Tacoma Bookshops: A 7 Stop Tour of Our City

 Tacoma Book Center is waiting for you!

Tacoma Book Center is waiting for you!

We created this book store tour post last fall, and now seems like the perfect time to dust it off, add more tips for where to eat along the way, and renew it for another season of reading. For me, the entire year is reading season, and I still want more of it. I read in summer while eating lunch at our backyard picnic table, or an a quilt in the grass on the best of days, but there’s still something particularly enticing about turning the pages while rain taps on the roof and streams down windows. There’s a bliss to not so much leaving my life for the story in the pages, but taking my life into them, feeling the boundaries slide away. Enough about me. This article is for all of you who love books, who prefer browsing shelves to scrolling online, who thrill to an armful of volumes - crisp or dogeared, yellowed or bright, rare or reprinted. It’s also for anyone who wants to explore Tacoma with bookshops as your guide.

Support small, local businesses, get to know the city better, go on a book hunt in Tacoma! Stopping for a cup of coffee, a pint, or a snack on your browsing adventure is encouraged! Get out the door on this 7 bookstore tour of the city from Proctor in the north all the way to the Fern Hill District in the south. Read on for an introduction to these 7 Tacoma shops (and where to eat and drink along the way).

 Display window out front at Teaching Toys & Books.

Display window out front at Teaching Toys & Books.

1. Proctor District: Teaching Toys & Books - 2624 N Proctor St

Monday-Friday 10 am - 6 pm
Saturday 10 am - 5 pm
Sunday 11 am - 5 pm

This Tacoma Bookshop Tour runs from north to south, start at Teaching Toys & Books where you'll find a seasonally changing creative front window display outside, and a nicely curated selection of children's books, from board books for babies, up through young adult fiction inside. Classic children's books like The Snowy Day and Goodnight Moon are present beside beautiful new books thoughtfully organized by themes like "animals" or "bedtime." Teaching Toys staff are kind and helpful and will also offer complimentary gift wrapping. There are usually about 5 kinds of wrapping paper to choose from, so if you stop here for a birthday gift on the way to the party you're in good hands! Don't get back in the car when you're ready to move on, your next stop is just down the street.

 Hardback classic and contemporary picture books at Teaching Toys & Books.

Hardback classic and contemporary picture books at Teaching Toys & Books.

 Culpepper Books opened in 1999.

Culpepper Books opened in 1999.

2. Proctor District: Culpepper Books - 2521 N Proctor St

Monday-Friday 10 am - 6 pm
Saturday 10 am - 5 pm
Sunday Closed

Stay in Proctor for the next stop on the tour! Walk 2 blocks south, cross the street, and you're at Culpepper Books selling used, rare, and out-of-print books. On my most recent visit, greeted with an invitation to "make myself at home," I looked through the literary classics section while the proprietor and a customer discussed poetry at the checkout counter. The store is small, organized, and offers a lot of hardback editions in a low-pressure environment. If you're ready for one of those coffee stops just cross N 26th to Olympia Coffee Roasting Co., drop by Metropolitan Market's cafe, Top Pot, or Starbucks, all within a couple of blocks on Proctor St. If it's time for a pint, head north out of the store, turn right on N. 26th and stop in at Peaks & Pints

 Hardback literature in the fiction section at Culpepper Books.

Hardback literature in the fiction section at Culpepper Books.

 King's is home to store cats Atticus and Herbert.

King's is home to store cats Atticus and Herbert.

3. Stadium District: King's Books - 218 St Helens Ave

Open Daily, 11  am - 7 pm (later for events)

King's Books is probably Tacoma's most well-known, beloved bookstore. Home to cats Herbert and Atticus, book clubs, literary readings, and artist book and letterpress events like Tacoma Wayzgoose, you'll find a huge variety of used books here. King's also presents selected new books on display tables in the front, along with some new card games, calendars, greeting cards, and even some literary themed t-shirts. Look up when you step inside to see local letterpress broadsides on display. King’s is undergoing some changes and reorganization right now, so don’t be distressed if it looks different from what you’re used to in there. I still easily found my way around after I got over my surprise at seeing the checkout counter in front of me rather than off to my right when entering the shop.

King's is a great bookstore choice if you're looking for reading suggestions; they even host several monthly book clubs right in the shop. There's a shelf dedicated to staff picks with handwritten, mini reviews by King's Books staff, so head there if you don't know what to read next. If you're looking for a book group, take a look at the book club shelf where you'll see a variety of book groups presented (groups include Banned Book, Classics, Buddhism Today, Tacoma LGBTQ, Night Owl Nature, Spanish Language, and Shakespeare) with the current month's selection for each group on display and a small flyer you can take away. 

If you're a comic book fan, this destination is doubly good as Destiny City Comics is connected to King's by French doors that are often open, so you can come and go between them without stepping outside. 

Of course, if you're hungry or thirsty at this point in the tour, you're just a few feet away from Doyle's Public House, and both Harmon Brewing Co's The Tap Room and The Hub. Just a little further and you’ll find Indo Street Eatery and Moshi Moshi. If you want to warm up with some coffee we used to love recommending Cosmonaut Coffee on Division, but they’re closing up shop. You’ll find a newly opened Anthem Coffee at 102 N G, and there’s a Starbucks at 640 N 1st, but you’ll find one of these connected to your next stop as well. Or, for some fresh air, take a stroll through nearby Wright Park before heading downtown to our next bookshop.  

 Staff Picks shelf at King's Books.

Staff Picks shelf at King's Books.

 Union Station reflected in the University Bookstore front windows.

Union Station reflected in the University Bookstore front windows.

 A glimpse of the University Bookstore interior, similar in character to a Barnes & Noble.

A glimpse of the University Bookstore interior, similar in character to a Barnes & Noble.

