The Best Bookstore in Every State
We found that the unique touches that make a bookstore the best are just as diverse as America itself. There is a bookshop for just about every age and taste: some are children-focused stores with story time galore, like Minnesota’s Wild Rumpus. Others lean towards adult-only fare: Books and booze is becoming quite a trend, just take Maine’s Elements: Books Coffee Beer and Denver’s BookBar for example. Some stores are particularly interactive. Little Shop of Stories in Georgia has a room that brings Goodnight, Moon to life and The Writer’s Block in Las Vegas is home to an artificial bird sanctuary complete with fake birds just waiting to be adopted! Others have no gimmicks at all—just a passionate staff filled with avid, adventurous readers that just want to put the right read in their customer’s hand.
Of course, we couldn’t be in touch with bookstore employees without asking for a list of recommendations. Though the picks run the gamut (local history, critically acclaimed novels, children’s books, text books), many stores recommended local authors. Take a peek—maybe you’ll even discover your new favorite author.
Church Street Coffee and Books (Birmingham, Alabama)
Many of RealSimple.com’s employees have formerly worked in Time Inc.’s Birmingham office—and all of them can’t stop raving about Church Street Coffee and Books, Yelp’s pick for the best bookstore in Alabama. Housed in a former Starbucks in Birmingham’s Crestline Village, the store offers visitors a great selection of books to choose from (think everything from new releases to children’s books to cookbooks). It’s also spacious—there are enough seats to spend the day studying upstairs, or grabbing coffee with friends in the main room—and when the weather’s nice, there’s even a sunny patio to sit with your book and coffee. But the one thing you cannot miss at Church Street is the “break-up cookie.” Our editors call the store’s infamous treat the best chocolate chip cookie you’ll ever eat.
Title Wave Books (Anchorage, Alaska)
Title Wave Books always has the books customers want, because they supply them themselves. The grand majority of this store's inventory (apart from Alaskan travel guides and maps) are used and come from from trade-ins from the customers themselves. That means that not only do they have a great variety of interesting books, but they also have a large quantity of books for each interest—no matter how niche. When customers come in asking for an Alaska-focused read, Angela Libal, store manager, says they are so surprised and delighted to find that they have not just a shelf of reads, but a whole section devoted to Alaskan cooking, history, mining, dog sledding, and more.
Book recommendation: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. This Alaska-set adaptation of a classic Nordic fairy tale is a perennial bestseller at the store. “Its rich details create a deeply interesting narrative. It has enduring staying power for sure.” – Angela Libal, store manager.
Changing Hands Bookstore (Tempe, Arizona)
Since it was founded in 1974, this store has become a hallmark of the Arizona literary community. And they don’t call it Changing Hands for nothing—a bustling trade-in counter supports their wonderful, varied selection. Many Yelp reviewers praise the store not only for its great selection of new and used books, but also for its unique knick-knacks, toys, gag gifts, and incredible sales. Apart from the books, many visitors flock to the vast space for readings and Q&As—the store hosts more than 400 events each year. And while the Tempe location has been open for 40-plus years, it’s not going anywhere for the next generation. The store recently opened a second location serving up books and booze in uptown Phoenix—its First Draft Book Bar serves wine, beer, and coffee to browsers.
Book Recommendation: Green Island by Shawna Yang Ryan. “Without sacrificing anything of craft or literary credibility, it's got everything going for it—epic historical setting, multi-generational sweep, insight after lacerating insight, gorgeous sentences that will please lit snobs but won't alienate more casual readers, and plot, plot, plot." – Brandon Stout, director of marketing
Dickson Street Bookshop (Fayetteville, Arkansas)
Co-owners Don Choffel and Charles O’Donnell opened the deceptively large Dickson Street Bookshop in 1978. It’s held onto its original bookish charm, even after nearly 40 years. One Yelp Reviewer described walking into the store like “walking *into* a giant book.” Its narrow aisles and long hallways are filled with a massive selection of used and out-of-print books. You’re sure to find at least something to bring home.
Book recommendation: Looking to brush up on your local history? Dickson Street Bookshop houses a state-centric section in the store. The co-owners recommend starting with Vance Randolph’s books on Arkansas folklore or the novels of Fayetteville writer Donald Harington.
Century Books (Pasadena, Calif.)
Situated in Pasadena’s historic Green Street Village, Century Books houses an eclectic selection of used fiction and nonfiction books. The bookshop also houses a small art gallery that features works by local artists. They host events, lectures, and performances by musicians, authors, and other notable figures, too.
