Most of us have this impression of the suburbs as a boring place for activities, but far from it, there are lots of exciting things to do in San Mateo; suburbs generally.
However, a small town on the outskirts of San Francisco welcomes you to San Mateo, a place where you will find dozens of attractions and activities that you would not expect.
This Southern California city, 20 miles south of San Francisco, has a lively and well-suited Mediterranean climate.
Home to 100,000 people, the city is one of the Bay Area’s most vibrant communities, making it one of the best day trip destinations for relaxation and leisure.
San Mateo is home to several historical sites, natural attractions, city parks, entertainment, and fine dining.
If you are a nature lover, San Mateo should be your next destination, as there are plenty of opportunities for adventurous outdoor activities.
Before you head there for your travel adventure, here are amazing things to do in San Mateo.
Fun Things to Do in San Mateo
1. Check Out CuriOdyssey
Visiting CuriOdyssey is one of the best things to do in San Mateo; it is open to everyone, including children and adults.
CuriOdyssey is a zoological and science playground ideal for many families to hang out and have the opportunity to see a variety of wildlife.
The animals found here are those endangered that cannot survive and have been rescued from the native wild; some animals include eagles, river otters, owls, bobcats, foxes, opossums, etc.
Curia Odyssey provides a playground for children to have fun with science demonstrations such as reflections, physical forces, backyard science, natural patterns, and sensations.
The organization tries to bring children closer to nature through educational programs and daily public feeding of animals. Curia Odyssey is open from Wednesday to Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm (closed on Mondays and Tuesdays).
2. Don’t Miss a Thing at Seal Point Park
Seal Point Park is a medium-traffic 1-mile loop; the trail is ideal for running, hiking, bird watching, and walking.
The park includes a three-acre dog park, and dogs are allowed to use the trail, although there are rules and regulations.
There is an excellent water system, and the park is easily accessible, incredibly clean, and well maintained.
Seal Point Park offers spectacular views; although it is sometimes crowded, but also a great place to be alone.
3. Don’t Miss an Event at San Mateo County Event Center
The San Mateo County Event Center is home to the annual STEM Fair, held in San Mateo for over three decades.
The STEM Fair is about increasing the interest of students who live and study in the city in various aspects such as technology, mathematics, engineering, and science.
Although many tourists disapprove of this event, it is a great innovative opportunity for those who want to learn more from the locals and the dedicated children who put so much work into their projects.
The Event Center is the site of many annual festivals, exhibitions, meetings, sporting events, business events, corporate events, and other events throughout the year.
A snack bar at the Event Center offers delicious food and tasty drinks; the center is beautifully decorated and serves as a one-stop shop that serves all major population centers in the Bay Area via freeways.
Things to Do in San Mateo at Night
1. Unwind After a Long Day at the Swingin’ Door
Swingin’ Door is a great place for you and your friends to kick back, relax and chat in San Mateo is the Swingin’ Door Pub.
Swingin’ Door is a multi-pub that offers you everything you need to enjoy the night without dull moments.
Billed as “San Mateo’s Hottest Nightspot,” the pub was established in 1955 and is located in an ancient Kehoe building built in the 1940s before it was later converted into a bar.
The Swingin’ Door is a beautifully decorated pub with eleven large TV screens for sports and an outdoor heated patio.
The pub offers fish & chips and burgers with an extensive drink menu; you can enjoy live music and participate in their karaoke section.
The Swingin’ Door also features pianos for entertainment and is open seven days a week from 11:30 am to 2 am.
2. Spend an Evening at Filoli Estate and Gardens
Filoli Estate and Gardens is a clear standout even in an area like San Mateo that is full of scenic outdoor and historical attractions.
Located in the town of Woodside, 9 miles southeast of San Mateo and just west of Interstate 280, the property is widely considered the most impressive example of English Renaissance design in the country.
The house and gardens are set on 16 acres of grounds which are regularly open to the public.
Filoli Estate and Gardens offers impressive views of the Santa Cruz Mountains and the local reservoir and includes a cafe and tea room.
3. Go on a Tour of Bair Island
Bair Island is a large area of preserved marshes and wetlands located on the east side of San Francisco Bay between San Mateo to the north and Palo Alto to the south.
The island consists of three distinct areas, all of which are part of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
The island’s biotopes include several diverse ecosystems that are home to a considerable number of protected plants and animals.
Joining one of the regular docent-led tours is the best way to explore the island; they are suitable for visitors of most ages and interests.
Things to Do in San Mateo For Couples
1. Grab a Meal at Par 3 at Poplar Creek
Par 3 at Poplar Creek is a lovely restaurant set amongst trees and evergreens; it serves delicious food.
