A Bookish Coastal U.S. Road Trip: I-95 – Book Riot

Welcome to the third installment in our cross-country bookish road trip series! So far, we’ve traveled coast-to-coast along I-90, crossed mountains and rivers in the heart of the country on I-70, and now we’re taking you down the east coast using interstate 95. This is the perfect road to travel during the fall months, because not only will you get some gorgeous fall foliage in the northeastern portion of the trip, you’ll get to see some chilling, creepy bookish sights along the way.
As always, we’ll keep you along I-95 and all suggested detours will only take you one hour (one way) or less from the main route. This is not an exhaustive list; goodness knows there’s more literary goodness than you can shake a stick at along the eastern coast. Consider this list the highlights reel, and add bookish destinations to your itinerary as you please!
This route begins in Maine and runs all the way down to the very tip of Florida. That’s over 1,700 miles of highway across 13 states. You’ll notice that I-95 goes by a few different names along the way, but it’s the same road from Bangor to the Florida Keys. Travelers, this is going to be a good one. Buckle up, grab some snacks for the road, and let’s see what literary destinations I-95 has in store for us.
Oh yeah. You knew we were coming here. Our first stop is 47 West Broadway, at the king of horror’s house. Bangor is synonymous with Stephen King, and his home is everything you would expect from a horror writer: an old, red Victorian beauty with a wrought iron fence decorated with spiders and bats. Since King actually lives here, you can’t tour it, but you can definitely take a peek at the exterior and let its creepy ambiance set the tone for your fall road trip.
But Mel, why would I want to visit a water standpipe, you ask? Because it’s the standpipe. The It standpipe where Stan first meets Pennywise. Derry, after all, is modeled after Bangor. The standpipe tower is also a local historic landmark, built in 1897 to provide water storage for firefighters and regulate water pressure in Bangor.
Head down the street from the standpipe and look for an old, rusty grate in the road. That’s where Georgie’s paper sailboat slid into the drain, and where Pennywise offered him a balloon. Don’t get too close, and definitely don’t accept any balloons from strange clowns.
If you love horror, and based on almost every bookish stop on the trip so far we hope you do, Gerald Winters & Son in downtown Bangor is the bookstore for you. Home to every iteration of any Stephen King book you can find, as well as other rare and out-of-print findings from Tolkien and other horror writers, this bookstore is a treasure trove for a King or horror fan.
Swing by the Briar Patch just down the road to find some books, unique toys, and stuffed animals for the littles in your life. This cute little bookshop specializes in children’s books, but also carries grownup books, too.
Take a five minute walk across the Kenduskeag Stream to get to the Bangor Public Library, a beautiful building with a lovely old dome that used to be made entirely of copper, before it was replaced in 2014 and the copper was repurposed into jewelry that the library sold. And if you think you could get away from Pennywise here, think again. He made an appearance in the library, when a young Ben seeks refuge from his bullies (the scene was even filmed here in the 2017 remake), and Mike grows up to be the town librarian in the library’s Derry version.
An hour and a half’s drive from Bangor and 30 miles off of your main route, you’ll find the town of Brunswick. Harriet Beecher Stowe lived at 63 Federal Street in downtown Brunswick from 1850 to 1852, when she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Her writing room is open to the public for tours, and the building itself is a National Historic Landmark and a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom site; Stowe sheltered John Andrew Jackson for a night on his way to Canada in 1850.
Half a mile from Stowe’s former house is Twice Told Tales Quality Used Books, a local gem located in an old house full of used books. It’s run entirely by volunteers, and the proceeds go to benefit the Curtis Memorial Library.
If you walk five minutes north of Twice Told Tales, you’ll find Gulf of Maine Books, another well-loved independent bookstore. Enjoy the cozy space and the wide variety the offer, including a robust regional author section, a First Nations section, and international offerings as well.
Portland is only a 30-minute drive from Brunswick, and your first stop in this charming port city is one of the most unique bookstores in the state. Carlson Turner Books is housed in a Victorian era brick shop in the East End, and features antiquated, scholarly, and used books. They also specialize in bookbinding and offer repair services. Bonus: If you’re looking for a place to stay, the owners rent out rooms above the bookshop via Airbnb.
