In San Francisco, Bierce read deeply and sought to develop his emerging talents as a wordsmith and grammarian. City newspapers began to receive literary submissions from Bierce, mostly essays and comic sketches, and the San Francisco News-Letter and California Advertiser was the first to publish his work.

When James Watkins resigned from the News-Letter in 1868, Bierce replaced him as managing editor. Increasingly confident of his mastery of language and literary style, the new editor gladly took over the paper’s existing column, "The Town Crier." From this literary pulpit, Bierce savaged the city's hypocrites and political scoundrels. His writing was characterized by sharp wit, precise language, and moral certitude. These entertaining columns attracted the attention of readers beyond San Francisco, and were at times quoted in the newspapers of New York and even London.

During his time at the News-Letter, Bierce met and became familiar with a wide number of Western journalists and writers, among them Mark Twain.

In the late 1860s, Bierce began to experiment with short fiction. He submitted his earliest work to Western journals such as the Overland Monthly, edited by the famed Bret Harte. It was there that Bierce placed "The Haunted Valley," his first short story.

Bierce married Mary Ellen Day on December 25, 1871.