They serve dishes like Coastal Fry Calamari, Caesar Salad, Burger, Breakfast Sandwiches, Cuban Sandwiches, Chilaquiles Con Huevo, Chicken Wings, Wild Mushroom, Italian Sausage Pizza Burger with Fries and Cheese, Bacon Bitz GF, and many more.
Par 3 at Poplar Creek also offers an impressive beverage list, including craft and bottled beers, wines, and craft cocktails.
Par 3 at Poplar Creek is open from Tuesday to Thursday from 10 am to 9 pm, on Friday and Saturday from 9 am to 7 pm, and on Monday from 10 am to 7 pm.
2. Hang Out at Central Park
Central Park is a fun attraction in San Mateo, located on East 5th Avenue; it is the place for you if you are ready for a great outdoor experience.
The park has everything a family needs to have an unforgettable moment; it features several shaded picnic areas ideal for couples and families.
Central Park also has tennis courts, baseball fields, and a large playground for the little ones.
The park provides a mini-train that takes children around the park to view oversized sculptures, a Japanese tea garden, and other places for relaxation and meditation.
Central Park has a large area for volleyball and trails for biking or walking; clean bathrooms are suitable for use.
A park is suitable for various events, including Easter and other live music concerts.
3. Taste Some Chinese Delicacies at Little Shanghai Restaurant
Little Shanghai Restaurant is the place for you if you’re craving some delicious Chinese food in San Mateo,
The Little Shanghai restaurant offers an impressive menu, with dishes served fresh and delicious from local ingredients.
Some dishes include Smoked Fish, Five Spice Steamed Duck, Dry Boiled Beans, Curry Beef, Chicken with Cashew Nuts, Warming Plate with Braised Beef Cabbage, Shanghai Traditional Dishes, Jiang Nan-like Dishes, Vegetables, Noodles and Rice, soup, and many others.
Little Shanghai Restaurant also offers delicious drinks such as red wines, beers, fruit juices, soft drinks, and more.
The staff is super friendly and polite in taking orders from patrons and creates a pleasant atmosphere to enjoy the food.
Things to Do in San Mateo For Kids
1. Take Them to Coyote Point Recreation Area
For an amazing, fun time with friends and family in San Mateo, Coyote Point Recreation Area is the place for you.
Coyote Point Recreation Area is a seven-hundred-acre area on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay.
This recreational area offers a variety of outdoor activities, which explains why it is usually crowded with locals and tourists.
Coyote Point Recreation Area is an excellent location for biking, swimming, bird watching, windsurfing, and fishing.
It features a gigantic medieval-themed playground and innovative exhibits focusing on interactive topics such as ecology and the animal kingdom.
You can choose to go on a picnic with your friends and family or go for a long walk on the beach or trail.
Coyote Point Recreation Area includes a golf course, museum, open grass fields, and barbecue.
2. Let Them Thank You for Magic Mountain Playground
Magic Mountain Playground is one of the most amazing playgrounds in San Mateo, especially for the little ones who will have a fantastic time here.
Located in the Coyote Point Recreation Area, the playground is well equipped with many exciting amenities for children.
The playground features thirteen swings and one of the longest or tallest slides in the Bay Area.
The playground features monsters and dragons on the ground for children to climb; in addition to the Castle, it includes three separate spaces.
It is a dog-friendly park with designated areas for dogs to run around; the venue is open to the public for a $6 admission fee.
3. Visit the Horseshoe Lake
Horseshoe Lake is one of the most beautiful places to visit.
Horseshoe Lake offers several short trails excellent for hiking that are partially wheelchair accessible.
Beautiful wildflowers surround the lake. There are also some orchids around the lake, and some benches are available.
Horseshoe Lake is rarely busy, making it a great place to relax and unwind while enjoying beautiful sweeping views of the lake.
The lake also has clean and convenient toilets; the garage is spacious and open for free.
Indoor Activities to Do in San Mateo For Adults
1. Don’t Miss the Thrill at Ryptic Room Escape
Ryptic Room Escape is open to all ages and can be played by a minimum of four and a maximum of twelve people.
A mysterious ghost will haunt each room you choose with your group, and you will have just sixty minutes to find clues, ideas, and keys to solve puzzles to help you escape the room in time.
The games played at Ryptic Room Escape are perfect for couples, family, and friends to test their ability to work together as a team.
Ryptic Room Escape hosts several events, including birthday parties, tea parties, and other large events for groups of up to five hundred.
The rooms are usually updated with the addition of something new, fun, and exciting, so you don’t know what to expect.
The staff at Ryptic Room Escape are friendly and helpful and offer excellent service.
2. Shop at Hillsdale Shopping Center
Shopping is one of the unique things about San Mateo; visit Hillsdale Mall for a great shopping experience.
Hillsdale Mall is one of the largest malls in the city, with over a hundred retailers.
This center is one of the best places to quench your burning desire for great entertainment and unique dining services.