Walk half a mile down Congress Street and visit the state’s largest public library downtown. The Portland Public Library is a beautiful building that, addition to books, features an art gallery and special collections containing rare books from 19th and 20th century Portland publishers. Time your visit right and you just might catch a Literary Lunch, the public library’s free monthly series where they interview authors from New England. Since it takes place during the lunch hour, attendees can bring their lunch, and the library provides the coffee.
Walk across the street from the library and take a peek at Longfellow Books, one of Portland’s most well known independent bookstores. Get some great recommendations and enjoy their wide selection; you’re bound to find something to your liking.
Head back to Congress, walk past Monument Square and look for the big red brick building at 489 Congress Street. Poet Henry Wadsworth-Longfellow grew up here in the 1800s, and his childhood home opened to the public in 1901, when the Maine Historical Society took it over. Almost everything inside is original and belonged to the family, so a visit here will transport you to Portland in the 1800s. Take a leisurely stroll through the Longfellow Garden on the property, and if you walk ten minutes further down Congress to the corner of State, you’ll see the Henry Wadsworth-Longfellow monument.
Hop back in the car and drive across the Casco Bay Bridge for the Knightville neighborhood. Nonesuch Books features both new and used books, and you can also pick up some unique stationery and other gifts while you’re here.
An hour south of Portland puts you in New Hampshire’s premiere port city. Stop in Portsmouth’s Book & Bar for some lunch, and peruse their bookshelves after you’ve eaten your fill. The food looks delicious, and their book selection has a little something for everyone!
Walk right around the corner and pop into RiverRun Bookstore, an independent bookstore selling new and used books. Get a recommendation from their friendly staff!
If you branch off from I-95 in Amesbury and head west for Derry, you’re in for a treat: Robert Frost’s farm is in these parts. One of America’s most celebrated poets, Frost lived here from 1900 to 1911, and the farm was a huge inspiration for many of his poems. Tour the farmhouse, walk the nature trail around the property, and if you come at the right time, enjoy a poetry reading at the barn.
In under an hour, you’ll be in the most haunted city in the United States: Salem. Steeped in rich and utterly chilling history, autumn is perhaps the most appropriate time to visit. Your first stop will be Wicked Good Books, an independent bookstore that offers much more than your standard fare; you’ll find books on Salem history, tarot decks, and a selection of unique gifts on top of of their book stacks.
A short walk down Essex Street from Wicked Good Books will bring you to Crow Haven Corner, the oldest witch shop in Salem. In addition to the gifts, candles, herbs, and other witch-related items, they have a collection of occult and metaphysical books that you probably won’t find anywhere else.
Head across the street and have brunch or dinner at Nathaniel’s Restaurant, nestled inside the Hawthorne Hotel. This 96-year-old hotel is named after author Nathaniel Hawthorne, who grew up in Salem (and whose ancestor was a Salem witch trial judge). Stay at the hotel during your time in Salem and enjoy the Sunday Jazz brunch for some great music and tastier food.
Now that you’ve eaten, walk around the corner and visit the Salem Witch Museum, housed in an imposing castle-like structure. The exhibits and tours are based on documents from the trials, which include life-sized stage sets and a historical look at the European witch trials that preceded Salem’s. The museum also has a bookstore featuring books about the trials, as well as other souvenirs and gifts.
Half a mile east of downtown Salem is Hawthorne Central. Right next to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birthplace is the dark and brooding mansion that inspired Hawthorne to write a novel named after it: The House of Seven Gables. Built in 1668 and owned then by his cousin Susanna, you can tour the house where a tragic gothic romance took place.
Just six miles west of I-95 puts you in another bookish haven. Concord was home to an untold number of literary greats, and the first author on our stop in this historic, cozy town is Louisa May Alcott’s childhood home. Orchard House was built in 1650, and Louisa May Alcott wrote and set Little Women here. The house tours are part reenactment of the Alcott family, and 80% of the belongings in the house now belonged to the Alcotts. You can even still see some of her sister Abigail’s illustrations on the walls of her old bedroom.
