The Last Bookstore: Reading is Cool in Los Angeles
The Last Bookstore is an iconic location in Downtown Los Angeles, transcending its place as California’s largest seller of new, used, and rare books into a quasi art installation. It’s also a cultural touchstone connecting the Age of Literacy to the Post-Information Age. This post share photos from inside, info and tips for visiting, and whether it lives up to the hype. (Updated February 14, 2021.)
Let’s start with a couple of updates. First, you might be finding this page due to the Last Bookstore playing a role in the Netflix special, Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, as the last place Elisa Lam was seen alive. If not, her tragic story is just one of the many reasons we recommend watching that multifaceted documentary.
Second, those seeking more practical planning info about the Last Bookstore is now back open for in-person shopping with capacity limits in place and face masks required for everyone inside the store. The bookseller has also expanded its online sales, offering a wide selection of titles as well as branded merchandise and curated bundles of books.
Located at 453 S. Spring St. in Los Angeles, the Last Bookstore is convenient to numerous other DTLA points of interest. It’s a short walk from Grand Central Market, the MOCA, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Central Library and, yes, even the “historic” Cecil Hotel/Stay on Main. We’ve previously covered it on this blog in our 1-Day Downtown Los Angeles Walking Itinerary.
At 22,000 square feet in size, and containing over a quarter-million new and used books spread over two floors, the Last Bookstore. While much of the ground floor layout mirrors what you’d find at Barnes and Noble or ‘regular’ bookseller, the Annex contains an impressive array of rare and art books (think TASCHEN and the like).
Things really get interesting once you head to the second floor. There, you’ll find the Labyrinth Above the Last Bookstore, Gather Yarn Shop, and the Spring Arts Collective gallery shops. The Labyrinth is where the Last Bookstore’s quirky character shines, and where you’ll find most of the art installations, photo ops, and intimate rooms (and vaults) containing particular genres of books.
The Spring Arts Collective gallery shops feature a handful (maybe 5?) of booths that are independently-run by individual artists. These are essentially shops and studios for those artists, who display their art and offer it for purchase. Hours on these are hit or miss since they are (or seem to be) one-person operations. We usually visit the Last Bookstore midday on weekends, and I think we see around half of them open each time.
The Last Boostore is open late (9 to 11 p.m.), making it a good spot to decompress after a long day in DTLA. Note that the Last Bookstore has a mandatory bag check for anything above the size of a small purse. Metered street parking is available in the area, but you’ll probably want to get a flat-rate spot in one of Downtown Los Angeles’ abundant parking structures, as there’s a ton to see, do, and eat in this area. In addition to selling books and records, the Last Bookstore also purchases them (and accepts donations).
Although the Last Bookstore’s name is meant to be wry and ironic, we worry that it might also be prophetic. Since we’ve been visiting, the Last Bookstore has eliminated its massive (and low-margin) $1 used book section upstairs, and made other changes pushing it more into the mainstream. The Last Bookstore draws huge crowds, but most leave empty-handed and we can’t help but wonder if its days are numbered in the era of Amazon.
To be perfectly honest, I was totally expecting to hate the Last Bookstore. I had seen it plastered all over Instagram, and not by bookworms, but by faux models and trendsters. I figured it was less functional bookstore, and more a place to go for a photoshoot if you want to appear contemplative and deep on social media.
I wasn’t wrong about it drawing the superficial crowd (there are numerous warning signs about being asked to leave if your photography is disruptive to other customers). What I didn’t expect was the Last Bookstore to be one of the best bookstores I’ve ever visited.
The first time I visited the Last Bookstore, it was with a heavy sense of cynicism–of both the bookstore’s clientele and its atmosphere. I’ll readily and happily admit that I was completely wrong.
The Last Bookstore is not just a place to see and be seen, it’s a bona-fide book-selling powerhouse filled with staff who are passionate about literature and a lineup of titles that is incredibly formidable. While some customers are clearly only there for photo purposes, these visitors don’t seem to be the majority.
I also totally misjudged the vibe of the Last Bookstore, which is actually an eclectic mix of irreverent, artistic, bookworm-ish, and casual hipster. (Sadly, most of my preconceptions about the Last Bookstore say more about what I consume on social media than they do about the store.)
