15 Best Things to Do in San Mateo (CA)

San Mateo is a coastal city of approximately 100,000 residents located approximately 25 kilometers south of San Francisco, between Daly City and San Jose.

The city was founded more than 130 years ago. Despite its humble origins, it has grown into one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the Bay Area with a relatively mild climate year-round.

Day trips to iconic San Francisco attractions like Fisherman’s Wharf and Alcatraz are popular, but for those who don’t want to struggle with notorious traffic themselves, there are public transportation options and guided tours available.

1. Japanese Garden

Japanese Garden, San Mateo

San Mateo’s Japanese Garden is an oasis of tranquility set on 16 acres of green space in the city’s Central Park.

Once the estate of a wealthy local sailor, the garden was originally designed by a Japanese landscape architect who worked at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

The gardens have been a public space since the early 1920s and are known for their stunning cherry and bonsai trees, koi ponds, waterfalls and majestic multi-level granite pagodas.

The garden is a great place for a quiet morning or afternoon stroll away from the crowds.

2. Sawyer Camp Trail

Sawyer Camp Trail

Despite its proximity to one of the largest urban centers in the state, the area around San Mateo is full of conveniently located municipal parks and outdoor recreation areas that are worth checking out.

The Sawyer Camp Trail is a 6-mile paved trail that offers visitors moderate elevation changes and some of the best views around.

The trail traverses a variety of natural environments and often sees several local animals such as foxes, deer, waterfowl, rabbits, and woodpeckers.

The trail starts on Crystal Springs Road in San Mateo, and the most photogenic portion of the trail is near the San Andreas Dam and Lake.

3. Old Town San Mateo

San Mateo Old Town Center

For lovers of food, history, and architecture, there’s no better way to spend a few hours than exploring Old Town San Mateo.

One of the city’s most walkable neighborhoods has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent years, making it the go-to destination for trendy eaters and drinkers across the Bay Area.

Restaurants range from high-priced steak and seafood restaurants to laid-back taco shops.

The area is also full of tech startups and restored historic buildings, from Spanish mission churches to Art Deco theaters built in the 1920s and 1930s.

4. Hillsdale Mall

Hillsdale Mall

Located in San Mateo, California, off Highway 101, Hillsdale Mall is a large shopping destination with over 100 retailers.

For those tired of the area’s history and outdoor attractions, this is a great place to relax, dine and shop.

The center is supported by large national retailers such as H&M, Macy’s and Nordstrom. It offers a variety of dining options, from California-style pizzas and hearty burgers to Asian favorites, fresh baked goods and gourmet coffee.

Other mall amenities include day security bag storage, concierge services and wheelchairs.

5. Bike Sunday

bike sunday

Californians tend to be healthier and more outdoorsy than most, and opportunities for recreation abound when visiting San Mateo.

Bike Sunday is a popular weekend activity for cyclists of all ages and skill levels. From morning to afternoon, with most riders opting in, its route was blocked.

The rides begin on Highway 280 a few kilometers outside the city and travel approximately 2 miles through scenic countryside. Includes many interesting sites such as Pulgas Temple and Filoli Estate, which are great side excursions for those in need of a break.

6. Coyote Point Play Area

Coyote Point Play Area

Coyote Point Recreation Area covers nearly 700 acres and is popular with locals and out-of-state visitors.

Located on the east shore of the San Francisco Bay, the park offers guests a variety of outdoor recreation options, including swimming, windsurfing, fishing, biking and bird watching.

For those travelling with children, there is a large medieval-themed playground and interactive exhibits covering fascinating topics such as the animal kingdom and ecology.

The entrance to the park is on Coyote Point Drive in San Mateo. During peak times, such as spring and summer weekends, it can be busy.

7. San Mateo STEM Expo

San Mateo County Events Center

For more than three decades, the City of San Mateo has hosted the annual STEM Expo. It was created to foster an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics among promising students living and studying in the region.

While the show is often overlooked by holidaymakers, it’s an excellent activity for those interested in rubbing shoulders with the locals and enthusiastic kids who put their heart and soul into their projects.

The event is usually held at the San Mateo County Events Center, which hosts many annual events, festivals, and fairs throughout the year. Consider checking out their website to see what’s on the calendar of events you’ll be visiting.