Hillsdale Mall comprises approximately one hundred and twenty stores offering great deals on home furnishings and accessories, luxury and lifestyle, electronic technology inventions, and beauty products.
Some stores offer huge dining and entertainment options, such as the cheesecake factory, Cinepolis Movie Complex, Belcampo Restaurant, Pinstripes Bowling Bocco bistro, Shake Shack, Palette Tea, and so on.
Hillsdale Mall is also home to renowned retailers such as Nordstrom, Macy’s, H&M, and many more.
The restaurants offer a wide selection of delicious burgers, gourmet coffee, California-style pizza, fresh baked goods, and more.
The shopping center is open from Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 9 pm and on Sundays from 11 am to 7 pm.
3. Go Bowling at Bel Mateo Bowl
Bel Mateo Bowl is highly recommended for family gatherings with friends; they organize bowling leagues and other friendly competitions. Visit Bel Mateo Bowl for an extraordinary fun bowling experience.
The facility has several aisles and a full-service bar that offers a variety of drinks and complimentary coffee.
Bel Mateo Bowl offers delicious pizzas to complement drinks for patrons to enjoy.
A cozy sitting area is prepared for visitors, where they can relax; they also host private parties, including children’s birthday parties and more.
Bel Mateo Bowl is clean and well maintained, with great staff who are always willing to attend to guests and ensure everyone is comfortable.
Romantic Things to Do in San Mateo
1. Take a Trip to the Japanese Garden
The Japanese Garden is a sixteen-acre green plot entirely designed by a Japanese landscape architect who gained vast experience working at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.
The garden is located in the city’s Central Park and was once designated as the residence of a wealthy sailor. It is a place where you can get close to nature.
The Japanese garden, which has existed since the 1920s, features bonsai and cherry trees, a majestic multi-story granite pagoda, waterfalls, and koi ponds.
The garden is clean and well maintained, perfect for a date or a quiet walk alone, away from the crowds, while enjoying the beautiful scenery.
It is open all day of the week from 10 am to 4 pm.
2. Have a Picnic at Laurelwood Park
Laurelwood Park is a beautiful park where you can spend time with family and friends, full of fun activities.
There is a picnic area in the park with picnic tables and shade where you can have a snack or a meal with your loved ones while enjoying the incredible scenery.
Laurelwood Park also has a grassy area and playground with bridges, climbing walls, swings, slides, and more for the little ones to explore and have fun.
The park’s lawn is spacious, making it an ideal spot for baseball or soccer; you can test your soccer skills and practice new moves here.
Laurelwood Park has dedicated space suitable for educational or corporate meetings, including clean restrooms stocked with toiletries.
3. Test Your Baking Skills at Baking Arts
Baking Arts combines a culinary academy and a retail store focused on baking, pastry, and decorating arts.
They offer a variety of classes for groups and couples, including an in-depth two-hour course on mastering the art of baking.
Baking Arts have experienced and knowledgeable instructors; they will teach you everything you need to know about baking and help you master your skills.
Baking Arts are open from Tuesday to Friday from 10 am to 6 pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm.
Be sure to visit, and don’t forget to take home a sweet French macaron.
Free Things to Do in San Mateo
1. Check Out the Junípero Serra Statue
The statue of Junípero Serra is one of the best places to visit in San Mateo; it’s worth a stop even if it doesn’t take much time to check it out.
This statue has been around since the mid-1970s; it stands as a form of monument to Juníper Serra.
Junípero Serra is a priest who significantly brought Catholicism to western Mexico and California in the 18th century.
The statue includes a plaque depicting the mission he founded; Junípero Serra made sure to fulfill his planned missions from the Baja Peninsula to San Francisco.
The statue of Junípero Serra is a pleasant place to sit and relax while enjoying the picturesque views and the tranquility of the environment.
2. Take a Walk Along Sawyer Camp Trail
Explore the Sawyer Camp Trail, a popular trail for anyone looking to explore the area.
The Sawyer Camp Trail is a six-mile paved trail, making it one of the largest urban centers in the state, offering visitors moderate elevation changes and scenic views of the surrounding area.
The trail is surrounded by natural amenities consisting of many wild animals such as waterfowl, fox, woodpeckers, deer, and rabbits.
The Sawyer Camp Trail is lined with beautiful trees, making it a popular destination for walkers, runners, and bikers.
Sawyer Camp Trail is maintained by San Mateo County and is open from 7:30 am to 8:30 pm. When visiting, don’t forget to bring your camera and take beautiful pictures that will serve as a form of memory.
3. Explore Old Downtown San Mateo
Old downtown San Mateo is steeped in history, from tech startups and renovated historic buildings built in the 1920s and 1930s, such as art deco theaters and churches.
It is the heart and soul of the city.
This is the first place to come to mind if you are looking for the best restaurants and new culinary adventures in San Mateo.
