Whether it's curling up with a detective novel on your living room couch, pouring over a memoir with a latte in a coffee shop or scrolling through a classic novel in paperback while waiting at the doctor's office, Americans love to read.
Despite the plethora of tech-heavy entertainment options in every house and in every pocket, a day with a good book is as popular an activity for bookworms coast to coast as it ever was.
But not every city in the U.S. is created the same. Some towns are just bound better than others for booklovers. From "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" to "California: A Novel," which cities are the best spots to move to or live in for bookworms? Where will you find the most bookstores — both new and vintage — in which to browse the shelves for a lovingly dog-eared Elizabeth Wurtzel? What burg offers the most libraries — both the public and research varieties — where you can check out the latest Michael Lewis?
We scoured the nation and found nearly 14,000 cities in the U.S. with at least one retail bookstore, used or rare bookseller, public library or institutional library (such as at schools, museums or collections), for a national total of almost 35,000 book-related establishments. We then eliminated any city with a population less than 50,000, leaving us with the 764 largest American cities with at least one book-related establishment, offering a total of more than 12,000 individual locations in those cities. We then calculated the ratio of book-related establishments per 100,000 residents in each to determine the cities deemed the top 10 best cities for booklovers in the nation.
Read on to find out how your city ranked.
A mecca for higher education, not only is Birmingham just an hour from the University of Alabama and two from Auburn University, the two historic Iron Bowl rivals, but it's also home of the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Samford University with its acclaimed Cumberland School of Law. So, it's no wonder that it's also a haven for booklovers, with 26 booksellers and 44 libraries within its borders.
Birmingham's impressive growth from a cotton and steel center to a modern economy for banking, transportation, telecommunications and healthcare has diversified its workforce and community. And its downtown has undergone an extensive revitalization, as well, transforming into a thriving 24-hour district brimming with refurbished converted lofts, cafes and breweries and trendy restaurants.
Both the New York Times and Washington Post have called the city out as a vital new food and cuisine scene for the New South. Downtown also features several cultural institutions, as well, including the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and Birmingham Museum of Art, the largest of its type in the Southeast.
And for those many booklovers, the Birmingham Public Library system offers 19 branches, one of the most extensive systems in the Southeast. The BPL also hosts the annual Alabama Bound book and author fair that highlights local Alabama authors and publishers.
With so much for bookworms, foodies and trendy young couples alike, Alabama's largest city is proving itself more than just football (although some residents may not agree). A one-bedroom apartment in Birmingham rents for a monthly rate of $1,102 on average.
Cincinnati is a smart city. Look no further for proof than the Queen City's 55 public libraries, the ninth most of any city in the U.S. Pretty impressive for a town that's just the 65th most populated in the nation. Overall, Cincinnati has 104 bookstores and libraries, for an impressive 34 book establishments per 100,000 people.
Most of those 55 libraries are part of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County system. The city's massive half-million-square-foot downtown main branch alone has more than four million items in circulation, the most of any single library branch anywhere in the country. Add to that nearly a dozen institutional libraries, several revolving around the city's two large research universities, the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University.
Additionally, Cincinnati is flush with a number of popular local bookstores that land among the city's 35 in total. Some well-known locations include Ohio Book Store and The Booksellers on Fountain Square in downtown, Duttenhofer's Books in Clifton Heights near UC, Blue Manatee in Oakley Square, the Joseph-Beth Booksellers location in Hyde Park and Iris BookCafé Over-The-Rhine.
But baby, if you ever wondered whatever became of me (and all my books), you might find yourself on the air in Cincinnati where an average one-bedroom apartment lists for $1,078 a month.
Nearly identical in population as the aforementioned Cincinnati (within only about 200 based on 2018 estimates), Saint Louis also has an identical number of booksellers and just a few more libraries, as well. The two cities, separated by just five hours along Interstate 64, offer a shared welcoming for booklovers. Despite being just the 64th largest city in the U.S., Saint Louis has the 12th most book-related establishments in the nation.