Book recommendation: Feynman’s Rainbow by Leonard Mlodinow. “A wonderful memoir. The author recollects his time and the challenges he faced at Caltech, and his meeting with the larger-than-life physicist, Richard Feynman, who also became his mentor.” – Judith Marosvolgyi, co-owner
BookBar (Denver, Colorado)
If you love wine, reading, and relaxing, BookBar is the place for you. Though it started out as a bookstore and wine bar, it has since expanded to an incredible experience. In 2015, they added an outdoor patio with a fire pit, sidewalk, outdoor lounge seating, a two-person hammock, a garden space (the herbs and vegetables are featured in the dishes served at the café), and an upstairs book-themed bed and breakfast—BookBed. They’ve recently acquired a bookmobile, and are planning off-site events like book fairs, markets, and on-the-road author events.
Book recommendation: Wonder by R.J. Palacio. “This children's book delivers a powerful message of acceptance and perseverance to all ages.” – Nicole Sullivan, owner and operator
R.J. Julia Booksellers (Madison, Connecticut)
To the staff of R.J. Julia Booksellers, the place isn’t just a bookstore. Instead, it’s a place of discovery. Words matter, writer meets reader, and the selection of books creates a dynamic, welcoming atmosphere. There are many spots to have an enlightening conversation with a fellow book lover, and, of course, just as many to relish a great book during a quiet moment to yourself. Not sure what to pick up? Ask any one of the knowledgeable staff members—their opinionated, varied picks and fierce commitment will make sure you end up with the right book in hand.
Book Recommendation: The Photograph by Penelope Lively. “Not only is it a riveting read, but it’s also a great reminder of how little we know about each other–even our spouses—and how we keep secrets from each other.”— Roxanne Coady, owner
Browseabout Books (Rehoboth Beach, Delaware)
This customer-oriented bookstore is situated only a little more than a block away from the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk. Browseabout Books is filled not only with a meticulously curated selection of reads, but also an eclectic mix of hand-picked toys, stationary, and gifts. Not sure which book you should bring to the beach? Their league of passionate booksellers make sure both locals and tourists alike head to the shore with the right book in hand.
Book recommendation: All Our Wrong Todays, by Elan Mastai. Susan Kehoe, general manager of Browseabout, calls this new twist on the time-travel novel “a smart, fresh, first novel.”
Tate’s Comics (Lauderhill, Florida)
Tate’s Comics has been family-owned and operated since it opened in 1993. At more than 10,000 square feet, it has books, toys, and unique finds for everyone. Though it’s definitely a must-see for any lover of comic books or kitsch, there’s sure to be something for everyone in its eclectic mix of pop culture, art, history, and, of course, comic books.
Book recommendation: Good Night, Batcave by Dave Croatto, “This parody of the timeless children's classic Goodnight Moon follows the same illustration style as the original, but featuring the Batman bad guys that everyone knows and loves in addition to the Batman's bedtime routine in the bat cave. Your little superhero lover will cherish reading it at bedtime!” – Amanda Magnetta-Ottati, co-owner
Little Shop of Stories (Decatur, Georgia)
If you’ve ever wanted to visit the books you’ve read as a child, Little Shop of Stories is the place for you. This magical community bookstore transports guests both young and young at heart into scenes from their favorite childhood books: they have a life-sized Goodnight, Moon room as well as a replica Platform 9 ¾ from Harry Potter. Smaller, enchanting touches, like a penny-paved road, also abound throughout the store.
Book recommendation: The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! by Carmen Arga Deedy. “We love Carmen in no small part because she's a hometown author but most of all because she's a terrific storyteller. The Rooster is her latest, and it showcases what makes her a fantastic writer. We regularly read it at story times, teachers through high school have used it to stimulate classroom discussion, and adults will share it for their love of parable and the recognition of a newly minted classic.” – Madison Hatfield, bookseller
Talk Story Bookstore (Hanapepe, Hawaii)
Don’t plan to just make a quick trip to “the westernmost bookstore in the United States.” The 12-year-old Talk Story Bookstore houses more than 150,000 books (both new, secondhand, and rare), a wide variety of comics, vintage magazines, and even vinyl records. If you stay long enough, you’re sure to find something that’ll suit your mood. Make sure you leave ample time for browsing the eclectic storefront. And before you head to the beach, make sure to say hello to Celeste the Cat, also known as the “boss” of the store (MentalFloss.com named her one of the top 10 bookstore cats in the world!)
