|📚 What is the most literate city in America? 📚
The most literate of the 50 most populous cities in the U.S. is Milwaukee with a literacy score of 280 out of 500, followed closely by Minneapolis (279) and Denver (278).
Books have been sources of storytelling for centuries, taking readers on epic journeys, offering critical reflection on matters of state or the heart, and inspiring generations of creative minds.
Even in the wake of increasing pressure from online platforms such as Amazon, libraries and independent bookstores are surviving and thriving in the 21st century. Many local institutions – both public and private – work to make books and the worlds they carry available to their communities. But they often do much more than that.
After the pandemic struck, many libraries hosted vaccine clinics or offered educational materials to locals, and independent bookstores saw a surge of support. Independent bookstores often support local authors and readers of all ages by hosting events and creating safe spaces for community members to enjoy reading and build community. In times of natural disasters, library services can be crucial to a community's ability to respond and sustain by offering a space to use utilities, printing and digital services, and more. In short – we need these institutions.
If you're considering relocating, it's clear that every metro has its highlights – some cities cater to caffeine connoisseurs, to brunch buffs, or to local songwriters. But where should you consider putting down roots if you're an avid reader, an aspiring writer, or simply looking for a solid literary landscape?
To find out, we analyzed publicly available data from Libraries.org, IndieBound, the National Center for Education Statistics, Publishers Weekly, and Google Trends to rank the 50 most populous metro areas in the U.S. from the best to the worst cities for book-lovers.
Our weighted rankings evaluated various criteria including:
- 4x: The number of libraries per 100,000 residents in each metro
- 4x: The number of independent bookstores per 100,000 residents in each metro
- 3x: Google search trends in each metro for 10 selected books from Publishers Weekly's top 25 bestselling books for 2021
- 2x: Average literacy rate scores for each metro out of 500
- 1x: Google search trends in each metro for 5 common book-related terms
- 1x: The number of coffee shops per 100,000 residents in each metro
Read on to find out if your city tops the list or is just a footnote at the bottom!
A note on literacy scores: We use literacy scores to represent how well a city has invested in and built up its libraries, schools, or other infrastructure and resources. You can read more about the National Center for Education Statistics' methodology here.
Best Book Places Stats 📚
The 50 Best Book Cities, Ranked
15 Best Book Cities
Although many literary communities have migrated to digital shores in the last decade, nothing quite compares to the feel (and, if we're honest, the smell) of a good book. The top 15 book places in the U.S. especially read the room in a few different ways:
- Lots of libraries: The top 15 book cities have an average of 5.8 libraries per 100,000 residents, a 23% higher rate than the average city in our study at 4.7.
- Places to peruse: The top 15 book cities have an average of 18.5 coffee shops per 100,000 residents, 40% more spots to sip and study than the average city in our study.
- Literacy rate scores: The top 15 book cities have an average literacy score of 274, compared to 266 in the average city – a 2.7% better score.
- Local literary haunts: The top 15 book cities have an average of 1.9 independent bookstores per 100,000 residents, compared to just 1 independent bookstore per 100,000 residents in the average city, a 89% higher rate.
- Book interest: The top 15 book cities showed interest in a wide variety of book events or activities, with an average Google Trends score of 78 out of 100 compared to only 58 in the average city in our study.
1. Providence, Rhode Island
|⭐ Read-ing the Pack
Providence is the best of America's book places, with a whopping 8.6 libraries per 100,000 residents – that's 82% more than the average city has at 4.7.
In addition to plenty of publicly funded spaces for books, Providence is home to 4.3 independent bookstores and 23 coffee shops per 100,000 residents. With plenty of indie book spots – such as Twenty Stories, Symposium Books, Cellar Stories, and Paper Nautilus – Providencians have no shortage of reading nooks and creative corners.
Providence has an average book interest score of 77 out of 100, compared to only 58 for the average city in our study – meaning locals are often searching for book clubs, bookstores, and books, according to Google Trends.
The Renaissance City can also boast well-tended libraries such as the Providence Community Library system and the Providence Public Library (PPL). And with so many locals supporting literacy and learning endeavors, Providence's literacy score sits at 274 out of 500, 2.7% higher than the average city in our study.
2. Hartford, Connecticut
|🔢 Dewey Decimating
Hartford is home to 9.9 libraries per 100,000 residents – the most libraries per capita of any metro and 111% more than the average city in our study (4.7).
