A bustling downtown, outdoor destinations, and outstanding dining make this small city a must for Bay Area visitors
Places to Eat & Drink
With a beautifully preserved downtown and endless ways to get outdoors and enjoy The San Francisco Peninsula’s nearly perfect weather, the city of San Mateo is an appealing community of just over 100,000 residents with an identity distinct from the Bay Area’s larger cities.
Although its location along Highway 101 and the Caltrain rail line makes for easy travel into San Francisco and San Jose, spend time here and you’ll quickly discover that San Mateo has much to offer on its own merits.
Your first stop should be the city’s walkable downtown and its collection of historic buildings from the 1920s and 1930s, with a few structures dating all the way back to the late 1800s. Download a self-guided architecture tour to help bring San Mateo’s past alive as you shop and explore the downtown area. Speaking of shopping, the big selection at the Hillsdale Shopping Center includes a host of popular brands, including Lululemon and Michael Kors, as well as such surprises as the first U.S. showroom for VInFast, a Vietnamese manufacturer of luxury, all-electric vehicles.
Where to Eat in San Mateo
Downtown San Mateo is filled with a diverse selection of acclaimed restaurants that draw diners from throughout the Bay Area. For authentic Korean cuisine, try such specialties as the seafood bibimbap (a rice dish) at Daeho Kalbijjim & Beef Soup, where servers use butane torches to melt the cheese topping on another dish, the braised short ribs.
Steak lovers will find an assortment of prime cuts at Porterhouse, a classic American steakhouse, while you can satisfy your sweet tooth by calling ahead for the baked-to-order specialties at Sibby’s Cupcakery. Plan way in advance to make a reservation at the Michelin-starred Sushi Yoshizumi, an intimate spot that lets you savor a genuine Edomae-style omakase experience—a Tokyo sushi tradition that emphasizes the use of local seafood and a unique marinading technique. A short distance from downtown in a tiny, colorful cottage, All Spice’s creative, Indian-influenced modern California cuisine also earned Michelin praise.
Outdoor Activities in San Mateo
The city’s other great gathering place is the 16.3-acre San Mateo Central Park, a onetime estate close to downtown. Don’t miss the koi ponds and pagoda at the park’s serene Japanese Garden, which is considered one of the finest in California. To experience the natural side of San Mateo, head over to the city’s stretch along San Francisco Bay. A boardwalk edges the shoreline at Seal Point Park and offers a great vantage point for birdwatching and wildlife viewing. For a close-up look at some of the Bay Area’s local critters, CuriOdyssey is a non-profit museum and zoo that cares for nearly 100 animals and includes a 4,000-square-foot aviary.
CuriOdyssey is situated within the 670-acre Coyote Point Recreation Area. The recreation area’s extensive trail network and a section of the San Francisco Bay Trail let you enjoy beautiful bay views, as well as a unique perspective on incoming flights to San Francisco International Airport and windsurfers gliding across the water. There’s also a large castle-and-dragon-themed playground for kids, and dogs are allowed on a leash. For those who want to get out on the water, Boardsports California offers rentals and lessons.
Hikers and bicyclists also have plenty of options in and around San Mateo. Just west of Interstate 280, the six-mile Sawyer Camp Trail runs parallel to Crystal Springs Reservoir and San Andreas Lake, two bodies of water on the San Andreas Fault. Look for the 600-year-old Jepson Laurel, the state’s oldest laurel tree, as well as bald eagles and golden eagles. The trail is a segment of the Crystal Springs Regional Trail, a 15-mile route that runs through a diverse range of habitats, including old-growth Douglas fir forests. If you’re looking for more outdoor options, consider hiking through grasslands and meadows to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. The payoff: expansive bay views at Laurelwood Park, the largest in San Mateo.
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