It all started, as many stories these days do, through a text message. It only took moments for two Massachusetts booksellers, Hannah Moushabeck of Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley and Sara Hines of Eight Cousins in Falmouth, to decide that “Yes, traveling 389 miles in five days and visiting as many bookshops as possible along the California coast was a fine idea.” Both booksellers were planning to attend the American Booksellers Association’s Children’s Institute in Pasadena for three days of educational sessions, networking and gathering far too many books. The conference served as the perfect excuse to see what the other coast had to offer in one bookseller’s first trip and one bookseller’s return trip to the Golden State. With advice from booksellers, publishers, authors and the trusty [Indiebound website] the booksellers set off in the smallest rental car possible to talk books, discover new places, and feed their almost unhealthy book addiction. –Hannah

Day 1

Bart’s Books in Ojai

With a little help from two lovely ladies at The Reading Bug, who gave us a ride from the conference to pick up our rental car, we hit the 101 as quickly as possible (not that quickly, as it turns out) and headed towards Ojai to visit Bart’s Books. Bart’s tends to show up on “Best Bookstores in the World” lists, but the store closes at sunset, and we arrived a few shades of dusk too late. Even from the outside, we could see how this store blends retail space and nature: the books are surrounded by trees, or perhaps the other way around. Here is hoping we can visit again some day, during the day. –Sara

Day 2

The Book Den in Santa Barbara

Wednesday morning started with a walk along the beach in Santa Barbara, before heading towards The Book Den on State Street. The Book Den, founded in 1902 and the oldest used bookstore in California, now sells both new and used books. According to Joaquim Gray, who runs the store’s website, online sales make up a significant part of the business. Owner Eric Kelly discovered quickly that online sales are more effective when the books can be located easily; therefore, the shelves are all bar-coded. On the day we visited, in-stock rare books included a 1929 edition of Beatrix Potter’s Fairy Caravan and East of the Sun, West of the Moon, illustrated by Kay Nielsen. Joaquim directed us towards another bookstore, Lost Horizons, a few blocks away and conveniently located next to a crepe shop decorated with French books. –Sara

Lost Horizon in Santa Barbara

Jerry Jacobs, owner of Lost Horizon, has been in the antiquarian book business for 32 years; his store is packed with fiction, California history, art, and books about books. He told us that the number of customers under 30 is high and they buy stacks of fiction, both paperback as well as editions with quality bindings–books that look as nice on the shelf as they are enjoyable to read. Be sure to ask him to tell you what he thinks of people who say “Kids today don’t read books.” Jerry is optimistic about the future of bookstores, and said, “If you quote anything from me, make sure it is upbeat because we do feel that way.” –Sara

Chaucer’s Books in Santa Barbara

Upon entering Chaucer’s Books the first thought that enters your mind is “Wow, that’s a lot of books.” Each and every pocket of space is packed with books, large and small. Stacks of overstock mount the shelves and reach as high as the ceiling giving the illusion that without them the roof may topple down. Neat piles of featured titles line the base of each bookshelf. New and classic titles as well as staff favorites are creatively displayed alongside cards, maps, gifts, and toys throughout this large space. This bookstore is scattered with eager shoppers and helpful staff so it comes as no surprise this bookstore, established in 1974, gets such high praise from locals and tourists alike. –Hannah

Day 3

Old Capitol Books in Monterey

In Monterey we were fortunate to have a bookstore insider as a tour guide. Stephanie Spoto from Old Capitol Books is a friend from grad school and she showed us around Monterey area bookstores. First up, Old Capitol Books, which Matthew Sundt purchased in 2012. The interior is gorgeous; with high ceilings and tall shelves; this is a place to lose yourself. Matthew has spent the first few years cleaning it, especially the children’s section, which he is considering expanding. –Sara

Bookworks, Pacific Grove

Stephanie suggested driving over to Pacific Grove to visit Bookworks, a bookstore and coffeehouse. While we were browsing, Tom, a bookseller, received a telephone call from one of the store’s more eclectic readers inquiring about mythology relating to the Greek hero Perseus. Tom provided some concise, knowledgeable information about stories and traditions about Perseus as well as some suggested reading, proving once again that working at a bookstore often means functioning as an information booth. –Sara

