San Mateo, CA
Things To Do
Below are some of the more popular things locals do in San Mateo City and County. This information is pertinent mainly to locals though visitors may find a few interesting gems as well. See our San Mateo Map for exact locations and more details.
San Mateo, CA, is one of the earliest San Francisco suburbs. It was initially a stagecoach stop, then a railroad stop, then an ideal place for wealthy San Franciscans to have a weekend home. Now along the El Camino Real highway it consists of a mix of older residential neighborhoods (with supporting shopping) along with somewhat newer homes to the west towards Hwy 280. Though San Mateo is fairly well-to-do there are no extremely high-end neighborhoods and some of the older sections are much less than fancy.
One of its best features is location, about half way between San Francisco & Palo Alto, as well as a mild climate and great access to jobs. These attributes make San Mateo an excellent place to call home for many long time residents. The main access routes as shown on the map are as follow:
- Highway 101 (replaced El Camino Real as the main thoroughfare between San Francisco & San Jose),
- Highway 92 (running from Half Moon Bay coast to the San Mateo bridge),
- Highway 280 (sometimes called the most beautiful freeway in the U.S.)
Hiking & Biking
- Foster City, a planned community in San Mateo County, has many nice trails.
- Redwood Shores – Another planned neighborhood has many natural marshland hiking/biking trails on the levees around it. It is a special treat you would not expect just off the freeway.
- Sawyer Camp Trail – This was once the main route from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay. It is now a very popular hiking & biking trail that runs along Crystal Springs reservoir from Crystal Springs Rd to Hillcrest Blvd about 6 miles north. (Sorry, no dogs allowed.) At the moment the closest direct access from Hwy 280 (i.e., Bunker Hill exit) has been cut off by dam construction so the best way to get there is to take the Hayne Rd exit off Hwy 280 to the Crystal Springs Golf Course (they have a good driving range … don’t hit the deer that sometimes graze on it). Then drive south via Skyline Blvd to the main Sawyer Camp Trail entrance.
- Canada Road Sunday Biking – Along Canada Rd between Hwy 92 and the town of Woodside is another good excellent biking spot. A portion of Canada Rd is closed off to cars on Sunday.
- Laurelwood Park, 3471 Glendora Dr, San Mateo This is an excellent little park where kids will enjoy the very nice playground and big grassy lawn. Adjacent the Sugarloaf Nature Area described next.
- Sugarloaf Nature Area – on the Sugarloaf mountain just behind Laurelwood Park. It has 4-5 good walks which start at the Park and go up the mountain. Dogs are allowed. From the top of Sugarloaf are excellent views of San Mateo Bridge and of San Francisco. You are on just about on the same level as San Mateo Jr College, another nice walking area that allows dogs, just north across Hwy 92.
- Crystal Springs Cross Country Course, 2600 Hallmark Dr, Belmont, just south of Hallmark Park. This a great place to run or walk. (Note: no dogs allowed). It is where the San Mateo Jr College Cross Country Team practices and has been the site of many great high school and intercollegiate races. Sheep Camp Trail on the west end will take you down under Hwy 280 and eventually over to Canada Rd.
- Coyote Point Park, 1701 Coyote Point Dr, San Mateo – Nice walks, views, picnicking (with reservations & fees on busy days), science center and wind & kite surfing. In 1922 a big amusement center was built on the long natural beach at the northern end. However it soon closed down due to strong afternoon winds (note: but it is warmer at the south end of the park). Positives: Close in, nice views, biking, walking, Magic Mountain Playground for kids. Negatives: $6 admission if you drive in (however, you can bike or walk in for free), no dogs allowed, can get busy on weekends.
- San Mateo Jr College — This junior college has a beautiful new campus and the most scenic football field around. Many famous athletes including Bill Walsh, John Madden and O.J. Simpson have played here. Just walking this beautiful campus (even dogs are allowed) and looking at the views is a fun thing to do. On Saturday mornings, 9 am-1 pm rain or shine, here is also one of the best Farmers Markets in the Bay area. Every year around June they have a free jazz festival which over 5,000 people attend.
