This one’s for you, reader.
America is a land of storytellers, writers, and poets. It celebrates literature in its libraries, bookstores, cafes, and lit festivals. For bibliophiles, it means that you can fill your travel days walking in the footsteps of your favorite authors, discover new books at independent bookstores, and meet interesting authors–or simply find a quiet place to read.
This is a list of cities that are perfect for book lovers: places known for the authors who produced their best works here; destinations immortalized in books; communities with a deep love for literature. So, pick up the torch you carry for the written word and take it to some of these corners of the U.S.—these cities will illuminate your world.
Top Picks for You
New York City
Goes without saying, right? New York is the center of publishing in the U.S., but it’s so much more than that. The city has such a personality that it appears to be a character in books, its soul woven in the spine. Pick up F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence, or Colson Whitehead’s Harlem Shuffle, and you’ll experience New York.
Once you get here, there’s a never-ending list of things to do: watch Shakespeare in the Park, visit The Strand or Three Lives and Company, attend the Brooklyn Book Festival, spend some time in the New York Public Library, go on a literary tour of Greenwich Village, see the spots that Edgar Allan Poe frequented, and book-spot on the subway.
Seattle is a UNESCO City of Literature, the second U.S. city to be given the honor. The Central Library is an institution that everyone—reader and non-reader—should have on their itinerary. It’s an 11-level glass-and-steel building that has the capacity to house over 1.5 million books. But that’s not the only reason Seattle is on this list.
The city has a civic poet. The program appoints a poet who engages with the community and serves as an ambassador for two years. The culturally-rich city has many centers for writers, including Hugo House, which provides free classes and workshops. In addition, Seattle hosts book readings, literary festivals, and author events. If you’re looking for a place to read that’s not a library, you’ll find book cafes and even book-themed pubs—check out Ada’s Technical Books & Cafe and Mr. Darcy’s Wine Bar.
Now you know why, in an analysis by Lawn Love, Seattle earned the second spot on the list of Best Cities for Book Lovers 2022.
Chicago has inspired many writers and it has had a vibrant literary culture since its literary renaissance in the early 1900s. Poet Carl Sandburg wrote an eponymous poem on the city and the house where he lived for three years and produced this poem is a Chicago landmark. Just outside of the city in Oak Park, Ernest Hemingway was born—his house is now a museum you can visit. The American Writers Museum, the Poetry Foundation, the Newberry Library, and the Chicago Public Library are some of the other literary sites that make the city a haven for book lovers.
There are plenty of independent bookstores in Chicago, such as Semicolon, Open Books, and Sandmeyer’s. They host events with new and established authors and have open mics and readings. The Printers Row Lit Fest is the biggest free outdoor lit fest in the Midwest and it headlines great authors every year. You’ll also love book cafes like Dollop and Build Coffee.
Iowa City, Iowa
The first American city designated the UNESCO City of Literature is Iowa City. The city has a historic connection with literature. It is home to the first creative degree program in the U.S., founded in 1936. The University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop has given the world 17 Pulitzer Prize winners and hundreds of award-winning authors. The university also has an international writing program and offers an annual $10,000 Paul Engle Prize to a writer.
Bookworms, you’ll appreciate the Literary Walk that celebrates 49 authors with quotes on the sidewalk, the multi-day Iowa City Book Festival, and the independent Prairie Lights Bookshop, which has been a place of conversation and culture since 1978.
Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas
A multicultural city, Dallas has an exciting literary scene. Bookstores and libraries are the hub of activity. At the center of it all is the eight-story J. Erik Jonsson Central Library—the first public library in Dallas and the venue for the Dallas Book Festival. Also, a must-visit is the Rosedale Rare Books, an indie bookshop with antiques, out-of-prints, and first-edition titles. Stop by indie bookstore-bar The Wild Detective to browse at new titles, get a drink, and attend a reading. Deep Vellum is a non-profit that publishes interesting works, hosts authors, and always has a calendar full of events—someone will point you into the direction of a scintillating book if you pop into its store in Dallas.