Book Recommendation: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz ZafÃ³n. “Books, history, mystery, adventure… what could be better?!” – Ed and Cynthia Justus, co-owners
Rediscovered Books (Boise, Idaho)
What sets Resdicovered Books apart from other Idaho bookstores is its staff. Each employee is skilled, passionate, and knowledgeable. Through the store’s creative events, community partnerships, and book clubs, it’s clear that they’re not just trying to sell books—they’re trying to extend the magic of reading as far as possible. As a Yelp reviewer notes, the staff at this local treasure is “as good as it gets.”
Book recommendation: Idaho by Emily Ruskovich. “This exquisite prose poem of love and tragedy in the mountains of Idaho weaves together multiple voices in a journey to understand what happened to Wade and Jenny’s daughters.” – Laura DeLaney, co-owner and events manager
The Book Table (Oak Park, Illinois)
The story of this suburban Chicago locale is a testament to how a good bookstore will always have customers in a reading community. When The Book Table first opened in 2003, it was a small used and remainder store. But as its larger neighbors closed down, it found itself running out of space. Now a 6,000-square-foot store just one door down from its former location, its vast selection will delight bargain hunters: you’ll find most new books in the store marked down 20 percent off the cover price.
Book recommendation: You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman. “It’s the most fun you'll ever have reading about the alienation of contemporary culture. Simultaneously creepy, hilarious, and mind-blowingly brilliant, this book is the weirdest, wildest, best thing you may ever read.” – Rachel Weaver, on behalf of both owners, store manager, and several current and former staff members
Porter Books & Bread (Indianapolis, Indiana)
Head to Porter Books & Bread for a taste of Indianapolis life. The shelves are filled with local authors, their sandwiches and salads feature produce from other local businesses, and their gifts and tchotchkes are sourced from local artisans. Though they spread the Indy love, their own offerings are something to write home about, too. They make their own bread and baked goods and roast all their coffee in-house. What could be more wonderful than the combination of the smells of old books, fragrant coffee beans, and freshly baked bread?
Book recommendation: Dead Drive by Ross Carley. Indianapolis locals will appreciate the featured local scenery and references to familiar landmarks in this excellently written murder mystery novel, says Will Worley, owner.
Prairie Lights Books (Iowa City, Iowa)
If you love literature, Iowa City is great place to be. It's home to the famed Iowa Writer’s Workshop and has been designated as a UNESCO City of Literature. And it's also home to Prairie Lights Books—a three story building filled with fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for all ages. Since opening in 1978, the store has become both a hangout spot for locals, as well as a tourist attraction for book lovers across the world. It was recently nominated by Publisher’s Weekly for 2017 Bookstore of the Year.
Book recommendation: The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg by Deborah Eisenberg. A Prairie Lights employee endorses Eisenberg for her intimacy, humor, and exceptional awareness of the complexities of our time. Her characters will stick with you. Even though the stories are relatively short, they’re as deep and indelible as a novel.
Watermark Books & Café (Wichita, Kansas)
A part of the Wichita literary scene since 1977, Watermark Books & Café offers customers great books, food, and friends. They have large, inspired audiences for their events and book clubs—which have recently featured notable authors such as Louise Penny, Rick Riordan, and Brit Bennett.
Book recommendation: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. “It’s an intoxicating epic of slender build. The writing is spare and sometimes reads like gospel. By the end of this brilliant book about assimilation and the permanence and impermanence of our lives, I was in tears and had to sit still for a bit to reflect,” Sarah Bagby – Owner
Still mourning the death of Borders Books and Music? Head to Joseph-Beth Booksellers, the bookshop Mary Beth Borders (sister of Tom and Louis, who opened the now-closed mega-chain) and her then-husband Neil Van Uum opened in 1986. Their “palace of books” and stellar staff has made them the centerpiece of spreading literary love throughout Lexington. They’ve recently renovated their kids department which features free events for children almost every day.
Recommendation: Little Oink by Amy Krouse-Rosenthal. “Her books are magical, in both appearance and verse.” – Patrick Burchett, marketing manager
Dauphine Street Books (New Orleans, Louisiana)
This unassuming bookshop is hidden amid the local color of the historic French Quarter. But take a look inside and you’ll be amazed at the meticulous curation. “No space is wasted on junk,” Steve Lacy, 45-year veteran of the used books trade and owner of Dauphine Street Books, told RealSimple.com in an e-mail. “This has always been the guiding principle of the place. We have stacked the deck in the reader’s favor.”
