The book lover’s guide to Seattle
Here’s what I didn’t realise before visiting this city – there are a lot of bookstores in Seattle. It’s not even an influx of big chain bookstores – although you’ll definitely find these if you go looking – it’s small, local, independently run bookshops, selling old books, new books, and everything in between. We didn’t set out to tour the bookshops around the city, but after our second day we realised just how much there was to see. So we changed course and made sure to find the best stores to visit before we had to leave.
Keep reading for your guide to bookstores in different areas around Seattle!
Being a book tourist
When I was a child on family holidays, walks through towns and streets of new, unfamiliar places were always interrupted at the sight of a bookshop. It didn’t matter what city we were in, what the local language was or whether or not we could understand anything written inside the pages of the books. We were always brought to a halt by one person, who simply couldn’t resist going in. My dad’s love of books drew him towards the shelves, towards any book he could pick up, fan the pages, and inhale the unmistakable smell of a paperback. A lot of childhood memories at home also centre around bookshops – being deposited at the children’s corner of Eason’s on O’Connell Street in Dublin while he browsed, and holding up the book I wanted when he came back. A love of books has been ingrained in me and now the bookstore, any bookstore, is my favourite place to visit. And this habit of gravitating towards a bookshop while travelling has been passed on to me.
See your guide to bookstores in Seattle by area below!
Seattle Public Library
Address: 1000 Fourth Ave., Seattle, WA 98104
This is one of the most incredible libraries I’ve been to. I was so excited by it that we visited twice. I was so impressed by the love (and money) that has gone into creating such a great public service. I have never been anywhere like it, and the people of Seattle are so fortunate to have this in their town. This place is huge and basically has everything you could think of. It’s worth your while to go in and explore, especially on a rainy day!
Here is the Byrnewithme guide to Seattle Public Library:
- When you enter, make your way up to level 10 (yes! 10 floors!). This is where you’ll find the reading room, but also where you’ll get a real sense of the architecture from the inside. Then you can start to make your way down using the stairs – it can be a bit confusing but there are a few different ways to make your way down the levels on foot – you’ll figure it out!
- Stop off on level 9 and look for the phonebooks. Search for your country or hometown and see if you can find your family! We found our family members in Irish phone books that went back to the 80’s.
- When you\’re finished, continue your way downstairs until you get to level 6 and take a walk amongst the shelves of old magazines and newspapers. We found copies of The Dublin Review that date back to the 1800s – you really never know what you’ll find!
- When you’re done, head to the fourth floor, also known as the red floor – you’ll soon find out why. Finally, go to the ‘Friends of the Seattle Public Library\’ store on level 3 and browse the wonderful bookish merchandise. I got a pin for my backpack to remember my visit because I loved it that much.
You could spend hours exploring this library, and there’s so much to discover. If you love books, history, or a good unknown treasure hunt, then you have to add the Seattle Public Library to your list.
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Pike Place Market
Address: 1514 Pike Place # 14, Seattle, WA 98101
This was one of the first bookshops I went into while in Seattle. Lamplight Books is a used bookstore, and I was so excited about the amazing selection that they had. You’ll be spoilt for choice with some of the great titles you could find. I got a copy of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking in perfect condition for $8 (I did not have the space or the weight allowance in any of my suitcases but I couldn’t resist). The prices are great, but if you’re really on a budget, there is a shelf of $1 books outside. Sometimes used bookstores can be hit and miss, but I have no doubt anyone could find something they love in Lamplight Books.
Left Bank Books
Address: 92 Pike St # B, Seattle, WA 98101, USA
Left Bank Books just outside Pike Place Market is a collectively operated store. Left Bank describe themselves as an “anarchist collective”, with no bosses or managers. Everyone works together to keep the store running, and a lot of people volunteer each week. Inside you’ll find a mix of new and old books with radical, anarchist, anti-authoritarian themes. There are also small pamphlets, zines, and literary magazines. This is an interesting place to stop and browse, especially if you’re interested in radical politics.There are more bookstores in and around Pike Place to visit as you make your way around the different sections of the market, but these two left the biggest impression on me.
The Elliott Bay Book Company
Address: 1521 10th Ave, Seattle, WA 98122-3806
It turns out that The Elliott Bay Book Company is one of the most popular independent bookstores in Seattle, around since 1973. This sprawling bookstore has two floors, a wide selection in each section you go to, a ‘bargain books’ section, and even a cafe, so once you buy a book you can sit down, get a coffee, and get stuck in. The about us section of their website says “Come for the books, stay for the experience”, and that’s certainly what you get when you visit Elliott Bay. I absolutely recommend this one, especially since it’s one that people living in Seattle have loved for over 40 years.
Address: 1423 10th Ave, Seattle, WA 98122, USA
We stumbled across Horizon Books by accident after leaving Elliott Bay and navigating our way back to the downtown area where we could get our bus home. I have never stumbled across so many used bookstores as I did while we were in Seattle – I truly think it’s amazing to see so many places to go where you can pass on your books, or where you could find something great for a really good price. This is a smaller store but with shelves reaching high up to the ceiling, so you could spend a lot of time browsing. There’s a small area with armchairs where you could settle in, and we saw some tea and coffee on a tray so maybe that’s on offer too. To get to Horizon Books you’ll walk down a ramp with bookshelves built into the side. All of these books on the ramp outside are 25 cents. You can choose to pay more if you like, but if the budget is tight you never know what you might find!
Twice Sold Tales
Address: 1833 Harvard Ave, Seattle, WA 98122, USA
Even more used books! Twice Sold Tales has so many books they’ve run out of shelf space, so the books are stacked in a line on the floor along the shelves. There are extensive collections in different sections of the store, plenty of shelves to browse, and the bookstore cats are there to say hello if you find them while you’re looking. There are four cats in total, often seen lounging. It has a lot of personality, with a lot of great finds, so make some time to visit Twice Sold Tales.
More places to visit
The list doesn’t even end here – there are more great independent bookstores you can go to, but we simply didn’t have the time. Here are the stores I hope to get to the next time I’m in Seattle:
- The Queen Anne Book Company, a popular independent bookstore with a great story. 1811 Queen Anne Ave N, Seattle, WA 98109
- The East West Bookshop, especially if you’re into yoga and meditation 6407 12th Ave NE, Seattle, WA 98115
- The Secret Garden Bookshop, especially if you’re looking for children’s books. 2214 Northwest Market Street, Seattle, WA 98107
- Open Books: A Poem Emporium, where you’ll find over 10,000 new, used, and out-of-print poetry books. 2414 N 45th St, Seattle, WA 98103
- Phinney Books on Phinney Ridge, a neighbourhood bookstore in North Seattle, with another store opening in Madison Park in March 2019.
- Eagle Harbor Book Co. on Bainbridge Island for those of you willing to go a little further afield was recommended by a reader – thanks for these two recommendation Elizabeth!
Have you been to any of these bookstores? If there something else you think should be on this list? Let me know in the comments!
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