Interior of The Last Bookstore | Los Angeles Book Guide

A book lover’s guide to Los Angeles

Words by Valorie Clark
Last updated: June 25, 2024

Having housed and inspired some of the world’s most acclaimed writers, discover LA’s larger-than-life literary heritage, iconic settings and first-class bookstores across the city’s most culturally significant neighbourhoods

Los Angeles is many things to many people, a destination that has inspired generations of dreamers to head west in pursuit of their destinies. When it comes to the arts, Los Angeles is best known for the totemic cinematic output of Hollywood – yet the city’s significant literary chops deserve to share the spotlight, too.

In addition to the scores of writers behind some our most memorable movies and television series, the city has welcomed and inspired authors for more than a century. From Joan Didion to Octavia Butler, Raymond Chandler to Charles Bukowski, the city has housed a host of literary icons, and continues to do so. Currently living and writing in LA are celebrated authors like Leigh Bardugo, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Salvador Plascencia and Maggie Nelson. From iconic locations and louche hangouts to world-class bookstores, we look at eight neighbourhoods where visitors can immerse themselves in LA’s literary culture.

Vinyl records on display at The Last Bookstore
The Last Bookstore


After a period of resurgence, downtown Los Angeles is very different from what its most famous chroniclers first described. However, there are still vestiges of the historic neighbourhood that many authors immortalised in their work. The landmark funicular that carts people up the steep hills of Downtown, Angel’s Flight Railway, especially, has been written about by at least a dozen authors, including Raymond Chandler, Michael Connelly and Alice Duncan.

The Central Library is a must-see for any literary-minded tourist. Not only is it a mecca of thousands of books, but the architecture is an incredible example of Californian art deco. Inside is The Octavia Lab, dedicated to author Octavia Butler, who was raised in nearby Pasadena.

Nearby is The Last Bookstore, which is, thankfully, not actually the last bookstore but certainly the most unique in the city. Occupying an old bank, rare books are shelved in an enormous old vault. It easily defends its title as the most Instagrammed bookstore in the US with its labyrinthine shelving and creative displays.

Exterior of The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles
The Last Bookstore. Photo by Jake Giles Netter


As one of the most alluring neighbourhoods in the city, it’s no surprise that Hollywood has seen its share of representations in books and film, especially Hollywood Boulevard. Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep is set nearby (and Raymond Chandler Square has been inaugurated at Hollywood & Cahuenga). Author Nathanael West’s darkly satirical The Day of the Locust culminates in a riot set at a movie premiere at the fictional theatre, Mr. Khan’s Pleasure Dome.

Several writers also lived in the neighbourhood. Joan Didion’s former house on Franklin Avenue is now the Shumei America Hollywood Center, and Charles Bukowski’s apartment at 5124 De Longpre Ave has been declared a heritage site by the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission.

A great way to experience literary Los Angeles is to follow in the footsteps of characters. Didion frequently wrote about the highways that run like arteries around the city; The Hollywood to Harbor Freeway Exchange is particularly referenced. Alternatively, have a drink at the Frolic Room, which evokes the dive-y locales that Bukowski often wrote about.

Exterior of Shumei America Hollywood Center
Joan Didion’s former home, now the Shumei America Hollywood Center


Known for Muscle Beach and the boardwalk, Venice is a draw for tourists and Angelenos alike. It has nurtured and inspired many writers over the years, especially poets who have written about the neighbourhood’s beauty. The city acknowledges this legacy with the Poet’s Monument. Etched on four concrete walls are the words of the neighbourhood’s poets, like Charles Bukowski, Philomene Long, Manazar Gamboa, Viggo Mortensen and Jim Morrison, who started writing music with some fellow UCLA students he met at Venice Beach, forming world-famous LA band The Doors.

Venice is also home to Beyond Baroque, a leading independent literary arts centre that hosts public events. For book shopping, the city is home to several great bookstores including Mystic Books, Angel City Books & Records and Small World Books. This last is right on the Venice Boardwalk, making it convenient to pick up a book then lounge in the sun.

