• Before you visit, pick up a copy of California: A History, by Kevin Starr, to get an overview of this great state’s background.  Topics include its native people, the Mexican-American war, the gold rush and Hollywood’s entertainment industry.
  • Joan Didion covers her native state in fiction and essay form. Her most recent book is the autobiographical The Year of Magical Thinking.
  • Some of Beverly Cleary's children's books are set in California, including Dear Mr. Henshaw, Fifteen, and The Luckiest Girl. Cleary was a graduate of UC Berkeley.

Northern California 

  • Read Jack Kerouac's On the Road, to catch his infectious sense of wanderlust. Read the works of Beat poets, Allan Ginsburg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who put San Francisco's City Lights bookstore on the map.
  • The Grapes of Wrath & Cannery Row by native son John Steinbeck, who chronicles hard times in California during the Depression. He won both the Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize for his works.
  • The Human Comedy & The Time of You Life by Fresno born Willian Saroyan, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his work.
  • The Joy Luck Club & The Kitchen God's Wife, Oakland born Amy Tan's novels of the Chinese American community in San Francisco.
  • The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, by Mark Twain.
  • The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, the classic Sam Spade detective novel.
  • The Outcast of Poker Flat, by Bret Harte.
  • Hunger of Memory, by Mexican-American Sacramento native Richard Rodriguez, describes his childhood struggles as a bilingual minority.

Southern California 

  • City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles, by Mike Davis, is an immensely read-able book on Los Angeles history.
  • Early Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, by Ryan Gierach, detail how much these cities have changed in the last hundred years.
  • Fans of movies and celebrities may enjoy following the tips in Hollywood Remains to be Seen, by Mark J. Masek, a guide to the city’s cemeteries and the graves where stars are buried.
  • California Crazy and beyond: Roadside Vernacular Architecture show some of the fun, whimsical buildings you can visit on your road trip.
  • The Black Echo, by Michael Connelly and subsequent novels about LAPD detective, Harry Bosch.
  • Hollywood Station, byJoseph Wambaugh, a humerous novel on LAPD's Hollywood sub-station. Wambaugh also has more serious novels like The Blue Knight, based in his days in LAPD and his chilling non-fiction works like The Onion Field.
  • Pulp fiction written by Raymond Chandler inspired many famous film noir classics.


  • Adventurers should read Frommer’s Great Outdoor Guide to Northern California.  This region has numerous hiking, skiing, rafting and biking opportunities, and this guide will be valuable in planning your ideal outing.
  • Yosemite, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, by Lonely Planet
  • Fodor's Southern California 2013: with Central Coast, Yosemite, Los Angeles, and San Diego, Fodor's
  • Fodor's Northern California 2013: with Napa, Sonoma, Yosemite, San Francisco & Lake Tahoe, by Fodor's
  • Visitors going to California for wine tasting should have a copy of Napa Valley & Sonoma:  Heart of the California Wine Country, by Virginie Boone.  In addition to tips on wineries and vineyards, it also provides suggestions for lodging and dining.
  • Finally, those visiting to enjoy a beach vacation on the Pacific Ocean should read Experience the California Coast: A Guide to Beaches and Parks in Northern California, or David Crowell’s Exploring Southern California Beaches.