Just down the road is the house Transcendentalist, essayist, and abolitionist Ralph Waldo Emerson and his activist wife Lidian lived in from 1835 until his death in 1882. Almost everything in the house belonged to him and his family, so as in Orchard House, walking through here is like walking back through time to when Concord was bustling with great American writers and poets.
On the edge of town, you’ll find Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, a beautiful, serene, and very old resting place for many Concord inhabitants. Take a pleasant fall walk along its paths, and follow the signs for Authors Ridge, where you’ll find the graves for the entire Alcott family, the Emersons, the Hawthornes, and Henry David Thoreau.
This 1770 home overlooks North Bridge, where the battle of April 19, 1775 took place, where Ralph Waldo Emerson lived for a year in 1834, then where Nathaniel Hawthorne lived with his new wife Sophia for three years. You can still see the poems they etched to each other in the upstairs windows, using Sophia’s diamond wedding ring. Henry David Thoreau planted a vegetable garden out front as a gift to the couple, and the garden is still there.
Drive two miles out of town and meander through the woods and their dazzling array of autumn colors. Soon you’ll come across a pond, made famous by Henry David Thoreau during his stay in a cabin by its banks for two years, which inspired his book Walden. The foundations of the cabin are still there. If you’re so inclined, bring a rock with you to the site and leave a note on it. Dozens of others before you have left messages written in stone; add yours to the collection.
A short 30-minute drive from Concord puts you in Boston. We’ve covered Boston in another bookish road trip journey; it’s the final stop along the I-90 route. Your first bookstore on this trip will be Trident Booksellers, where you can grab brunch in addition to browsing their extensive book collection and catching a literary event (or even a fun trivia night!).
Walk a mere .2 miles from Trident Booksellers and stop by Bukowski Tavern for a pint, named after the famous American poet.
Reserve the rest of afternoon to wander Boston’s gorgeous central public library, built in 1895 and featuring jaw-dropping architecture both inside and out. Look up to view the painted ceilings, peruse the galleries of rare books and art, sit awhile in the Bates Reading Room, and relax in the courtyard garden. The library also offers free tours seven days a week.
Your next bookshop is three stories of literary goodness, and one of the country’s oldest and largest independent bookstores. Brattle Bookshop‘s first two floors have your standard bookish fare, but the third floor is dedicated to rare and antique books. Be sure to check out the outside sale lot!
Although the building now houses a Chipotle, the Old Corner Bookstore building is worth a drop by simply for its unreal literary history. It sits on top of Anne Hutchinson’s 17th century home, which went on to become a number of booksellers and publishing houses including Ticknor and Fields, which published the likes of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, and Thoreau. The first American editions of Charles Dickens’s novels were also published out of this building.
Secure a room at the Omni Parker House, where Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Saturday Club used to meet. Edith Wharton also used this hotel as a meeting location in her novel The Age of Innocence.
A bookish road trip wouldn’t do without visiting one of the oldest independent libraries in the U.S. This membership library boasts a long history of notable author members that include the usual suspects: Emerson, Alcott, Hawthorne, Fuller, and more. The first floor is open to the public to tour, and they routinely have exhibits and art on display.
Take a stroll through the Beacon Hill neighborhood, where a wealth of writers used to live. Begin your walk on Pickney Street, where Louisa May Alcott, Elizabeth Peabody, Thoreau, and Louise Imogen Guiney used to live. Turn onto Mt. Vernon Street to where Henry James and Robert Frost lived, then on to Willow Street where Sylvia Plath resided.
A mere hour on the highway takes you to our next stop: Providence. This historic city is rich with history of all kinds, and that’s why we’re visiting a cemetery first. (This is the October road trip; expect no less.) H.P. Lovecraft spent most of his life in Providence, and the horror writer is buried at this cemetery. You’ll find his grave in the Phillips family plot, at the intersection of Pond Avenue and Avenue B. You can also visit his last residence at 65 Prospect Street, where he wrote Haunter in the Dark; the city has walking tours where you can see the other homes and haunts of Lovecraft.
Two miles south of the cemetery is independent bookstore Books on the Square. They have a wide selection to choose from, with a friendly staff ready to give a book recommendation, and they regularly host book launches and author events.