Sixteen of those establishments belong to the Saint Louis Public Library system. The main branch of the SLPR is the nearly century-old downtown Central Library, built with help by a donation from Andrew Carnegie. Scattered elsewhere around the Gateway City are more than three dozen retail bookstores, including a number of small, beloved shops such as Dunaway Books, Left Bank Books, Hammond's Antiques & Books, the AIA Bookstore and Subterranean Books.
The nation may know Saint Louis for a number of localities like baseball, beer, toasted ravioli and Ted Drewes, but its bookishness should clearly not be underrated. And to set up shop in the STL, a one-bedroom unit will set you back $1,176 monthly on average.
Possibly the most surprising entry in the top 10 is the Atlanta suburb of Marietta. While just the sixth-largest suburb of ATL, the city of just more than 60,000 offers a disproportional 13 booksellers and 10 public libraries for its small stature.
Besides visiting one of the many bookstores, Marietta offers a number of destinations that help it stand out from the average Atlanta 'burb. The Six Flags White Water aquatic park, which sees more than half a million visitors each year, is located just off of Interstate 75. The Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park sits along the north edge of town and the Dobbins Air Reserve Base is at the south. Kennesaw State University also has one of its two primary campuses in Marietta, consolidated from Southern Polytechnic State University.
Along with a handful of its book retailers, Marietta's quaint downtown features a number of popular restaurants and bars including The Butcher The Baker, Kiosco, Stockyard Burgers & Bones, Two Birds Tap House and Johnnie MacCracken's Celtic Firehouse Pub. To lay roots down in the suburban bedroom community, it will cost you $1,031 a month on average for a one-bedroom unit.
With 40 book establishments per capita, including 20 retail bookstores and more than a dozen libraries, the oldest state capital in the U.S. is as unique as its full name, La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asís, which translates to the Royal Town of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi. Or just Santa Fe to its friends.
Not only is Santa Fe a great town for readers, but it's long been a cultural enclave for art and artists. Though not as quirky as Taos, just 90 minutes to the north, Santa Fe is the premier destination in the Southwest for art tourists.
The natural beauty, dry climate and municipal promotion of arts culture and tourism have brought artists and creators to Santa Fe from all over the world, the third-largest art market in America (after just New York and Los Angeles).
The city, named a UNESCO Creative City in Design, Crafts and Folk Art, offers more than 300 art galleries and dealers and a dozen major art museums, including the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum (who resided just up the road in Alcalde, Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch) and the New Mexico Museum of Art.
It's not just artists that can dive into their love of books in Santa Fe, it was also the first Southwest town to attract Northern retirees in great numbers. In fact, U.S. News & World Report named it one of the “10 Places to Reinvent Your Life in Retirement." The community is also a scientific hub, featuring the Santa Fe Institute and in close proximity to both Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories and host of a number of national scientific events.
Whether you're interested in Santa Fe for its art, its science, its retirement living or even its winter fun (just two hours from four ski resorts), you have innumerable places to grab yourself a good book and enjoy. And to live the Southwest life full time like Georgia O'Keeffe, a one-bedroom apartment runs on average $1,130 a month.
Forming the western point of North Carolina's Research Triangle, Chapel Hill is a college town in a crowd of college towns, home to the University of North Carolina. Together with Raleigh's North Carolina State and Durham's Duke University, Chapel Hill sits inside one of the most important educational enclaves in the world. That kind of brainpower situated in such a small area is fertile ground for book lovers, and the city of Chapel Hill, with a population of just more than 60,000, doesn't disappoint with 43 book establishments per capita.
Many of the booksellers that do business in Chapel Hill sit along Franklin Street, the city's main commercial and social thoroughfare. The boulevard offers a number of bookstores, retail shops, cafes and bars like He's Not Here, Top of the Hill, Carolina Brewery and Linda's Bar & Grill and restaurants including Carolina Coffee Shop, Sutton's, Ye Olde Waffle Shop and Spanky's. In fact, Chapel Hill is a food lover's haven along with being a great place for book lovers. Bon Appétit Magazine even named it “America's Foodiest Small Town."