8. Central Park

San Mateo Central Park

Located on East 5th Avenue, San Mateo’s Central Park is a well-appointed attraction popular with travelers interested in experiencing the great outdoors while preserving scarce vacation resources.

The park features covered picnic areas, baseball fields, tennis courts and a huge playground. There are many events throughout the year, including Easter and 4th of July celebrations and live music.

There’s also a little train carrying the kids through the park, some eclectic oversized sculptures, and the aforementioned Japanese tea garden, a great place to relax and contemplate in peace.

9. Neil’s Coffee Shop


Humble local coffee shops don’t usually make the top spot on most tourist’s itineraries, but they’re great for those interested in affordable fare and caffeine before or after a long day community resources.

Neal’s Coffee Shop is located on De Anza Boulevard in San Mateo; they have a second location down the road in Burlingame.

Since 1996, they have been serving traditional home food to the residents of the area. For those counting calories or dietary restrictions, they offer a variety of healthy alternatives and entrees.

Perennial favorites include fried chicken and waffles, gyros, burgers, and fresh salads.

10. Junipero Serra Statue

Statue of Junipero Serra

While he wasn’t a household name, Junípero Serra was a priest primarily responsible for bringing Catholicism to California and western Mexico in the 18th century.

He established many missions from the Baja Peninsula all the way north to San Francisco. There is now a memorial statue of him in Hillsboro, a few kilometers outside of San Mateo.

Originally erected in the mid-70s, the statue includes a commemorative plaque listing the mission he founded.

This is one of those spots to check out in just a few minutes, but worth a visit, conveniently located in the Hillsboro Rest Area off Interstate 280.

11. The Water Temple of Purgas

Purgas Water Temple

Pulgas Water Temple is a unique regional attraction, built in the 1930s to commemorate the completion of one of the most extensive aqueducts in the region.

It is located on Canada Road in Redwood City, about 25 kilometers southeast of San Mateo. It is located in a large conservation area covering nearly 25,000 acres.

For most of its existence, the water from the aqueduct washed beneath the temple, but in recent years it has been diverted.

The temple isn’t open every day, and it’s usually reserved for special events like weddings, so check online before making a special trip.

12. Filoli Estate and Gardens

Filoli estate and gardens

Even in an area like San Mateo filled with scenic outdoor and historic attractions, the Filori estate and gardens are evident.

They are located in Woodside, 15 kilometers southeast of San Mateo and just west of Interstate 280. The property is widely regarded as the most impressive example of English Renaissance design in the country.

The home and gardens are located on a 16-acre parcel of land that is regularly open to the public; an additional 600 acres are part of the off-limits private estate.

The site offers stunning views of the Santa Cruz Mountains and local reservoir, and features a café and tea room.

13. Hiller Aviation Museum

Hiller Aviation Museum

Conveniently located on Skyway Road in San Carlos, just 10 minutes from San Mateo, the Shearer Aviation Museum is famous for its massive 747 cockpit, where visitors can get up close and personal with dozens of The world’s largest aircraft in years.

While the museum tends to appeal to retired pilots, history buffs, and all-around aviation enthusiasts, it’s also popular with kids. For those who want their own flying experience, there is a flight simulator available for hire.

Most guests spend an hour or two on site perusing the impressive collection of aviation memorabilia. The facility hosts many special events throughout the year.

14. San Mateo County Historical Museum

San Mateo County Historical Museum

Local history museums are valuable community resources that are often overlooked by all but the most astute and cost-conscious travelers.

The San Mateo County Historical Museum is located on Broadway in Redwood City, just 10 minutes southeast of San Mateo. It has an impressive collection of artifacts and memorabilia related to the founding, culture and economy of the region.

The museum is housed in the county’s former courthouse, which was originally built more than a century ago. Managed by the local historical society.

It’s not open every day, so check their website or give them a call before making a special trip.

15. Baier Island

Bayer Island

Baier Island is a large expanse of well-preserved marshes and wetlands on the east side of San Francisco Bay, between San Mateo to the north and Palo Alto to the south.

The island consists of three distinct areas, all of which are part of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

The island’s habitat includes many different ecosystems that are home to a variety of protected plants and animals.

Participating in regular tours led by docents is the best way to explore the island; they are suitable for visitors of all ages and interests.

Where to Stay: Best Hotels in San Mateo, CA, CA
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