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10 California Libraries That Are Worth a Visit

10 California Libraries That Are Worth a Visit

Bookworms will love to check out these facilities, certainly, but there’s more to these attractions than card catalogs and encyclopedias

While the world grows increasingly digital, libraries throughout California continue to thrive in various locations and for all sorts of reasons. Beautiful locations certainly help, and so do architectural flourishes and specialized art collections. Here’s a guide to 10 of California’s most fascinating libraries, listed north to south.

Mechanics’ Institute Library and Chess Room

A throwback to 1910, this San Francisco Historic Landmark in the financial district was designed by the architect credited with introducing the beaux arts style to the city. Though originally created to further a vision of establishing San Francisco as a center of innovation and industrialism, with tomes focused on architecture and engineering, the library now houses more than 160,000 volumes across a broad range of topics and offers events such as author readings, film screenings, and free tours every Wednesday. The library is also home to the oldest continuously running chess club in the United States, with weekly tournaments and introductory classes.

Henry Miller Memorial Library

This magical library tucked in the mountains of Big Sur may claim to be a place “where nothing happens,” but an extremely busy calendar suggests it’s actually quite bustling. On any given day you might encounter live music, cabaret performances, author signings, book launch parties, poetry shows, and more. These are the sort of experiences Miller believed made life worth living—art, good conversation, and freedom of thought. The library also functions as a public gallery and workshop space for local and visiting artists, musicians, students, and writers.

10 California Libraries That Are Worth a Visit

Hearst Castle Main Library

Located inside Hearst Castle on California’s Central Coast, the Hearst Castle Main Library features art, antiques, and incredible Spanish Colonial architecture. The 4,000-plus book collection was originally curated for William Randolph Hearst’s guests, but these days it’s just for display. Guests can visit the library by booking an Upstairs Suites Tour of Hearst Castle, where you’ll also be guided through Mr. Hearst’s Gothic Suite and guest accommodations. The San Simeon library also houses a collection of 150 ancient Greek vases, all more than 2,000 years old, making it a must-stop for antiquity aficionados.

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

Interactive displays, a replica of the Oval Office, and collaborative learning experiences such as the Situation Room and the Air Force One Pavilion make the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library a uniquely compelling California attraction. The library houses collections from the Reagan Administration, campaign materials, papers from his terms as governor of California, and much more. The library is situated on a mountaintop in Simi Valley, offering views that extend west to the Pacific Ocean.

Manhattan Beach Library

The Manhattan Beach Library in Los Angeles County is one of the few California libraries with panoramic ocean views—you can spot Catalina Island on a clear day. The double-glazed facade—serving as a heat recovery system—reduces maintenance costs and earned the facility a LEED Gold Certification. The modern, coastal interior creates a warm and welcoming environment to locals and visitors. The library was remodeled in 2015 but began as a subscription library back in 1910 and became part of the L.A. County Library in January 1915, making it one of the oldest continuing libraries in the county system.

The Brand Library

The Brand Library, one of Glendale’s most iconic buildings, is located at the base of the Verdugo Mountains and boasts a stunning Saracenic exterior that combines Spanish, Indian, and Moorish characteristics. The library is focused on visual arts and music, offering innovative programs and exhibits throughout the year such as art history workshops, dance performances, and film series. 

Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum

Richard Nixon’s hometown of Yorba Linda is a fitting locale for a collection of documents and artifacts chronicling the life and leadership of the 37th president. In addition to a nationally recognized research center, the library is home to multimedia exhibits with archival material detailing everything from his time in Congress to his landslide campaign victory in 1972 to the Watergate scandal. Visitors can tour the original farmhouse where he was born, climb aboard the Marine One helicopter that flew Nixon and three other presidents, and pay respects at a memorial site that serves as his final resting place.

Huntington Beach Central Library

Designed by the son of famed modernist architect Richard Neutra, this 1970s-era building in Huntington Beach serves as a gateway to a 343-acre wilderness retreat. Floor-to-ceiling windows bathe the library’s four stories in natural light; meanwhile, a ground-level pond and trees surrounding a dizzying spiral ramp bring more of the outdoors in. It’s also home to one of the largest children’s libraries west of the Mississippi, which hosts regular story time programming for all ages, as well as a 300-seat theater. There are reading decks on multiple levels offering views of Huntington Central Park East—the largest city-owned park in Orange County—where bookworms can explore meandering trails leading to spots such as Talbert Lake and the drought-tolerant Secret Garden.

10 California Libraries That Are Worth a Visit

UCSD’s Geisel Library

At first glance, you wouldn’t expect this futuristic, eight-story concrete structure in San Diego to be a library—it looks more like a spaceship. The Geisel Library at the University of California San Diego in La Jolla is named for Audrey and Theodor Seuss Geisel, the latter better known as Dr. Seuss. Visitors are permitted to explore the first and second floors of the library, while the upper levels are dedicated to silent study. In addition to more than 7 million volumes of educational materials for the university, the library also houses many of Dr. Seuss’s original creative works.

San Diego Central Library

Located in Downtown San Diego near Petco Park, the nine-story San Diego Central Library features a multi-level reading room, auditorium, and an outdoor plaza. Most notably, it boasts the second-biggest collection of baseball memorabilia in the world, just behind the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.