by Katie Julius
Earlier this month, some of the Southern California CHEA staff visited The Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles. Part new and used bookstore and part artisan shop, the bookstore offers a little something for everyone – even some pretty fun Instagram worthy photo “ops”.
We chose to arrive at the bookstore about 10:30 a.m. on a weekday morning to avoid as much traffic as possible, allowing plenty of time to find parking. There is a parking structure as well as several lots nearby that range in price from $6 to $15 depending how long you stay. Two of us parked in a small lot that shares a wall with the north side of the store. Driver beware – it can be a tight squeeze, even with a compact vehicle. Despite the 17-point turn needed to get out of the space, I highly recommend this lot, especially if you are traveling with children since it’s the closest parking lot. While many of the parking facilities and lots accept debit and credit cards, it is recommended that you bring cash to pay for parking, just in case.
Just inside the main entrance to the store, there is a bag check. None of us had to check purses, but we saw many backpacks filling the cubbyholes. Keep that in mind when planning what you will bring.
We then stepped into the store itself and were in awe of the sheer size. All the fun and quirky decor choices, including a mounted Woolly Mammoth head and a wall filled with waves of open books caught our attention. The main part of the first floor is open in the middle, with a variety of seating options to curl up with your favorite book. Our two six-year-olds were attracted to a book about cats on a nearby table and found the closest couch to begin perusing their find. We adults looked around to get our bearings before deciding where to head first.
With two young kids, two teens, two homeschooling moms, and two grandmas, the next logical stop was the children’s section. They have a wide selection of both new and used picture books, early readers, and classic children’s novels. There are also several non-fiction shelves where my daughter found a book about one of her current interests – horses.
While the grown-ups looked through the books nearby for homeschooling resources and Christmas gifts, the girls were content looking through books perched upon an ottoman. Meanwhile, the teens were exploring the nearby main shelves for books that piqued their interests.
We headed up the stairs that doubled as a store directory. At the top, we were greeted by a whimsical art installation featuring more books! Going to the right led us into “rows” of bookshelves filled with books from every genre. The shelves aren’t laid out in in actual rows, but placed haphazardly to create a bit of a maze or labyrinth feel (which makes sense since we saw a sign that told us we were in the “labyrinth above the last bookstore”).
The second story is also where you will find two of the more well-known features of the bookstore – a circular “hole” composed of strategically placed books as well as a book tunnel (this was a favorite of our little ones). It also hosts several small arts’ studio work spaces and shops, though most of them were closed the day we went. A fair warning – some of the art displayed along the hallways is occult inspired while other pieces may not be appropriate for the little ones. Fortunately, for the most part, our children were not very interested in looking at the art and we were able to distract them from most of what we didn’t want them to see. It’s also easy to avoid this part of the building.
Once our exploration of the second floor was complete, we headed back down to finalize our book selections and check out, of course only after making a quick Facebook Live video sharing our trip with all our CHEA Facebook followers.
Despite being book-loving homeschoolers, most of us went without the intention of purchasing a book! However, by the end of our visit, all of us found several that we could no longer live without that were of interest to us and priced just right to purchase. While their new books are a bit on the pricey side, several of the used books we found seemed to be in “like new” or “very good” condition and were $5 or less.
After making our purchases, we made a stop just outside the entrance for a group photo in front of the store’s sign. Some of us chose to walk a couple blocks to the Nickel Diner. Despite its name, it was quite pricey. The food was fairly typical breakfast and lunch diner fare with a bit of twist. It was tasty, though it was disappointing they didn’t have a children’s menu. Sad to say, we ended up a little too close for comfort to the edges of Skid Row. If you want to eat lunch, I recommend heading northwest instead. There are several eateries in, what seemed to be, a safer neighborhood.
We do have a few safety reminders about visiting major metropolitan cities. Do not go alone or at night. If you have older teen boys or dads that can go, take them with you. Be alert and aware of your surroundings. Keep your children close – hold their hand. Talk with your kids ahead of time about being in a big city environment so they know what to expect and how to be safe.
Even though it’s located in the middle of a busy city, we all highly recommend a visit to The Last Bookstore – just not as a field trip. This is one we recommend as a family excursion instead. With the ever growing online shopping market, used bookstores, especially one as unique and quirky as this one, are a dying breed.
The Last Bookstore is located at 453 S. Spring St. on the corner of 5th and Spring in Los Angeles. Please visit their website at www.thelastbookstorela.com for additional details and the most accurate, up-to-date information prior to your visit.
We would love to see your photos of your recent trip to a used bookstore! Share with us on Facebook or Instagram and be sure to tag us.