Book recommendation: Lives of the Saints by Nancy Lemann. “It’s become a minor classic of New Orleans literature. A warm, funny evocation of our eccentric city.” – Steve Lacy, owner
Elements: Books Coffee Beer (Biddeford, Maine)
In the four years Elements: Books Coffee Beer has been open, locals have embraced the vibrant space as an essential part of the Biddeford community. And with a great selection of used books, a specialty coffee shop serving up baked goods and tapas, a live music venue, and a craft beer bar with 10 different draft lines, why would you even think of spending your time anywhere else?
Book recommendation: My Life in the Maine Woods: A Game Warden’s Wife in the Allagash Country by Annette Jackson. “This is a collection of humorous, conversational stories from Jackson’s time homesteading, raising children, encountering wildlife, and living in a neighborly way in Maine's remote northern Allagash territory in the 1930s. Jackson was not merely ‘a game warden’s wife’; she was a resourceful, capable sportswoman and nature lover and mother of four children, who managed to thrive in the wilderness of the North Woods. Her story is remarkable and inspiring.” – Katie Pinard, co-owner
The Book Escape (Baltimore, Maryland)
Situated just a stone’s throw away from the inner harbor area of Baltimore in Federal Hill, The Book Escape takes you back a century with its old world charm and friendliness. The store itself occupies two large row houses and offers semi-hidden hallways filled with Civil War prints, a fireplace stocked with special editions, a closet packed with horror books, and other quirky surprises. It even features an “open air reading courtyard” between the two houses—ahh, what a lovely phrase.
Book Recommendation: The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel. A Book Escape staff member praises this book for its fascinating glimpse into the world of breakthrough discoveries in astronomy, and the critical role women played throughout.
Brookline Booksmith (Brookline, Massachusetts)
Founder Marshall Smith first opened this local favorite “dedicated to the fine art of browsing” in 1961. 56 years later, Brookline Booksmith is a community anchor for those “just browsing” for books both used and new, gifts, or even a soul mate! “Nine booksellers have met in the store and eventually married, as have numerous customers!” Dana Brigham, manager and co-owner, told RealSimple.com in an e-mail.
Book recommendation: Next Year for Sure by Zoey Leigh Peterson. “An early contender for favorite book of the year, this novel is an astonishingly delicate balancing act. Every character feels both real and precious. Like holding a baby bird, reading it feels both wonderful and precarious.” – Alex Schaffner, bookseller
John K. King Used & Rare Books (Detroit, Michigan)
Stationed in an old glove factory on the outskirts of Downtown Detroit is John K. King Used & Rare Books. The mammoth bookstore has four floors filled with books—about 1 million books in all, and all of them used. (If you’re a Detroit history or automobile buff, you’ll definitely be able to find some great picks.) Interested in rare books? Head across the alley—you’ll find 30,000 more books including signed presidential books, first editions, incunabula, leather bindings, foredge paintings, and much, much more.
Book recommendation: The Origins of the Urban Crisis, Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit by Thomas J. Sugrue. “It is by far the most honest and accurate account of Detroit's downfall in the last half of the 20th Century (and, simultaneously in other major cities in the “rust belt”). It’s a great read, and probably our most popular title, especially with those who are now moving back to Detroit and trying to turn it around.” – Tom Heitjan, manager
Wild Rumpus (Minneapolis, Minn.)
A chicken, a tarantula, and a ferret walk into a bookstore—that might sound like a start of a joke, but Minneapolis locals know this menagerie of animals simply as Wild Rumpus. The bookstore has been a local favorite of the young (and young at heart) for 25 years. The Twin Cities-area bookstore is the only children-focused shop to ever be nominated for Publisher’s Weekly’s Bookstore of the Year.
Book recommendation: The Salamander Room by Ann Mazer “The architecture and design of our store’s interior was inspired by this book,” – Drew Sieplinga, events coordinator
Square Books (Oxford, Mississippi)
For a town counting a long list of prolific writers (William Faulkner and John Grisham, for example) as residents, it’s not surprising that Oxford is home to an incredible bookstore. Well three bookstores, actually. Square Books operates as three stores in three different buildings, about 100 feet apart on the historic town square: the two-floor main store features works by Mississippi writers, American South-centric picks, as well as other genres; Off Square Books, is home to the lifestyle section that also has hosted a live weekly radio show for 19 years; and Square Books Jr., is the 3,500-square-foot children’s bookstore that hosts story time “without fail” every Wednesday and Saturday. “Every kid who walks in there believes it is their store,” says Richard Howorth, owner. “And it is.”
