San Mateo County

50 things to do in San Mateo County

50 things to do in San Mateo County sign

After being asked to do a presentation at the Menlo Park library about ‘Unexpected things to do in San Mateo County’ I hereby share my findings.

San Mateo County spans from Daly City in the north, to Menlo Park in the east, and down the coast past Pescadero. I hope I can inspire you to explore San Mateo County.


1. Japanese Garden, San Mateo

Buddha in the Japanese Garden, San Mateo

The Japanese Garden was designed by landscape architect, Nagao Sakurai of the Imperial Palace of Tokyo, and features a granite pagoda, tea house, koi pond and bamboo grove. [Also see: Feel the spring Japanese style]


2. Catherine Brennan Memorial Rose Garden, Redwood City

Fountain at the Catherine Brennan Memorial Rose Garden, Redwood City

This rose garden is located in the Red Morton Community Park. It was established in 1968, two years after Catherine Brennan died, who was the initiator for the rose garden. [Also see: Discover the Redwood City rose garden]


3. Fairy Garden, San Mateo

Fairy garden at the San Mateo Central Park

The San Mateo Arboretum Society has a Fairy Garden right when you walk in. You can also talk to a Master Gardener, buy plants, or take classes. [Also see: Go plant shopping at the San Mateo Arboretum Society]


4. PJCC’s Hamlin Garden, Foster City

Mother with child, from the Grow Justice Mural at the PCJJ, Foster City

The “Grow Justice Fight Hunger garden” provides a learning activity, and organic food for the community. I also like the community created mural finished by Jay Schlossenberg-Cohen. [Also see: Buy art by locals]




Places for Kids

5. Magic Mountain Playground, San Mateo

Slide at the Magic Mountain playground in Coyote Point Park, San Mateo

Magic Mountain Playground is located inside Coyote Point Park ($6 for parking). The 55-foot long metal slide is the tallest in Northern California.


6. Hiller Aviation Museum, San Carlos


Here they offer an imagination playground, foam building structures, a flight simulator, and over 40 unique aircrafts. [Also see: Learn how to fly]



Places for older kids

7. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, Moss Beach

Bench overlooking the cove at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach

In order to enjoy the tide pools you need to check the tide schedule. Look, but don’t take anything with you. They also offer a bench, for people not interested in getting their feet wet, to overlook the adventures. [Also see: Discover what’s living in the tide pools]


8. Shell Jumps Park, Foster City

Dirt jumps off Shorebird Park, Foster City

This self-made BMX biker or dirt jump park looks like you landed on a different planet. It is off Shorebird Park. [Also see: Jump the hills at Shells Dirt Jumps]


9. Nazareth Ice Oasis, Redwood City

Changing area at the Nazareth Ice Oasis in Redwood City

Not just a sport for witches and wizards, broomball is an actual sport! A maximum of 15 players to each side use the full length of the ice surface plus nets. Equipment which includes, helmets, broomball sticks, and ball are provided and included in the price by Nazareth Ice Oasis.

10. Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia, Burlingame

World’s Largest PEZ Dispensing Machine with owner Gary Doss at the Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia

This little museum claims to have every PEZ ever made. Unfortunately it closed its doors. It also has a section on classic toys, like Lincoln Logs and Mr. Potato Head and a section on Banned Toys. The Atomic Energy Laboratory (with 4 samples of radioactive material!) was my favorite.  See also the World’s Largest PEZ Dispensing Machine, 7 foot 10 inches tall – over 20 times the size of a normal Pez dispenser, shown here with owner Gary Doss. [Also see: Sweeten your museum visit]

Short Hikes

11. Año Nuevo State Park, Pescadero

Female elephant seal taking a rest, Ano Nuevo

Elephant Seal Guided Walks are from December 15 to March 31. This is when 10,000 elephant seals are around. [Also see: Hanging out with elephant seals]


12. Wildflowers at Edgewood Park, Redwood City

Wild flower at Edgewood park

Free guided tours are held every Saturday and Sunday, from early March through early June. Walks begin at 10:00 AM and end around 1:00 PM. The wildflowers are surprisingly tiny, which makes for a great nature treasure hunt. [Also see: Hunt for wildflowers]


