Boulder has been named the country’s Smartest City many times over. Something to do with the incredibly high caliber of the schools here, as well as boasting not just one, but two top universities—all this makes Boulder a well educated and well-read town. That being said, you’d think our bookstores would be top-notch, to keep up with the level of Boulderites’ brains, and you wouldn’t be wrong.
Boulder boasts several high-quality bookstores, often connected to comfy cafes, selling used, new, or both kinds of books. And yes, we do have a Barnes & Noble, that did actually win Best of Boulder Silver in the Boulder Weekly for bookstores. Beyond Barnes, though, Boulder has so many stellar independent retailers that it’s a breeze to support local indie booksellers, no matter what you’re looking for.
But which are the 5 best bookstores in Boulder? We’ve got the shortlist for you, right here:
When creating a list of the best bookstores in Boulder, the top of the list has to be independent Pearl Street icon, the Boulder Bookstore. Voted gold status for best bookstore in the Boulder Weekly’s Best Of Boulder awards more years in a row than you can count, Boulder Bookstore truly is the best of the best bookstores Boulder has to offer. And it’s not just locals that feel this way: Boulder Bookstore was named bookstore of the year from Publisher’s Weekly last year. Yup, we’ve hit the big time.
Founded in 1973, Boulder Bookstore has been a hub of literary wares and author events on full throttle since then. It’s the crown jewel of the Pearl Street Mall, and it has been nestled into its current historical landmark building since 1991. A highlight of its current locale is the gorgeous ballroom space upstairs, hosting local and international authors each week. And its beautiful layout (designed by a feng shui practitioner for optimal foot traffic flow) makes Boulder Bookstore a prime place to take time browsing on a leisurely afternoon.
Boulder Bookstore is also Boulder’s largest indie bookstore: at 20,000 square feet and displaying more than 100,000 titles in its three floors worth of shelves, you can find anything you need (and much more) there, and it’s easy to see why they won Boulder Weekly’s Gold Best of Boulder Award for best bookstore this year. Then again, they’ve been winning the gold for literally decades.
Trident Cafe & Booksellers
Like Boulder Bookstore, Trident is an old Boulder mainstay—those of us who grew up in Boulder have been going to Trident to browse its extensive used book selection and sip on their signature iced mochas for decades (no, seriously—they’re stellar—order one when you go).
Located just a block west of Boulder Bookstore, the Trident has two halves to it: the cafe side, and the bookstore side. The cafe side of Trident is now not only a coffee shop with a huge wall of specialty teas to boot, it’s now a wine bar, so you can order your favorite beverage of any kind as you chill, book-browse, study, or catch a theatrical production or reading on the back porch.
As far as books go, in the bookstore side, Trident has a wide array of very high quality used books, in an equally wide variety of categories. They only buy until 3pm, though—so get in there in the early afternoon to unload your already-reads (as long as they’re in excellent condition). Especially their art books: if you’re looking for a bookish gift for your favorite bibliophile, I highly recommend spending an enjoyable afternoon sifting through Trident’s art section.
And now, they’ve got their own publishing imprint! The Trident Press produces a wide array of eclectic and brilliant literature of all genres, and they’ve been doing it for a couple of years now.
Of the best bookstores in Boulder, when it comes to used books, The Bookworm is by far the biggest, and arguably the best selection because of it. Located north on 28th Street near Boulder favorite dive bar Outback, Bookworm is a big, immensely browsable jewel of a bookstore that you can find any odd thing you’re looking for, from the full Harry Potter series to more rare and valuable finds.
Bookworm won this year’s Bronze award in the Best of Boulder for bookstores, and it’s easy to see why: their classics section is chock-full of gems; their graphic novel section is so robust they have to have a separate section just for the manga; the YA and children’s sections are as big as most whole used sections of other stores; and they even have sheet music.
Bookworm is my personal favorite bookstore to shop: I periodically cull my book stacks and bring them down to Bookworm, and I always find something in trade that ameliorates my collection. This plug from a professor who’s been living in Boulder for more than forty years.
Innisfree is our one selection that’s located up on The Hill (Boulder parlance for the University neighborhood). What makes Innisfree special is that it’s dedicated specifically to poetry.
A poetry-only bookstore only makes sense in Boulder, especially within walking distance of CU Boulder’s amazing creative writing programs, let alone just up the hill from the world-famous Jack Kerouac School of Writing and Poetics (at Naropa).
An incredible selection of poetry, plus all the poetry events, all the time (from local elementary school students to local authors to internationally known poets), makes Innisfree the place to be for verse-centered goodness.
Beat Book Shop
Speaking of old Boulder institutions, the Beat Book Shop is one of those smallish yet amazingly curated places you have to know where to go to find it, but once you do, you will not regret it.
Founded way back in the day when the Boulder patron saint of the neo-Beats, Allen Ginsburg, was puttering around the Boulder Buddhist literati scene, and inspiring the founding of Naropa. So the Beat Book Shop is one of the legit OG booksellers to experience in Boulder. They have an expertly curated collection, of course, and within the Beat Book Shop’s depths are multimedia collections and some rare finds.
Delve downstairs under the Pearl Street Mall to peruse the wonders that are the Beat Book Shop.
Your favorite purveyor of tomes not mentioned here? Let us know in the comments where you like to get your books in Boulder.