Book displays at Angel City Books & Records
Angel City Books & Records

West Hollywood

The hotel-castle known as Chateau Marmont is a storied place in Los Angeles. It has housed uncounted glamorous residents, including author Eve Babitz, who often stayed there while dating a full-time resident. Such is the allure of the Chateau that after Babitz ended things with her beau, she later wrote, in Black Swans, “My worst regret was that I’d broken up with Chateau Marmont too.” Many authors have set scenes of their books at the Chateau, and walking through the halls is like walking through 90 years of cultural history.

In the hills above the Chateau Marmont are the residences of many fictional characters, often written by Angeleno authors. Most notable is the fictional LAPD detective and star of over 20 novels Harry Bosch, created by crime fiction author Michael Connelly, whose home is said to be a one-bedroom cantilever on Woodrow Wilson Drive. Connelly has almost confirmed that house number 4207 was the inspiration for his famous character’s home.

On the Sunset Strip is the historic bookstore Book Soup, which has been serving up great books to readers, writers, artists, rock ‘n’ rollers and celebrities alike since 1975.

Book displays at Book Soup
Book Soup

Boyle Heights

A historically Mexican and Mexican-American neighbourhood, it is fitting that Boyle Heights is still home to a thriving community of Chicano writers. The community’s literary passion can be found in places like Re/Arte, a bilingual bookstore and hub for poets and writers. They host public events and highlight literature written by Chicano and other Spanish-speaking authors.

Libros Schmibros Lending Library is also in Boyle Heights. The library and advocacy group champions the pleasure of literature by giving away books – over 50,000 in 14 years – and hosting a wide variety of public events. It also hosts writing groups to nurture the next generation of Chicano authors.

Boyle Heights was also once home to a large Japanese population, which can still be seen in the neighbourhood’s Japanese Hospital landmark. The parts of best-selling author Kristina McMorris’s World War II historical fiction novel Bridge of Scarlet Leaves that are set in Boyle Heights can still be sensed walking around Evergreen Cemetery and the International Institute.

Exterior of Re/Arte


Numerous authors have written about the Watts neighbourhood – and specifically the incredible Watts Towers. Built over three decades by Sabato Rodia, an Italian immigrant construction worker and tile mason, the towers deserve every bit of immortalisation. Leader of the speculative fiction movement Harlan Ellison included them in his award-winning short story With Virgil Oddum At The East Pole, while beloved native Angeleno author Eve Babitz mentions them in her memoir, Eve’s Hollywood.

Beyond the towers, the neighbourhood was also home to a young Arna Bontemp before he became a towering figure of the early 20th-century Harlem Renaissance art movement. His children’s story written with Langston Hughes, Boy of the Border, sees a young boy cross from Mexico into a neighbourhood much like Watts.

Colourful mosaics on Watts Tower
Mosaics on Watts Tower

Los Feliz

Close to Hollywood, Los Feliz is often credited with having a classic indie literary vibe. Not only is it packed full of coffee shops (in turn packed full of writers on laptops), but it is home to two iconic bookstores: Skylight Books and Wacko Soap Plant. They’re walking distance from each other, so it’s easy to browse at both then read with an aperol spritz at Figaro Bistrot – their porch usually hosts at least a few bookworms.

Los Feliz is also home to the Pink Elephant Liquor Store, a favourite of Charles Bukowski. Ideally placed between The Frolic Room and his apartment, Bukowski often stopped into Pink Elephant on his way to or from the bar.

Exterior of Skylight Books
Skylight Books


While technically its own city, Pasadena often feels like another LA neighbourhood due to its proximity and shared culture. Author, and recipient of multiple Hugo and Nebula awards, Octavia Butler was raised in the city and spent much of her childhood at Pasadena Central Library, before first pursuing writing while she attended Pasadena City College, where she earned her Associate’s Degree. The Central Library is currently closed until 2028 for earthquake retrofitting, but the outside can still be admired.

Pasadena is also home to Vroman’s Books, Southern California’s oldest bookstore, and Octavia’s Bookshelf, named for the city’s most famous author.

Exterior of Vroman's Bookstore
Vroman’s Bookstore. Photo by Russell Gearhart
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