13. Great Spirit Path, Bedwell Bayfront Park, Menlo Park

The Great Spirit Path at Bedwell Bayfront Park, Menlo Park

The creator Susan Dunlap describes it as a “505-ton stone poem inspired by Native American pictographs”. The four stanzas of the poem are spread out over a ¾ mile hike. 53 posts depict each part of the poem. With 892 rocks used it is the largest sculpture of its kind in the world! The Great Spirit Path is known by locals as “Stonehenge by the Bay.” [Also see: Walk the Great Spirit Path]


Art Museums

14. SFO Museum, South San Francisco

‘Peephole Theater’ post security at SFO

Current exhibits include ‘A Sterling Renaissance: British Silver Design 1957 to 2018’ and ‘Caticons: The Cat in Art’. My personal favorite was the ‘Peephole Cinema’ post security. [Also see: Start your travel with art]


15. Peninsula Museum of Art, Burlingame

Free museum exhibiting Bay Area artists. Wednesday through Sunday, from 11am to 5pm. Make sure to visit the studios next door for a chance to talk to an artist or see them at work. [Also see: Gain insight into the Peninsula art scene]


History Museums

16. San Mateo County History Museum, Redwood City

The Object Theatre brings to life old suburban living in San Mateo county. The highlight of the Maverick’s exhibit is the Waverider, a multi-sensory game interface where daring visitors can take a virtual ride …or wipe-out.


17. Colma Historical Association, Colma

Hair jewelry at the Colma Historic Association

The city’s population of 1792 (2010) has seventeen cemeteries, including one for pets. Which explains Colma’s motto: “It’s Great to be Alive in Colma”. At the Historical Association I learned that hair of deceased was made into jewelry. [Also see: Be alive in Colma]


18. Sanchez Adobe, Pacifica

Sanchez Adobe in Pacifica

The oldest house in San Mateo County. An important site for the Costanoan Indians, a supplemental mission farm for Mission Dolores, the home of Don Francisco Sanchez (former mayor of San Francisco), residence of General Kirkpatrick, a hotel, a speakeasy, an artichoke storage facility, and finally a museum. [Also see: Admire the oldest house in San Mateo County]

Historic Places

19. Folger Stable Historic Site, Woodside

Vented skylight at Folger Stable Historic Site, Woodside

Part of the Wunderlich Park. Folger Stables – designed by Arthur Brown Jr., known for designing places like Coit Tower, SF City Hall, and the Opera House. The vented skylights are unique features that draw up air and provide air conditioning for the horses. The carriage room is now a museum open every Saturday 10 am – 4 pm.

20. Chinese Walls, Wunderlich Park, Woodside

Chinese Walls, Wunderlich Park, Woodside

The Chinese Walls – part of the networks of trails and roads built by Chinese immigrants (1872) in Wunderlich Park are  “[ ] constructed without mortar or coping, are a testament to the craftsmanship and expertise of Chinese workers, whose labors helped to build California.”

21. Woodside Store, Woodside

Woodside general store front

Discover the importance of logging. Over the years Robert Tripp was a dentist, postmaster, store owner, shingler, vintner, and San Francisco Supervisor. The candy canes in the gift shop are a great souvenir. [Also see: Visit the Woodside store]


22. Pulgas Water Temple, Woodside

Pulgas Water Temple, Woodside

A monument to the engineering marvel that brought Hetch Hetchy water more than 160 miles across California. [Also see: Hail to the water (partII)]




23. Sam’s Castle, Pacifica

Sam’s Castle, Pacifica

After the 1906 earthquake devastated San Francisco, attorney Henry Harrison McCloskey decided to build a home that could withstand tragedy. Two years later, McCloskey’s vision of a near-indestructible home, coupled with his desire to please his Scottish wife, who was homesick for her own castle, resulted in a 24-room compound with high towers and walls made of concrete blocks. You can tour the castle once a month:
[Also see: Tour Sam’s Castle]

24. Public Library, Burlingame

Patio of the public library in Burlingame

Finished May 3, 1931 the “Italian Renaissance” style library building was designed by Burlingame architect Col. E. L. Norberg. I really like the patio where they allow you to  bring and eat your lunch.