If you want to see writers live in action, check out the LitNight Reading Series that’s hosted every month. There’s also the weekly DFW Writers’ Workshop—currently being held on Zoom—that gets a group of writers together to read each other’s work and critique it.
Head over to Fort Worth to continue your literary adventures. Leaves Book & Tea Shop is a tea shop-cum-independent bookstore—there’s no wi-fi but there are afternoons with authors, used book swaps, monthly story times, book clubs, and writers’ groups. Opened in 2008, The Dock Bookshop is the largest Black-owned bookstore in Texas and it brings authors for book signings and hosts literary events. If you’re staying in Fort Worth for long, join a book club and become a part of the community.
One of the oldest cities in the U.S., Boston is synonymous with the Freedom Trail, Red Sox, and America’s oldest public park, Boston Common. It gets its bookish reputation from its 30+ universities and colleges—Harvard and MIT are across the river in Cambridge.
Founded in 1848, the Boston Public Library was the U.S.’ first large free public library. Since 1895, the Central Library in Copley Square has been a landmark in the city, its extensive collection, live events, and architecture drawing people in. Go on an arts and architecture tour to explore its beautiful inner courtyard, the reading room on the second floor, and the yellow marble staircase hall. Boston Athenaeum is one of the country’s oldest independent libraries (open since 1807). You need a membership to explore it fully, but the ground floor is open to the public.
The first bookshop on your list should be the one with a pencil on its facade—Brattle Bookshop is one of America’s oldest and shelters more than 250,000 books and artifacts. Frugal Bookstore is a family-run establishment that hosts plenty of events to keep readers engaged. An independent bookstore selling new and used books since 1932, Harvard Book Store is another unmissable stop. Inkling for more? Bookmark the dates for the Boston Book Festival, the Lit Crawl Boston, and the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair.
Reading is a way of life in Portland. And why not? The city hosts the Portland Book Festival every November and more than a hundred local and national authors are seen hanging out at different venues, while thousands of people buy books, attend readings, and debate plots and literary devices. A hybrid fest this year, there were virtual and in-person events, such as live-streamed discussions and writing workshops.
But it’s not just a fall book fever—Portland loves its literature all year round. A Portland giant is Powell’s City of Books that covers a whole block, occupying a 68,000-square-foot space. There are over 3,500 sections in the world’s largest used and new bookstore on three floors and nine rooms. Take some time out to check out new and used books (as well as priceless collectibles stored in Rare Book Room). Of course, there are more bookstores in the city where you can find gems—step into Broadway Books and Annie Bloom’s Books for the whole You’ve Got Mail vibe. Now’s the time to cozy up in a quiet corner, so take a table at cutesy Dragonfly Coffee House with your next pick.
Literary Arts, a non-profit literary organization in the city, plays a role in promoting literature and stroking creativity with programs such as Portland Arts & Lectures, Oregon Book Awards & Fellowships, writing classes, and Delve Readers Seminars. In 2014, it acquired the book festival to keep the thriving readers’ community engaged.
Another college town is ramping up the bookish culture! You’ll always see people with a book in hand here, and the atmosphere will give goosebumps to any bookworm.
Berkeley is home to the Bay Area Book Festival, a two-day event with 250-300 authors for panels and keynotes, an outdoor fair, and kids’ activities. The UC Berkeley Library is accessible to the public, and the Central Library also deserves a visit if you’re out on a book adventure. There are interesting bookstores in the city, as you’d expect.
Moe’s Books and Pegasus will come up often when you talk about a cheerful, neighborly bookstore. Both amplify the reading culture in Berkeley and have a buy-back policy. They also host events and readings, so definitely keep an eye on their calendar. Non-profit Friends of the Berkeley Public Library runs two used bookshops that are perfect for casual browsing—if you buy anything (cash only), the proceeds will fund community programs.