Our Favorite California Libraries - Cool Places for Great Minds

California's Greatest Libraries for Hard Chilling


Remember the first time you entered a public library? Shelf after shelf, countless books. Thinking to yourself, "What if I made it a life-goal to read all these books? How much would I know about the world?" Turns out, second to traveling, writing and reading are two great ways to learn about yourself. I remember the first time I heard the author in my head, not just simply reading words like a machine, but actually hearing the author's personality, like a melody. It changed my life. 

California has a formidable library network with 181 libraries available for the public, the breakdown as follows: 117 City libraries, 46 county, 12 independent district libraries and 6 Joint Powers Authority libraries (1). Obviously, the majority of these libraries are municipal, serving their respective communities. But what about all the California libraries? We did some research and visited some historic sites. Here's our list of favorites.  

Los Angeles Public Library - Central Library Goodhue Building

Established in 1872, and one of the most massive libraries in the world, the Los Angeles Public Library system contains over 6,000,000 volumes. The iconic Goodhue building was constructed in 1926 and was the crowning achievement for architect Bertram Goodhue, who died at fifty in 1924. Dude never got to step foot in his own career capstone. Such is the nature of being a legend. The structure stands today defiant to the cold glass edges of the neighboring cityscape. Designed to contrast, the library is artistically beautiful on the outside as it is colorful and kaleidoscopic inside. From the street, the structure resembles a capital building with it's massive rotunda and central dome feature. The Los Angeles library association itself has a hard time classifying the overall design, describing it as, and just try to imagine this, an Egyptian flavored version of Art Deco. Nevertheless, Art Deco is what speaks to me when I'm visiting the library. Think geometric ornateness with that Great Gatsby like motif you find in the older areas of Los Angeles. 

 The amazing chandelier, tile mosaic and paintings in the main hallway of Los Angeles Public Library.   Redfishingboat

The amazing chandelier, tile mosaic and paintings in the main hallway of Los Angeles Public Library.  Redfishingboat

If you find yourself in Los Angeles, stop by the Central Library and just wander the structure, enjoy the massive mosaics and richly colored murals, stunning metalwork and tiling. It grants the visitor a feeling of visiting a European cathedral, with humbling proportions that remain stoic in timelessness. Also, the Central Library has one of the best gift shops of any library anywhere. Packed with eclectic items, the gift shop is carefully curated and feels like a modern art gallery gift shop with cool clothing, books, stationary, kitchen gear and curiosities. You can shop the store online here

 One of the many shelving areas where miles of aisles are worthy of getting lost within.   Stem

One of the many shelving areas where miles of aisles are worthy of getting lost within.  Stem

Hearst Castle Library

Hearst Castle Grand Library. Filosoph

A beautiful private library crammed with old prints and early editions, the Hearst Castle library would be a magnificent place to explore, if the tours actually allowed visitors to leaf the pages herein. Hearst castle, you may not have known this, was designed by architect Julia Morgan between 1919 and 1947 and is basically a collection of mansions with a Mediterranean revivalist design. Morgan was a CA Berkeley trained Civil Engineer and the first female graduate of the prestigious French Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts. Many of the ceilings in the castle are hundreds of years old. That's right, Hearst collected ceilings. Beautiful spaces nonetheless.  

Hearst Castle Grand Library. Eric Chan

Great antique furniture, elaborate rugs and architectural nuances throughout, you're not permitted to sit on anything you see here. Still, though, reading spines is cool. 

University of California, San Diego Geisel Library

One of three on-campus libraries, UCSD's flagship learning structure is the Theodor Geisel library. The architectural style employed here is Brutalism, which, oddly, my alma mater of Cal Poly SLO has its University Union in a similar brutalist style. Brutalism had a strong hold on design from the 1950s to the '70s, characterized by hard edges, defiant excess of concrete and stripped of ornamentation, allowing the structure to solely maintain a dialogue with the user. Universities throughout American employed this style of design during the same mid-century period of University expansion. Some, if not most, examples of brutalism are far less intriguing than the Geisel library. There are plenty of massive concrete structures declared totalitarian and oppressive, many have been coated in stucco and paint or knocked down altogether. The Geisel library stands as an example, in my opinion, of what brutalism can be when designed well.    