Hartford's public library system's value proposition states that its goal is "democratizing access to information and opportunity." With the most libraries per 100,000 residents of any other city in our study and an average literacy score of 278 out of 500, New England's Rising Star seems to be doing just that.
The Hartford metro area scored an 87 out of 100 for bookish search interest, meaning residents search for book-related locations and terms more frequently than folks in the average city (58). With 2.7 indie bookstores per 100,000 residents, locals can find plenty of good reads on the local shelves of The Key Bookstore or The Jumping Frog.
3. Boston, Massachusetts
|🏛 Birthplace of the Public Library
The Boston Public Library is considered the first free large municipal library in the United States.
As if being a trendsetter wasn't enough, Boston is home to 73% more libraries – 8.1 per 100,000 people – than the average city in our study (4.7 per 100,000 people). With age-old reading nooks such as the Boston Athenaeum and the Boston Public Library, the Athens of America embodies its nickname.
Bostonians are certainly Thoreau when it comes to Googling book-related topics, scoring a perfect 100 for book-ish search terms such as "bookstore" and "book club" – compared to a score of 58 for the average city in our study. Home to 1.6 indie bookstores and 22 coffee shops per 100,000 residents, Bostonites can visit tons of local spots, such as Commonwealth Books or Brattle Book Shop, to get their literary fix.
4. San Jose, California
|📚 Best in Shelves
The San Jose metro area has something for everyone as home to the most independent bookstores per 100,000 people at 4.5 – a 346% higher rate than the average city in our study.
San Jose has an average book passion score of 83 out of 100, compared to just 55 in the average metro – meaning residents often searched for books that made 2021's bestseller list, according to Google Trends.
And finding a bestseller or off-the-page read isn't hard in San Jose. Locals in the Capital of Silicon Valley can visit staples such as Recycle Bookstore, Hicklebee's, or Kinokuniya San Jose to find the perfect read.
5. Seattle, Washington
|☕ Brewing up Book Places
Seattle's whopping 27 cafés per 100,000 residents make this metro great for folks looking to curl up with a page-perfect cup-of-joe and book!
In addition to plenty of coffee shops, Emerald City offers 1.6 indie bookshops per 100,000 people – 62% more than the average city at just 1 – making it great for book-lovers. Locals can find a book that suits their tastes at any number of local shops, including The Elliott Bay Book Company, Secret Garden Books, or Arundel Books.
It's clear Seattle has invested in its readership: Seattle earned an 85 out of 100 for book interest based on Google search trends for various bookish terms. The metro has a literacy score of 277 out of 500 – 4% higher than the average city (266) – and locals show increased interest in finding books, book clubs, or bookstores.
6. Washington, D.C.
|📖 Leaf-ing Behind the Competition
Washington, D.C., ranks No. 2 for book interest, scoring a 94 out of 100 — meaning locals are often searching for book-related events and terms, according to Google search trends.
The D.C. area is a bastion of public spaces. Of the 6.1 libraries per 100,000 people this metro houses, many offer a wealth of information and services to residents. From the Department of Parks and Recreation's tool library to the recently modernized Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, it's clear that our nation's capital invests in reading resources.
D.C. also offers lots of book places, as the metro is home to 1.3 local bookstores per 100,000 residents. Folks in the area can leaf through the shelves of homegrown book shops such as Loyalty Bookstores, MahoganyBooks, and Second Story Books to find their next read.
7. Baltimore, Maryland
|🏙️ The City That Reads
True to its 1988 nickname, Baltimore ranks No. 3 for independent bookstores per 100,000 people and has a literacy rate score of 278 – 4% higher than the average city in our study (266).
Since former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke dubbed Baltimore the "City That Reads" in his 1988 inauguration speech, the city has leaned into his vision. The metro is now home to 4.5 libraries and 2.8 local booksellers per 100,000 residents — 179% more indie bookstores compared to the average city in our study.
Baltimore is also home to avid readers: Locals are 11% more likely to search for book-related phrases or terms than residents in the average metro, scoring a 64 for book-ish search terms such as "book club" or "fiction" compared to the average score of 58. These Baltimore book-lovers can find just the 'write' book at local shops such as The Ivy Bookshop, Greedy Reads, or Red Emma's.
8. San Francisco, California
|🌁 Local Literary Landscape
The Bay Area is home to 2 indie booksellers per 100,000 residents – 102% more than the average metro.
