Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in San Mateo, CA

  • Published 2021/11/04

Most of us have that impression about the suburbs as a boring place for activities.

However, a small city on the outskirts of San Francisco welcomes you to San Mateo, a place where you can find dozens of attractions and activities that you won’t expect to be there.

This southern California city, 20-miles south of San Francisco, has a lively and very suitable Mediterranean climate.

The city, which is home to 100,000 people, is one of the most vibrant communities in the Bay Area, making it one of the best destinations for a day trip for relaxation and leisure.

San Mateo is home to several historical landmarks, natural attractions, urban parks, entertainment, and good food.

Before heading there for a travel adventure, here are the 15 things to do in San Mateo, California.

Hike at the Sawyer Camp Trail

View of Sawyer Camp Trail

Lu Yang /

To explore San Mateo’s flora and fauna, head to the Sawyer Camp Trail for an afternoon hike at its six-mile paved trail.

What makes it very cool to hike along this trail is it sits atop the famous San Andreas Fault.

It also provides you with a stunning view of the San Francisco Peninsula and the Crystal Springs Watershed.

View of Sawyer Camp Trail

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Explore the California Oak Woodlands, the Northern Coastal Scrub, and grasslands teeming with wildlife such as rabbits, deers, and ducks that you’ll pass by along the trail.

The trail isn’t that technical for beginners, so families and friends can surely enjoy an afternoon hike, jog, or other outdoor activities there.

The Sawyer Camp Trail sits between Crystal Springs Road and Skyline Boulevard in San Mateo.

Learn Science and Nature at the CuriOdyssey Museum

The Coyote Recreation Area also houses one of the most popular attractions in San Mateo, the CuriOdyssey Museum.

Formerly named the Coyote Point Museum, an interactive nature and science museum that offers exciting and fun-filled tours.

The museum mainly caters to kids and families through its interactive and hands-on activities, while a zoo adds more attraction to the place.

The place has been operating since 1954, while today, CuriOdyssey has grown more extensive as it features naturalistic animal habitats, science exhibits, and a museum.

To visit CuriOdyssey, it is at 1651 Coyote Point Drive, San Mateo, CA.

Get a Panoramic View of the Bay Area at the Laurelwood Park

San Mateo’s natural trails are known for giving you a panoramic view of the Bay Area’s towns and cities.

Laurelwood Park is no different from these trails, especially if you climb Sugarloaf Mountain that gives you the best view of the entire Bay Area.

View of Laurelwood Park

yhelfman /

Laurelwood Park sits on a 200-acre of rolling green hills, which will surely fill your day with many outdoor activities aside from hiking.

The place is also perfect for a picnic and off-road mountain biking.

Laurelwood Park is located at 3471 Glendora Drive, Sugarloaf in San Mateo, CA.

Join the Local Cycling Community at Bicycle Sundays

San Mateo’s sunny weather is always perfect for outdoor activities such as Bicycle Sundays, a very popular weekly congregation of the city’s locals on their bikes and whatnot.

The San Mateo Parks Department organized the Bicycle Sundays by closing the Fioli Entrance, Highway 92, and Canada Road for motorized vehicles.

The 3.8-kilometer stretch becomes the perfect venue for locals who want to enjoy their day on their bikes or foot through hiking and jogging on an open road.

With that in mind, bringing your bicycle when visiting San Mateo is highly recommended to roam around the city with ease, and of course, join the famous Bicycle Sunday.

Shop ’til You Drop at Hillsdale Shopping Center

Nordstrom at Hillsdale Shopping Center

Sundry Photography /

San Mateo has a vast shopping mall amidst its peaceful suburban appeal.

Head to the Hillsdale Shopping Center along Highway 101 at the corner of El Camino Real and Hillsdale Blvd and score great finds from more than a hundred stores.

Outside View of Hillsdale Shopping Center

BrokenSphere, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Shop from different mainstream brands and specialty shops ranging from clothing, appliances, electronics, and furniture.

The mall also houses popular fast-food chains and restaurants to dine in after a whole afternoon of shopping.

