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Best Libraries In The San Francisco Area

The best libraries in the San Francisco area have become upscale community centers with award-winning green designs, so check out the literary celebrities and artists from writers and musicians to film makers to dancers. Feeling overdue for a new experience?  If you're yearning to hear a writer speak up close and personal, listen to an opera talk or watch an independent film in a beautiful theater with cushy seats, the new libraries are built for you.

Even when you just desire a hot lunch, delicious fresh coffee or a cozy place to post up with a book by the fire place, the best libraries have become entertainment rooms as well as literary centers.

SFPL Presidio

Hours:Sun to Mon - Closed, Tues - 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Wed - 1 p.m. to 9 p.m., Thurs - 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Fri - 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., Sat - 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The San Francisco Library newly remodeled its stately 1921 Italian Renaissance Presidio Branch in Laurel Heights between the Fillmore District and Pacific Heights and the Presidio, finishing in March of 2011. As elegant and historical as the architecture is, the Presidio branch won an award for green design. Inside, the restoration of 21st century pendant lights come with self-adjustment. Librarian Ms. Anderson says the original lighting had chandeliers or hanging lights. Renovators also added fans and refinished the wood. Elegant lawns roll on either side where a pedestrian or dog walker may enjoy an interlude, surrounded by boutiques, cafes, Victorian houses and mansions. It's no wonder novelist Richard Brautigan set his novel at a library specifically at 3150 Sacramento Street. Because of this, the library gets tourists who come to the address to see if there really is a library there.

Walnut Creek Library
1644 N Broadway
Walnut Creek, CA 94596
(925) 977-3340
Hours: Mon to Thurs - 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Fri - 10 a.m to 6 p.m.

Walnut Creek Library in the valley of Mount Diablo was built on the site of the old library and opened its doors in the summer of 2012. It's still at the park with the pretty gazebo surrounded by red roses, one of the few small town/Main Street spots remaining as upscale chain stores continue to build.

Walnut Creek has hit the big time and now authors appear in person for a popular three-year old series called "Authors Under the Stars." The program brings authors to the library for a fundraising gala with events selling out at $200 a ticket. "Authors Under the Stars" takes place this month on March 24, and those in attendance will have the opportunity to sit at a table with a number of authors including Narsai David and Michael Krasny, along with two women writing out of and about San Francisco, Carol Edgarian and Michelle Richmond. The event also includes a reception and auction and ends with a catered dinner amid the stacks.

Related: Best Budget Cultural Events in San Francisco


San Francisco Public Library Main Branch
Civic Center
100 Larkin St.
San Francisco, CA 94102(415) 557-4400
Hours: Sun - Noon to 5 p.m., Mon - 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tue to Thurs - 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Fri - noon to 6 p.m., Sat - 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Would you like to download a book, an audio book or music without going to the library?  How about seeing a film if you do go? The main library offers a Thursdays at Noon series with films in the cushy Koret Auditorium. Film showings will also include entries from San Francisco's Green Film Festival in March. How about opera? SF Opera just announced that Verdi's "Rigoletto" will open the new season, so whether you need libretti or wish to sit in the lovely theater to hear about opera talks from a live speaker, the main library offers so much to so many. Take time out in the basement at the modest but remodeled café with healthy choices of soups, salads and sandwiches, followed by a tart and sweet iced lemon shortbread cookie and delicious fresh coffee.  Once refreshed, take in the Lion Dancers celebrating the Chinese New Year.

San Francisco Performing Arts Library
Veterans Building
401 Van Ness Ave., Suite 402
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 255-4800
Hours: Exhibitions Mon to Fri - 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Research Library Wed 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The librarian at the San Francisco Performing Arts Library will tell you that you never know who you will see in this place. The library holds hard to find opera libretti and scores, plus tapes such as an Otto Schenk version of Wagner's "Ring Cycle" on VHS. The San Francisco War Memorial opera house and Opera Plaza bookend the building.  This library works with the Museum of Performance and Design, which includes not only libretti but plays, radio interviews, sheet music, photographs, playbills, periodicals and books, videotapes, musical theater recordings, oral histories and actual design collections with costumes and set designs.  It has the personal papers of performers and patrons.

Related:  Best Hidden Museums

Mulford Water Tower Library San Leandro
(credit: Cindy Warner)

Mulford-Marina Branch Library
13699 Aurora Dr
San Leandro, CA 94577
(510) 577-7976
Hours: Mon - 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., Tue - Closed, Wed - 10 a.m. to noon and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., Thur - Closed, Fri - 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., Sat to Sun - Closed

San Leandro is a historic, small, all-American kind of town beside a tranquil marina. The setting makes it a perfect place to get a book to read on the shoreline or on one's boat. San Leandro built it's Mulford-Marina branch near the picturesque neighborhood marina and golf course.  A beautiful oak tree shades the entry ramp where the bicycle rack stands.  It's creative, fun and tiny. Built in the mid 70s, the building was constructed from a prefab kit that was meant to be an inexpensive vacation or beach getaway. The room dividers were later eliminated and replaced by the columns in the middle of the building for support, and a skylight was added for interior lighting.

Manor Fireplace
Fireplace in Manor Branch Library (credit: Cindy Warner)

Manor Branch Library
1241 Manor Blvd
San Leandro, CA 94579
(510) 577-7971
Hours: Mon to Wed - noon to 8 p.m., Tue to Thurs - 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Fri - noon to 5:30 p.m., Sat - 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sun - Closed

San Leandro's Manor Branch won an award with this breathtaking open and airy contemporary structure at shoreline level.  San Leandro spent $5 million and built it from the ground up, opening the doors in 2007 after demolishing the former housing, a little 1950s era tract house.  The architect designed the building with the goal of giving the Manor a unique identity, designing a butterfly roof and high, asymmetrical beamed ceilings, floor to ceiling slanted windows, a serene unpolished granite exterior, with industrial piping exposed inside and a charming gas log fire place open on two sides. Manor provides invaluable and comfortable computer use to all, setting up a separate children's' computer section in the childrens' play area.

Cindy Warner is a freelance writer and a San Francisco Bay Area native. Cindy has covered SF theater and opera for via her bicycle since January 2009. Check out her work on

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