Not only is San Francisco home to lots of local bookshelves, but it also boasts 4.9 libraries and 23 coffee shops per 100,000 residents – plenty of book places for San Franciscans to search for their next story.
San Franciscans also have their eyes on popular page-turners: The Bay Area scored an 83 out of 100 for book passion, making residents 50% more likely to search for books that made the 2021 bestsellers list, according to Google Trends. To find some of those fan favorites, locals have the privilege of frequenting A+ book nooks such as City Lights, Dog Eared Books, and Green Apple Books.
9. Minneapolis, Minnesota
|👏 'Reader' Up
Folks in the Twin Cities are clearly investing in reading resources – the metro ranks second for its literacy rate score of 279.
Known for its pristine blue lakes and vibrant art scene, Minneapolis also has a healthy literary culture. With 28% more libraries (6) and 15% more coffee shops per 100,000 residents (15) than the average metro, locals are likely to find a favorite spot to read.
Before popping over for coffee or snagging a library window seat, residents of Minneapolis can check the shelves of beloved local bookstores such as Moon Palace Books, Milkweed, or Black Garnet Books to find their next page-turner.
The birthplace of author and philosopher Robert M. Pirsig (most known for "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"), Minneapolis also scored 42% higher for interest in book-related search terms than the average city, according to Google Trends.
10. Portland, Oregon
|✨ Glitz and Grammar
Portland is famous as the home of the long-running and well-known independent storefront Powell's Books, serving the city since 1971.
The City of Roses is known for many things: coffee, bridges, and especially its creative communities.
Movers and shakers flocking to the Portland metro area are met with 26% more indie bookstores (1.3) and 104% more coffee shops per 100,000 people (27) than the average city at just 1 independent bookseller and 13 cafés per capita.
In addition to Powell's, locals can find good reads at many other indie faves such as Mother Foucault's or Annie Bloom's Books. Portland residents are also 36% more interested in book-related events than folks in the average city, scoring a 79 out of 100 for search terms such as "book club" or "bookstore," according to Google Trends. And they're in luck – among many events, Portland hosts an annual Portland Book Festival.
11. Buffalo, New York
|💫 Sharing Stories
Buffalo has an above-average literacy rate score of 269 and is home to 50% more libraries than the average city in our study.
Buffalo can boast plenty of public space to host bibliophiles, with 7 libraries and 20 coffee shops per 100,000 people compared to just 4.7 libraries and 13 cafés per 100,000 people in the average city.
Even more, the City of Good Neighbors is home to 23% more independent bookstores per 100,000 people (1.2) than the average city (1). Folks can visit local book places such as Talking Leaves…Books, Fitz Books, or Rust Belt Books to get their literary fix.
12. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
|🥊 Steel Spines
The City of Champions beats out many of the other metros when it comes to libraries, ranking No. 5 with 7.4 libraries per 100,000 residents – 57% more than the average city in our study at 4.7.
Pittsburgh's metro area is also home to 1.1 independent bookstores and 16 coffee shops per 100,000 people, making it easy for residents of the 'Burgh' to find the perfect place to break open a book. Among Pittsburgh's great local book places, one will find White Whale Bookstore, City Books, and City of Asylum Books.
Pittsburgh also scored a 66 for book interest compared to only 58 for the average city in our study – meaning locals are often searching for book clubs, bookstores, and books, according to Google Trends.
13. Denver, Colorado
|✍ Pressing Ahead
Home of well-known publishing imprints such as the University Press of Colorado, Denver ranks No. 3 for literacy with a literacy rate score of 278 out of 500 – 4% higher than the average metro in our study.
In 'edition' to topping the literacy charts, the Mile High City is home to 1.2 independent bookstores and 16 coffee shops per 100,000 residents. With plenty of indie book places – such as Tattered Cover Book Store, BookBar, and Kilgore Books & Comics – Denverites have no shortage of local literary stops.
Denver also has an average book interest score of 75 compared to only 58 for the average city in our study – meaning locals often search for book clubs, bookstores, and books 29% more often than residents of the average city, according to Google Trends.
For folks looking to break into the publishing industry, the University of Denver's College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences houses a Publishing Institute where students can learn and live the ins and outs of publishing.
14. Columbus, Ohio
|🏆 Protean Protagonist
Columbus can do it all! Not only does the "Biggest Small Town in America" rank No. 1 for pop music, but it also ranks No. 8 for book interest.
