San Mateo is a sunny Californian city that is home to a fascinating collection of historic buildings, urban parks and lively entertainment areas for locals and visitors of all ages. Attractions include the Coyote Point Recreation Area, the Greek-style Pulgas Water Temple, and the kid-focused science museum and zoo known as the CuriOdyssey.

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1.Sawyer Camp Trail

Sawyer Camp Trail
© Ron/

The Sawyer Camp Trail is a popular six-mile asphalt trail located in the San Andreas Fault rift valley that provides excellent hiking and boasts beautiful views San Francisco Peninsula's Crystal Springs Watershed. Managed by San Mateo County, the trail features a broad and diverse range of fauna and flora to enjoy along the way, including California oak woodland, grasslands, and Northern coastal scrub, along with ducks, deer, and rabbits. The Sawyer Camp Trail begins just north of the Crystal Springs Dam and heads north along the Lower Crystal Springs, passes the San Andreas Dam and the San Andreas Lake before ascending the Bay Hills and finally terminating in western Millbrae. The trail is ideal for recreational activities like walking, jogging, running, and cycling, and the path is well-marked to minimize conflict for people traveling in opposite directions.

Skyline Blvd & Crystal Springs Rd, San Mateo, CA 94401, Phone: 650-363-4020

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2.The San Mateo Japanese Garden

The San Mateo Japanese Garden
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Located in the heart of San Mateo’s Central Park, the San Mateo Japanese Tea Garden is a quiet oasis of serenity where visitors can go to get away from the hubbub of the downtown urban bustle. Designed by Nagao Sakurai of the Imperial Palace of Tokyo, the garden rests in the 16.3-acre Central Park, which was once the estate of a sea captain and engineer William Kohl before being transformed into the current urban retreat in 1922. The Japanese Tea Garden features blossoming cherry trees, Japanese maples, and bonsai and a tranquil kidney-shaped pond with wooden bridges and alive with koi. Other attractions in the garden include an azumaya (a pretty gazebo), a wooden chashitsu (teahouse) with benches and lovely views of the garden, a shinden, a small shrine to celebrate the garden's 25th anniversary in 1991, and a five-level granite pagoda and beautiful waterfall where people can meditate.

50 E 5th Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401, Phone: 650-522-7434

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3.Coyote Point Recreation Area

Coyote Point Recreation Area
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Coyote Point is a regional recreation area and bayside park that features a variety of attractions and activities for the whole family. The 670-acre park is located on the shores of San Francisco Bay and has a distinctive point that is good for bird watching and aircraft spotting from the San Francisco International Airport. Activities at the park include boating, fishing, swimming, windsurfing, sailing, bicycling, jogging, and picnicking, and there is a giant, castle-and-dragon-themed Magic Mountain for children to enjoy. Kids can also head to CuriOdyssey, which features hands-on science exhibits and wild animals exhibits, and the park’s saltwater marsh is home to a wide range of birdlife.

1701 Coyote Point Dr, San Mateo, CA 94401, Phone: 650-573-2592

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© CuriOdyssey

CuriOdyssey, formerly known as the Coyote Point Museum for Environmental Education, and the Coyote Point Museum, is a hands-on science museum and native animal zoo that overlooks the San Francisco Bay. Founded in 1954 as the San Mateo County Junior Museum, CuriOdyssey is based in the Coyote Point Recreation Area and features 25 naturalistic habitats that are home to wild animals that have been rescued and form part of the museum's Animal Ambassador program. A 4,000-square-foot aviary houses over a dozen non-releasable, native California birds and the Invertebrate Corner houses a live beehive and a variety of native invertebrates. The experiential science and wildlife center also boasts a variety of hands-on science exhibits that showcase natural phenomena up-close.

1651 Coyote Point Dr, San Mateo, CA 94401, Phone: 650-342-7755

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5.Central Park

Central Park
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The San Mateo Central Park is a beautiful urban park located off of El Camino Real between 5th and 9th Avenues in San Mateo that features a beautiful Japanese Tea Garden, a miniature diesel train on rails for children to ride on through the park, and the Central Park Recreation Center which offers daily aerobic classes and a meeting place for locals and visitors. Other attractions include a big playground, tennis courts and a baseball diamond, and plenty of picnic areas for families to enjoy, and a lovely gazebo and a lush rose garden offers a stunning site for weddings. The park is also home to several popular statues, including Leon, a life-size giraffe constructed from braised copper plates, and a cast-iron dog statue from Italy, which has been standing guard since William Kohl owned the land. The San Mateo Central Park also hosts a variety of signature community events such as Eggstravaganza, the 4th of July in the Park, and the Central Park Music Series.

50 E 5th Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401, Phone: 650-522-7400

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6.Hillsdale Shopping Center

Hillsdale Shopping Center
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The Hillsdale Shopping Center is a large shopping mall located directly off Hwy 101 at the intersection of El Camino Real and Hillsdale Boulevard that features over 100 stores including Forever 21, The LEGO® Store, L’Occitane, and H&M, and is anchored by Macy's and Nordstrom. Specialty shops include The Cheesecake Factory, Paul Martin’s American Grill, The Apple Store, Michael Kors, Banana Republic, White House | Black Market, and more. Amenities at the mall include complimentary same-day secure bag storage, concierge services, Kiddie Kruzzers and wheelchairs, conference rooms, and Hillsdale Shopping Center Gift Cards.

