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When it comes to well-read cities, Seattle tops the list. We love our books and even have a celebrity librarian! And while Seattle doesn’t have a bookstore that beats Powell’s City of Books in Portland for sheer magnitude, we do have some great places to search the stacks.
Here are the best bookstores in Seattle (Seattle independent bookstores that aren’t Amazon or Barnes & Noble, that is.)
I’ll confess in advance that one of the selections isn’t actually a bookstore — but, somehow, vintage paper goods store seemed a close cousin to a bookstore, and I fell in love! You also won’t find the fantastic Eagle Harbor Books on Bainbridge Island in this post, though it’s only a short ferry ride away. I’m saving it for a later post on Kitsap County bookstores!
When I think of the term “city of literature,” what comes to mind tends to be places like London with its considerable literary heritage, the Bath of Jane Austen, Victor Hugo’s Paris, or the many publishing houses of New York.
But did you know that Seattle is an official UNESCO “city of literature?”
Seattle received the designation in 2017 after an active campaign for the title. The title reflects innovations in literature going on in today’s Seattle vs. literary history and opens up new avenues for international cooperation on literary fronts. Seattle boasts numerous authors and a very literate population. So it’s not surprising we have some great bookstores.
While Powell’s City of Books in Portland still tops our list for our favorite Pacific Northwest bookstore, these independent Seattle bookstores are the best bookstores in Seattle.
Yes, we’ll admit we order from Amazon and sometimes shop at Barnes and Noble — but we prefer to visit independent bookstores both to “shop local,” and for their atmosphere.
Elliott Bay Book Company
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1521 10th Ave, Seattle, WA 98122 New Books
Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Company opened its doors in Pioneer Square in 1973. Growing up in Seattle, I recall taking the bus downtown and browsing its shelves. Maybe I was smaller, but I remember books up to the ceiling.
The store moved in 2010 to its present location in Capitol Hill. However, something about the store still retains the feeling of the original shop — maybe it’s the high wood-beam ceiling, or maybe its the original stained glass window from the Pioneer Square shop (at least, I think it is!) that greets you when you enter (or, who knows, perhaps it’s the books!)
The shop hosts numerous events, from authors to book clubs.
What We Like…Besides the Books
We love the open, rustic, wood interior with its high beam ceilings. We also love the look of its cafe — though we didn’t stop to eat, it seems a great place to sit down with your newly-purchased tome and sip your espresso.
I bought a couple of cute handmade greeting cards and a copy of the Book of Lost Things by John Connolly. I haven’t yet read it, so I can’t give a review!
Third Place Books
6504 20th Ave NE, Seattle WA 98115 New Books Used Books
Third Place Books also has Lake Forest Park and Seward Park Locations — both locations are lovely places for the book lover to browse — but we’re talking about the Seattle Ravenna-area location here.
What We Like
This is one of the best bookstores in Seattle because of its variety of selection from used to new books as well — we found plenty of surprises here that we didn’t expect, and it has a charming children’s section. We also LOVE the cafe, which sports a cozy fireplace and an area adjacent to the cafe that appears just made for connecting to wi-fi and getting some writing done. If I still lived nearby, I might be sitting there right now!
I looked for, found, and bought a used copy of the Seattle Sketcher, a box of Lingo French language playing cards, two small Moleskine notebooks , and a used copy of the Art of the Wasted Day by Patricia Hampl. I hope it will inspire me to get back to doing nothing sometimes. Doing nothing is much harder than it sounds!
Kinokuniya Books at Uwajimaya
Located inside Uwajimaya Village at Uwajimaya Village, 525 S Weller St, Seattle, WA 98104 New Books
If the criteria for selecting the best bookstores in Seattle was how many times we visited, Kinokuniya would be at the top of the list. My daughter is both a fervent fan of Anime and Manga and studying Japanese, so we end up here on almost every trip to Seattle.
Kinokuniya Seattle is one of many bookstores in this chain — there’s also now another Pacific Northwest location in Portland — and is located inside Uwajimaya Village in Seattle’s International District. So if toys and books aren’t your things, you can also get some grocery shopping done.
What We Like
If you’re into things Japanese, this is the place for you! Kinokuniya has an extensive selection of manga, both in Japanese and English, Books about Japan, cooking, art, Japanse-language magazines, and a wide variety of paper goods, calligraphy supplies, and the like. They also have plenty of toys that will appeal to people who like manga and anime. Kinokuniya USA is an official retail partner of Studio Ghibli, so you’ll find plenty of Totoro, Spirited Away, and Kiki merchandise here alongside action figures and toys from various video games and anime series.
