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17 Incredible & Contemporary California Books

These California books are sure to have you dreaming of the sun, beaches, and parties. Explore some of the best books set in California to take you there.

If you are traveling via plane or armchair, which California books should you read before your trip?

Below, find our favorite books set in Los Angeles and Malibu along with books about California to teach you more about identity, heritage, and culture.

Some of these Californian novels will make you cry while others will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Many of these titles will showcase family relationships, mental health, and chronic illness while others will take you to tipsy parties and weddings. Grab your pink Christmas tree and add “lupper” to your busy schedule.

Lastly, find books set in California for both adults and teens. There are mysteries, rom-coms, and powerful LGBTQ+ novels. A few of these books you’ll finish in days with misty eyes and swelling hearts.

We also kept this reading list pretty contemporary with many books published over recent years. However, you’ll find a few older Californian books too.

So, what are the best books on California to enhance your next trip or remind you of your last visit? Let’s get started.

Don’t forget to let us know your favorites in the comments.

Read across America with our 50 States Reading List.

California Books And Books Set In California with picture of Big Sur water and cliffs
Travel across America with the best contemporary California books.

Grab your favorite books on California here:

1. We get the month’s hottest new and upcoming titles from Book of the Month.
2. Try Audible Plus.
3. Find books via Kindle Unlimited Membership Plans.
4. As a member of Amazon Prime, don’t miss Amazon First Reads — early access to Kindle books.

17 California Books To Love

Dial A For Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto book cover with 4 Chinese-Indonesian older aunts and one younger woman on cell phone with sunglasses in a green dress

1. Dial A For Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto

For multicultural books set in California mixed with a tad of romance and murder, Dial A For Aunties is a must. This book will crack you up from the moment you read about Meddy’s love for eggplant.

It all starts when Meddelin Chan’s well-intentioned mother sets her up on a blind internet date. Unfortunately, Meddy accidentally kills her date — twice.

Not sure what to do or who to call, Meddy heads home to her Chinese-Indonesian aunts and mother with a body in her trunk.

With an upcoming wedding for Tom Cruise — well, you’ll see — the family needs to hide the body, cover up the murder, and pull off one stellar wedding.

Add in the one that got away — Meddy’s first love — and the drunkest groomsmen around, and you have quite the scenario for a wedding disaster.

Can Meddy keep herself out of jail? And, what about her near-perfect ex-boyfriend? Can they rekindle their love?

Having lived in Indonesia for a year — and knowing basic Bahasa Indonesia — we loved seeing familiar phrases throughout this novel.

Meddy’s family is the absolute best, and who knew a murder mystery could be a feel-good, comedic novel too. Discover more books about Indonesia.

Read Dial A For Aunties: Amazon | Goodreads

The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang book cover with woman with black hair wearing black sunglasses

2. The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang

Our readers are huge fans of Helen Hoang and with good reason. You may know Hoang from her first two books in The Kiss Quotient series.

The third in the series, The Heart Principle, may be read as a standalone. Be forewarned, though, that this is one of the most intense romances and books set in California on this reading list.

There are triggers and content warnings such as suicide ideation, depression, toxic families, cancer, and hospice care.

The story is heartbreaking and hard to stomach — at times — but also deeply touching and satisfying. Anna kicks butt.

The plot: Violinist Anna Sun is struggling with her music after one viral performance.

When her therapist suggests that she has ASD, Anna finally feels like she understands herself and her needs. But, can her family?

Anna meets Quan after her boyfriend asks for an open relationship to go sleep around. Recovering from surgery and a cancer-free diagnosis, Quan has a few insecurities but wants to get back into dating.

What was supposed to be a one-night stand turns into so much more.

A family tragedy leaves Anna as a burnt-out and misunderstood caretaker. Readers watch as Anna fights for herself and love.

As Hoang mentions in her author’s note, the story is part memoir. Enjoy a deep and emotional romance.

Read The Heart Principle: Amazon | Goodreads

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour book cover with young woman illustrated as all pink looking out and Printz Award sticker

3. We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

Are you looking for a quick read, tear-jerker? Don’t skip We Are Okay, an award-winning YA LGBTQ+ book set in California.

A ‘new adult’ story, this emotional & poetic narrative will hit the core of your soul. Uncover themes of grief, mental health, and family.