Sixty 31st Avenue, San Mateo, CA 94403, Phone: 650-345-8222

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7.Skyline Ridge Preserve and Horseshoe Lake

Skyline Ridge Preserve and Horseshoe Lake
© Melastmohican/

The Skyline Ridge Preserve is a wilderness area atop Skyline Ridge, which spans 2,143 acres of wildlands across the west-facing slopes and valleys from Skyline. The preserve features 11 miles of hiking and biking trails, the peaceful Horseshoe Lake and the smaller Alpine Pond with its little nature center, both of which boast magnificent views of the Santa Cruz Mountains. A short scenic hiking trail and a more ambitious mountain bike ride along the Skyline Ridge connects the two ponds and boasts beautiful views of both the Alpine Pond and Horseshoe Lake, the Butano Rim and down towards the coast.

330 Distel Circle, Los Altos, CA 94022, Phone: 650-691-1200

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8.Pacific Catch WestCoast Fish House

Pacific Catch WestCoast Fish House
© Pacific Catch WestCoast Fish House

Pacific Catch WestCoast Fish House is a contemporary and stylish restaurant that serves high quality, ocean fresh, sustainable seafood in a sleek and sophisticated setting. The modern restaurant serves a menu of Pan-Pacific cuisine that explores fresh ingredients and traditional cooking styles found throughout the Pacific, including fresh fish, shellfish, handmade sushi, Hawaiian poke, and Latin fish tacos. Signature dishes on the menu include Grilled Kanpachi, sashimi-grade Hawaiian kanpachi yellowtail in turmeric-tahini-coconut sauce; Petrale Sole with crab mashed potatoes; Lobster Rolls of tarragon-dill lobster salad served on butter-toasted King’s® Hawaiian rolls. Pacific Catch WestCoast Fish House is open for lunch and dinner, seven days a week.

243 S B St, San Mateo, CA 94401, Phone: 650-389-2482

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9.Junípero Serra Statue

Junípero Serra Statue
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The Junípero Serra Statue is a tall structure that depicts Franciscan friar Junípero Serra, who is famous for being one of the people to bring Catholicism to modern California. Erected in 1976 along with a stretch of Interstate 280, the statue stands on a base that is carved with the names of a number of the missions that Serra helped found and is pointing out toward the Pacific Ocean. The statue is finished in a rough stucco material and draws mixed feelings from viewers – some of who see him as a bold missionary who spread the good word and helped found the state of California and some who see him as an imperialist force and someone who forced his religion upon the native peoples.

Hillsborough Rest Stop, Interstate 280, Hillsborough, California, 94010

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10.Pancho Villa Taqueria

Pancho Villa Taqueria
© Brent Hofacker/

Pancho Villa Taqueria is a no-frills counter-serve joint that serves delicious, high-quality Mexican food and drinks in a casual, laid-back setting. The menu features a variety of dishes showcasing authentic Mexican cuisine prepared with traditional recipes using only the freshest local ingredients such as fajitas, flautas, tacos, burritos, and tortas, along with agua frescas. Dishes are served with an array of award-winning sauces, homemade nachos, creamy guacamole, and other sides, as well as a range of beverages, including Jarritos, and Calistoga. Pancho Villa Taqueria is open for brunch, lunch, and dinner, seven days a week.

3071 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103, Phone: 415-864-8840

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11.The Fish Market

The Fish Market
© The Fish Market

The Fish Market is a lively, welcoming restaurant that serves sourced fish-market fare and high quality, fresh seafood in a stylish and relaxed setting with spectacular ocean views. Established in 1976 by a sport fisherman, boat captain and gourmet chef, The Fish Market serves a menu of locally sourced and sustainably caught seafood such as appetizers of ahi poke, ginger lime prawns, and Pacific crab cakes, fresh sushi, sashimi, and seafood cocktails, chowders and salads, sandwiches, tacos, steamed and smoked shellfish, and mesquite grilled entrées. Signature entrées include East Coast Clam Bake, Ginger Glazed Hawaiian Ono, Misoyaki Glazed Alaskan King Salmon, and Oregon Lingcod Picatta. The Fish Market is open for lunch and dinner, seven days a week.

1855 S Norfolk St, San Mateo, CA 94403, Phone: 650-349-1845

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12.Jack's Restaurant & Bars

Jack's Restaurant & Bars
© Jack's Restaurant & Bars

Jack's Restaurant and Bar is a lively family-friendly eatery that serves hearty breakfasts, light lunches, and delicious dinners in a relaxed, contemporary atmosphere. The family-owned and operated restaurant serves a menu of all-American cuisine such as biscuits and hash browns with country gravy and two eggs, burgers topped with American cheese, sauteed onions, and thousand island dressing, house-made pasta and creamy sauces, and the house specialty of specialty macaroni and cheese. The restaurant serves a range of craft beers, including Skunkwerks Exp. 9.0 IPA, Elevation Calculation IPA, an Imperial / Double New England, Enigmatron IPA, and Strata Dust IPA from New England.

1750 S El Camino Real, San Mateo, CA 94402, Phone: 650-350-1077

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12 Best Things to Do in San Mateo, California