It may be a slight exaggeration to call the San Gregorio General Store on Highway 84, an hour south of San Francisco, the center of the universe. But see if you can find another spot on the planet that is this culturally diverse: bookshelves filled with the likes of Günter Grass, Albert Camus, and Peterson's Guide to Edible Wild Plants; hip waders and cast-iron skillets; superlative Bloody Marys; the world's largest pair of Levi's; a flow of live blues and bluegrass music; and a revolving population of farmers, surfers, ecoactivists, cowboys, Silicon Valley moguls, bikers, moms, and dancing children.
The General Store has long served as Main Street, the wrong side of the tracks, and the outskirts of town to folks cruising down Highway 1 south of Half Moon Bay. Back in 1889 when San Gregorio was a major stop on the stagecoach route from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, the complex included a 10-room hotel that catered to road-weary travelers, a couple of saloons, a Chinese laundry, and a cheese factory. Time, 7-Elevens, and the automobile have rendered all but the store and adjoining post office obsolete. For most visitors, that's more than enough.
Many regulars discovered the store on their way somewhere else: the magnificent nearby state beach, the biker haven of La Honda to the east, or the elephant seal mating grounds of Año Nuevo to the south. How you found the store is inconsequential, says George Cattermole, owner and former Stanford philosophy lecturer. "The idea is that every walk of life should meet here and be on the same footing." Information: (650) 726-0565, www.sangregoriostore.com .
Photography by Sean Arbabi 
This article was first published in January 2003. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.