Readers will appreciate the literary tie-ins as well as the complicated but heartfelt friendship between Marin and Mabel.

Mabel and Marin are best friends growing up in Ocean Beach, CA. An intimate night together solidifies their love, making them more than just friends.

When Marin’s grandfather passes away, her life and all that she knows suddenly dissolve into bitter lies. Marin has no one else to care for her — or so she feels.

Marin runs away to New York a month earlier than expected for college. Leaving without saying goodbye, Marin refuses to text back Mabel or clean up her grandfather’s hidden and troubling secrets.

When Mabel arrives for a three-day visit to try to reach her, Marin has to reconcile her loneliness, love, and a broken heart. It doesn’t help that it’s Christmastime.

We Are Okay takes place across the course of three days and one summer. The dual timelines add to the suspense of Marin’s future and provide insight into her healing process.

We Are Okay is the winner of 2018 Printz Award. For YA California books, this is a somber but powerful read.

Read We Are Okay: Amazon | Goodreads

Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So book cover with person smoking in back of truck on side of road

4. Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So

Anthony Veasna So recently passed away at the age of 28, just as the world was falling into the brilliance of his writing. The New Yorker published a few of his short stories before this collection.

For emotional and dynamic books about California and growing up Cambodian-American, readers follow along with the children of refugees from the Khmer Rouge genocide.

The past and present collide, shaping futures, stories, and families — some more uplifting and hopeful than others. So examines race, sexuality, and the meaning of success and community.

Teens get high, fall in love, and attempt to carve out their careers and adult lives.

Many of the short stories overlap, giving less prominent characters their time in the spotlight.

While not all of the short stories engaged us, we highly recommend reading, “Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts,” “Superking Scores Again,” and “Human Development.”

Afterparties is truly a brilliant short story collection about adapting to Californian life in both a comedic and deeply reflective manner.

Read Afterparties: Amazon | Goodreads

The Guncle by Steven Rowley book cover

5. The Guncle by Steven Rowley

Travel to Palm Springs, California in a newer book release, The Guncle.

With the death of their mother, Maise and Grant are sent to live with GUP, Gay Uncle Patrick. Their dad is headed to rehab.

Patrick is an out-of-work TV star overcoming his own grief and anxiety after the tragic death of his partner. He’s not ready for a house full of kids.

Comedic but also deeply touching, watch everyone change, grow, and fall in love as they navigate all of the utter garbage that life has thrown at them.

You will cry, cheer, and buy a pink Christmas tree in the middle of the year. “Lupper” will also become your new favorite mealtime.

We all wish we had a Guncle like Patrick. This is one of the most compelling as well as sweetest California books on this reading list about overcoming grief with themes of identity, happiness, and love.

Read The Guncle: Amazon | Goodreads

People We Meet On Vacation by Emily Henry book cover

6. People We Meet On Vacation by Emily Henry

Another one of the California books on this list that overlaps in NYC, head to Palm Springs, CA. Find faulty AC in Henry’s most-anticipated book of 2021, People We Meet On Vacation.

You might remember Henry from one of our favorite rom-coms, Beach Read.

Travel writers will appreciate that Poppy works for a luxury travel magazine. While she has everything that she could ever want — paid for vacations to beautiful and coveted destinations — Poppy isn’t happy.

Poppy’s struggling to write about inspiring vacations with her creativity and best friend MIA. The fallout with her vacation partner-in-crime, Alex, has put a cramp in her style.

The terrible AC in Palm Springs and meeting different people from around the world will engage you and make you chuckle out loud. Poppy’s boss is also our hero.

One of the most talked-about summer California books of 2021, we didn’t exactly 5-star People We Meet On Vacation like others. We are harsh critics over here.

However, we can appreciate that our readers absolutely devoured this novel.

Read People We Meet On Vacation: Amazon | Goodreads

The Holiday Swap by Maggie Knox book cover with two twin sisters with bakery and two guys in background on blue background

7. The Holiday Swap by Maggie Knox

For sweet romance books set in Los Angeles, California, be sure to pick up Maggie Knox’s The Holiday Swap. Maggie Knox is the pen name for writing duo Karma Brown and Marissa Stapley.

