San Mateo Highlands 4th of July Fireworks, Parade and Festival

3rd & 4th of July – San Mateo Highlands
Fireworks, Parade, & Festival

Fourth of July is the biggest holiday of the year at the San Mateo Highlands, a nice little neighborhood near Highways 280 & 92, in San Mateo, CA. See map below.

San Mateo Highlands Neighborhood Parade - 4th of July

San Mateo Highlands Neighborhood Parade – 4th of July

This event, which started way back in 1960, is attended by almost all the neighbors, their children who return for it every year, and their children’s children. Festivities begin with a bang on the night of July 3rd with fireworks in the local grade school yard. A footrace, parade, and festival at the neighborhood recreation center are held the next morning, July 4th.

Highlands Fireworks

The fireworks display start just after dark, about 9 pm, on July 3rd at Highlands Elementary School, 2320 Newport Street, San Mateo (enter from Bunker Hill Dr between Lexington Ave and Yorktown Rd). It can sometimes get foggy and cold so to be safe adults should bring their parkas even though many kids will still be wearing shorts. Also, plan to park a few blocks away and walk to get there … in 2013 there were over 2000 attendees and their cars.  Some neighbors get there as early as 4pm to reserve a spot.

Attendees are mainly neighbors and hundreds of their children & grandchildren who “ooh” and “aah” at the surprisingly good and long fireworks. Rousing music is played throughout to enhance the festive spirit. In 2012 there was a special treat before the fireworks; the Stanford Marching Band showed up and did their thing!

For an hour or two before the fireworks many children and neighbors gather to meet and greet and listen to patriotic music. Home-made cookies, drinks, etc., are provided by the local PTA and other local fund-raising groups.

Highlands Parade, Festival, and Footrace

A footrace, “big” parade, and festival are held the next morning, July 4th, at Highlands Recreation Center, 1851 Lexington Ave, San Mateo. See map below.

The 4k footrace around the neighborhood starts at 8:30 am. The parade begins at 10:00 am followed after prizes are awarded at 11:00 am by midway activities such as midway games, BBQ, family swim race events, raffle tickets, and dunking of several well-known locals who can take a joke.

The parade is only a few blocks long but still lasts a while and is quite entertaining for children. Besides local kids doing their thing on tricycles, in bands, on floats, etc., there are several San Mateo politicos such as county supervisors slowly riding by in convertibles. Many fire engines and police cars, complete with sirens, drive by as well. Plenty of candy is thrown to the children sitting on the curb. It’s a great time to wander around and talk with neighbors you haven’t seen for a while.

The San Mateo Highlands Neighborhood

Eichler Highlands brochure published in 1950s

Cover of one of the original sales brochures (late 1950s)

The neighborhood consists of over 700 Eichler homes built in the late 1950s.   They are sought out by enthusiasts of “California Modern” architecture for their Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired design.  Every year the Eichler Home Tour given by the PTA, showing beautifully remodeled modern interiors of approximately 10 local homes, is usually sold out early.    The neighborhood also enjoys  beautiful views and great access to the ocean (Half Moon Bay in 15 minutes), San Francisco (30 minutes) and Silicon Valley.

This is an unusually tight-knit community.  Most neighbors have done a renovation and thus enjoy discussing with each one their common challenges.  A highly regarded elementary school, an active community recreation center (with a large beautiful swimming pool, new day-care center, and many activities), and a very nice little community church are additional focal points.   Regularly walking the neighborhood, often with a dog or two who want to stop for greetings, is another common recreation in which many neighbors regularly participate.

Because of its natural beauty, coolish temperatures, and terrific access (to work throughout the Bay area, the ocean, and San Francisco) many early owners stayed permanently and eventually retired here … and later their children purchased homes in the Highlands as well. This is true even for retirees who have lived all over the world and could easily afford to live most anywhere. It all helps make for an unusually stable, sophisticated, eclectic, and friendly mix of people.


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