But at its heart, Chapel Hill is one of America's great college sports hotbeds. Even bookish Tar Heel fans put down their latest novel to gather and watch the school's perennial top 10 hoops teams at the Dean Smith Center, the third-largest basketball arena in the U.S. Not to be outdone, the university also boasts among the best women's soccer and men's lacrosse programs in the nation, who play at the brand new Dorrance Field.
Chapel Hill is just one of several college towns in the top 10. And as in most college towns, apartments are both plentiful and at a premium. A one-bedroom unit leases for a monthly average of $999.
Much like Chapel Hill, the city of Ann Arbor is a true college town, with all the trappings of on- and off-campus life surrounding the University of Michigan. But unlike the Tar Heels down on Tobacco Road, these Wolverines can claim the honor of the “Smartest City in America." With that kind of intellect and a premier university, it only makes sense that you can find more than 20 book retailers and 30 libraries in this mid-sized city.
As is commonplace in college towns, much of life revolves around the giant university. And here, everything is big. The University of Michigan matriculates 46,000 students and employs another 25,000, all crammed into a city of just 120,000 residents. But the school's most massive and well-known feature is Michigan Stadium, home of the university's football team, which is the largest stadium in the country, which once held a record 115,000 fans. And like Berkeley (still to come) 2,500 miles to its west, Ann Arbor has long been known as a sanctuary for social activism and progressive political causes.
With the word “arbor" right in the name, it comes as no surprise that the city offers a plethora of parks and green spaces, perfect for the summer booklover. “Tree Town" features more than 100,000 trees lining its streets and housed in its nearly 160 parks, many along the banks of the Huron River including Fuller Park, tucked into an oxbow bend adjacent to the University Hospital, with a number of athletic fields, a playground, bike path and a 50-meter swimming pool.
Elsewhere on the river, Bandemer Park offers a disc golf course, Argo Park features a canoe and kayak facility, Furstenberg Nature Area contains a wetlands boardwalk and two wetland overlooks and Gallup Park has a self-contained fishing pond tailored to children. As well, the University's Nichols Arboretum houses hundreds of plant and tree species for study across four properties.
The Detroit suburb, just 45 minutes from downtown to downtown, is a convenient locale and Forbes' Magazine's fourth “Most Livable City" in America. With beautiful parks (no matter what the season), the smartest populous in America and a myriad of book-related establishments, it's easy to see how book enthusiasts would love living in this city. To do so, it will run you $1,415 a month to secure an average one-bedroom apartment.
Nicknamed "The Cradle of Naval Aviation," the city of Pensacola, FL, is home (well, just to its south) of Naval Air Station Pensacola (NASP), which is the oldest Naval Air Station in America, dating back to before the first World War. John Glenn trained here, as did Neil Armstrong, and the base is home to the famed Blue Angels.
Pensacola is a military city filled with smart people doing important national security jobs. And this smart city, by far the smallest city in the top 10 with a population of around 53,000, is the third-best in America for booklovers with 43 bookstores and libraries per 100,000 residents. Bravo Zulu.
But Pensacola is also a city of beautiful beaches, cool gulf breezes and is one of the nation's best beer towns. It's the westernmost city on Florida's Panhandle, located along the north shore of Pensacola Bay just 30 minutes from downtown to the golden sands of the Pensacola Beach barrier island. It's the premier destination for beachgoers on the northern Gulf coast, and under two hours from both the Spring Break haven of Panama City and the glitzy casinos of Biloxi, MS.
Whether you're reading on the beach under a pair of big sunglasses, tucked into a bench in one of the several parks along the bay or perusing the 20,000-item collection at the Naval Air Station Pensacola Library, there's plenty for bookworms. There's also a glut of rental units as is often the case around major military facilities. A one-bedroom will run about $943 on average per month.
Berkeley, CA, is known around the world for two things: The University of California at Berkeley (or just Cal, if you're a sports fan) and a long history of social liberalism, hippiedom and activism. Whether the cause or the effect, that means there are a lot of smart people in Berkeley. So, it shouldn't be hard to imagine the East Bay city is one of America's best for bookworms with a full 60 total bookstores and lenders, including nearly 20 institutional libraries, mostly associated with the university community.