4. University District Downtown: University Book Store - 1754 Pacific Ave

Monday-Thursday 9 am - 6 pm
Friday-Saturday 9 am - 5 pm
Sunday Closed

This is much more than a student bookstore stocking textbooks. In the heart of Tacoma's downtown shopping district, this bookstore offers bestsellers, general fiction and nonfiction, a nice children's section, some YA, a small local history section, a bargain table, and a New York Times "New and Notable" shelf.

Unlike our other small Tacoma bookshops, the University Book Store offers a searchable online catalogue of their inventory. Recently I found a book I needed for my book club (14 holds already at the library where I always check first!) by searching the catalogue. Just be sure to call the Tacoma branch (253.692.4300) to check if they have it here. In my case, the book was up in their larger Seattle store, but they brought it down for me the very next day.

You'll also find notebooks, cards, and other gifts in this shop conveniently adjoining a Starbucks and directly on the Tacoma Link light rail line. You're on Pacific just across from the old Union Station and the Bridge of Glass, so this shop is also a great starting point for a visit to the TAM, the Museum of Glass, or the WA State History Museum. And if you haven't eaten yet, head south on Pacific and you’ll soon find Savor: Tacoma Creperie and Indochine Asian Dining Lounge. Or, save all that for another day and continue on to the next 3 Tacoma bookshops. 

 A look at the University Book Store’s Children’s Section.

A look at the University Book Store’s Children’s Section.

 Bargain carts are just the beginning at the entrance to Tacoma Book Center.

Bargain carts are just the beginning at the entrance to Tacoma Book Center.

5. Dome District Downtown: Tacoma Book Center - 324 E 26th St

Open Daily, 10am - 6 pm

Located near Freighthouse Square (where you can find food and lots of additional local shopping) and the Tacoma Dome, this shop has tons of used books! If you have trouble finding street parking, look for a small lot behind the shop on D Street. You know you've arrived when you see the sandwich boards announcing "Washington's Largest Used Bookstore - 1/2 Million Books" on the corner of E 26th and D.

Inside, floor to ceiling bookshelves and a quiet staff invite you to take your time here. Tacoma Book Center offers a huge variety of used books as well as some audio books and DVDs. The Classics/Modern Fiction shelves are labeled with famous author names such as Atwood, Bellow, James, Swift, and Wharton to help guide readers through the alphabetically organized section. In nonfiction, find books on crafts, music, pets, engineering, travel, religion, cookbooks, sports, etc. as well as atlases and other reference books. There's even a section just for hardback literature. Enjoy the search, then on to South Tacoma!

But, if you’re hungry (I mean, maybe you haven’t stopped yet, or perhaps you’ve taken all our food tips and just still feel ready for a sandwich) it’s only a 2 minute drive to The Valley. Then on to South Tacoma!

 Cozy reading area in the hardback literature section at Tacoma Book Center.

Cozy reading area in the hardback literature section at Tacoma Book Center.

 Revolving Books: A "New To You" Book Store

Revolving Books: A "New To You" Book Store

6. Lincoln District: Revolving Books - 3639 S G

Monday-Saturday 11 am - 5 pm
Sunday Closed

Revolving Books sells used books in Tacoma's Lincoln District. The store is organized and easy to navigate with mostly paperbacks on offer. The general fiction section is quite limited here, but other areas, such as mystery, suspense, and romance have more to offer. If you're looking for genre fiction and follow a particular author or series, this might be a good bookshop to check out. The staff have a very good idea of what is on the shelves and would like to point you in the right direction. Along with the used books, shoppers can also find some new maps of the Tacoma region up by the register. Make sure to at least glance across G Street at beautiful Lincoln High. Or stick around a little longer with a visit to a local noodle shop like Vien Dong, or Pho Dragon, both on S. 38th, or stop by El Zocalo bakery just a block south from the bookshop on 38th and G. Then onward, to the final stop in the bookshop tour!

 Revolving Books focuses on mass market paperbacks.

Revolving Books focuses on mass market paperbacks.

 A few local bookshops combined to create Park Avenue Books in Fern Hill.

A few local bookshops combined to create Park Avenue Books in Fern Hill.

7. Fern Hill District: Park Avenue Books - 8304 S Park

Tuesday-Saturday 11 am - 5:50 pm
Sunday & Monday Closed

As the open hours suggest, this is a quirky spot. It's friendly, and it's packed with used books. The staff are sweet, willing to chat, and happy to help you find some treasure. I'm pretty sure an intercom or walkie-talkie was involved in helping a fellow customer locate a book on my last visit; it took some time, and team effort, but the search was a success. They have it all at Park Avenue Books: Modern Fiction, Men's Adventure, Seafaring Adventure, Regency Romance, Local Romance Authors, Historical Romance, a UFO section, a VHS collection, and children's books too, of course. If you're okay with stacks, scooting over a bit to let the next customer by, and finding books in every nook and cranny, then make a stop and delve in with good humor. 

If you haven't visited the historic Fern Hill Business District, this is a great reason to get there and get to know it. There's a library, a barber, a fabric store with an iconic mural (that I’ve sadly heard is closing), a clock and watch repair shop, farm to table Tibbits@Fern Hill and Little Jerry's Seinfeld themed diner (thank you, Tacoma).

This is the last stop on the Tacoma Bookshop Tour. I hope it's also the beginning of a good read - a journey into the fantastical realm of Earthsea, a tour through the history of women’s suffrage, an exploration of the thrills of paperback romance - and maybe even the start of a new or renewed relationship with a Tacoma neighborhood and our book-loving community. 

 Shelves, stacks, racks, and piles at Park Avenue Books.

Shelves, stacks, racks, and piles at Park Avenue Books.


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