The Best Places in LA to Read a Book

Golden Lotus Temple and swans at the Self Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine
The Golden Lotus Temple at the Self Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine  |  Photo:  Yuri Hasegawa

After you've shopped L.A.'s best specialty bookstores, you'll need a place to read. As great as it is to relax at home or in the park and read the latest bestseller, L.A. has many interesting locations for you to curl up with a book. From a romantic beach to historic bars, discover the best places in Los Angeles to read a book.

NOTE: Hours and opening dates change frequently. Check individual websites for updated information.

Bukowski - Frolic Room

Located on Hollywood Boulevard next door to the Pantages Theatre, the Frolic Room boasts one of the best neon signs of any bar and the famous two-panel mural by legendary artist Al Hirschfeld, which features caricatures of more than two dozen iconic figures, including Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, Picasso, Albert Einstein and Louis Armstrong. The Pantages hosted the Academy Awards from 1950 to 1960, so it's fun to imagine Oscar winners like Marlon Brando and Audrey Hepburn stopping by the Frolic Room to celebrate their big nights.

The Frolic Room was a favorite haunt of Charles Bukowski, dubbed the "laureate of American lowlife" by TIME magazine. For almost a decade, Buk lived at an apartment on De Longpre Avenue a couple of miles east of the Frolic Room. Order a boilermaker and dive into Bukowski's debut novel, Post Office, which he wrote in three weeks. Pro tip: there's free Jiffy Pop popcorn, you just have to ask the bartender (nicely).

Grand Central Market in Downtown LA
Grand Central Market in Downtown LA  |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

Cookbook - Grand Central Market

Whether you're a Top Chef at home, or your cooking skills are closer to the Top Ramen level, there isn't a more immersive, vibrant food experience in L.A. than the historic Grand Central Market, which opened in Downtown L.A. in October 1917 and has been in continuous operation ever since. The city's largest and oldest public market, GCM spans 30,000 square feet and houses a global collection of classic and modern food vendors. To coincide with its centennial, Grand Central Market released its first-ever cookbook, featuring 85 recipes from every vendor - Eggslut’s signature Slut, Sarita’s pupusas, Madcapra’s Sumac Beet Soda, Horse Thief BBQ’s Nashville-Style Hot Fried Chicken Sando, Villa Moreliana’s carnitas tacos, Jose Chiquito’s breakfast burrito, G&B’s yeasted waffles, McConnell’s cinnamon ice cream, and many more.

The bar at Musso & Frank Grill in Hollywood
The bar at Musso & Frank Grill  |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

Detective / Hard Boiled - Musso & Frank Grill

Opened in 1919, Musso & Frank Grill is the oldest restaurant in Hollywood and is as famous for its Martinis as the legendary clientele, which spans generations of celebrities, from Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe to Keith Richards and Johnny Depp. Musso's was also a mecca for famed writers like William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nathanael West, William Saroyan and Dorothy Parker. Ask the Dust author John Fante was also a Musso's regular, which inspired Charles Bukowski to emulate his idol and frequent the bar ("Fante was my god.").

Fans of hard-boiled detective fiction will feel right at home seated at the same bar where Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett spent many a night. Order a dry Martini or a Gimlet (Hammett's favorite) and imagine you're drinking with Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep, which Chandler partially wrote at Musso's.

Throughout dozens of books and a seven-season Amazon Prime series, Musso's is also a favorite of Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch, who likes Ketel One Martinis and the Thursday special, Chicken Pot Pie.

Fern Dell Nature Museum at Griffith Park
Fern Dell Nature Museum at Griffith Park  |  Photo: Lindsay Blake

Fantasy - Fern Dell

Situated at the southwestern tip of Griffith Park, Fern Dell Nature Center is a 20-acre botanical oasis that features a quarter-mile meandering trail, 20-plus waterfalls and 17 footbridges, all canopied by more than 50 fern and tropical plant varieties. The shaded, breezy spot has long been a favorite haven for Angelenos, especially on warm summer days. As you read your favorite fantasy author in the idyllic glen, it's easy to imagine elves, faeries and other magical creatures hiding in the trees.

GSBF Bonsai Collection at the Huntington Library | Photo: GSBF Collection at the Huntington Library
GSBF Bonsai Collection at the Huntington Library | Photo: GSBF Collection at the Huntington Library

Gardening - The Huntington

For the green thumbs out there, it doesn't get much better than a day at The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. Founded in 1919, The Huntington Library is world-renowned as a cultural, research and educational center. The Botanical Gardens at The Huntington feature more than a dozen specialized gardens spanning 120 acres, including the California Garden, Children's Garden, Desert Garden and Rose Garden.

Completed in 1912, the iconic Japanese Garden features a moon bridge, koi ponds, the historic Japanese House, ceremonial teahouse and bonsai collection. Aspiring bonsai artists should bring "The Complete Book of Bonsai" and contemplate the Bonsai Collection. Started in 1968 with personal trees donated by the late Bob Watson, the collection has since expanded to hundreds of trees - some of the Huntington's bonsai are estimated to be over 1,000 years old!

Sunset at El Matador State Beach
El Matador State Beach  |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

Romance - El Matador

It's easy to daydream of being swept away on a romantic adventure when you're reading a sizzling romance novel at El Matador State Beach. Located about 10 miles northwest of Malibu, this secluded pocket beach has rocky shores, robust waves and some of the clearest water in L.A. But don’t be deterred by the lack of facilities or the rugged path to the shore - once you're there, you’ll find it’s the perfect place to imagine a romantic rendezvous in one of the hidden coves.