The Labyrinth upstairs is everyone’s favorite part of the Last Bookstore. If you’ve seen photos of the bookseller, they’re probably from up there. This is where the book tunnel, shelf with books flying off it created by David Lovejoy and titled “Diagnosis”, science fiction bank vault, color installations, book portal, and other fun and random details can be found.
You’ll see plenty of people posing for selfies in Labyrinth; it’s unquestionably the most photogenic area of the Last Bookstore, and some of the art installations are ready-made for photos. However, the art installations are also thought-provoking and flat-out cool. I went in thinking I’d be the contrarian who pooh-poohs this, but it won me over. It also doesn’t hurt that there are plenty of intimate nooks and shelves worthy of browsing.
In terms of the Last Bookstore as a bookseller, my favorite areas are the Annex (rare/vintage/art books) and the bargain shelves. As odd as it may sound, these two types of books at opposite ends of the spectrum are the ones I’m most likely to purchase. I love to collect and display beautiful artistic coffee table books, rotating them out every so often. (Whenever we move, I’m reminded I have too many of these–over 50% of our boxes are filled with books.)
Usually, if the book isn’t something I’d want to display and regularly revisit, I just check it out from the local library. I’m staunchly in favor of public libraries, and almost always have a few titles checked out.
Unfortunately(?), I’m also a strong supporter of public libraries by virtue of paying late fees. So, if there’s a title I can own for a dollar or two, I’ll almost always go that route and donate it when I’m done with it; there’s a good chance I’d be paying more to “borrow” it from the library.
At the start of this section, I sound like a surly curmudgeon yelling at the kids to get off my lawn. However, I must admit that the unique design and artistic elements of the Last Bookstore are awesome and engaging. It was fun to simply explore the Last Bookstore, going into sections I normally wouldn’t have just to see what unique elements might be present. This led me to perusing books I might otherwise never would’ve known exist. I’m guessing this type of browsing is common, and even those who only go in for photos might end up leaving with a used book or two. Ultimately, if the Last Bookstore teaches even one faux Instagram model to read, it’s all worth it.
If you’re planning a trip, check out our Ultimate Guide to Los Angeles or our California category of posts. For even more things to do, The Best Things to Do in Los Angeles: 1001 Ideas is an exceptional resource, which is written by other locals. If you enjoyed this post, help spread the word by sharing it via social media. Thanks for reading!
Have you visited the Last Bookstore? If so, what did you think of experience? Buy anything? Did you think it lived up to the hype and offered a bookstore of substance? Any additional tips to add that we didn’t cover? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
Elisa Lam’s blogs and social media sites are listed here –
I’m intrigued! We’re planning a trip in the summer that will take in Portland, OR, I.e. Powell’s, and this could be the bookend to the trip, so to speak.
Thanks for your LA guide, it’s informative and different to the book guides.
Yes, it lives up to the hype.
I’m a true bibliophile like you…my moving bill is high because I refuse to get rid of my treasures and they weigh a lot! TLB has so many finds for me to find I cannot imagine them closing, so I patronize them frequently.
Yes, the posers are obnoxious. Yes, the trendites are irritating. But for me, it is a small price to pay for the joy TLB gives me.
Thank you for your story!
The Last Bookstore is a great book store. I live across the street from what I consider my second living room and back before Covid would daily hit my favorite shelves or hang out with my dog on one of the couches reading. The book store often has one or two of the books I have written in stock, so that’s always a kick to see. I can also attest to the friendliness of the staff and the required book knowledge. I’ve taken the massive 500 question test that you must pass in order to be considered for a job. While I did pass, it was just barely and not enough to score a position. Alas, I had to keep my literary day job
Hi, I’m a news writer for The University Network (TUN), a global media company for college students available in 108 languages. I was wondering if we could use the first image above for our article on a general guide to planning a trip to L.A. If yes, please let us know to whom we credit the image. Thank you.
Long a fan of Powells Books in Portland, OR, I shall have to check this out. Thanks!
Being on the other coast, I’d not heard of The Last Bookstore. But I have a trip planned to LA in the spring with my daughter and she and I will eat this up with a spoon. Thanks for sharing! I probably wouldn’t have known about it otherwise
You’re welcome–have a great trip!