Back in 2013, I emailed two of my friends—Shanna and Stacy—and asked if they'd be willing to help me with a new project. A couple of months later, I launched Literary City Guides with three destinations: Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Nashville.
It's been three years and we've hit a pretty celebratory number—100! I haven't been able to travel nearly as much as I'd like to this past year, so I've been living vicariously through the beautiful guides our community has offered. If you're looking for inspiration, I dug through my analytics to find out which destinations you've loved the most, and here they are. Time to book your flights (and maybe pack your passport!).
Top 10 Literary City Guides
I've lived in Los Angeles since 2008, and the city has charmed me more and more each year. Perhaps it's because I've finally made peace with the things people tend to dislike, like traffic and confusing parking signs. But the more you get to know each neighborhood, it's easy to embrace the real gems from restaurants to bookstores, and my favorite paper boutique.
This quote From William Saroyan sums up the city nicely: "San Francisco itself is art, above all literary art. Every block is a short story, every hill a novel. Every home a poem, every dweller within immortal. That is the whole truth." For evidence, look to its coffee shops, museums, winding streets, and impeccable food.
Shortly after Eat This Poem began in 2012, I told you about a trip I took to London. It was a nostalgic trip for me, walking familiar streets (and sitting in the same squares as Virginia Woolf), seeing favorite museums, and stopping by the building where I took most of my classes while studying abroad. One thing was certain: I loved the city just as much as when I first arrived. Elena is from San Francisco, but moved to London in the late eighties and has never left. She brings a thoughtful perspective to the guide, from her favorite local coffee shop to the best way visitors can follow in the footsteps of London's famous writers.
If you look at a map of Montana, you'll find Missoula on the western edge near the border of Idaho. This gem of a town is home to Erika, who played hooky in California before returning to the city where she was born and raised. Here, seasonal pizzas command lines out the door every fall, readings inspire in the prestigious creative writing program at the University of Montana, and local coffee roasters will keep you caffeinated all afternoon.
Jenny's recommendations are spot on for anyone looking for an independent bookstore, good cup of coffee, or salted caramel cupcakes. From a library that will make any Harry Potter fan swoon, to coffee shops with deconstructed lattes, Seattle is filled with experiences to fulfill any literary craving.
6. Portland, Oregon
From libraries with stunning views and week-long literary festivals, to beer-filled mason jars and small-batch ice cream, Portland epitomizes everything there is to love about a good literary destination.
The summer after my junior year of high school, we took a family vacation to the east coast. Boston was a highlight, and in addition to immersing yourself in American history, there are plenty of cant-miss literary stops like the oldest antiquarian bookstore in the country.
I've been to Spain also, but not to Barcelona (sadly). The three days I spent there were based in Madrid, with a train ride to Seville in between. Our guide lived Barcelona since 1998 before relocating to the Bay Area recently, and her local perspective is one to rely on during your next visit. There are plenty of good bookstores, cafes for tea and coffee lovers alike, and more pastry shops than you probably need. Luckily, Barcelona is a walkable city, so all will balance out.
Ashland sits just north of the California border, making it a favorite and frequent destination of tour guide Katrina Neill, who has been visiting since 2001 when she first made the trip with her book club. A hallmark of Ashland's literary scene is the annual Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and in between plays you can find plenty of cute coffee shops and eateries to enjoy.
10. Chicago, Illinois
When it comes to offering tips for places to eat and read in Chicago, I knew Amina would be a fantastic tour guide. She's a fellow literary food blogger and the editor behind Paper/Plates, a blog devoted to all things food and literature. As a native of Illinois, her recommendations come from years of getting to know the city she now calls home.