The mall also has conference rooms, wheelchairs, concierge services, bag storage, and clean, comfortable rooms for added convenience.

Dine at the Pacific Catch West Coast Fish House

The Bay Area is also well-known for fresh seafood for apparent reasons.

So, it’s not entirely surprising that San Mateo is also home to numerous restaurants that serve delicious seafood.

The Pacific Catch West Coast Fish House is known for its fresh seafood menu cooked and prepared the Pan-Pacific way.

The restaurant regularly serves fresh, top-quality seafood from sustainable fishing methods.

Enjoy their Hawaiian Poke, Sushi, Sashimi, lobsters, crabs, and other mouthwatering seafood cooked and prepared the Pan-Pacific Way.

To get there, the restaurant is at 243 S.B St in San Mateo, CA.

Buy Fresh Local Produce at the 25th Avenue Farmer’s Market

Fresh produce and farm-to-table products are always healthy options for all of us.

Thus, when you’re in San Mateo, be sure to head down to their city’s official farmer’s market billed as the 25th Ave. Farmers’ Market.

The 25th Avenue Farmer’s Market runs from May to October, where everything good the city offers are available there.

There, you’ll get to buy fresh seasonal vegetables, fruits, meat, and other ingredients, as well as delicious artisanal food items from more than a dozen vendors.

Plus, most of the products sold there are very affordable.

Ultimately, buying products from its vendors is also an excellent way to support San Mateo’s local farmers while treating yourself with good-quality products.

Spend Your Day Full of Activities at the Coyote Point Recreation Area

View of Coyote Point Recreation Area

Sandip Bhattacharya from San Jose, United States, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Coyote Point Recreation Area is a 670-acre park for outdoor activities for both families, groups, or individuals in the Bay Area.

Coyote Point is nestled along the shores of San Francisco Bay, where locals and visitors often enjoy hiking, swimming, jogging, fishing, and boating.

The place is perfect for outdoor activities because of its calming atmosphere, long sandy shoreline, and tall trees that serve as your canopy under the sun.

View of Coyote Point Recreation Area

Sandip Bhattacharya from San Jose, United States, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s also one of the best places to spot airplanes and birds passing by, while kids will be mesmerized by its huge medieval-themed playground billed as “Magic Mountain.”

The place is packed with families and people looking for outdoor activities during the weekend.

To get there, Coyote Point Recreation Area is at 701 Coyote Point Drive, San Mateo, CA.

View of Coyote Point Recreation Area

David Broad, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Stroll Around Central Park

San Mateo’s Central Park is a vibrant and charming urban park nestled between the 5th and 9th Avenue of El Camino Real.

It is home to beautiful gardens, playgrounds, lush green foliage, and a motorized diesel train that’s very popular for kids.

San Mateo’s Central Park is also where most locals sweat out as it also serves as a host to yoga, aerobic, and other fitness classes.

Also, the place has various sports facilities such as a baseball diamond, tennis courts, and a vast playground.

To add more, Central Park is also where several statues like the iconic Leon, a life-sized statue of a giraffe made from copper plates, are seen there.

Lastly, the park is also where most of San Mateo’s public events happen.

Meditate at the San Mateo Japanese Tea Garden

View of a Koi Pond at San Mateo Japanese Tea Garden

Jack N. Mohr /

To provide the locals and visitors alike a place for peace and serenity, the city government of San Mateo built the famous Japanese Tea Garden within its central park.

The Japanese Tea Garden is the haven for those who seek relaxation after a tiring day at work or school.

The place isn’t just the perfect spot for meditation but also for picture taking because of its beautiful landscape that mimics a genuine Japanese garden.

The park boasts a replica of the Imperial Palace of Tokyo, while it also has real-life Cherry Blossom Trees, Bonsai trees, Japanese Maples surrounding the oval-shaped pond that you can cross through a wooden bridge.

The garden also houses a Japanese gazebo, a teahouse, several benches, and a shrine.

Nagao Sakurai, a well-known Japanese landscape architect, designed the Japanese Tea Garden in 1991.

On its 25th anniversary, a five-level pagoda made from granite was built in the garden and a miniature waterfall.