Book recommendation: Signals, New & Selected Stories by Tim Gautreaux. “From one of our greatest living writers in the South, a keeper collection of twelve new stories combined with eight from previous books that mostly hew to Gautreaux' signature material of seemingly plain folk in Louisiana, where the human and the natural world come to abundant and colorful display.” – Cody Morrison, bookstore buyer
Left Bank Books (St. Louis, Missouri)
Left Bank Books, St. Louis’ largest, oldest, independently owned bookstore opened in 1969 by a group of Washington University graduate students. Since then, it’s transformed into a cultural institution. They produce more than 300 local events featuring a large variety of guests— notable authors, local poets, and even state dignitaries (both Hillary Clinton and Jimmy Carter have made appearances)—per year. But their community focus goes beyond the store, too. The shop started the Left Bank Book Foundation dedicated to promoting literacy and the literary arts for all St. Louis residents in 2008.
Book recommendation: A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline. “Inspired by the true story behind the subject of Andrew Wyeth’s iconic painting Christina’s World (1948), we get to see a picture of mid-century Americana in all of its beauty. It definitely made me want to get away from the world, shut off the internet, ignore the cars driving by, light a candle and wrap up in a blanket and just read.”— Shane Mullen, event host
The Book Peddler (West Yellowstone, Montana)
What do you get when you combine an interior designer who loves to bake and her husband, an avid reader? The Book Peddler. Sit and sip a salted caramel mocha at the cafÃ© or eat a homemade cinnamon roll while you browse their well-stocked shelves. Love the vintage vibe of the joint? There are antique home decor pieces available to purchase, scattered alongside the books.
Book recommendation: Blind Your Ponies by Gordon Stanley West. “This fictional story about a small town basketball team’s drive to success is well-written and well-loved by many of our customers. We sell that book all the time.” —Amy Jackson, co-owner
Indigo Bridge Books and Café (Lincoln, Nebraska)
Want a bookstore that really gives back? Try Indigo Bridge Books, the locally-loved bookstore run with a conscience. The staff commits the work they do in hopes of bringing people together. For example, they host community book clubs that focus on issues important to their city and a bilingual storytime every Saturday morning. They also donate 100 percent of the profits from their coffee sales to local literacy outreach.
Book recommendation: The Handmaid’s Taleby Margaret Atwood. “An oldie, but a goody that has made a comeback because an upcoming television series. It's a fairly short read and Atwood is a master wordsmith.” —Aja Martin, manager
The Writer’s Block (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Looking for a kid-friendly attraction in Las Vegas? Want to escape the glitz and glamour of the Strip? Head to The Writer’s Block—the city’s only general interest, indie bookshop. You and your kids can delight in its artificial bird sanctuary in the world, where, for a nominal fee, you can adopt a faux fowl, complete with a unique biography. The store also offers free creative writing workshops (think books, comics, and screenplays) and activities for ages 5 to 18.
Book recommendation: We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride. This novel written by McBride, a Vegas-based author, is one of The Writer’s Block’s lifetime bestsellers. (Note: Her follow up ‘Round Midnight releases in May.) “It offers one of the most complex depictions of ‘local’ Las Vegas of all the literary works dedicated to the topic. ” —Drew Cohen, staff buyer
Water Street Bookstore (Exeter, New Hampshire)
Not into the novel du jour? Check out Water Street Bookstore, the largest independent bookstore on the Seacoast of New Hampshire. The bookseller prides itself on its large under-the radar-collection (Think compelling non-fiction, relatively unknown independent publishers, and up-and-coming local authors.)
Book recommendation: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. “This novel about a world ravaged by a deadly flu virus brings the reader to such depths, high and low. You'll feel absolute fear and terror, sinking feelings of dread and hopelessness for the characters and for our own world, but also touching, tender moments, powerful in their ability to remind us that people really are okay—good, even. It's a remarkable novel, and reading it is truly an experience.” —Stefanie Schmidt, manager
Word Bookstore (Jersey City, New Jersey)
Rather than thinking of itself as just a place to buy books, Word thinks of itself as Newark Avenue’s neighborhood gathering spot. From weekly storytimes to their nine different book groups, the store is all about spending time with your neighbors. Their store centers around a seated café with shelves of books and displays of gifts, stationery, and home decor surrounding it. Visiting from out of town? Head into New York and check out their sister store in Brooklyn that even hosts a Gilmore Girls book club!
Book recommendation: How Soon Is Now:From Personal Initiation to Global Transformation by Daniel Pinchbeck. “It’s a call for fundamental change to human culture which outlines a redesign of our current systems: agriculture, energy, politics, metaphysics, you name it. Pinchbeck invites us to address where we are and reimagine dominant ideologies for a better world.” —Camille Drummond, events and PR director