You’ll find a historical gem by Brown University in the form of the Providence Athenæum. Its history stretches back to 1753, and you’ll find some excellent collections and artwork inside its walls: early and rare editions of Walt Whitman and Louisa May Alcott, pamphlets from the 19th century, and a bust of H.P. Lovecraft. Edgar Allan Poe also visited here, and poet Sarah Helen Whitman broke off her engagement to Poe at the library.
Cross the Providence River and get lost in the narrow stacks of Cellar Stories Book Store. You’ll find rows upon rows of used and rare books, and they specialize in carrying books about local history, architecture, math, and poetry. You will no doubt find something unique here!
Walk down the street from the bookstore and check out the Providence Public Library, built in 1875. Take your time soaking in the gorgeous Venetian Renaissance–style architecture, and be sure to check out the exhibitions before you go.
Enjoy your final stop in Providence with a glass of wine or a pint. At Riffraff Bookstore and Bar, you can peruse their bookish offerings, order a drink at the bar, and sit in a cozy spot to read away the evening. They’re also currently offering surprise book care packages with three curated selections based on your recent favorite books.
In just over an hour and a half, you’ll reach New Haven, the home of libraries the likes of which you and I have only dreamed of. Park your car by Yale University and stretch your legs, because these bookish spots are all clustered together. Begin with one of the world’s largest rare book collection centers: the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. You’ll find 13th century copies of Arthurian romances, 17th century grammar books for children, and collections from the likes of Claude McKay, Edith Wharton, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Zora Neale Hurston.
Right next door is the Sterling Memorial Library, Yale’s largest library. Take your time with this stunner, because it houses over 2.5 million books across 14 floors. If it reminds you of a cathedral, that was the intent: the architectural style is Collegiate Gothic, complete with side chapels and stained glass windows.
Head down the street from Yale and grab some lunch at the bright and airy Atticus Bookstore Cafe, where they serve breakfast all day (as is right and proper) and provide some delicious looking sandwiches. Then, check out their vast selection of books and bookish swag.
Walk across York Street, because your next bookstore is practically next door: The Book Trader Cafe is a used bookstore that specializes in academic and art books, but you can find a lot more while you’re here. Grab a coffee at their cafe and a baked good while you’re at it!
In just under two hours, you’ll be in New York City, and reader, I hope you’ve allocated enough time to really soak in the literary history here. Get ready for some book nerdery shenanigans that I can’t even map out successfully because there’s so many of them. Naturally, I can’t list every amazing bookish place NYC has to offer, and I’ve intentionally left off The Strand because it’s a cultural institution at this point and a given for a visit. Let’s look at some other amazing bookish places in NYC!
Come to the Bronx’s only independent bookstore for a glass of wine and a long sit down with a good book. The Lit. Bar is owned by Black and Puerto Rican Bronx native Noëlle Santos, and carries a wide selection of Black and diverse author selections across genres and reading ages.
Ahh, now you can really stretch your legs and walk off all those hours in the car. Central Park in the fall will be a stunner, and if you walk to the south end of the Promenade, you’ll find Literary Walk, where there are statues of Fitz-Greene Halleck, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and William Shakespeare. You should also head to the northern end of the Conservatory Water to see the Alice in Wonderland bronze statue.
All that walking probably worked up an appetite. Just outside of Central Park is the perfect opportunity for an afternoon tea; Alice’s Tea Cup will transport you to wonderland while you enjoy brunch and a cuppa. The decor is also whimsical and fun.
This family-owned six-story bookstore not far from Central Park has old timey library vibes, with classic green reading lamps and sturdy wooden bookcases. Argosy specializes in carrying antique and out-of-print books, so you’re sure to find some rare beauties on those shelves.
This is the library of your dreams, I promise you. The Morgan Library Museum was built by Pierpont Morgan in 1906, and the entire building is an architectural wonder that has to be seen in person. The library showcases rare editions and original manuscripts, as well as autographed and annotated musical scores from the likes of Beethoven and Chopin.
You owe it to yourself to see how beautiful the New York Public Library main branch is in person. The Rose Main Reading Room is outrageously gorgeous, the architecture is as stately and elegant as you’d imagine, and the artwork and historical collections are always a treat (the library shop swag? Also amazing). Don’t forget to look up at the ceilings while you’re wandering, and when you leave, walk down Library Way and check out the bronze plaques in the sidewalk that showcase bookish quotes.