While my daughter is very private and doesn’t want me publishing her manga selections, I can say that I’ve had my eye on a giant Pacific Octopus plushie here. I also purchased a mug/tea strainer set, on which my spirit animal, the sloth, offers the sage advice “Live Slow, Die Whenever .”
Twice Sold Tales
1833 Harvard Ave, Seattle, WA 98122 Used Books
I recall going into Twice Sold Tales’ original location in Capitol Hill in the late 80s/early 90s — the store opened after owner Jamie Lutton started selling used books out of a cart in the Capitol Hill area in 1987.
The original location has long since moved — it’s now located on Harvard Avenue (with an additional location in Ballard), but its primary attraction (other than used books) still exists…
What We Like: Cats, Cats, Cats (and used books)
I suspect some of the people that come into Twice Sold Tales are ailurophiles (cat lovers) rather than bibliophiles. Walking among the stacks of old books are plenty of feline friends. In the shop, you’ll find a yellow door with a smaller door at the bottom leading to the catbox. The contents of the catbox are dedicated to Stranger writer Cristopher Frizelle. What does it say about you or your writing if someone dedicates the contents of a kitty-litter box to you? I’m not sure I would want this dubious honor!
4326 University Way, Seattle, WA 98105 New Books
…and I know there are some used ones in there somewhere…at least behind the textbook counter!
You’ll notice that University Bookstore likes to boast about being Seattle’s first bookstore. It opened in Denny Hall in 1900 and has been at its present location since 1924, so it has a rightful claim to those bragging rights!
During my recent visit there, the upstairs was roped off, but peering beyond the ropes brought back memories of picking up used textbooks here during my college years at “U-Dub.”
What We Like
Other than the vast selection of books…we like the cafe, though it seems a bit more “Starbucks-ish” than the cozy cafe of First Place Books, for instance. We also appreciated the handpainted mural on one sloping wall featuring the Eye of Sauron and the ring inscription from Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately, my photo turned out blurry, so you’ll have to find it for yourself.
Left Bank Books
92 Pike St # B, Seattle, WA 98101 New Books Used Books
Nestled into the right bank of shops if you’re facing the Pike Place Market sign is Left Bank Books — a quirky bookstore that specializes in “anti-authoritarian, anarchist, independent, radical, and small-press titles.”
The shop features an upstairs with a balcony of books peering down into the shop’s unusual assortment of titles. It’s an excellent place for what I like to think of as “book serendipity,” — you never know what you’re going to find!
What We Like
There’s much to love about Left Bank Books. I love the atmosphere, the shelf of small press poetry in the back of the store, the upstairs window seat, the anti-Starbucks sign (though, yes, I confess I frequent Starbucks,) the case with rare and signed editions…the list goes on.
1408 NE 42nd St, Seattle, WA 98105 Used Books
Magus Books’ exterior with a green window in Ivy-covered brick-fronted University District location suggests it might be the kind of bookstore where you just might find something magical. As a used bookstore, what you will find here varies from time to time. Its selection of books seems to include all categories.
What We Like
Besides the books — we like the shop exterior, the friendly staff, the little wizard in front of the store, and their shelf of recommended reading by Nancy Pearl — Seattle’s celebrity librarian (yes, Seattle has a celebrity librarian!) and inspiration for the librarian action figure.
What We Bought
We bought a used book about making crepes and this “Sexy Librarian Candle .” Apparently, a sexy librarian smells like mint, nutmeg, and citrus!
Old Seattle Paperworks
1501 Pike Pl # 424, Seattle, WA 98101 (located inside the Pike Place Market)
While Old Seattle Paperworks isn’t truly a bookstore, I couldn’t resist listing it here as it will likely appeal to the type of person who likes old books. What you will find here are old paper goods — but what I love here are the Vintage ads in a wide variety of categories. My husband loved the 1950s-era beer ads he received this Christmas.
What We Like
The jumble of old records, posters, and, especially, vintage ads.
As I mentioned, my husband received beer ads for Christmas this year, but my favorite find was this gem:
Mercer Street Books
7 Mercer St, Seattle, WA 98109 Used Books