San Mateo County is part of the Bay Area, bordering the San Francisco Peninsula and the Santa Cruz Mountains. The county encompasses a wide variety of habitats—such as estuarine, coastal shrub, oak woodland, and redwood forest—making the area rich with wildlife, especially by the San Francisco Bay shoreline, San Bruno Mountain, and Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. (Several endangered species can even be found in the county, including the San Francisco garter snake, San Bruno elfin butterfly, and California clapper rail.) This is a large part of San Mateo County’s appeal, particularly for outdoor enthusiasts, who flock to the region’s numerous parks and beaches to hike, bike, surf, kayak, ride horses, or play golf. But the county also provides an array of activities for visitors who want to see historic and cultural attractions, spend some time shopping, or savor local food and wine.
Adventurers may want to start their day at Año Nuevo State Park, where they have numerous trails to choose from. Año Nuevo Point Trail is a popular option, as it takes hikers along the rugged coastline, offering glimpses of elephant seals, sea lions, migrating whales, coyotes, and seasonal wildflowers. For a walk through the woods, consider the Skyline Trail on Phleger Estate, which winds through redwood, oak, manzanita, and Douglas-fir trees. If you’re lucky, you may also spot a bobcat, black-tailed deer, eagles, and banana slugs. Other options include Burlingame’s Crystal Springs Regional Trail—which borders the San Andreas Fault and features views of San Andreas Lake and Crystal Springs Reservoir—and any of the three trails at San Bruno’s Junipero Serra County Park, where you can discover creeks, spring wildflowers, and breathtaking views of the Bay.
Options abound for kayakers, too, particularly in Half Moon Bay, where they can paddle next to seals, birds, and other marine life residing in the protected Pillar Point Harbor. The calm waters also make it an ideal spot for stand-up paddleboarders. Surfers, however, should head to Pillar Point Harbor Beach, home to the world-famous Mavericks surf break. Pacifica is another surfing destination in San Mateo County, offering options for both beginners (Linda Mar State Beach) and pros (Rockaway Beach and Sharp Park Beach).
For visitors who want to stay on land, San Mateo County boasts several museums, galleries, golf courses, and shopping malls. Discover the history of aviation and admire vintage planes at the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, learn about the region’s past at the San Mateo County History Museum in Redwood City, take little ones to the Curiodyssey science museum and zoo in San Mateo, or meander through the gorgeous Filoli Mansion and Gardens in Woodside. You can even play a round of golf while admiring striking coastal views at the posh Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay (stick around to hear the bagpiper play around sunset). Shoppers will also find something to love, between the mom-and-pop shops selling local olive oil, cooking supplies, and souvenirs; large commercial centers filled with clothing and shoe stores; and fashion-forward boutiques offering designer brands.
Foodies will also find a plethora of options, ranging from down-home diners dishing out comfort fare to fine-dining restaurants serving local, seasonal cuisine. The region is dotted with wine-tasting rooms and breweries as well; notable spots include San Carlos’ Cuvée Wine Cellars, Redwood City’s Cru, Pacifica’s Pedro Point Brewery, and Half Moon Bay Brewing Company.