If you want to feel like you’ve stepped into the cozy den of some fancy ski resort with a crackling fire somewhere nearby, come to Rizzoli, right by Madison Square Park. It’s so dang pretty. Take your sweet time meandering through this bookstore and its massive selection, then pick a few reads, find a comfy chair, and get the full experience.
If you love comics and graphic novels, this is the place for you. Forbidden Planet has literally everything your beating nerd heart could ever want. On top of comics and graphic novels and manga, they have pop culture swag, action figures, collectibles, games, books — I could go on. Do not leave Manhattan without seeking out this treasure of a store (which is right by The Strand).
Enjoy a nice dinner of French cuisine at Minetta Tavern in Greenwich Village. This tavern was a local haunt for the likes of Hemingway, Ezra Pound, and E.E. Cummings to name a few, and combines beautifully plated dishes with an old world, vintage charm.
Housing Works in Soho is another simply beautiful bookstore with statuesque roman columns and vaulted ceilings that still manage to feel cozy and intimate. The bookstore is staffed entirely by volunteers, and all their profits go toward the life-saving services they provide for unhoused and low-income New Yorkers affected by AIDS/HIV.
Thriller, crime, and mystery novel lovers: your time has come. The Mysterious Bookshop in Tribeca is solely dedicated to the mystery genre and all its delightfully wicked sub-genres, supplying you with new, used, and rare crime and suspense novels.
Head to the Lower East Side and visit Bluestockings Cooperative, the only LGBTQ, trans, and sex worker bookstore in NYC, and it’s completely worker-owned. Bluestockings is a community-forward safe space with a wide range of LGBTQ and feminist selections across multiple genres.
Your final NYC stop is in Brooklyn, at intersectional feminist Black-owned bookstore Cafe con Libros. Their primary focus is promoting women authors, especially women of color. Order a coffee from their cafe, enjoy their lovely space and book selection, and let’s hit the road.
Drive an hour west, because we’re headed across the bay to Newark! Your first stop is the main branch of the Newark Public Library. It was built in 1899, and this beautiful old building houses some interesting special collections of rare books, fine prints, historical poster designs, and even historical postcards from the late 19th and 20th centuries.
A block over from the library is comic book haven Fortress of Solitude. They have an extensive collection of comics that they’ve made available to the Newark community for years, and the staff is always ready with a recommendation.
Drive down Broad Street and take a peek at Source of Knowledge Bookstore, an African-Caribbean family-owned bookstore. They carry a huge collection of books written by and about people of African descent, and they also sell African art and other gifts.
Find the cemetery next to the Newark Airport, for you will also find the grave of Beat poet Allen Ginsberg. He grew up in Newark, before going to Columbia and meeting who would become the Beat generation of poets and writers, himself included. Ginsberg is buried in his family’s plot.
An hour and a half on the road will bring you to Philadelphia. Before going downtown, find your way to the heart of Germantown and stay awhile at Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books, where the coffee is top notch and the books are, well, bookish. Uncle Bobbie’s opened in 2017 by owner Marc Lamont Hill with the goal of providing a Black bookish community space for an underserved community. The atmosphere is inviting, the art is beautiful, and there’s always a free author event happening. And also, sweet potato pie.
This newer Black-owned bookstore in the Fishtown neighborhood pays homage to Harriet Tubman in the shop’s name, and carries a large collection of women authors. Harriet’s Bookshop is a gorgeous space that will encourage you to stay awhile, and the staff is always ready with a recommendation for your next read.
While Poe lived in a few different places during his time in Philadelphia, the house at 532 N. 7th Street in the Spring Garden neighborhood is the only one left standing to visit. He lived here for six years and published The Black Cat during that time. Tour the home, get some Poe swag from the gift shop, and imagine how inspirational the house must have been for Poe to write some of his most chilling work within its walls.
Downtown, you’ll find a 70-year-old bookstore that is a local favorite. Joseph Fox Bookshop is a quaint, quiet haven for book lovers, and has a wide selection of literary fiction, nonfiction, small press offerings, children’s books, and more that you will only discover if you stop in for a visit.
