Geeky States of America: Visiting Los Angeles’ The Last Bookstore

GeekMom Ariane had an adventure with her 4-year-old in Los Angeles, visiting The Last Bookstore.
The Last Bookstore. Photo credit: Ariane Coffin

I woke up last Saturday morning in the mood for an impulsive mother-daughter day trip, so I Googled kid-friendly activities in Los Angeles and found an article in the L.A. Weekly about “10 Fun L.A. Things to Do With Kids That Don’t Suck for Grownups.” My kind of list. Out of the activities suggested, I quickly settled on visiting The Last Bookstore in downtown L.A.—one of the largest independent physical bookstores in the world. My 4-year-old was easily convinced with the promise of a new book and a trip on the subway.

Coming from Santa Barbara, we drove the 1.5 hours to the Universal/Studio City Metro station for its ample and free (on the weekends) parking lot. We caught the red line all the way to Pershing Square station, a 20-minute trip. The bookstore was just a couple of blocks away from there.

I have to say, my first impression was slightly disappointing. Being called one of the “22 most beautiful bookstores in the world,” “world’s 20 most stunning bookstores,” “17 coolest bookstores in the world,” and “20 most beautiful bookstores in the world,” I was expecting to be blown away by how grand and beautiful it was. Instead, I was surprised by how normal it was for being in all these “best in the world” lists.

There is a certain amount of charm that is lost on a parent chasing a 4-year-old who insists on visiting things at full running speed, I’ll give it that. And once I adjusted my expectations—it’s a store, not the Getty Museum—it was actually pretty cool.

GeekMom Ariane visiting the Last Bookstore in Los Angeles.
The Labyrinth. Photo by Ariane Coffin.

The first story of the 2-story store is mostly dedicated to new books, while the second floor makes room for small shops and the “Labyrinth” of used books. The Labyrinth is where things get really weird…a good kind of weird. It’s darker and the space is filled with dark bookshelves in all kinds of crazy order to give the impression of being lost in a never-ending labyrinth. You see piles of books stacked in what seems like complete disorder, books stacked to make tunnels and windows, books ordered by colors of the rainbow. You feel like you’re Alice and you’ve just gone down the rabbit hole. Should you visit without an impatient 4-year-old, you could really have fun trying to find the most obscure used books. I spied a whole box of National Geographic magazines from the 1950s.

Touring The Last Bookstore. Photos by Ariane Coffin.
Touring The Last Bookstore. Photos by Ariane Coffin.

However, since I was with said impatient 4-year-old, we ran right through all that (with some pause at the weirdest features) and walked right back downstairs to the kids’ section. The kids’ section is conveniently located next to an old bank vault—The Last Bookstore occupies a space which used to be a bank. We got cozy with the picture books and read through a few of them, trying to choose which we should purchase. We settled on a book with a cute story and gorgeous art, Orion and the Dark by Emma Yarlett.

GeekMom Ariane visited The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles and came home with his wonderful picture book, Orion and the Dark.
Orion and the Dark. Image credit: Penguin Random House.

Then it was time for lunch and we left for our next adventure, this time a “taste adventure” (that’s what we call trying out new restaurants).

Overall, I’m happy with our little excursion. There was a lot of unique features throughout the store and it was definitely worth seeing once, though I’m not sure I’d do the 4+ hour roundtrip for just that stop again! Should your little travelers have more energy after visiting The Last Bookstore, you can take a 15 minute walk from the store to the Museum of Contemporary Arts or a short drive to the California Science Center, which I cannot recommend enough.

Happy travels!

Ariane is a programmer married to another programmer. Together they have two little girls who don't stand a chance against their nerdy lineage. Ariane can also be found illustrating for Intelligently Adorable.