Over the years, Old Downtown San Mateo has undergone several renovations, transforming it into a beautiful neighborhood, an excellent place for foodies and drinkers.
A day in Old Downtown San Mateo is a day well spent, don’t forget to visit some of the restaurants and try some of their best dishes.
Cheap Things to Do in San Mateo
1. Grab a Cup of Coffee at Neal’s Coffee Shop
If you are a coffee lover, Neal’s Coffee Shop is one of the best coffee shops in San Mateo that we highly recommend to visitors.
Neal’s Coffee Shop is located in two regions: De Anza Boulevard in San Mateo and Burlingame.
The coffee is served hot and tasty with a twist and at a reasonable price.
Neal’s Coffee Shop has been serving the public for many years since 1996; they offer plenty of healthy appetizers and other options for those on a diet or counting calories.
In addition to coffee, Neal’s Coffee Shop also offers delicious food such as burgers, fresh salads, waffles, gyros, fried chicken, salmon filet, chicken breast, Linguica sausage, and eggs veggie meatballs and eggs, pancakes, French toast, Swedish and more.
Neal’s Coffee also offers a kids’ menu that includes Kids Breakfast Platter, Kids Mickey Sand, Kids Mickey Mouse Pancake, Kids Chocolate Cake, Kids Grilled Cheese, Kids Soda, Kids Chocolate Milk, Kids Juice, Kids Hot Chocolate, and more.
2. Visit the San Mateo County History Museum
Located in the former county courthouse, which has been around for over a century.
The local historical society runs the museum and houses a wide selection of historical artifacts and memorabilia that focus on the town’s founding, economy, and culture.
The San Mateo County History Museum also displays artifacts highlighting the history of Spanish explorers, dairy farms, Victorian-era grand estates, pioneer logging, Ohlone Indians, agriculture, and ranching.
The San Mateo County History Museum aims to enlighten the public on the cultural and natural history of San Mateo County; the museum contains the largest stained glass public building on the entire west coast.
The San Mateo County History Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm (closed Mondays).
3. Shop at San Mateo Farmers’ Market
The market in San Mateo where you can get the best food products is the San Mateo Farmers’ Market.
The San Mateo Farmers Market offers a variety of food products, from vegetables, flowers, and meats to artisan bread.
The San Mateo Farmers Market features shops with local vendors offering farm produce such as potatoes, winter squash, root vegetables, baked goods, and much more.
You will also find a variety of Artisan olive oils, herbs, fruits, cheeses, gourmet foods, and local honey.
The items sold here are freshly picked in excellent quality; there are many flavors of bread and dock seafood.
The San Mateo Farmers Market provides a lively and welcoming atmosphere with plenty of jazz musicians and guitarists at almost every market corner.
You will meet many locals, learn to prepare various traditional dishes in San Mateo, and buy fresh food at a reasonable price.
Cool Places to Visit in San Mateo
1. Create Mix and Mingle
It is open to everyone, beginners and painting professionals alike. A professional art instructor is available to guide you.
At Create Mix and Mingle, the instructors are experienced and friendly; they help you create your masterpiece, bringing your imagination to life.
Create Mix and Mingle is also an excellent venue for various events, with an ample space accommodating over a hundred people.
They also offer beers, wines, drinks, and other refreshments as snacks. Create Mix and Mingle is open Monday through Saturday from 10 am to 10 pm and Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm.
2. Bicycle Sunday
Most Californians tend to be more fit and outdoorsy than most people, maybe because there are many opportunities for recreational activities, especially at San Mateo.
Bike Sunday is a popular end-of-week activity for cyclists of most ages and skill levels.
Its track is blocked to traffic from mid-morning to mid-afternoon when most riders choose to participate.
The rides start on Highway 280, just a few miles outside of town, and cover about two miles of scenic countryside.
Some exciting attractions include the Temple of Pulgas and the Filoli Estate, which are great side trips for those who need a break from the action.
3. Pulgas Water Temple
The Pulgas Water Temple is a unique regional attraction built in the 1930s to commemorate the completion of one of the most extensive aqueducts in the area.
It is located on Cañada Road in Redwood City, about 25 kilometers southeast of San Mateo. It is located in a massive watershed conservation area encompassing nearly 25,000 acres.
For most of its existence, water flowed under the temple from aqueducts, but it has been diverted in recent years.
The temple is not open daily and is often reserved for special events such as weddings, so check online before making a memorable trip.
San Mateo is mainly seen as one of those suburban places where most of us head to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
But it’s more than that.
San Mateo is widely known for its natural beauty and active cultural and historical heritage; it is a beautiful destination for a unique and worthwhile adventure.
With this guide on things to do in San Mateo, it should be your next stop; make sure you explore all the above places and get ready for an unforgettable vacation.