The majestic UCSD library.  Nathan Rupert

The Geisel library is named after Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Suess. The La Jolla native was a major contributor to UCSD, particularly the library, and it seemed fitting to respect the man with this Dr. Suess like architectural curiosity. A contentious building for some who fail to appreciate interesting design; I welcome the architectural curiosities, anything that veers from the tan stucco boxes cramming today's urban landscapes. No, stucco isn't Mission style.  

The Geisel library contains, of course, the Dr. Seuss collection, approximately 8,500 items related to the Dr. Seuss past, videos, sketches, drawings, notes and manuscripts.  A huge catalogue of the man's history. Most people don't know Dr. Seuss was a Southern Californian, but considering the use of color in his works--maybe less surprising now. 

 The stairwell into the UCSD Library.  Waifer X

The stairwell into the UCSD Library. Waifer X

I know, you're probably thinking, "Of all the photos he could have selected for the library, why the stairs." Truth is, it's tough tracking down interesting photos from insides of libraries without them being, you know, pictures of books. I want to see interesting architecture, case studies on spaces and places for human habitation.  So here we have a mesmerizing view of the fractal like stairwell of the UCSD library. Imagine dropping your keys. 

University of California, Los Angeles Library

Maybe you'll notice this building echoes the design of the Los Angeles Central Library, from the outside. Good eye, my friend. Among the top 10 research libraries in the US, the UCLA research library system contains over 9,000,000 volumes. This library system was founded in 1883, and the Powell Library, pictured below, is designed within the Romanesque revival genre and completed construction in 1926. Los Angeles was truly a ballooning epicenter during the roaring '20s.The design is modeled after Milan's Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio, if you blur your vision and have a few shots, you can see it. Note the recurring archwork, the red brick facade and towers echoing the Basilica. 

 UCLA's Powell Library.   CampusGrotto

UCLA's Powell Library.  CampusGrotto

Entering the library, the visitor is confronted by a series of colorful mosaics and fascinating reading spaces. The relentless attention to detail seen below. If you've traveled through European cathedrals and renaissance era structures, you'll be duly acquainted with the sense of grandness you get from the Powell Library. If it's finals week, the library remains open 24/7 and you'll be smart to steer clear of the over-burdened and stressed graduates typing thesis' and chasing term papers. 

The fantastic Powell Library reading room. Justin Kern

Special Collections - San Francisco Public Library

The dizzying heights within the SF Public Library. Thomas Hawk

Sadly, flammable things may be lost in the historical-vacuum. The great fire of 1906 cost San Francisco its new library and 150,000 books, including the rare book collection. Taking literally decades to rebuild, the current special collections and rare books archives includes the Californian Collection, a history of all aspects of California and particularly San Francisco, an early children's book collection, a chronology of the City's GLBT history and collection on the history of printing and book development. There are, of course, rare first editions and old volumes within the collection, worthwhile for visitors to leaf the pages of history. A fascinating history of the archive can be found on the San Francisco Public Library website, here.  

Aisle upon aisle of books in the SF Main Public Library. Thomas Hawk

Doe Library Reading Room, University of California, Berkeley  

Great spaces dedicated to quiet contemplation are seemingly as challenging to find in California wildernesses as they are in public spaces. The Doe Reading Room at UC Berkeley is a rare facility. An opus of knowledge, the learning core in simplest terms. A great space for minds to expand, delve into history and the written word.  

The Doe Library Reading Room with its cathedral ceiling and grand natural light facades grants a feeling of greatness and achievement. UC Berkeley has several reading rooms all of which maintain brilliant aesthetic character. Other recommended sites are Morrisson Library reading room, which echoes that intimate, rich study found in Hearst Castle's library. Similarly, the Heyns reading room with its nods to renaissance grandeur and its fascinatingly carved wood ceiling.  

The colossal Doe Reading Room. Sharat Ganapati.

Having facilities like these makes all that stress, anxiety and depression for doggedly pursuing a Ph.D seem worth the hunt. 

If you enjoyed this piece, please check out our piece on our favorite botanical gardens for hard chilling.