- Filoli Gardens — Located on Canada Rd, this beautiful old estate and gardens is a national monument. Open to the public ($20 admission). Check out the free Pulgas Water Temple just north of Filoli while you are there.
- Foster City Lagoon – A great place for water sports. You can rent the equipment there.
- Year around there are several good small town events run by locals. Usually they are art fairs. Around the Fourth of July there are excellent fireworks and fairs at Foster City and in the San Mateo Highlands neighborhood.
- Hiller Aviation Museum, 601 Skyway Rd, San Carlos — Small and somewhat expensive ($14/adult) but packed with interesting aviation history from as far back as 1869. For example, a 2-story Boeing 747 cockpit, flight simulators, and several of the oldest flying machines ever made.
Food & Shopping
- Old DownTown San Mateo — This older retail area starting to become a hot bed of inexpensive ethnic restaurants. Some of the interesting eating spots include The Ravoli House, Saigon City, Pancho Villa Taqueria (365 B Street) and Ramen Dojo. Draegers, an interesting high end grocery market there, has an outstanding bakery section; try their bear claws.
- El Camino Real — El Camino was the main thoroughfare and commercial street running north & south through San Mateo in the early days. It is now showing its age. Several small old shopping areas, such as 25th Street and Palm Ave (where you can find a decent dive bar, Bucky’s Cocktail Lounge), also sprouted up near El Camino Real decades ago. Heidi’s Pies (open 24 hrs/day), Himawari and Pilgrim Kitchen Bakery, all on El Camino, are popular with locals.
- Near Highway 101 – Pleasant hidden surprises off Highway 101 include Kingston Cafe coffee shop, El Palenque Tacqueria (east of hwy 101 via 3rd Ave) and Tacos Peralta Food Truck (west of hwy 101 via Hillsdale Blvd). Up further north, near the Cow Palace in Brisbane, we like the historic 7 Mile House.
- 25th Street, off El Camino south of Hwy 92 — This quiet hidden street about 4 blocks long has a wide variety older local shops including a very active Goodwill (28 W 25th Ave). Some of the decent ethnic restaurants are similar to what you would expect in San Francisco: Cafe Tradition, 123 W 25th Ave, is a French & Moroccan Restaurant at reasonable prices; Luceti’s, 109 W 25th Ave, and La Lanterna, 180 W 25th Ave, are Italian; Kobeya, 140 W 25th Ave, is a good inexpensive Japanese place for lunch & dinner. 35th Street, off El Camino further south, also has several older restaurants including Romolo’s Cannoli and Fernando’s Mexican Restaurant.
- BridgePoint Shopping Center, 3010 Bridgepointe Pkwy across Hwy 92 from Foster City — It has a Target, Home Depot & and smaller stores. We like the tasty, well priced hamburgers at BJ’s Brewhouse (restaurant & sports bar) and at Red Robin Gourmet Burgers in the Center.
- Crystal Springs Shopping Center — Besides being one of the few shopping areas readily accessible to Highways 280 & 92 this is one of the better neighborhood shopping centers in town. There are a surprising number of small but excellent independent businesses such as Tasty Gourmet Treats and Crystal Springs Produce located here which makes this a good place to know about if you often drive on Highway 280 or Highway 92.
- Hillsdale Mall — This is the largest regional shopping in San Mateo. Macys and Nordstroms are its major tenants. The center also has something that is becoming hard to find … a good, very large bookstore run by Barnes & Noble bookstore. During the past few years the center has been undergoing renovation and upgrading tenants, for example a new Apple Computer Store, Cheesecake Factory, and Trader Joes.
This is barely the beginning of nice things to do in San Mateo County though you do have to know where to look. For exact locations and more details see our San Mateo map.