Today, the place remains very popular for locals and visitors.

Pay Tribute to California’s Renowned Catholic Missionary, Junípero Serra

A statue to commemorate the contributions of Junípero Serra to California and West Mexico’s Catholicism erects along the rest area of Restborough off of Interstate 280.

Serra, a priest, was mainly responsible for flourishing the Catholic religion in California in the 18th century by putting several missions in Baja Peninsula to San Francisco.

The statue built in the 1970s also includes a plaque detailing his missions and contributions to Catholicism in the region.

Suppose you want to add your San Mateo travel adventure with a bit of your religious belief.

In that case, the statue of Junípero Serra is your go-to place.

Walk Around Old Downtown San Mateo

View of Old Downtown San Mateo

mliu92 from San Mateo, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Traveling to a city or town won’t be complete without touring around its old streets and buildings.

Doing this kind of activity gives you the chance to get a glimpse of the place’s old self through its architecture, culture, and people.

So, when you’re in San Mateo, be sure to spend a few hours at its Old Downtown district to immerse yourself in the city’s charm fully.

It is where you will experience not just history but also arts, food, and local hospitality.

View of Old Downtown San Mateo

Lisa Padilla from Silicon Valley, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

San Mateo’s Old Downtown recently had a significant transformation from a historical site for old Spanish-style buildings to a vibrant food and leisure strip in the Bay Area.

Get to choose from elegant restaurants, food trucks, and laid-back Mexican restaurants, while you can get to choose nearly everything in between.

Plus, San Mateo’s Old Downtown is also full of electronic shops and art exhibits to visit.

Discover the Wonders of Science at the San Mateo STEM Fair

The San Mateo STEM Fair has been a host for talented kids who have passion for science, engineering, and technology for 30 years.

Its main goal was to foster the creation of talented students who thrive in science and technology in the Bay Area.

If you’re curious enough to know about innovative inventions in science, take some time to join one of its events by visiting its official website.

The event is also the perfect way to rub elbows with San Mateo’s locals while enjoying the fantastic scientific projects from talented kids.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Turn Back Time at the San Mateo County History Museum

Outside View of San Mateo County History Museum

jejim /

Your travel adventure won’t be complete without visiting a history museum that tells you everything about San Mateo County’s past.

The museum is a ten-minute drive in Redwood, southeast of San Mateo City.

The museum is house to dozens of valuable community resources, which holds a lot of information about San Mateo County’s rich history.

Aerial View of San Mateo County History Museum

SnapASkyline /

This exciting collection of memorabilia, artifacts, and old stuff from the county’s past will tell you the story of how the region prospered through the century.

Plus, you’ll get to know the diverse cultures that make up the population of San Mateo County.

The museum’s building is historically significant since it is San Mateo’s former courthouse built a hundred years ago.

The local government and the local historical society maintain the historical building until today.

Explore Skyline Ridge Preserve on Your Bike

View of Skyline Ridge Preserve

Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz /

Suppose you’ve already roamed around San Mateo’s natural attractions.

In that case, another recommended place to go is the Skyline Ridge Preserve, situated 28 miles south of the city in the neighboring town of La Honda.

It is nestled on a 2,000-acre lush green forest teeming with natural features such as streams, ponds, and meadows and has abundant wildlife.

However, the place is more popular to locals and visitors as a mountain bike trail and horseback riding.

So, don’t forget to bring your mountain bike and traverse to Skyline Ridge Reserve’s unspoiled terrain, or perhaps hike along the trails and head to the Horseshoe Lake located inside the preserve.

The Skyline Ridge Preserve is along Highway 35 in La Honda, CA.

Final Thoughts

San Mateo is one of those suburban places where most of us go to escape the hustle and bustle in the city.

But it’s more than that.

It is a beautiful destination for a unique and worthwhile adventure.

San Mateo has it all with its beaches, nature preserves, shopping malls, unspoiled trails, delicious restaurants, and museums.

Suppose you want to experience the beauty of the Bay Area.

In that case, the city of San Mateo should be part of your itinerary.

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