Santa Barbara Bookstores Are Open During the Pandemic

How to Get Books from Neighborhood Stores and Public Libraries

D.J. Palladino at Mesa Bookstore | Credit: Paul Wellman

Reading ranks as one of the most powerful collective magic tricks yet to be pulled off by the human species. With books, you have the increasingly rare power to select your own alternative reality, if only for a few moments. 

The good news is that Santa Barbara still has several truly great local bookstores, and while their doors aren’t open, they’re working hard to stay alive. Most offer curbside pick-up. Many provide free shipping within the South Coast. Some do free gift wrapping, as well. All, I think, would be happy to sell you a gift certificate. And with most, you can get an actual human being on the phone, if need be. 

In Santa Barbara’s bookstore scene, Chaucer’s remains the center of gravity, offering a richer selection of pretty much everything in any category than probably makes strict commercial sense. The people at Chaucer’s are extremely helpful and will treat you right. But given how we’ve all become all virtual shut-ins, it’s probably better to contact them via e-mail at There you browse and graze to your heart’s content and then wonder what you did with your day. Curbside pick-up is an option and the shipping rates have been reduced. Patience is requested as Chaucer’s has experienced a tremendous uptick in on-line interest. Chaucer’s can be reached at (805) 682-6787.  

On the other end of the spectrum is the tiny Mesa Bookstore up on Cliff Drive—maybe the size of three phone booths. If you’re looking for blood-in-the-ice Scandanavian murder thrillers, some sweetly psychotic Celtic Noire, rare first editions, obscure esoterica, off the beaten path local histories, or some high fallutin’ literary masterpieces, this is the place. Unfortunately, Mesa Books does not have its inventory on line, so if you want to know if they have what you’re looking for, pick up the phone and dial 966-3652. Ask for  D.J. Palladino. If he has it, he’ll arrange a pick-up time or home delivery.

Eric Kelly has been running the Book Den in downtown Santa Barbara since Yanonali was chief.  Despite this impeccably musty, dusty pedigree, Kelly and the Book Den were quick to embrace new technologies, and have been selling new and pre-owned books, as they are known, on-line for more than 20 years now. Go to the Book Den’s website and you can find out any book they have in stock. They do curbside pick-up and have been mailing books long enough to be on first name basis with the UPS driver. Right now, Kelly said, books having to do with plagues and pandemics are flying off the shelves. Gone, he said, are any copies of The Plague by Albert Camus, the famous French writer with a cigarette forever drooping south from his mouth. For more info, of course, go to Or if you’re old fashioned, dial 962-3321.

No list of local book dealers would be complete without Tecolote Book Shop and Lost Horizon Books, both of which started downtown before moving to Montecito. Tecolote dates back to the Great Earthquake of 1925 and if Pearl Chase were still alive, she’d no doubt shop there. She is not, but you are, so give them a holler. They can be reached at 969-4977 or

More recent to the upper village is Lost Horizons, which started out 35 years ago, specializing in fine art and rare books. For those who consider themselves epicureans of antiquarianism, Lost Horizons has long been a bibliophile’s delight. They can be reached 962-4606 or at

Last but not least there is the Santa Barbara City Library, an amazing organism that for the past ten years has been in a frenzy of perpetual self-reinvention. Although its core mission is shifting, books remain very much at the heart of any library system and Santa Barbara’s has hundreds of thousands of titles from which to choose. Beyond that, there are also an impressive collection of old videos—remember DVDs?—and CDs for pretty much any musical taste. In response to the current infestation of doom, library officials announced they will now be mailing out books to Santa Barbara library card holders. Translated, that’s any card carrying library member who lives anywhere from Carpinteria to Santa Barbara. Kids and teens are allowed up to five books per order; adults only two. Local deliveries take about two days to arrive though sometimes it might take longer. To plug into this fabulous new service, visit SBPL Delivers. After that, the sky’s the limit.  

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