When Charlie gets a concussion and loses her sense of smell, she’s afraid she’ll ruin her one chance of ditching her douche bag co-host for her own baking show.

Enlisting the help of her twin sister, Cass, Charlie heads back to run her small hometown family bakery while Cass takes over for her in L.A.

Very few people know that they switched. Both sisters fall in love while posing as the other.

They also struggle at playing the part of the other while at work; Charlie is confident and assertive while Cass is quiet and plays it safe.

What could possibly go wrong? Let’s just say almost everything.

The Holiday Swap is especially fitting if you enjoy foodie fiction, devour The Great British Bake Off, or are in a need of a Christmas novel.

Plus, you’ll love the sisters’ bond along with the juxtaposition of big city life versus smalltown roots. Find feminism, heart, finding yourself, and lovable friends and family.

Forgiveness comes easily in this feel-good story sure to put you in the holiday spirit.

Read The Holiday Swap: Amazon | Goodreads

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon book cover with two people dancing and kissing and pink flower

8. Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon

Nicola Yoon is one of our favorite young adult authors, and you may know her from The Sun Is Also A Star – an NYC set novel — as well as Everything, Everything.

One of her newer books, Instructions for Dancing, is truly a touching story about dancing, living, trusting, and loving.

Evie Thomas possesses the unique power to see other people’s romantic destinies before they happen.

When Evie witnesses a couple kissing on the street, she sees how their romance will end. Her dad’s recent affair also doesn’t help her faith in finding lasting love.

In a PG Dirty Dancing narrative, Evie meets X at La Brea Dance Studio where she is coerced into joining a dance competition.

Evie can’t help but fall for X. Will she also fall into heartbreak?

We finished Instructions For Dancing in tears. This 2021 book release is a poignant and beautiful heartbreaker.

Yoon also asks the age-old question: Is seeing into the future a gift or curse?

You’ll love the chemistry between X and Evie. Find themes of family, forgiveness, and living in the present.

For YA books set in California, this romance promises a sincere and magical narrative about first love.

Read Instructions For Dancing: Amazon | Goodreads

Pretty Things by Janelle Brown

9. Pretty Things by Janelle Brown

If you are looking for a gripping and contemporary psychological thriller, Janelle Brown’s Pretty Things will have you on the edge of your seat.

An Instagram influencer with money plus con artists can only equal one thing: Scams with so many beautiful and fake things.

Lachlan and Nina are your typical Robin Hood story: they steal from the rich to give to the poor, including Nina’s sick mother.

You don’t exactly like them, but you don’t dislike them as much as their victims. Lachlan and Nina stalk wealthy and corrupt men and women on Instagram.

To run the con, they change their identities, meet up with these unsuspecting people at parties, and ultimately steal and resell their valuables.

Both are pros at exploiting weakness and playing off emotions, fears, and dreams.

Unfortunately, things go wrong with one of their biggest cons yet. Nina takes revenge on a family responsible for ruining her future, but nothing goes as expected.

Pretty Things is one of those books set in California (around CA and Lake Tahoe) where you cannot trust anyone. Find women’s fiction with friendship and mother-daughter relationships too.

Read Pretty Little Things: Amazon | Goodreads | Book Information

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid book cover

10. Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

From the author of the popular Californian novel, Daisy Jones & The Six, Taylor Jenkins Reid is back at it with one of the most talked-about California books of 2022, Malibu Rising.

Head back to the 1980s for a tipsy and out-of-control end-of-summer party in Malibu. This is a party that tops Gatsby’s.

Four famous siblings are facing their own problems and inner demons. Their infamous father, Mick Riva, has abandoned them for most of his life.

Nina is equally famous and a gorgeous surfer and model. Her brother Jay is a pro-surfer, and her other brother Hud is his famous photographer.

Their sister, Kit, is one of the quieter ones with a secret or two as well.

Family secrets, trauma, and affairs surface during this fiery and unforgettable evening. The pressure and scrutiny from the public eye do not help.

By morning, flames will engulf the Riva family mansion. Can this family keep it together? Is the fire symbolic of something else?

Find a deeper exploration of the meaning of family, and champion Nina as she cares for her siblings. Our one gripe, though, is the overabundance of party-goers’ stories, which became tedious.

