9 Must-Read Books Set In San Francisco


San Francisco, known for its rich cultural history and vibrant atmosphere, has been the backdrop for numerous works of literature. From tales of love and friendship to gripping historical narratives, these books capture the essence of the city and its surrounding Bay Area. Whether you’re a local or a visitor, these novels will transport you to the heart of San Francisco.

Key Takeaway

San Francisco has inspired a multitude of books, showcasing its diverse history and culture.

“Tales of the City” by Armistead Maupin

Recommended by Karyne Levy, managing editor TC+

Originally published as serial installments in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Tales of the City” has evolved into a cultural phenomenon over the past three decades. Set at 28 Barbary Lane, a fictional address in Russian Hill, the book follows a group of unforgettable characters guided by their loving landlord, Anna Madrigal. From the late 1970s through the mid-2000s, Armistead Maupin expertly captures the city’s spirit, incorporating real events such as the Jim Jones tragedy and the AIDS epidemic. Get ready to fall in love with these endearing characters and immerse yourself in the essence of San Francisco.

“1906: A Novel” by James Dalessandro

Recommended by Walter Thompson, editorial manager and head of the guest contributor program

If you’re fascinated by historical fiction, “1906: A Novel” is a must-read. This gripping story by James Dalessandro is set during one of the city’s most significant events—the devastating earthquake and fire of 1906. Through the eyes of a newspaperman and a beautiful young woman, the novel explores the aftermath of the tragedy and the corruption and intrigue that emerged during the time. Dalessandro’s attention to historical detail brings the events to life, offering readers a captivating glimpse into San Francisco’s past.

Additional Recommendations:

  1. “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan – A powerful exploration of identity and the complexities of mother-daughter relationships within the Chinese-American community in San Francisco.
  2. “The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett – A classic detective novel set in San Francisco, featuring the iconic private investigator Sam Spade.
  3. “The Barbarian Nurseries” by Héctor Tobar – This compelling novel follows the struggles of a nanny caught in the midst of a cultural clash in the suburbs of Los Angeles and San Francisco.
  4. “Golden Gate” by Vikram Seth – A poetic exploration of love and friendship, set against the backdrop of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.
  5. “The Circle” by Dave Eggers – A thought-provoking dystopian novel that delves into the dangers of technology and surveillance in the modern world, with a setting that includes San Francisco.
  6. “The Black Dahlia” by James Ellroy – A gritty noir crime novel set in 1940s Los Angeles and San Francisco, based on the real-life murder of aspiring actress Elizabeth Short.
  7. “The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue” by Mackenzi Lee – This young adult historical fiction novel takes readers on a thrilling adventure across Europe, including a stop in San Francisco.
  8. “The Museum of Extraordinary Things” by Alice Hoffman – A mesmerizing tale of love and survival, set in early 20th-century New York City and featuring a captivating side story in San Francisco.

These diverse literary gems offer something for everyone, with stories that capture the spirit and history of San Francisco. Whether you’re exploring the city or simply seeking a captivating read, these books will transport you to the vibrant streets and captivating narratives that San Francisco has to offer.

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