Columbus residents love their books – with a score of 82 out of 100 for book interest, Columbus residents are often on the lookout for book-related events or book places, according to Google Trends.
Birthplace of famous Goosebumps author R.L. Stine, Columbus offers an array of book places such as The Book Loft, Prologue Bookshop, and Two Dollar Radio. With a literacy score of 269 and 19% more libraries per 100,000 people (5.6) than the average city at 4.7, it's clear Columbus is a great place for book-lovers.
15. Salt Lake City, Utah
|🔥 Page-Turning Passion
The City of the Saints scored a perfect 100 for book passion, meaning residents there are 82% more likely to search for books that made the 2021 bestsellers list, according to Google Trends.
Not only are SLC residents searching for books, but they're also searching bookish events and places. Salt Lake City scored an 88 for book interest – 52% higher than the average city in our study, meaning locals are often searching for book clubs, bookstores, and books, according to Google Trends.
To find answers to those Google queries, residents of the Salt Lake City metro area don't have to look far. They can find any number of interesting reads at book places such as Ken Sanders Rare Books, Central Book Exchange, and The King's English Bookshop.
Data Details: Top 5 Rankings by Category
10 Worst Book Cities
Of America's 50 most populous cities, these 10 were the least reader-friendly:
- Las Vegas, Nevada
- Miami, Florida
- Orlando, Florida
- Riverside, California
- Houston, Texas
- Phoenix, Arizona
- Memphis, Tennessee
- San Antonio, Texas
- Tampa, Florida
- Los Angeles, California
Altogether, these metros offer an average of just 2.9 libraries per 100,000 people – 38% less than the average city in our study at 4.7. Additionally, these cities lack a local book economy: They have an average of 0.4 independent bookstores per 100,000 residents, 62% less than the average city at 1.0.
Even more, Las Vegas, the worst book city, is home to just 1.7 libraries per 100,000 residents compared to 4.7 libraries per 100,000 residents in the average city in our study, a 63% drop-off. As far as local bookshops go, the average city in our study beats out Las Vegas by 2,425%, with 1.0 indie bookstore per 100,000 people versus just 0.04 in Las Vegas.
Folks in Las Vegas also aren't as interested in finding local book spots as residents in the average metro area – they scored just 21 in Google Trends for terms such as "bookstore," "books," and "book club" compared to 58 for the average city in our study.
Clever Real Estate compared the 50 most populous U.S. metro areas across 19 metrics, listed below. Each metric was normalized and graded on a 100-point scale. The combined weighted average of each score determined the overall "book city" score upon which the final ranking was based.
In cases where data sets included only cities, the city data was combined and weighted by population within the overall metro in which the city belonged. In cases where data sets included only counties, county data was crosswalked with metropolitan data. In cases where data sets included only states, the state where the largest portion of the metro is located was used.
The metrics used are as follows:
- Number of libraries per 100,000 residents (26.7% of total)
- Number of independent bookstores per 100,000 residents (26.7% of total)
- Number of coffee shops per 100,000 residents (6.7% of total)
- Literacy ratings (13.3% of total)
- Google Trends popularity of 10 bestselling books from 2021 (20% total; 2% each)
- Google Trends popularity of five common book-related terms (6.7%; 1.3% each)
Since 2017, Clever Real Estate has been on a mission to make selling or buying a home easier and more affordable for everyone. 12 million annual readers rely on Clever's library of educational content and data-driven research to make smarter real estate decisions—and to date, Clever has helped consumers save more than $82 million on realtor fees. Clever's research has been featured in The New York Times, Business Insider, Inman, Housing Wire, and many more.
More Research From Clever
Frequently Asked Questions About Book Cities
What is the most literate city in America?
Of the 50 most populous metros in the U.S., Milwaukee is the most literate with a literacy score of 280 out of 500, followed closely by Minneapolis (279) and Denver (278). Read more about the best book places.
Which cities have the best vacations for book-lovers?
Our top book cities, including Providence, R.I., Boston, and Hartford, Conn., offer a great balance of history and literature stops – perfect for book-lovers and leisure readers alike! Read more about the best book places in the U.S.
Which city ranks No. 1 among America's best book places?
Providence, Rhode Island, tops the list of book cities! With 8.6 libraries and 4.3 independent booksellers per 100,000 residents, Providence has plenty to offer bibliophiles of every genre. Check out the full list of America's best book places.