Walk half a mile south from the bookstore, past Rittenhouse Square, and look for a pretty brownstone townhouse. It houses the Rosenbach Museum & Library, which is filled to the brim with the personal collection of 19th century art and literature dealers the Rosenbach brothers. A few of their gems: A 1664 Shakespeare folio, hundreds of Lewis Carroll paraphernalia, William Blake’s original drawings, and James Joyce’s Ulysses manuscript.
You’d like to visit a castle, right? Of course you would. Head to the Fisher Fine Arts Library at the University of Pennsylvania to feel like you’ve stumbled upon the Beast’s castle in the French countryside, and peruse their special collections, which have a heavy emphasis on art and architecture, urban design, and photography. For other gorgeous libraries, be sure to check out the Romanesque Parkway Central Library of Philadelphia’s vast library system.
It is a house of books. Your final stop in this historic city is a bookstore that is quite literally a gorgeous old house filled with books, even along the staircase, in the hall, everywhere you look. House of Our Own is right along the edge of the UPenn campus in an old Victorian house, and they carry new and used fiction and nonfiction, as well as an impressive collection of scholarly books.
A mere hour and a half drive puts you in Baltimore, which we’ve also explored in the I-70 bookish road trip route. Since your first stop here will be at a Poe-themed brewery (that is, if you drink alcohol), it’s only right for you to spend at least one night in Baltimore after trying out RavenBeer’s Edgar Allan Poe series, which includes an Annabelle Lee White, a Pendulum Pilsner, and a Tell Tale Heart IPA. Safety first! But seriously, it’s a really cool brewery with Poe swag, and RavenBeer is also a sponsor of The National Edgar Allan Poe Theatre.
You must be hungry now, so it’s time to head over to the Canton area of Baltimore for a tasty meal at the Annabel Lee Tavern. They have a wide array of pub food and Poe-themed drinks and desserts for you to sample, all in a very cool space, both inside and out.
Your first bookstore stop in Baltimore will be at Greedy Reads in the Fells Point neighborhood. The corner store’s bank of windows lets in a lot of natural light, so you can freely browse their collection. They also offer an opportunity to bring a “curated” bag of goodies home as a souvenir or to give to someone you care about; just tell the staff your three favorite books and how you’re currently feeling, and they’ll hand select book recs for you to take home.
Venture to the Hampden neighborhood to fully embrace your book nerd status, for Atomic Books specializes in comic books and small press offerings. Time your visit right and you can partake in some karaoke, which they host on the last Friday of each month.
Arguably one of the most gorgeous libraries in the United States, wandering through the George Peabody Library is a must while you’re here. The cathedral-like space houses over 300,000 books, visible across six tiers of cast-iron balconies in the main library space. If there ever was a library to make you feel like Belle in the Beast’s castle, this is it. View some priceless first editions in their collection before you leave, such as Darwin’s Origin of the Species, works by Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville, and even some natural history folios.
You can’t leave Baltimore without visiting the father of American gothic fiction’s house. Edgar Allan Poe lived at 203 North Amity in the Poppleton neighborhood from 1833 to 1835. The house has some of the original fabric from when he lived there, and although it’s not furnished, it contains some keepsakes of his, including his writing desk and chair.
In a little under an hour, you’ll be in the nation’s capitol. Your first stop is in the Anacostia neighborhood: look for the gorgeous estate at 1411 W Street, SE. Activist, abolitionist, and author Frederick Douglass lived here for the last 17 years of his life. The house itself was built in the 1850s, and Douglass bought it in 1877. The house, which is open for tours, still contains many items that belonged to him and his family, including his entire library and his diary from 1871.
Drive across the river for two miles and enjoy three floors of used and new books at Capitol Hill Books, which lives in a row house, and every room is dedicated to more books (they are literally overflowing with books). Lose yourself in this house of books and its many rooms, and leave with another book or two; perhaps even one of their grab bags of mysteriously curated content, which they’re currently offering for patrons.
