Traveler’s Bookcase in Los Angeles is one of the few remaining travel bookstores in the United States, and it has been at the center of West Third Street’s intimate shopping district for almost 23 years. As an indie travel bookstore owner, I understand the power of being independent. I love discussing upcoming trips with my customers and matching the perfect guidebook to their personalities.
Traveling is a way to learn about not only the culture you visit, but also yourself. The voice of the guidebook you choose should be as distinct as you are. Here are my absolute favorite, uber-hip indie guidebooks, which take you to places even the locals think are secret. These books are filled with personality, created with love, and give true insider tips for destinations.
1. “The Hunt” Guides
(Photo: “The Hunt”)
The motto for this guidebook series is, “All of the businesses featured in this book are first and foremost locally owned, and they are chosen because they are authentic and uniquely conceived.” With a focus on food and shopping, these tiny, convenient books have hand-drawn maps and stylish photos to help make decisions easy. Guides for Singapore, New York City, San Francisco, and Austin, Texas, are available now, and books for London, Hong Kong, and Sydney are arriving soon.
2. “Love” Guides
(Photo: “Love” Guides)
These guides give an in-depth look into festivals, dining, hotels, shopping, and spiritual adventures in India. They are a labor of love by Fiona Caulfield, and each guide is exquisitely made with thick, textured paper and placed inside a khadi bag with silk trim. The suggestions are interestingly categorized in sections such as “Dairy Drinks, Coffee, Sugarcane and Chai” or “Best Dhaba,” and every entry lays out a unique experience. “Love Jaipur, Rajasthan ” “Love Mumbai,” “Love Goa,” and “Love Delhi” are color-coded, and Fiona’s personal comments on the sides of the pages are a nice touch.
3. “Luxe” Guides
(Photo: “Luxe” Guides)
While they started out simply as shopping itineraries for friends, these guides have transformed from merely providing recommendations to being A-list must-haves. With beautifully patterned covers similar to tapestry, the guides’ fold-out style enables them to pack a lot of information into a tiny package. Hotels, cuisine, art, and street-by-street shopping itineraries have made these one of my best-sellers. The stylish boxed set makes a great gift for the traveler who has it all.
4. “Wildsam Field Guides”
(Photo: “Wildsam Field Guides”)
Elusive and selective, these books are a “modern series of travel books with a bygone sense of place.” Retro graphics, hand-drawn pictures, personal essays, and funny stories about locals allow these guides to serve as funky viewfinders into San Francisco, Nashville, Tenn., and Austin, Texas.
5. “Prague Artel Style”
(Photo: “Prague Artel Style”)
This is the best curated guide to Prague. It’s like traveling with a friend, author Karen Feldman, who whispers local knowledge in your ear. The pages are glossy with sharp photos and easy-to-read chapters. Lists like “Top 10 Children’s Gift Ideas” and offbeat tutorials such as “Make Your Very Own Marionette” seem to have read your mind. Karen lives in Prague and writes about what she knows.
6. “CitiX60” Guides
These guides are brand-new, but they have been flying off the shelves. Sixty local “creatives” contribute to the books, bringing readers the best information about the area’s art and design, architecture, food, entertainment, and shopping. In addition to the artistic slant, there are great personal touches, including photos of the “creatives,” who are featured next to their quotes and tips. CitiX60 launched with many of the top cities: Berlin, London, New York, Paris, Tokyo, and Barcelona, Spain.
7. “Black Sheep Guides”
(Photo: “Black Sheep Guides”)
“Travel for food” is the mantra for this series, and these laminated, accordion-folded guides do just that. Primarily focused on Spain, “Black Sheep Guides” were started by a husband and wife team who had a passion for eating out in cool places. What I love is the simplicity. “Before You Start” gives a brief rundown on the local customs and dishes. Then they list favorite foodie spots in every neighborhood, carefully curated and featuring all price ranges. Maps on the back and a few after-dinner cocktail suggestions make it complete.
8. “To Vietnam With Love”
(Photo: “To Vietnam With Love”)
This series was started by Kim Fay, whose idea to interview expats in Asia and procure their stories and favorite secret spots gave birth to “To Asia With Love.” These guides have turned into an escapist series, through which readers are transported to these countries simply by opening the books. Although they make for transcendent armchair travel, chapters like “Moveable Feasts,” “Retail Therapy,” and, my favorite, “Paying It Forward” provide voyagers all the information they need for a well-rounded trip. Look for upcoming books featuring Thailand, Japan, Myanmar, Cambodia, Nepal, and North India.
9. “Kauai Revealed”
(Photo: “Kauai Revealed”)
The self-published book became so well-loved and sought-after that Andrew Doughty went on to publish similar titles about Maui, Oahu, and The Big Island. The author gives such detailed reviews of hikes, hidden waterfalls, and beaches that some users get overwhelmed — in a good way. I try to always have these go-to guides for experiencing these paradisiacal islands in stock.
Related: Armchair Traveler: Japan
10. Herb Lester Guides
(Photo: “An Edinburgh Companion”)
When the very cool tastemaker and owner of the chic OK boutique in Los Angeles came into my store and told me to get these guides in stock ASAP, I did not question him. These folded, paper, map guides are filled with the “usual and unusual for tourists and locals alike.” Witty, discerning, and thematic, they cover a multitude of cities with maps, descriptions, and cheerful graphics. Some of my faves are “Paris for Pleasure Seekers,” “Seattle Rain or Shine,” “How to Find Old L.A.,” and “An Uncle’s Guide to London.”
11. “Los Angeles Attractions”
(Photo: “Los Angeles Attractions”)
An Angeleno self-publishes this book, and the independent publishers Benjamin Franklin Award is well-deserved. This is the only book about Los Angeles that covers all the historic buildings, old Hollywood stories, small and established museums, as well as the best things to do while visiting. As much a souvenir as a guide book, I often recommend it to locals who want to explore the City of Angels as a tourist.
12. “Analogue Guide”
(Photo: “Analogue Guide”)
This new hip series impressed me with its excellent choices for its Los Angeles guide. Selective and diverse, these guidebooks don’t overwhelm with too much information. Instead, each section of the city is sifted down to some key stores, a few eclectic dining options, and an iconic site or experience. A great quick grab if you have 36 hours or less in Los Angeles, Berlin, London, Paris, New York, Barcelona, Spain, or Copenhagen, Denmark.
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