Located over the Bay Bridge from San Francisco and just north of Oakland, Berkeley is a well-established land of social change and higher education. But while UC and the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are the largest employers, many other companies in a variety of industries take advantage of the community's brainpower. Major facilities of Bayer, Siemens, Kaiser Permanente and others are located here, along with the original Peet's Coffee's location and “California cuisine" inventor Chez Panisse.
And away from the University, Berkeley is a collection of neighborhoods like any other major city. Downtown Berkeley, located not far from the UC campus, is essentially a traditional retail business district. The Southside offers a plethora of student housing and rental complexes. West Berkeley is home to a number of office plazas, loft apartments and co-working spaces. North Berkeley is a haven for celebrity chefs and famed restaurants. And spread throughout are a number of apartment buildings, classic California duplexes and single-family detached homes.
At its heart, Berkeley's personality is wrapped around its university's social and smart reputation. With cafes, bookstores and parks alike filled with both students and full-time residents, there's ample opportunity for book lovers to find a quiet place to down a few chapters. But living in this Bay Area town isn't cheap. The rent for a one-bedroom apartment runs $3,334 a month on average.
To no one's surprise, the Massachusetts town of Cambridge, with a ridiculous 51 book-related establishments per 100,000 Cantabrigians, is the No. 1 city in America for booklovers. The Boston suburb, of course, is home to both Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which is the lion's share of the reason that Cambridge enjoys 22 institutional libraries, by far the most of any in the top 10 and the fifth-most in the entire U.S. behind only the much, much larger Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia and Chicago.
Of course, much of daily life in Cambridge, named for the university in England, revolves around Harvard and MIT. The two universities are the two largest employers in the city, employing nearly 21,000 combined. The Harvard Art Museum, Harvard Museum of Natural History, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology and the Semitic Museum are all Harvard establishments, with the MIT Museum and List Visual Arts Center part of the technology school's campus. And two important music venues, Club Passim, a legendary folk spot that dates back to 1958, and The Sinclair, a relatively new 500-capacity Bowery Presents rock club, both sit just off Harvard's campus.
But Cambridge, just over the Charles from Back Bay and downtown Boston, is more than its universities. The city has always been a high-tech business hub, dating back to the 1960s. As it was since the '80s, the Kendall Square area remains a major software hub housing offices for Amazon, Microsoft and Google. The city is also a biotech enclave with headquarters and laboratories for a number of major corporations. And Harvard Square may get all the press, but it's just one of six historic Cambridge squares spread throughout the city.
Make no mistake, in the end, Cambridge is the ultimate high-end university town. Smart people matriculate here and smart people live here. And as the best city in America for booklovers, that shouldn't change any time soon.
Cambridge's proximity to Boston has also made it a bedroom community for bankers and brokers alike, with elevated but stable housing prices. Rental prices also remain high, whether for students, singles or young families. An average one-bedroom apartment leases for a pricey $2,986 a month.
So, what's beyond the top 10? More great cities for booklovers, including college towns, giant city centers, satellite suburbs and industry hubs.
|Rank||City||State||Population||Book Dealers||Libraries||Book Establishments Per Capita (100k People)|
|28||Salt Lake City||UT||200,591||29||27||28|
For sheer volume, these are the top 10 cities for the most total book-related entities, with Manhattan alone leading the way with nearly 150 more than any other single city.
|Rank||City||State||Population||Book Dealers||Libraries||Total Book Establishments||Book Establishments Per Capita (100k People)|
To determine the best cities for booklovers, we looked at every city in the U.S. with a population over 50,000 according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2018 population estimates and at least one retail bookstore, used or rare bookseller, public library or institutional library. From there, we divided the total number of book-related establishments by the total population. This gave us a list of cities with the most number of booksellers and book lenders per person. We then multiplied that number by 100,000 to determine the number of establishments per 100,000 people. The cities with the highest per capita ratio were deemed to be the best cities for booklovers in our quantitative report.
Total book-related establishment counts are from a database of 8 million commercially available business listings. These listings may not reflect recent openings or closings.
The rent information included in this article is based on average entry-level January 2020 one-bedroom multifamily rental property unit inventory on Apartment Guide and Rent.com and is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.