The world’s largest collection of Shakespeare stuff and things, you say? Sign us up. The Folger Shakespeare Library is a research library that contains 260,000 printed books, 60,000 manuscripts (dating back to the 13th century) and 9,000 prints, drawings, and photographs. In addition to Shakespeare memorabilia, they also carry historical performance history items like playbooks and costumes. Oh, and they put on Shakespeare plays. Don’t forget to stroll the library’s gardens and take a moment to enjoy the very pretty architecture.
Walk to the building literally right next to the Shakespeare Library to have your mind blown again. The Library of Congress contains over 40 million books (in 470 languages!) in its absurdly beautiful building, and although it wouldn’t be humanly possible to see them all, know that you will be in a location with the largest concentration of books in the entire world. Sit awhile in the reading rooms, visit the library shop for some Big Library Swag, and check out their exhibits, which include an original Gutenberg Bible and a Benjamin Franklin collection.
This bookstore in DuPont Circle is a D.C. institution, so it’s a must stop; it was the first bookstore/cafe in D.C., after all. Kramers will feed your mind and your stomach, because it also has a restaurant and bar with a wide array of breakfast and dinner options. If you visit on a Sunday, stay long enough to enjoy some live jazz music.
Drive about 15 minutes north to visit one of D.C.’s own favorite bookstores, Politics and Prose. Both spacious and welcoming, there’s always something going on at this bookstore, with an author event of some kind happening every day. Couple that with a robust book selection (and a heavy emphasis on political offerings), and you’re bound to have a great time here.
Two more hours on I-95 will put you in Richmond, Virginia. Come to Black Swan Books on the north side of the city for your rare, unusual, and unique books. This bookstore also specializes in carrying prints, maps, and ephemera, as well as antiquarian and scholarly books. (Unrelated, their logo is also pretty excellent).
Now check out Fountain Bookstore, the downtown bookstore that has all the charm and coziness you could want, with a wide selection for you to peruse. Look to the staff for a great recommendation, and be on the lookout for an author event to attend while you’re in town.
This guy moved around quite a bit, didn’t he? I should have named this the Edgar Allan Poe road trip. Although he never actually lived in this super cute cottage just half a mile down Main Street from the bookstore, he did live in various other homes in Richmond, and the town dedicated the oldest standing house in the city to the Gothic author (built in 1754). The Edgar Allan Poe Museum boasts the largest collection of all things Poe, including first editions, manuscripts, furniture owned by him, clothing, statues, letters, and more.
Welcome to Fayetteville! It took you three hours to get here, and you need a break from driving. While you’re exploring their historic downtown, stop in City Center Gallery & Books, the only independent bookstore in the historic downtown area. This intimate bookstore with the aesthetically pleasing storefront is bound to have something for you, and they also carry artwork by local artists for purchase.
If you head about 15 minutes northwest of downtown, you can check out one of Fayetteville’s favorite comic book stores, which boasts a robust back issue selection and a knowledgeable, friendly staff. Dragon’s Lair Comics also carries a selection of collectibles and figurines, and there’s always a deal of some kind going on to take advantage of.
It’s been four hours on the road, but now you’ve reached lovely Savannah, Georgia. Your first stop is The Book Lady Bookstore, which provides new, used, and rare books, including first editions of older, well known books. You’ll love wandering the stacks in this quaint and inviting bookstore.
Walk two streets over and visit the bookstore with the adorable storefront. You will find a treasure trove of books and cats to pet, which are two of the greatest things you could find under one roof. Find a book and park yourself in one of their comfortable chairs to read for a spell, because you won’t want to rush your visit at E. Shaver Booksellers.
In Lafayette Square, you’ll find the charming old home where Southern Gothic author Flannery O’Connor grew up. She lived there from her birth in 1925 to 1938, and the house has been furnished to look like it did during the Depression era. Take a tour and learn more about O’Connor’s life and work (which should include the more unsavory aspects; it is worth noting that O’Connor, like Lovecraft, has a history of racism that’s shown up in personal letters and in her writing).
The Mercer House, owned by the Mercer family (which includes songwriter Johnny Mercer), shows up on this road trip because it’s heavily featured in John Berendt’s novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which tells the true story of a Savannah antique dealer who allegedly murdered someone on the Mercer House property. It’s also a really, really pretty house, and touring it would be worth it for the architecture alone.
