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11 Cool Things to do in San Mateo

11 Cool Things to do in San Mateo

There are a lot of cool things to do in San Mateo, from visiting parks to checking out historical sights and everything in between.

Roubina Al Abashian


5 min read

January 29, 2022

Driving from San Francisco to San Jose, you’ll pass by the charming city of San Mateo. Thanks to its mild climate, scenic views, and easy commute to surrounding cities, visitors easily get attached to the world-class city with a small-town charm—we totally get it. Who would want to leave fancy restaurants, water adventures, and forest escapes? We know we wouldn’t. If you’re still not familiar with this place, you have to check all the fun things to do in San Mateo for guidance.

The 670-acre Coyote Point Recreation Area was originally an island in San Francisco Bay with a marsh connecting it to the mainland.

1. Spend the Day at Coyote Point Recreation Area

Family fun is inevitable at Coyote Point Recreation Area, one of the best parks in San Francisco. There are exciting adventures at every turn at the 700-acre park. On the beachfront, swimming, windsurfing, and kayaking are a few of the exciting things to do in this San Mateo attraction. But if you’d rather stay on the shore, check out the fun running trails, as well as the picnic and camping areas. As for the kids, they’ll be busy playing at the medieval-themed playground.

2. Browse Hillsdale Shopping Center’s Shops

More than 100 retailers, restaurants, and entertainment venues make Hillsdale Shopping Center one of the best malls in the Bay Area. The premium shopping destination first opened in 1954 and has been growing in popularity by the day—the city even had to make a train stop in front of the mall for easy access to visitors from surrounding areas. Whether you want to spoil yourself, buy gifts, or spend time with friends, you’ll find it all at Hillsdale.

Designed by landscape architect, Nagao Sakurai of the Imperial Palace of Tokyo, the Japanese Garden in San Mateo is one of the finest in California.

3. Relax at the Japanese Garden

San Mateo’s Japanese Garden is easily one of the most picturesque gardens in California. In the early 1920s, a Japanese landscape architect who worked at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo created this beauty. The San Mateo attraction is a 16-acre green space sitting inside the city’s Central Park, offering peace and tranquility. Stroll along the bonsai trees, koi ponds, waterfalls, and granite pagoda, and picture walking under Japan’s sakura in full bloom. And if you adore cherry blossoms just like us, visit the garden in the spring for a splash of pink. 

4. Learn About Science and Nature at CuriOdyssey 

Your little ones will absolutely love CuriOdyssey. This family-friendly attraction in California allows your kids to feel like total scientists exploring the nature around them and experimenting with everything. And the fun at this interactive playground isn’t limited to one day; the non-profit science museum organizes camps and events throughout the year. So, whenever you’re in Coyote Point Recreation Area, make sure to participate in one of the most fun things to do in San Mateo

5. Trek the Sawyer Camp Trail

To enjoy the full beauty of San Mateo and the Bay Area, hike the Sawyer Camp Trail. The easy, six-mile-long out-and-back trail is fully paved and kid-friendly. As you embark on the adventure, you’ll be walking along Lower Crystal Springs Reservoir and up to San Andreas Lake. The views around San Andreas are the most breathtaking you’ll ever see on a hiking trail. Take advantage of your presence in the city and enjoy one of the best Bay Area hikes. 

Downtown San Mateo is a unique place to shop, dine, and enjoy with more than 800 businesses and beautiful historic buildings.

6. Explore Historic Downtown San Mateo

Historic Downtown San Mateo will easily keep you busy and entertained throughout your stay. In recent years, the district went through a lot of transformation, making it one of the hippest parts of the city without losing its historic touch. Eateries in downtown range from fancy to casual, while buildings vary between tech startups and historic structures. Strolling along the historic downtown is the perfect pastime and one of the top San Mateo things to do.

7. Indulge in Japanese cuisine at Wakuriya

Wakuriya is perhaps the coolest restaurant in San Mateo. The compact, upscale eatery serves kaiseki menus that everyone is obsessed with. What people love most about this Japanese restaurant are the surprises. The menu changes every month, and each of the pre-fixed nine dishes is made of the best and freshest ingredients. The Michelin-starred restaurant is only open between 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. from Wednesday to Sunday and is almost always fully booked, so make your reservations early.  

8. Join Bicycle Sundays

San Mateo residents are the most outdoorsy people you’ll meet thanks to the abundance of recreational opportunities available. Every Sunday, locals meet on Highway 280 right outside of town and go biking together. You'll see a number of exciting attractions during the two-mile scenic ride such as the Pulgas Water Temple and the Filoli Estate. The locals are super welcoming, which is why joining them will be one of the best things to do in San Mateo this weekend.

It's almost impossible for us to 'romaine' calm at a farmers market, even when you just need some 'peas' and quiet.

9. Buy the Freshest Food at the 25th Avenue Farmers Market 

Who doesn’t love going to a good farmers market in the Bay Area? Every Tuesday evening between May and October, join the San Mateo community at the 25th Avenue Farmers Market. Expect to find the freshest fruits and vegetables, live fish, baked goods, and so much more at this weekly event. Not only will you be supporting local farmers and fishermen, but you’ll also be saving up a lot. 

10. Stroll Around Central Park

San Mateo’s Central Park is a tourist and local favorite for good reason. Encompassing 16.5 acres, the park boasts baseball and tennis courts, a large playground, picnic areas, and lots of walking trails. Central Park also hosts several events throughout the year, the most popular being the Easter and 4th of July celebrations. Strolling around Central Park is one of the most fun San Mateo things to do on any given afternoon. 

Junípero Serra founded a mission in Baja California and the first nine of 21 Spanish missions in California from San Diego to San Francisco.

11. Check Out the Junipero Serra Statue

You might not be familiar with his name, but Junipero Serra is the priest largely responsible for bringing Catholicism to California in the 18th century. The Franciscan priest established many of the missions across the Golden State. A memorial statue of him was erected in Hillsborough, right outside of San Mateo, in the mid-1970s. Stop by to check out this San Mateo attraction.  

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