Read Malibu Rising: Amazon | Goodreads

The Dating Plan by Sara Desai book cover

11. The Dating Plan by Sara Desai

If you are in the mood for a sexy, headboard-breaking, and hilarious multicultural romance, don’t skip Sara Desai’s The Dating Plan.

Out of all of the books set in California on this reading list, we devoured The Dating Plan in less than 2 days. This is also a super sweet and feel-good read with overbearing but loving families.

Daisy Patel is smart, beautiful, and single. Her Indian aunties are determined to find her match, even though she is still overcoming the trauma of being abandoned by the people she loves.

When her Irish-American childhood crush, Liam, comes back into her life and needs a fake wife, they decide to make the arrangement work for them both.

Mind you, Liam stood her up on prom night.

With a shady past and one major rule — no emotions or physical anything — can these two pull off this hoax? And, will they follow their own rule?

The Dating Plan makes for the perfect escapist book. You’ll love the adventurous, punch-throwing families and the safety net of blissful predictability.

Read The Dating Plan: Amazon | Goodreads | Book Information

Explore more books about Indian families and books set in India.

One To Watch by Kate Stayman-London book cover with woman in a pink dress and heels hiding an engagement ring behind her back

12. One To Watch by Kate Stayman-London

For even more escapist California books, be sure to check out Kate Stayman-London’s One To Watch.

Although we are not huge fans of The Bachelorette or The Bachelor, we finished this funny but also thoughtful and poignant rom-com and beach read rather quickly.

Plus, content creators and bloggers will appreciate and laugh aloud about the podcast, social media, and blogging references.

Meet Bea Schumacher, a plus-size fashion blogger. Bea is tired of seeing no diversity as well as women who don’t look like her on The Bachelorette-like show, Main Squeeze.

After a drunken internet rant, Main Squeeze invites Bea on as the next leading lady. Her acceptance would surprise as well as smash stereotypes for viewers and participants.

Of course, not everyone is accepting — reaching levels of cruelty that make your heart sink and invoke awful high school nostalgia. Even Bea begins to have her doubts.

Although not fully committed to looking for love after previous heartbreak, Bea suddenly finds herself invested in these men.

Will she end up meeting the man of her dreams? Or, will she find herself thoroughly embarrassed and disappointed?

Most touching is Bea’s internal and realistic struggle with loving herself.

While the plot is a tad predictable — true to formulaic reality TV — discover a sexy and lovable female lead who goes through an intense learning process.

This is one of the great body-positive books set in Los Angeles and Malibu on this reading list.

Read One To Watch: Amazon | Goodreads | Book Information

White Oleander by Janet Fitch book cover with back of woman with dress unzipped and head hanging

13. White Oleander by Janet Fitch

For books set in Los Angeles that are a tad older, White Oleander (1999) is one you shouldn’t skip. It’s also a great book with a color in the title.

Astrid’s mother, Ingrid, poisons her ex with white oleander flowers. Sentenced to life in prison, Astrid spends years weaving between new homes within the foster care system.

The system is not kind to Astrid. A tumultuous childhood awaits her filled with danger, neglect, heartbreak, and abuse — in households both rich and poor.

Astrid, who once looked up to her mother, suddenly grows more and more resentful. Still, we find a story of resilience and survival.

Can Astrid sort out the past and find herself — even with such unstable settings?

White Oleander is one of the most moving California books on this reading list, as both a coming-of-age story and a tale about mother-daughter relationships.

Read White Oleander: Amazon | Goodreads

Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier book cover with illustrated children with hair blowing in breeze, one looking shocked and one smiling

14. Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

For award-winning books about California, Raina Telgemeier’s middle-grade graphic novel, Ghosts, will teach you more about Mexican culture and traditions as well as chronic illness.

Cat’s sister, Maya, suffers from cystic fibrosis. Their family decides to move to Northern California for the fresh ocean air.

In Bahía de la Luna, Cat learns about her Mexican heritage – as this is a city obsessed with ghosts. Although Cat is a glass-half-empty kind of girl, Maya is extremely optimistic and energetic.

Maya convinces Cat to go on a ghost tour with a cute boy in town, Carlos, to prove that ghosts do exist.

While on top of a hill at the mission, Maya has a breathing attack and is placed on a machine that limits even more of her daily activities, including trick-or-treating.

