Top 10 Popular Destinations in San Mateo County

San Mateo County, nestled between San Francisco and the stunning Pacific Ocean, offers a blend of natural beauty, cultural heritage, and engaging attractions. Whether you’re a local looking for a weekend adventure or a visitor exploring Northern California, San Mateo County has something for everyone. Let’s dive into the top 10 popular destinations that make this area a must-visit.

Half Moon Bay

Beaches and Coastal Beauty

Half Moon Bay is renowned for its picturesque beaches and dramatic coastal landscapes. Surfers flock to Mavericks Beach for its legendary waves, while families enjoy the calmer waters and sandy shores of Francis Beach. The coastal trail offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, perfect for a leisurely stroll or bike ride.

Activities and Attractions

In addition to its natural beauty, Half Moon Bay boasts a charming downtown area with boutique shops, art galleries, and delectable dining options. The annual Pumpkin Festival draws thousands of visitors, celebrating the autumn harvest with pumpkin carving, parades, and local crafts.

Filoli Historic House and Garden

Historical Significance

Filoli Historic House and Garden is a grand estate that provides a glimpse into the opulent lifestyles of early 20th-century aristocrats. Built in 1917, this Georgian revival mansion has been meticulously preserved, offering guided tours that delve into its rich history and architectural splendor.

Garden Highlights

The 16-acre formal garden is a horticultural masterpiece, featuring meticulously manicured lawns, vibrant flower beds, and serene water features. Seasonal events like the Spring Flower Show and Autumn at Filoli showcase the garden’s ever-changing beauty, making it a year-round attraction.

San Mateo Japanese Garden

Cultural Experience

Tucked away in San Mateo’s Central Park, the Japanese Garden is a tranquil oasis that transports visitors to Japan. Designed by Nagao Sakurai, a landscape architect from Tokyo, the garden embodies traditional Japanese aesthetics with its koi pond, tea house, and meticulously pruned bonsai trees.

Key Features

Visitors can enjoy the peaceful ambiance, admire the intricate stone lanterns, and cross the arched wooden bridge. The garden is particularly stunning during cherry blossom season, when the trees bloom in a riot of pink flowers.

Pescadero State Beach

Natural Scenery

Pescadero State Beach is a hidden gem known for its rugged beauty and diverse ecosystems. The beach features rocky coves, sandy stretches, and tide pools teeming with marine life. It’s an ideal spot for picnicking, beachcombing, and photography.

Wildlife and Recreation

Nature enthusiasts will appreciate the variety of bird species that inhabit the area. The nearby Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve offers hiking trails and opportunities for bird watching, making it a haven for wildlife lovers.


Interactive Exhibits

CuriOdyssey, located in Coyote Point Recreation Area, is a science and wildlife center that encourages hands-on learning. Interactive exhibits engage visitors of all ages, making complex scientific concepts accessible and fun.

Animal Encounters

Home to a variety of animals, CuriOdyssey allows visitors to get up close with native species such as river otters, bobcats, and owls. Educational programs and live animal presentations provide insight into wildlife conservation and natural history.

Devil’s Slide Trail

Scenic Views

Once a perilous stretch of Highway 1, Devil’s Slide has been transformed into a scenic trail offering breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. The paved path is perfect for walking, jogging, and cycling, with benches along the way for taking in the scenery.

Hiking and Biking

The trail’s relatively gentle grade makes it accessible to hikers and bikers of all skill levels. Interpretive signs along the trail provide information about the area’s geology and history, enhancing the experience.

Hiller Aviation Museum

Aviation History

For aviation enthusiasts, the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos is a treasure trove of historical aircraft and flight memorabilia. The museum’s collection spans the history of aviation, from early flight experiments to modern aircraft technology.

Exhibits and Displays

Interactive exhibits allow visitors to try their hand at piloting a flight simulator, explore the cockpit of a Boeing 747, and learn about the pioneers of aviation. Special events and educational programs make it a dynamic destination for all ages.

Ano Nuevo State Park

Elephant Seals

Ano Nuevo State Park is famous for its elephant seal population. Every winter, these massive marine mammals come ashore to breed, giving visitors a rare opportunity to observe them up close. Guided tours provide fascinating insights into their behavior and ecology.

Hiking Trails

In addition to the seals, the park offers a variety of hiking trails that wind through coastal dunes, wetlands, and coastal scrub habitats. The trails offer stunning ocean views and opportunities to spot other wildlife.

Sawyer Camp Trail

Trail Features

Sawyer Camp Trail is a popular multi-use trail that stretches for six miles along the Crystal Springs Reservoir. The trail is paved and mostly flat, making it ideal for walking, running, and cycling. It’s shaded by trees, providing a cool escape on hot days.


Along the trail, you’ll find picnic areas, restrooms, and benches. It’s a great spot for bird watching, with sightings of egrets, herons, and hawks. The reservoir itself is a peaceful backdrop, reflecting the surrounding hills and sky.

Montara Mountain

Hiking Routes

Montara Mountain offers some of the best hiking in San Mateo County. Trails range from easy walks to challenging climbs, all providing access to the mountain’s diverse ecosystems and stunning vistas.

Panoramic Views

From the summit, hikers are rewarded with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, San Francisco Bay, and the surrounding countryside. On clear days, you can see as far as the Farallon Islands, making it a rewarding trek for nature lovers.


San Mateo County is a treasure trove of natural wonders, historical landmarks, and engaging attractions. From the serene beaches of Half Moon Bay to the educational exhibits at CuriOdyssey, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. So pack your bags, lace up your hiking boots, and set out to explore the best that San Mateo County has to offer.


What is the best time to visit San Mateo County? The best time to visit is during the spring and fall when the weather is mild, and the crowds are smaller.

Are these destinations family-friendly? Yes, most of these destinations are perfect for families, offering activities and amenities suitable for all ages.

How can I get to San Mateo County? San Mateo County is accessible by car via Highway 101 and Interstate 280, and by public transit through Caltrain and BART.

Are there any entrance fees for these destinations? Some destinations, like Filoli and Ano Nuevo State Park, may have entrance fees or require reservations for guided tours. Others, like Devil’s Slide Trail and Sawyer Camp Trail, are free to access.

What other activities can I do in San Mateo County? In addition to visiting these top destinations, you can enjoy wine tasting, golfing, kayaking, and exploring local farmers’ markets and festivals.

Michael Hart
Author: Michael Hart