One of the most famous independent bookshops in a city famous for its literary bent is City Lights (261 Columbus Ave., 415/362-8193, www.citylights.com , daily 10 a.m.–midnight). It opened in 1953 as an all-paperback bookstore with a decidedly Beat aesthetic, focused on selling modern literary fiction and progressive political tomes.
As the Beats flocked to San Francisco  and to City Lights, the shop put on another hat—that of publisher. Allen Ginsberg’s Howl was published by the erstwhile independent, which never looked back. Today they’re still selling and publishing the best of cutting-edge fiction and non-fiction.
The store still sits in its original location on the point of Columbus Avenue, though it’s expanded somewhat since the ’50s. Expect to find your favorite genre paperbacks along with the latest intriguing new works. The nonfiction selections can really make you take a step back and think about your world in a new way, which is just what the founders of City Lights wanted.
Finally, to top of the ultimate hip North Beach  shopping trip, stop in at 101 Music (1414 Grant Ave., 415/382-6369). This independent shop is short on copies of the latest pop CDs and long on vintage vinyl and secondhand instruments and musical equipment. Expect to see turntables, keyboards, and all sorts of fun arcane stuff as soon as you walk in the door. The vinyl collection hides downstairs. The organization of the records and CDs could be better, but isn’t browsing for treasure in the bins part of the fun at such a shop? Customer service, much of it provided by the owner, keeps locals coming back.