Co-founded in 1953 by Peter D. Martin and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, City Lights is one of the best known and most influential independent bookstores in America, first gaining notoriety after Ferlinghetti published and sold Beat poet Allen Ginsberg's banned poetry collection Howlin 1956. With a heavy slant towards the arts, global literature and the liberal culture and politics that are synonymous with San Francisco, the store is manna from heaven for book-loving visitors. Expanded over the years, there are now three floors brimming with fiction, poetry, history, politics, music, art and philosophy tomes with both major and niche publishers well represented, including City Lights' own publishing house. It's the sort of place where you can linger for hours and no-one will bat an eyelid, so grab a table in the basement (highbrow non-fiction) and soak up the ambience.
For a real glimpse into the local literary scene, try and get down to one of City Lights' ongoing series of readings and events - there are normally one or two a week, many of which are turned into podcasts. City Lights Books, 261 Columbus Avenue at Broadway, San Francisco