Diesel Book Store, LarkspurPhoto credit: GoodnCrazy via Flickr Creative Commons

Rakestraw Books
Locally owned and independently operated in Danville since 1973, this bookstore has long been a place for creativity at its finest. The employees organize and conduct several types of book clubs, including the parent-child group, Hooked on Books. Check out the kids’ section of the website for recommended reading and reviews.

522 Hartz Ave.
Danville, Ca

Hours: Mon.–Fri., 9 a.m.– 6 p.m., Sat., 9 a.m.– 5 p.m., Sun., 12–5 p.m.
Online: rakestrawbooks.com

father and son via cc_kelly sikkemaPhoto credit: Kelly Sikkema via Flickr Creative Commons

The Storyteller
A fabulous children’s bookstore with an amazingly knowledgeable staff and a super comprehensive selection of youth literature, from 0 months on up. Can’t quite remember the name of that one particular book you loved as a child? Chances are if you describe it to someone working at The Storyteller, they’ll be able to help. Lot’s of kids’ workshops, including seasonal writing courses and story time. (Note: The Stortyteller moved in the spring of 2013, so if you haven’t visited for a while be sure and note the new locale—right behind Peet’s Coffee and Whole Foods at Plaza Center.)

3506-E Mt. Diablo Blvd.
Lafayette, Ca

Hours: Mon.–Sat., 9:30 a.m.–6 p.m.; closed Sundays.
Online: facebook.com/TheStorytellerBookstore


Kepler’s Books
This independent bookstore is at the heart, figuratively and literally, of Menlo Park and has a success story to inspire other small business owners. Established in 1955, Kepler’s fell on hard times, unable to compete with big-box stores, and in 2005 shut its doors.  Following community protests and a huge outpouring of support, Kepler’s reopened a few short months thereafter and has remained a part of the Menlo Park community ever since. A new generation of readers have grown up with this great store, as Kepler’s runs very popular youth authors events in the store, at the park and around the community.

1010 El Camino Real
Menlo Park, Ca

Hours: 9 a.m.– 10 p.m. every day
Online: keplers.com 

Reading bug_via Yelp Reading B                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Photo credit: Reading B. via Yelp 

The Reading Bug
With book signings with some of the most notable children’s authors and story times for the littles, this bookshop really aims to help parents raise a reader. Designed to look more like an enchanted forest than a typical bookstore, this paradise of bookish events will thrill the kids. And be sure and check out some of the evening classes (for moms and dads) like yoga and Bollywood dance!

Story times:
Pre-K, Tues. & Thurs. at 11 a.m.
Babies & Toddlers: Wed., 11 a.m.
Newborns: Fri., 11 a.m.
All Ages: Sat., 11 a.m.
Stories and Free Crafts for ages 3 and up, Sun., 11 a.m.

785 Laurel St.
San Carlos, Ca

Tues., Thurs., Fri., & Sat., 10:30 a.m.–6:30 p.m.; Wed., 10:30 a.m.–7 p.m.; Sun., 10:30 a.m.–4 p.m.; closed Mondays.
Online: thereadingbug.com 

South Bay

Ask any savvy Bay Area parent what the best bookshop in the South Bay is, and you’ll likely get a resounding answer: Hicklebee’s, and it’s not just because they have killer author events (Rosemary Wells, Judith Viorist). Their staff and the selection of books is exemplary, especially for kids. With bonus features like Book of the Month Clubs (you can give as a gift!) their motto is extraordinary books for the entire family. Don’t miss the Hicklebee Museum—a collection of items that make stories come to life. These clever items include Charlotte’s web, Ruby’s dress, of Max and Ruby fame, and even an Indian Cupboard.

