The Book Lover’s Guide to the Pacific Northwest

The Pacific Northwest has a rich literary history: writers like Ken Kesey, Raymond Carver, Ursula K. Le Guin, Theodore Roethke, Beverly Cleary, and many others have all called this area home. Book lovers will find plenty of inspiration here, from indie bookstores to literary-themed hotels to one mammoth library. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the rainy weather is perfect for kicking back with a cup of coffee and a new novel.

Here are 15 literary hotspots book lovers won’t want to miss:


Drink to the poets of the past:

Seattle’s literary history is kind of like the Blue Moon Tavern, the University District pub long known for its open mics and writer gatherings—not everyone knows about it, but it’s bustling and well-loved. Since opening in 1934, writers such as Richard Hugo, Allen Ginsberg, Carolyn Kizer, Dylan Thomas, and Theodore Roethke have all settled in for a drink here. Play a game of pool, soak up the divey atmosphere, and toast to your favorite poet of the Pacific Northwest.

Seattle's Central Library.
Seattle’s Central Library. © danielsearchfield / iStock

Find a book that’s one-in-a-million:

There are a million books inside Seattle Central Library and nearly as many glass panels on the unusual exterior. The interior feels like a greenhouse, but one that grows books. The windowed building was designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and has enough glass to cover more than five football fields. Readings and events occur daily in the library’s auditorium and other meeting spaces, and the expansive 3rd floor has a café and reading areas.

Party in silence:

The stylish, 109-year-old Hotel Sorrento hosts a monthly silent reading party in the fireplace lobby, where strangers sit shoulder-to-shoulder reading in complete silence. (Okay, there’s also live piano music, plus food and drinks.) In the past, the hotel has also hosted “Ask the Oracle,” a Q&A with authors where the audience asks personal questions and the authors provide answers—selected randomly from books. An added bonus: legend has it that Gertrude Stein’s partner Alice B. Toklas haunts the place.

Discover your new favorite author from a staff pick:

In Seattle’s literary scene, Elliott Bay Book Company is a hallowed space. Readers gather among bookshelves, in the café, or in a basement reading room that attracts an audience for names big and small. This is the kind of indie bookstore where the staff recommendations are spot-on, and the café seats are a hot commodity.

Drink and sleep in literary style:

There’s a bookish theme to the Alexis Hotel, with ornate touches reminiscent of a classy, old-school library. For a truly literary experience, settle in at the cozy Bookstore Bar & Café. The colorful rows of classic tomes aren’t just for show—you can snag a book for just $5, and dishes at happy hour aren’t much more. Some of the best reading in the house, however, is the menu of 70 single-malt Scotch whiskeys.

Get involved in Seattle’s literary scene:

The poet Richard Hugo, a student of Theodore Roethke’s, inspired Hugo House: a creative writing center where you can hone your craft at a weekend workshop or simply attend a reading, open mic, or book launch party. You can even get your creative juices flowing at a donation-based “Yoga for Writers” class. Most events at the center are free.


Portland's Pioneer Square
Portland’s Pioneer Square. © zrfphoto / iStock

Get lost in the stacks:

If you think you’ve seen big bookstores before, you haven’t traveled the byways of Powell’s City of Books. More than a million volumes fill the store, which takes up an entire block on the site of an old car-repair shop. It’s open every day of the year, and color-coded signs direct newbies through the rooms and rooms of tall bookshelves. Readings and other events occur daily, often one after another, and feature major writers passing through Portland.

Immerse yourself in Portland’s feminist community:

In Other Words is more than just a sketch on Portlandia. It’s a feminist community center and bookstore, hosting events like reading groups that focus on feminist and queer science fiction, craft nights, yoga, dream discussion nights, and open mic nights.

Have a moment of nostalgia:

If you loved reading about the misadventures of the plucky but not always well-behaved Ramona Quimby from the unforgettable children’s series by Beverly Cleary, you’ll want to visit Grant Park, where Ramona, Henry Huggins, and Henry’s dog Ribsy are immortalized in bronze. Cleary grew up in the neighborhood, and a number of her favorite childhood spots are remembered in the stories of Ramona and her sister, Beezus. Download a map from the Multnomah County website and take a self-guided walking tour of Ramona’s neighborhood.

Cheer on a local author at a reading:

A great place for self-published local writers to hold their book releases, Another Read Through advocates for authors of genre fiction more than the average bookstore. With a large section of local and LGBTQ authors, plus mystery, nonfiction, bio/memoir, science fiction and fantasy, true crime, and more, the store also hosts readings, book clubs, and writing workshops.


Let your imagination run wild in the kids’ section:

Though located in a mostly residential neighborhood west of downtown, Roundabout Books is a destination-worthy stop for readers. Shelves are packed with a carefully curated selection, and the staff is knowledgeable and friendly. The sales counter doubles as a small coffee bar, and the children’s section is small but lovingly presented.

Sip a cup of pour-over coffee and pore over a unique find:

Downtown’s best book stop, Dudley’s Bookstore and Cafe feels mostly like a café at first, but upstairs are more shelves of guidebooks, history, fantasy, and fiction. New hardbacks are always discounted, used books are sold as well, and the couch makes for a comfortable spot to dive into a new purchase right away.


Take your “beach reading” to the next level:

The darling Sylvia Beach Hotel is a cozy, bookish treasure in a town of big hotels. It’s a blue four-story house on a bluff overlooking the beach, and much quieter than the usual beach motel. Each room is named for an author or book—the Colette room has a French feel and the Hemingway room has goofy animal heads mounted above the bed. Plus, there’s a library and resident cats. Dinner is family style in the Tables of Content Restaurant; reservations are required.
For room availability, call (541) 265-5428


Pay respects to the Bard (and plenty of other playwrights):

Of course there’s a proper bookstore in such a bookish town (Ashland is known for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival). Bloomsbury Books is in a two-story space with plenty of reading nooks and a café between the rows of new books. The store’s knowledgeable staff makes good recommendations. And, of course, there’s a large drama section.


Celebrate one of Canada’s most remarkable writers in a stunning space:

The stately Munro’s Books has tons of literary cred, or at least literary adjacency—it was founded by the Nobel Prize winning writer Alice Munro and her first husband. The neoclassical building that now holds the bookstore was originally owned by the Royal Bank of Canada and is a cathedral to books, with intricate, tall ceilings. After celebrating 50 years in business, the store is still going strong, though it hasn’t been directly associated with Munro in decades.