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San Francisco Sights

City Lights Bookstore

  • 261 Columbus Ave. Map It
  • North Beach
  • Store/Shop/Mall
  • Fodor's Choice

Updated 05/05/2014

Fodor's Review

Take a look at the exterior of the store: the replica of a revolutionary mural destroyed in Chiapas, Mexico, by military forces; the art banners hanging above the windows; and the sign that says "Turn your sell [sic] phone off. Be here now." This place isn't just doling out best sellers. Designated a city landmark, the hangout of Beat-era writers—Allen Ginsberg and store founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti among them—and independent publisher remains a vital part of San

Francisco's literary scene. Browse the three levels of sometimes haphazardly arranged poetry, philosophy, politics, fiction, history, and local zines, to the tune of creaking wood floors. Be sure to check the calendar of literary events.

Back in the day, the basement was a kind of literary living room, where writers like Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac would read and even receive mail. Ferlinghetti cemented City Lights' place in history by publishing Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems in 1956. The small volume was ignored in the mainstream... until Ferlinghetti and the bookstore manager were arrested for obscenity and corruption of youth. In the landmark First Amendment trial that followed, the judge exonerated both men, declaring that a work that has "redeeming social significance" can't be obscene. Howl went on to become a classic.

Stroll Kerouac Alley, branching off Columbus Avenue next to City Lights, to read the quotes from Ferlinghetti, Maya Angelou, Confucius, John Steinbeck, and the street's namesake embedded in the pavement.

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Sight Information


261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco, California, 94133, United States

Map It



Sight Details:

  • Daily 10 am–midnight

Updated 05/05/2014


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Fodorite Reviews

Average Rating
  • Service

  • Food

  • Décor

  • Value

Sep 6, 2003

Historic, browsable

This place feels like a real bookstore -- eminently browsable along with the feeling of Beat history.

By Bill

  • Service

  • Food

  • Décor

  • Value

Jan 20, 2003

Best store

The best bookstore in the city.

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