1378 Lincoln Ave.
San Jose, Ca

Hours: Mon.–Wed., 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; Thurs. & Fri., 10 a.m.–8 p.m.; Sun., noon–4 p.m.
Online: hicklebees.com 

potato head book_flickr cc EnoksonPhoto credit: Enokson via Flickr Creative Commons

Books Inc.
To be fair,there are nine different locations of this glorious, indie-chain, including four in San Francisco, and two in the East Bay. We’re putting it under the South Bay heading but there are also Peninsula (Burlingame and the SF airport) stores. All locations are clean, well-organized and feature an in-store children’s lit expert. They’ve got a kids’ blog, several age-appropriate book groups and even a baby book registry!  Check the website for the nearest location and join one of the many book clubs they host, or just pop in to peruse some one of the finest selections of books in the Bay.

1375 Burlingame Ave.
Burlingame, Ca
Hours: Mon.–Sat, 9 a.m.– 8 p.m.; Sun., 9 a.m..– 7 p.m.

Children’s story time: Sun., 11 a.m.  

301 Castro St.
Mountain View, Ca
Hours: Sun.–Thurs., 9 a.m.–10 p.m.; Fri. & Sat., 9 a.m.–11 p.m.

855 El Camino Real #74
Palo Alto, Ca
Hours: Sun.–Thurs, 9 a.m.– 8 p.m.; Fri. & Sat., 9 a.m.–9 p.m.

Online: booksinc.net

Marin County

Book Passage
Self-described as the Bay Area’s liveliest bookstore, this is the premier location for author events, with the likes of Elizabeth Gilbert, Isabelle Allende, and Michael Chabon gracing its reading room. The main store shares as space with a cafe, and the back space includes children’s books, toys, and an entire used book room. They host signings, salons, writing workshops, bookswaps, book clubs, and more. Every Sunday at 11 a.m. during the school year, veteran singer-songwriter Christopher Smith leads a sing-along for the kids. (Note: Book Passage has a small store at the Ferry Building in San Francisco. Although it may have a small footprint, there are floor-to-ceiling books and there is a great little kids’ section here. Plus you can watch ferries come and go, so it’s an epic win for the kiddos.)

51 Tamal Vista Blvd.
Corte Madera, Ca 94925

Hours: 9 a.m.9 p.m. every day
Online: bookpassage.com


Copperfield’s Books
Late last year, Sonoma County’s most beloved independent bookstore arrived in Marin. Copperfield’s is a welcome addition to the 4th Street shopping district in downtown San Rafael. In addition to their great selection of books for kids and teens, Copperfields regularly hosts children’s book authors and special nights for teachers. (Other locations include Petaluma, Sebastopol, Santa Rosa, and Napa). 

850 4th St.
San Rafael, Ca

Hours: Mon.–Wed., 10 a.m.–7 p.m.; Thurs.–Sat., 10 a.m.–9 p.m.; Sun., 10 a.m.–6 p.m.
Online: copperfieldsbooks.com/san-rafael

books on bases via flickr us army cc                                                                                                                                                                                               Photo credit: US Army via Flickr Creative Commons

Diesel, A Bookstore
With locations also in Brentwood and Oakland, this bookstore is quickly becoming a favorite among Marin County parents. The location at the Marin Country Mart makes it ideal for an afterschool stop or a post-dinner browse, and the store hosts all kinds of fun events like Kid’s Pajama Parties.

Marin Country Mart
2419 Larkspur Landing Circle
Larkspur, Ca

Hours: Mon.–Fri., 10 a.m.–7 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.–6 p.m.; Sun., 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
Online: dieselbookstore.com/larkspur

Depot Book Store and Cafe
Located in the old train depot in charming downtown Mill Valley, this bookstore is on the small side but it offers an amazing kids’ selection, an impressive array of both international and local magazines, and a cafe to boot!

87 Throckmorton Ave.
Mill Valley, Ca 94941

Hours: 7 a.m.– 7 p.m. every day
Online: depotbookstore.com

What’s your favorite indie bookstore in town? Let us know in the comments below!

~Amber Guetebier & Gabrielle Cullen