You’ve made it to Florida! Jacksonville is your first city, and the main public library branch is your first stop; it is a beauty. You may recognize the architectural style as one you’ve seen before in our other cross-country road trips: this is an Andrew Carnegie funded library. The inside is open, airy, brightly lit, and the back of the library has a lovely outdoor space worth a look.
Ever dreamed of getting absolutely lost in a bookstore? This is your dream come true. Chamblin Bookmine is about seven miles west of downtown and is deceptively plain on the outside, but folks…this new/used bookstore is like Mary Poppins’s bag. You’ll just keep pulling more and more books out, because it is bottomless, and you’ll find so many books on more topics than you knew even existed. Go on. Get lost. We’ll see you next week.
Let Fort Lauderdale wow you with the Broward County Main Library, a glass and concrete beauty with floating staircases, a huge atrium, and step-like outdoor balconies bursting with greenery. The library also boasts a few galleries for exhibits, which include a NASA moon rock on the sixth floor.
Drive down S Andres Ave for a little over a mile and look for the big Bob’s News sign. This bookstore that’s more than a bookstore is a unique one, with newspapers and magazines from all over the globe and an eclectic mix of books. You can even load up on snacks here before you get back on the road.
Ten minutes west of downtown Fort Lauderdale lies Old Florida Bookshop, which may not look like much from the outside…but wait until you see the inside. This bookstore transports you to a different world with its floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, bookshelf ladders, stained glass lamps, and other old timey knick knacks. You’re bound to find some rare/antique books just as unique as the bookstore itself.
A short 30 minutes puts you in Miami. You may have left the fall colors long behind, but the warm Florida sun has probably been pretty nice! Head to Altamira Libros, a cool and funky space with a massive Spanish language book collection, which includes Latin American classics, translations of classics in other languages, children’s titles, and new releases. The bookstore’s aim is to provide and promote Spanish reading materials to the local communities, and it is truly a local gem.
Don’t miss the most well-known independent bookstore in southern Florida. Books & Books has been a Miami mainstay since 1982, and although they have multiple locations, the one closest to the first original location is in Coral Gables. They’re constantly having author events, and carry a wide range of books. Don’t forget to grab some lunch at their cafe and enjoy it in their courtyard.
Visit Florida’s oldest comic book store for all your comic and graphic novel needs. They also carry vintage toys and other collectibles that you’ll find among their stacks upon stacks of comics. You may just get lost trying to find what you’re looking for, but there are worse things than getting lost in a comic store.
Well, friends, we’ve taken you as far as you can go along the eastern coast of the US. You better believe there’s still literary stops to be had. Playwright Tennessee Williams visited and lived in Key West for over 30 years, and now you can visit a museum dedicated to him. View photographs, first editions of his plays, one of the typewriters he used, and learn about his life in the keys. And if you need a place to stay for this last leg of the trip, make it the Crowne Plaza La Concha: Williams stayed here before he permanently moved into the area, and it’s believed he wrote A Streetcar Named Desire at this hotel.
Walk down the street and see where Ernest Hemingway lived in Key West during the 1930s. He wrote a number of his most famous works here, and many of his belongings are still in the house. While you’re touring this gorgeous property, keep an eye out for Hemingway’s cats: a good 60 of them are six-toed (polydactyl), direct descendants of a white six-toed cat that a ship’s captain gifted to Hemingway.
Celebrate the end of your bookish road trip with a drink. The bar that was born the day Prohibition ended, Sloppy Joe’s was originally called the Blind Pig — that is, until a patron named Hemingway suggested a name change. Hemingway was good friends with the bar owner, and often frequented Sloppy Joe’s and brought other literary friends with him.
You made it! You traveled from Bangor, Maine, all the way down to Key West, Florida. You’ve experienced fall and summer temperatures, visited more Edgar Allan Poe houses than you even knew existed, and spent a lot of time in cemeteries. Even if you only tackled half of this behemoth of a road trip, you would see so many cool things. Happy travels, my bookish road trippers.
Don’t forget to check out the other bookish road trips to plan your next one!