You’re a graduate student so, more likely than not, you read for a living. You’re also at Cal, which means you have an ungodly number of books at your disposal. Still, sometimes the only refuge from books is with books. For those occasions, City Lights in San Francisco is the place to be.
City Lights is an independent bookstore and publisher that prides itself on its collection of world literature and books on the arts and progressive politics.
It’s a historical landmark that gained notoriety in the 1950s when the store’s founder and owner, poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, published Allen Ginsberg’s controversial Howl and Other Poems. In a headline-grabbing case that drew national attention, Judge Clayton W. Horn ruled that publication of Howl was protected under the First Amendment. Only Ferlinghetti was tried, as Ginsberg was overseas, but for decades thereafter, Ginsberg published poetry with City Lights.
In homage to San Francisco’s literary renaissance and the Beat Poets who gave the bookstore its name, Ferlinghetti himself among them, the store has a wall dedicated to the Beat Generation.
The ground floor of City Lights is dedicated to fiction. Where another store might have just one book by Naguib Mahfouz, here, you’ll find ten. There’s also a shelf devoted strictly to new volumes published by City Lights. Upstairs is a cozy poetry room and downstairs you’ll find their non-fiction collection.
There are seats everywhere and signs on the walls invite bibliophiles to get cozy with a book. You’ll see some patrons reading silently and still others seated, deep into conversations about Auden or Marx.
City Lights is a place to visit and revisit. So the next time you get lost in the City, find your way to City Lights and lose yourself in a book.
City Lights Booksellers and Publishers
261 Columbus Avenue.
San Francisco, CA 94133
Parking is a bit sparse in North Beach, so if you’re coming from Berkeley, the best way is via BART. You can walk to the bookstore from the Montgomery BART station. It’s also nestled in the Little Italy, so enjoy a delicious meal while you’re in the neighborhood.