A Guide to San Diego Bookstores
Embodying the ultimate perusing experience, locally created works of art ranging from paintings to photographs line the stunning walls of this vintage literary oasis among San Diego Bookstores. Without further ado, Verbatim Books showcases used and rare titles with an eclectic range of gently-loved and antiquarian books. They rather notably carry titles from over 200 local authors and offer visitors a zine corner that’s full of stuff made by local zine and chapbook creators, as well as some of the best from micro-distributors.
Lacking an online inventory to sift through, Verbatim operates under the belief that one of the benefits to being a brick-and-mortar bookstore in the age of instant gratification is having the ability to curate an experience rife with the pleasures of browsing the unknown and unfamiliar, and the joy of discovering something new.
This creaky-floored space on 5th Avenue has been a bookstore since 1967 and has been owned by Kris Nelson for 22 years. She was raised and schooled in east San Diego, and after wandering the Earth awhile, returned home to purchase a bookshop in the vibrant community of Hillcrest. Used books, a selection of new books and recent releases, greetings cards & postcards, booky gift items & antique items all flow in and ultimately find new homes with Blustocking’s book-loving community, both local and far-flung. Nelson Loves the variety and unpredictability of used bookstores but carries new books & magazines too, in order to take part in the world’s current happenings.
Nestled in the seaside village of La Jolla, and a premier destination among San Diego bookstores, Warwick’s is the country’s oldest continuously family-owned and operated bookstore – with over 125 years under its belt. In addition to a highly curated selection of printed titles, their shop regularly hosts spectacular author events and signings throughout the year. Beyond the infinite realm of books, Warwick’s is locally cherished for its extensive, beautiful, and unusual selection of gifts, jewelry, stationery, fine pens, leather, office and art supplies.
Maxwell’s House of Books
With an ever-changing inventory, dependably low prices, and bulk purchase discounts, this title-laden La Mesa oasis is a must-stop destination for veteran bibliophiles and novice printed treasure hunters alike. If you don’t take our word for it, the Huffington Post recently ranked Maxwell’s House of Books among the top 50 indie bookstores in America! The shop is owned and run by Craig Maxwell, the grandson of Vernon Wahrenbrock, who founded Wahrenbrock’s Book House in 1935, which was one of San Diego’s oldest and largest bookstores.
Whether you want to get lost in a Christie mystery, a Shakespearean drama, an academic jewel, or study philosophy, history, literature, psychology, and beyond, be sure to visit!
The Book Catapult
In 2006, while working at an independent bookstore in La Jolla, Seth Marko decided he wanted an outlet for writing about the books he’d read, the book industry in general, and life as a bookseller, so he started a blog called The Book Catapult. After years of developing a following then later hosting world-famous authors among other bookish events at numerous San Diego bookstores, Marko took a break from his blog’s success to start a family and ponder his next move. He and his wife ultimately bought the South Pak neighborhood’s West Grove Collective – a boutique shop with a modest mix of books – from the longtime owner in October 2017 and reopened as The Book Catapult.
D.G. Wills Books
D.G.Wills Books reflects fond memories of Blackwell’s bookstore in Oxford, England as well as the late great bookstores, now gone, on lower Fourth Avenue in New York, so says the La Jolla landmark’s self-penned Yelp description. A step inside gives way to countless classic books of every genre neatly shelved or piled high upon counters, all set amidst this vintage Americana atmosphere accentuated by a rustic redwood-beamed cathedral ceiling and old tools strewn about the shop. Best of luck searching for the secret bookcase door that leads to the warehouse area.
La Playa Books
Having first opened its doors in October 2016, La Playa Books is owned and operated by a family that’s been living in San Diego since as far back as 1886. While browsing their jam-packed shelves, you’re sure to stumble across hard to come by used and out-of-print books, along with a sprinkling of recent releases and gifts. La Playa regularly participates in offsite literary events, hosts quarterly art openings, and occasionally arranges a gathering named Books & Brews, which only naturally takes place at one of America’s finest city’s local breweries. They also manage an online inventory on their website so feel free to shop the store from home and pick orders up when most convenient.
Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore
Founded in 1992, Mysterious Galaxy is an independent genre bookstore specializing in science fiction, fantasy, mystery, young adult, romance, and horror. The team here is dedicated to providing readers and book collectors with a great selection of books as well as the unique opportunity to meet many of their favorite writers through author events. It is through these events, conventions, and directly from publishers that they are able to provide many signed first editions.
Selling and buying books and ephemera since the early 90s, Footnote Books is located at the former site of the legendary Hillcrest comic shop Comic Kingdom, which was started by Comic Con co-founder Richard Alf in 1975. The shop may not be as strictly organized as others, but there’s comfort in their uniquely hand-shelved, walk-in box of literary chocolates type atmosphere, and seeing Footnote is filled to the brim with rare and interesting reads of all sorts, the staff is certainly friendly, knowledgable, and very helpful when searching for any particular title.
Diesel, A Bookstore
Having first opened in Northern California in 1989, DIESEL operates two Southern California stores, including the spacious, aesthetically arranged readers hub in Del Mar. The brand is known for being home to a fascinating selection of titles, stunning author events, enthusiastically diverse staff, and a west coast urban aesthetic. On the first Tuesday of every month, they host an adults book group, meanwhile, each Thursday and Sunday there is a children’s storytime.
Bay Books Coronado
A reader’s outpost dug in on Coronado Island, Bay Books carries a broad selection of titles, from the latest bestsellers to established timeless classics. They proudly display an extensive children’s section teeming with fascinating books and toys for all ages. Bay Books’ military history selection is likewise excellent and in support of our servicemen and servicewomen at the nearby North Island Naval Air Station, MCRD, MCAS Miramar, and at the Naval Amphibious Base. Don’t forget to treat yourself to a delicious cup of freshly brewed coffee from the shop’s cozy little cafe!
Tucked away in the shadows of Carlsbad Village is Lhooq Books, one of the most interesting literary venues you may ever stumble upon. In addition to being North County’s creative haven, they offer some 50,000 new, used, rare, obscure, and hard-to-find contemporary works in all genres and nonfiction topics. Hidden gems such as the final hand-typed draft of the “Pulp Fiction” screenplay with Quentin Tarantino’s handwritten notes, a very rare leatherette of Edgar Allan Poe, and a hardcover first edition first printing of “Catcher in the Rye” are all known to be in the shop’s possession.
Farenheit 451 Bookstore
Intentionally misspelled, Farenheit 451, nestled just sandy steps from Southern California’s gorgeous Pacific coast, is a reader’s sanctuary lined with shelf after shelf of books periodically complemented by a comfy chair. Rather than being in homage to Ray Bradbury’s bestselling story, the book shop owes its name to a fire that claimed the owners’ home roughly three years prior to opening day. To whom it may concern, this candy store for the mind does restorations and repairs of books as well as offers appraisals on those titles potentially scarce or rare.
Formerly known as Book Tales book store in Encinitas, Artifact Books carries a wide selection of first-edition, vintage, rare, and used books in all genres. The shop is situated on a corner belonging to California’s famous Pacific Coast Highway, at the heart of bustling downtown Encinitas, and in close proximity to a favorite slice of paradise among locals, D Street Beach. From non-fiction to literary classics, young adult to Sci-Fi, mystery to fantasy, romance to horror, paperbacks to hardcover first editions, they’ve got what you’re looking for at a great price.
BookOff originally started out selling gently used Japanese comics, manga, toys, games, and books, and since expanding throughout the United States, now offers a wider variety of collectible items and promising reads. From home improvement and cooking to business and self-help, visitors of all walks are sure to stumble across an exciting find worth paying an affordable price for. If you’re interested in decluttering that fairly crowded shelf at home and hoping to earn a quick buck in the process, they do buy people’s gently used books, among other memorabilia!
If you enjoyed this guide to the best San Diego bookstores, be sure to check out our piece on JFK’s reading obsession!