City Lights: San Francisco’s Beat Bookstore

A trip to San Francisco is never complete without visiting its most famous bookstore: City Lights.  There are only a few “famous” bookstores on this planet-Powell’s in Portland, Shakespeare & Co. in Paris-but City Lights is my favorite.

Located in North Beach, this literary landmark served as the headquarters of the beat generation during the 1950s and 60s.  Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, and countless other poets and beatniks whiled away the hours here, penning literature and poetry which would remain long after passing away themselves.   City Lights is perhaps most famous for publishing Ginsberg’s classic, Howl-for which the bookstore later faced obscenity charges. 

Because of the important role City Lights played in nurturing Beat Literature and protecting the First Amendment rights lost by such authors, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors bestowed upon it Landmark status in 2001-the only bookstore in America to receive such an accolade. 

Today, City Lights remains much as it did fifty years ago.  Its dark wood and homey interior creates the perfect atmosphere for browsing an outstanding collection of books.  My favorite section, “European Literature” contains just that.  I can’t tell you how many new authors I’ve discovered just by browsing this section and picking out authors with strangely spelled Czech, Russian, or French names.