25. Eichler X-100, San Mateo Highlands

X-100, experimental steel house, San Mateo Highlands
Image courtesy of AIA San Mateo County

The grand-opening brochure for the X-100 called it “an exciting exploration into future living.”

The San Mateo Highlands Eichler subdivision, the largest contiguous Eichler development (over 700 homes), was built over an 11-year period from 1955 to 1965. It incorporates a wide-range of models, from smaller 3-bedroom homes to a number of unusual split-level and two-story homes built in the early 60’s. The X-100 is an experimental steel house. Since it is occupied, tours are rare, and are by appointment for groups only. Please respect their privacy. [Also see: Marvel at the Eichler X-100]

Public Art

26. Wind Harp, South San Francisco

Wind Harp, South San Francisco

Erected in 1967 by Lucia and Aristides Demetrios, the 92 foot metal sculpture stands on top of a hill in South San Francisco. A guaranteed windy spot! [Also see: Hear the wind blow]


27. Wind Walk, San Mateo

Wind Walk sign at Seal Point Park in San Mateo

“When hot air rises, cooler air rushes in to fill the space it leaves, thus making wind at the land’s surface.” The Wind Walk has multiple art structures that interact with the wind. [Also see: See which way the wind blows]


28. Shadow Art, Redwood City

Lazy Daisies part of the Shadow Art series by Damon Belanger

Looking down can be rewarding especially in Redwood City were Damon Belanger was chosen for the sidewalk art project in 2016. There are about 20 shadow art pieces. Belanger received the HOW International Design Award for the Shadow Art he created all around downtown Redwood City. “The theme of the project is cartoons, robots and whimsical creatures,” he says. [Also see: Go on a shadowy treasure hunt]


29. Kepler’s, Menlo Park

Kepler's Books & Magazines, Menlo Park

Founded in 1955, it was one of the epicenters of counterculture in the ‘60s and ‘70s in the Bay Area. In-store concerts from the Grateful Death to Joan Baez made the store popular. When Kepler embraced paperbacks as an economical vehicle to bring ideas to the masses, it was genius. [Also see: Support your local bookstore]

30. Encore, Redwood City

Paperback section at Encore Books in Redwood City

This book store raises money for the San Mateo Historical Association. This is one of the largest used bookstores on the Peninsula. [Also see: Read a used book



31. Ink Spell, Half Moon Bay

$1 Grab Bags at Ink Spell in Half Moon Bay

Mostly used books and some games. I liked the $1 grab bags (a surprise book!)




32. Reach and Teach, San Mateo

Making the world better with books, games and toys. A store deserving of a sustainability award! [Also see: Buy something at Reach & Teach]


33. The Record Man, Redwood City

Paper mache Nipper at The Record Man, Redwood City

They have over a million vinyls – there are ten (!) rooms to wander. Two things that are not for sale are the two paper mache dogs of Nipper, the HMV (His Master’s Voice) logo of the British record label. [Also see: Browse vinyls at The Record Man]


34. Arts Guild, Menlo Park

Entrance to the Allied Arts Guild

For your gift shopping needs, I would suggest checking out the artisan shop. It’s a mixture of jewelry, handmade gift items, and high quality donated treasures. Proceeds go to the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. An oasis of calm and culture in the heart of Silicon Valley. {Also see: Combine admiring the arts and gardens]

35. Shelldance Orchid Gardens, Pacifica

cat drinking out of ikebana dish at the Shelldance Orchid Gardens

“Look at the beauty of the exotic,” says Davis, one of the owners of Shelldance Orchid Gardens  “and you can’t help but open your heart to the familiar.” A beautiful place to relax, to buy flowers and other gifts. [Also see: Breath in the peace of Shelldance Orchid Gardens]

36. Preston’s, Burlingame

All the ice cream flavors at Preston's in Burlingame

This family-owned manufacturing and retail candy and ice cream business makes candy every day at the store kitchen in small batches. Visit the store at 1170 Broadway in Burlingame, or online.