With the Day of the Dead quickly approaching, both girls attempt to come to terms with dying — as well as living — with the help of ghosts, new friends, and family.

Please read Ghosts with awareness, though, as Telgmeier has faced mixed reviews over the accuracy of her portrayal of missions, ghosts, Day of the Dead, and CF.

Read Ghosts: Amazon | Goodreads

Find even more books about Mexico.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

15. Wild By Cheryl Strayed

One of the nonfiction books about California on this list, you may have heard about the infamous Cheryl Strayed, a fantastic travel writer.

Cheryl Strayed takes to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) after her mother dies and her marriage fails. She is only 22 years old, but she already feels lost.

Mind you, Strayed is not an experienced hiker and the PCT is not an easy walk through the woods.

Strayed faces an incredibly hard journey while reflecting on her deeply traumatic past. However, she emphasizes love, compassion, growth, and forgiveness. 

Fresh air and time to reflect are healing. All of Strayed’s life experiences make Wild one of the most honest and vulnerable titles on this reading list.

Wild is also a great book for hikers.

Read Wild: Amazon | Goodreads

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malindo Lo book cover with San Francisco street at night with buildings and street lamp

16. Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malindo Lo

For award-winning books set in San Francisco, Last Night at the Telegraph Club will appeal to historical fiction lovers.

This National Book Award winner for YA literature is also a fantastic coming-of-age and LGBTQ+ novel for teens, new adults, and adults.

Set in the 1950s during the Red Scare in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Lily loves studying math and science.

Although her family has different ideas about women’s societal roles, Lily wants nothing more than to work with rockets like her aunt.

Judgments and fear, however, are prevalent; Lily is Chinese-American during the Red Scare.

The government is looking for any reason to deport Chinese citizens and is on the lookout for Communist activities.

When Lily’s new friend, Kath, introduces her to the Telegraph Club, where a “male impersonator” performs, Lily realizes that she’s found her community and identity as a young lesbian in California.

Watch as Lily comes out to her family in a time full of prejudice and panic. For books on California and its raw history, this one will touch your heart, frustrate you, and make you cheer for Lily.

TWs: homophobia, racism, miscarriage, xenophobia, sexism

Read Last Night at the Telegraph Club: Amazon | Goodreads

Love & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly book cover with brunette white woman and nonbinary red haired person looking at each other on red background

17. Love & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly

One of our favorite new LGBTQ+ romance books set in Los Angeles, California, Love & Other Disasters is perfect for foodie fiction lovers, especially if you follow Top Chef and The Great British Bake Off.

Plus, you’ll get to enjoy weekends with Dahlia and London as they sightsee across California — sand in your hair and making out on the beach included.

Meet recently divorced Dahlia Woodson. Leaving behind her job, she heads to L.A. to participate in a competitive cooking show, Chef’s Special.

Not only did she just come out to her family, but she also decided she won’t follow society’s ‘expected’ narrative and have kids.

While on Chef’s Special, Dahlia finds herself flirting with London, a nonbinary, pansexual, and sexy AF contestant.

The two never discuss what will happen when one of them is kicked off the show — and someone will eventually have to go. Will they stay together? Will their families love them for who they are?

We championed the representation, London standing up to their dad, and Dahlia’s strength to live a life true to herself. We read this California book in days; it’s such an easy, sizzling hot read with dynamic characters.

CWs: Misgendering, homophobia, nonbinary-phobia, transphobia, sexism, sexual content

Read Love & Other Disasters: Amazon | Goodreads | Book Information

Grab your favorite books about California here:

1. We get the month’s hottest new and upcoming titles from Book of the Month.
2. Try Audible Plus.
3. Find books via Kindle Unlimited Membership Plans.
4. As a member of Amazon Prime, don’t miss Amazon First Reads — early access to Kindle books.

Save Your Favorite Books Set In California For Later

Books About California and Californian Novels Pinterest Pin with book covers for Afterparties, We are okay, People we meet on vacation, Instructions for saving, The Holiday Swap, The Heart Principle, Pretty Things, and The Guncle with photo of Big Sur
Did you find a few new California books to read? Save this reading list for later, and travel around the world with The Uncorked Librarian.

What are the best books about California to transport you there?

There are so many books set in Los Angeles and California. Which California books are your favorite? Let us know in the comments.

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