Halfway between the Northern California coastal towns of Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay, at the nexus of some of the best motorcycle roads on the planet, lies the somnolent town of Pescadero. It just might be the coolest coastal burg that no one has heard of. So please, don’t go there. But if you must, by all means get some high-octane coffee at Downtown Local, which serves up a potent mix of vintage bikes, racing memorabilia, scratchy LPs, and, well, just about anything.
Inside, old gas tanks are stacked like cordwood on wooden shelves, including examples from Norton, Ducati, and Triumph. A rotation of vintage bikes makes its way through the shop—everything from an MV Agusta to a Lambretta scooter. In the large bay window, a mannequin playing an accordion sits astride a 1935 Moto-Guzzi GTV, with its infamous “bacon-slicer” external flywheel. A large, wooden toolbox with Cragar stickers spills over with dog-eared Cycle magazines from the ‘60s and ‘70s.
And if it’s moto-nostalgia you’re after, then Downtown Local will make you weak in the knees. And, since everything is for sale, it might also weaken your bank account.
But Downtown Local is not just about motorcycles. Stacks of Beatles records lean hard on a large, but obviously used, Tonka Truck. A collection of antique fire hydrant nozzles sit in a wooden box, waiting for the next San Franciscan to festoon their pied-à-terre in impeccable country style. There’s a noticeable concentration of Snoopy lunchboxes and plush monkeys too, which make about as much sense as anything else. Which is to say, none at all.
When I ask owner John Betteo to identify a theme for Downtown Local, he looks puzzled. There isn’t one, other than the most logical theme of all: It’s stuff John likes. He grew up in Fairhope, Alabama—about as far from California as you can get, geographically and culturally. That’s also where he learned to love motorcycles. “In Fairhope, everyone had a dirt bike and rode them in the pecan orchards,” he says.
He moved to San Francisco in the ‘80s and started fiddling with old bikes, particularly Moto-Guzzis. In 2012, he found himself thinking about the little town of Pescadero, just down the Pacific Coast Highway. “I’d talked about having a coffee and motorcycle repair shop, where I could restore one motorcycle at a time,” he says. “It was a dream.” Soon after, the dream became reality.
Not Your Average Burg
Relations with the residents of tiny Pescadero (population 643) didn’t come easily. Betteo did his penance—on a barstool. “I sat at Duarte’s bar [across the street from Downtown Local] for a year,” he says. “Everyone meets there at 4:30. I would sit several stools away. I finally inched over and became one of the crowd. That’s when I figured it was safe to open my store.”
Downtown Pescadero may date from the mid 1800s, but today it looks like it’s been overtaken by a mutant society of people on two wheels. Motorcyclists of every stripe thunder down the main street, Stage Road. Sportbike riders search for their next dose of caffeine, to better prepare for the coming decreasing-radius corners. Harley guys and girls prowl, turning heads and rattling century-old windows before retreating to Duarte’s for nerve-deadening cocktails from a nonjudgmental barkeep.
But the chief attraction, at least for motorcyclists, has always been the proximity to some of the best, most sinuous roads on the San Francisco Peninsula, including Stage, Gazos Creek, and Pescadero Roads. Skyline Drive, of Alice’s Restaurant fame, is also nearby. Travel all this delicious tarmac for a few hours, and by the time you arrive at Downtown Local, you’ll practically walk with a lean.
Desperately Seeking Strangeness
The problem with non-conformists, they say, is that they’re all alike. Could such a thing happen with Downtown Local? Could its very eclecticism become commonplace, as trendy stores highlighting “found objects” crop up throughout the Bay Area? Perhaps, but for Betteo, it doesn’t matter. And you get the feeling he might just evade that fate. He’s always reaching higher, and going one step weirder, than the next guy.
“And besides,” he says. “I’m always looking for more motorcycles.”