37. It’s it, Burlingame

It's it factory store, Burlingame

The famous ice cream is between two oatmeal cookies and then dipped in chocolate. It was created in 1928 at Playland At The Beach, San Francisco’s now gone seaside amusement park. At the factory store you can pick all your favorite flavors (vanilla, chocolate, mint, strawberry and cappuccino) and mix-and-match. You might even score some flavors that are not available in stores (pumpkin or green tea) [Also see: Scream for ice cream]



38. Buck’s of Woodside, Woodside

Ceiling of Buck's on Woodside

This was an insider tip from a real estate agent I talked to once. The “Cheers’ of Silicon Valley, as it is also known, was the birthplace of ideas like PayPal and Hotmail.


39. Taco Bell, Pacifica

Have fast food with an incredible view!



40. Moonraker, Pacifica

Booth at Moonraker in Pacifica

The booths are facing the ocean front windows. A very romantic place.




Nerdy Fun

41. Alpine Inn, Portola Valley

Front of the Alpine Inn, Portola Valley.

The plaque reads: “On August 27, 1976 scientists from SRI International celebrated the successful completion of tests by sending an electronic message from a computer set up at a picnic table behind the Alpine Inn. The message was send via a radio network to SRI and on through a second network, the ARPANET, to Boston. This event marked the beginning of the Internet Age.” [Also see: Stop by where the Internet begun]

42. Pigeon Point Lighthouse, Pescadero

Welcome to Pigeon Point Lighthouse sign

This is one of two lighthouses on the coast that has a hostel attached to it. Make sure you book a spot for the ocean facing hot tub!


43. Facebook sign, Menlo Park

Sun Microsystem is still on the back of the Facebook sign

A classic photo opp for visitors. On the back of the sign is still says Sun Microsystems.



44. Lunch at Oracle, Redwood City

Special cakes made to order at Cafe 3, Oracle

If you’d like to show your visitors how tech workers lunch, Oracle’s cafeterias are open to the public. The bakery in Cafe 3 is known for its yummy treats!



must-show-to-visitors places

45. Filoli, Woodside

One of the three apple crates in the entrance hall at Filoli's in Woodside.

A must-see during tulip season, they plant 5000 bulbs of tulips. I went and picked apples with Village Harvest in the fall. The orchard has 400 different varieties of apples, pears and grapes and some more exotic fruits. [Also see: Harvest some community fruit and Explore the flowers of spring]

46. Sam’s Chowder House, Half Moon Bay

Clam chowder at Sam's Chowder House, Half Moon Bay

For its great views and yummy chowder.



47. CuriOdyssesy, San Mateo

Back of CuriOdyssesy, San Mateo

If you have visitors with little kids (2-11), I recommend this non-profit science museum and zoo.




48. Dickens Faire, Cow Palace, Daly City

Man with baby window shopping at the Dickens Fair in Daly City

From November – December you can marvel at the Cow Palace transformation into Victorian London.



49. Maker Faire, San Mateo Event Center, San Mateo

Maker Faire, San Mateo

Bring your little makers and geeks, May 18 – 20, 2019 (



50. Kings Mountain Art Fair, Woodside

Woman looking at pictures at the Kings Mountain Art Fair, Woodside
Image courtesy of Kings Mountain Art Fair

View local artwork in a redwood grove, August 31 – September 2, 2019 (



Me giving a presentation at the Menlo Park library

Thanks again to the Menlo Park library for inviting me! The last tip is to go to your local library and attend one of their events. [Also see: Attend an event at the Menlo Park library]

I added a few places to make it to 50.  I welcome your comments and suggestions, either in the comment section below, or you can contact me. Everything can change from URLs to opening hours, please verify before you go.

As always no affiliations with the mentioned businesses unless otherwise noted. Dates are for 2019. Please let me know of any changes or mistakes. All images are mine, unless otherwise credited. Please don’t use without permission. Copyright 2019.

2 thoughts on “San Mateo County

  • February 1, 2019 at 8:45 pm

    I love the site and I’ll tell others, especially my international visitors.

    Jamis MacNiven
    Buck’s of Woodside

    • February 1, 2019 at 8:50 pm

      Thank you! Much appreciated.
      Buck’s is always a great experience.


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