Carpe Diem Fine Books, Monterey

I wandered my way into Carpe Diem, a small antiquarian bookshop near down town Monterey and found a highly curated haven of treasures. They included beautiful editions of The Swiss Family Robinson, The Wizard of Oz and a signed autobiography by local Doris Day. Nevertheless, the two treasures I was most grateful for were owners James Bryant and Mary Hill. James and Mary shared their love of the physical book throughout stories of their nearly 10 years in the business. Partners in business and in marriage, both travel all over the country attending antiquarian book fairs selling and acquiring new books. –Hannah

Day 4

Hicklebee’s in San Jose

Hicklebee’s is a children’s book heaven with so much to see and enjoy. It has a full events schedule—and evidence of it is written all over the walls and doors. You can even spot signatures and doodles of famed authors like J.K. Rowling, Rosemary Wells, and Audrey Wood. Beautiful reproductions of wild things from Where the Wild Things Are hang above the counter while a spooky Viola Swamp is peeking out from the back room. Staff members were busy preparing for Independent Bookstore Day, but manager Ann Seaton kindly took a few minutes to show us some of the store’s treasures, including author and illustrator memorabilia. Hicklebee’s’ mission to “bring books alive” is achieved by the scattered items donated by authors such as the pink refrigerator from Tim Egan’s 2007 picture book of the same name. –Hannah and Sara

The Reading Bug in San Carlos

We finished our joint bookstore road trip tour together at The Reading Bug. It was a reunion of sorts because owner Lauren Savage and Shoshana Smith had helped us tremendously at the start of our trip by giving us a ride to get our car. The store, filled with wooden, painted trees signed by authors and illustrators, leaves, apples, and of course, ladybugs, opened five years ago and expanded in 2011. We were jealous of the events space in the back, which can accommodate readings, activities, and workshops. –Sara

Hannah and Sara parted ways in San Francisco, Sara to head back East, and Hannah to spend a few days discovering many of the iconic Bay Area stores.

Day 5

Green Apple Books in San Francisco

Green Apple was a must-see on my trip to San Francisco, and I was not disappointed. Their combination of used and new books scattered in nooks and crannies merged the feel of a large indie with that of a small curated bookstore. I met frontline booksellers Daniel Swarez and Francesco Impagliazzo who stood at attention in the Green Apple Annex. Daniel was excited about poet Fred Moten’s Feel Trio, while Francesco, an English major, enjoys reading Victorian literature. –Hannah

The Booksmith in San Francisco

I next set out to find the renowned Booksmith, nestled among vintage clothes stores and smoke shops on San Francisco’s famed Haight Street. (Christen Evans and Praveen Madan also own Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park.) Camden Avery, frontlist buyer for both stores, was enthusiastic about a visit from author Neal Stephenson that will take place on May 20. He explained that Booksmith hosts a huge selection of author events and that they can fit up to 300 people in their location. I was filled with awe at their beautiful section signs that adorned each shelf and was thrilled to see a large selection of staff picks that included photos of each staff member. –Hannah

Book Passage in San Francisco

The next bookstore I came across by chance while visiting San Francisco’s large farmer’s market on the pier. The Book Passage in the Ferry Building (the main store is located in Corte Madera) was a welcome sight sandwiched between cheese shops, a mushroom stand, and a luxury cured meat store. Here I met Cheryl McKeon, frontline bookseller and backlist buyer. We shared our love of Jory John and Benji Davies’s Goodnight Already! while Cheryl told me of her passion for a new book called Language Arts by friend and author Stephanie Kallos. –Hannah

Day 6

Books Inc. in San Francisco

My last day in San Francisco was a literary one indeed! It started with coffee with author and friend Maggie Tokuda-Hall, who shared an early sneak peek at her debut picture book, And Also an Octopus, which is illustrated by Benji Davies and coming soon from Candlewick Press. Maggie, who used to be the children’s buyer for Books Inc., encouraged me to visit the shop. The advice was sound as I found a sanctuary of children’s and adult books and a delightful group of booksellers. I spoke to Summer Laurie who is a children’s bookseller and chairperson of the Northern California Children’s Booksellers’ Alliance. Summer was setting up for Books Inc.’s Wild Girls Book Club but took the time to share her enthusiasm for titles and the future of children’s bookselling. Books Inc. is a San Francisco must-see and a great part of the indie bookselling community. –Hannah

Before departing San Francisco I rifled through my bag filled with business cards, bookmarks and a stack of books that I couldn’t resist and thought of the last six days. Having met booksellers young and old in stores just the same, and getting inspiration and words of wisdom along the way, I headed off to catch my flight with a head full of ideas and a bag full of books, with the knowledge that indie bookstores are not going anywhere. –Hannah