R2-D2 unit at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures
R2-D2 at the Academy Museum | Photo: @paulydavid1, Instagram
C-3PO suit at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures
C-3PO at the Academy Museum | Photo: @paulydavid1, Instagram

Sci-Fi - Academy Museum

Opened in September 2021, the spectacular Academy Museum of Motion Pictures houses more than 13 million objects in a 300,000 square-foot campus designed by Pritzker Prize winning architect Renzo Piano. Pull up a chair in the shadow of the "Death Star" (aka the Sphere Building), nosh on a breakfast burrito from Fanny's, and get lost in Octavia E. Butler's Kindred.

Sci-fi fans will love Inventing Worlds and Characters, located on the third floor of the Stories of Cinema exhibit - get up close to icons like R2-D2, C-3PO, E.T. and artifacts from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, Terminator 2, Jurassic Park and many more.

Independent Shakespeare Co. "Twelfth Night" at the Old Zoo
"Twelfth Night" | Photo: Independent Shakespeare Co., Facebook

Shakespeare - The Old Zoo

The Los Angeles Zoo was originally located at a different site and opened in 1912 as the Griffith Park Zoo. The original zoo closed when the Los Angeles Zoo opened in November 1966. Located off Griffith Park Drive, the abandoned Griffith Park Zoo is known today as the Old Zoo, with its cages and stone caves left nearly intact. There are tables, BBQ grills and a large grass area for picnics - one exhibit area even has tables within the enclosure, without a doubt one of the most unique places in the world for a picnic. Anchorman fans will recognize the stone pens as the setting for the climactic scene with the Kodiak bear.

Founded in 1998, the Independent Shakespeare Co. has presented its summer festival at Griffith Park since 2010. Taking place from June to September, the Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival is performed on a stage that’s built on the slopes of the Old Zoo’s natural amphitheater. Audiences arrive early to picnic and enjoy pre-show performances by local artists, the Salon Series (conversations about the intersection of Shakespeare and contemporary culture), and family-friendly, pre-show workshops about the plays. All of these summer events are entirely free.

Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial at the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine
Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial at the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine  |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

Spirituality - Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine

Bring your dog-eared copy of The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success to the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine, which is tucked away on a lush, ten-acre site in the Pacific Palisades a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean. Founded by Paramahansa Yogananda in 1950, the Lake Shrine offers a lakeside Meditation Garden with shrines and waterfalls, a hilltop Temple with weekly services and meditations, a retreat for silent renewal, and an ashram for monks of Self-Realization Fellowship. The Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial is a "wall-less temple" that features a thousand-year-old stone sarcophagus from China, which holds a portion of Gandhi's ashes in a brass and silver coffer. Elvis would make frequent visits to the Lake Shrine and became close with Sri Daya Mata, the worldwide leader of the Self-Realization Fellowship for over 55 years.

The Surveillance Project at Wende Museum
The Surveillance Project | Photo: Wende Museum

Spy - Wende Museum

If you're a fan of Ian Fleming or John Le Carre, the perfect reading spot is the courtyard at the Wende Museum, located at the Armory in Culver City. What began as one man's quest to preserve Cold War era artifacts has turned into a full-fledged institution. Around the time the Berlin Wall fell, Justin Jampol was studying Russian and East European history at Oxford. When Communism collapsed, no one seemed to care about the statues, plates, figurines, posters and paintings of the Soviet empire. Jampol was able to scoop up many of them cheaply or for free. The result is a collection of more than 100,000 bits of Cold War ephemera, including Stasi Espionage Equipment, busts of Lenin, track suits from the East German Olympic team, decorative ceramic plates, vinyl recordings, menus from Soviet cruise ships and material from Checkpoint Charlie, the border crossing station between East and West Berlin.

Grand Waiting Room at Union Station
Grand Waiting Room at Union Station

Travel - Union Station

Whether you're an armchair traveler or a bonafide road warrior, there's no denying the romance of traveling by rail. Dubbed "the last of the great railway stations," Union Station is located at the vibrant heart of the city, conducting throngs of commuters and travelers alike from the rich past of its opulent décor to the modern hustle and bustle of today. Seat yourself in the stunning concourse, pull out that new Lonely Planet guide, and listen to the footsteps of thousands of travelers echoing through the grand hall, as they head to destinations near and far.

Gallery Bar and Cognac Room at The Biltmore
Gallery Bar and Cognac Room | Photo: The Biltmore

True Crime - Millennium Biltmore

The murder of Elizabeth Short, aka "the Black Dahlia," is one of the most famous unsolved murders in U.S. history. The graphic nature of the crime and its details have intrigued the public for generations, inspiring numerous books and films. In her 2017 book, Black Dahlia, Red Rose, British author Piu Eatwell makes a convincing case that Short's murderer was Leslie Duane Dillon, at one point a primary suspect in the case. Short was last seen alive at the landmark Millennium Biltmore, one of the most storied hotels in L.A. Grab a seat at the elegant Gallery Bar, order a "Black Dahlia" cocktail (Hangar One Citrus Vodka, Chambord, Kahlua) and see if you agree with Eatwell's theory.