Geographically, it’s called the San Francisco Peninsula, but the locals call it simply the Peninsula. This diverse community separates the San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean and includes parts of both San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. It spreads from South San Francisco in the north down to Mountain View in the south and from Half Moon Bay at the Pacific to San Mateo on the Bay. In between, you’ll find parks and beaches, thriving cities and coastal towns, technology superstars and restaurateurs. In short, if you haven’t explored the Peninsula, it’s about time you did.
Whether you’re a local looking for something new or a visitor in need of an itinerary, our guide to the Peninsula can keep you entertained for as long as you need. Indoors, outdoors, educational and indulgent — there’s something for everyone and every interest.
Hit the Beach
By definition, the Peninsula is almost entirely surrounded by water. In the heart of the region, it takes just 30 minutes to drive from the Pacific Ocean at Half Moon Bay to the San Francisco Bay at San Mateo. Whether you’re a surfer, a sun-bather, or just searching for a breathtaking view, make sure you stop at one of the area’s best beaches.
We suggest starting at Nor-Cal Surf Shop in Pacifica then driving down to Maverick’s Beach for big-wave surfing. On the way, you’ll pass through Gray Whale Cove State Beach which features a sheltered cove surrounded by sharp cliffs dropping abruptly into the Pacific. Bring a picnic for a lunch at the top, watch the gray whales and walk the trail to reach the beach.
On the 20 minute drive, you’ll also pass Montara State Beach and Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. Then, head down to Half Moon Bay State Beach when you’re done watching the surf!
Explore the Outdoors
In between the beaches, there are plenty of hiking trails and recreation opportunities and because it’s the Bay Area, you’re guaranteed a great view wherever you go!
One of our favorite destinations to go with the kids is Coyote Point Recreation Area in San Mateo. Along with playgrounds and sweeping fields, you’ll have access to a swimming area in the bay, a yacht harbor and, our favorite, CuriOdyssey. Take a break from the sun and learn all about local wildlife and science!
Further south in Mountain View, you’ll find Shoreline Lake, a man-made, 50-acre, salt water lake filled by waters pumped in from the San Francisco Bay. Explore the park’s walking trails and then hit the water in a paddle boat!
If hiking is your game, check out Sweeney Ridge Trail in Pacifica and Rancho Corral de Tierra in Moss Beach.
Dive into Technology Culture
With Palo Alto and Silicon Valley as huge Peninsula centers, you’re sure to encounter some technology on your trip. Both Googleplex and the Computer History Museum are located in Mountain View, which has been named the third best place to work in the country by Forbes!
Indulge in a Local Libation
Photos courtesy of Devil’s Canyon Brewing, The Dutch Goose and Angie Stern + Martin’s West Gastropub
While you’re not hiking, swimming, surfing or learning, you’re going to want to get a taste for the local libations. Half Moon Bay Brewing Company and Devil’s Canyon Brewing Company in San Carlos are just a couple of our favorite craft breweries in the area. Be sure to schedule your trip around the Devil’s Canyon taproom hours; it’s open every Friday starting at 4 p.m.
If you’re looking for a place where you’ll find local brews, craft cocktails and high-quality wines, we suggest stopping by The Wine Room in Palo Alto, Ale Arsenal in San Carlos, The Dutch Goose in Menlo Park, Mortar & Pestle in San Mateo, Steins Beer Garden in Mountain View or Martin’s West Gastropub in Redwood City. As you can see, there’s a place to sip a delicious drink no matter what part of the Peninsula you find yourself in!
Get a Taste of the Local Fare
After all the adventuring and sipping, you’re going to need a bite to eat. While we love the recreation, the views and museums, what we really come to the Peninsula for is to satisfy our gourmet cravings.
Photos courtesy of Bird Dog
Palo Alto’s Bird Dog is one of our all-time favorites. The simple techniques in the kitchen and fresh ingredients allow for a melting pot style menu, influenced by the rich cultures of Northern California, Japan and wherever the owners and chefs have recently traveled to eat. Stop by for lunch or dinner!
If you have breakfast on your mind, don’t skip Tootsies in Palo Alto. The charming restaurant is a hidden gem in the Stanford Barn, an adorable red brick building. While the smell of housemade pastries, zeppole and brioche fill the room, sip your coffee and take your time choosing from the brief, but mouth-watering brunch menu.
Photos courtesy of Dad’s Luncheonette
Dad’s Luncheonette, on the other side of the Peninsula, is a historic train caboose on scenic Highway 1 in Half Moon Bay. They serve up American roadside classics with a California focus, showcasing the best of coastal farms in the area. They’re only open Thursday through Sunday from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. and we won’t blame you if your whole trip is centered around getting a taste!
In Mountain View, you’ll find Napoletana Pizzeria and once you try it, you’ll want to keep coming back! The simplicity of their pies is reminiscent of Italy; the taste, atmosphere and wine may even make you feel like you’ve teleported.
Photos courtesy of Flea Street Cafe
In Menlo Park, decades before it became popular, Jesse Cool led a movement of preparing and serving only fresh, in-season, organic and local, ingredient-driven meals. Flea Street Cafe is one of the flagships of her movement and it’s a must-try for dinner.
A few of our other favorites include Fey, a Menlo Park classic serving the best Sichuan food in the whole Bay Area, Madera, another upscale destination in Menlo Park, and Baumé, the most expensive restaurant in the Peninsula.
Immerse Yourself in Art
Before you leave, make sure to take in some local culture. As a start-up center with plenty of college culture, the Peninsula attracts a lot of young professionals. As a result, you’ll find plenty of music and art to experience.
The cultural center of the community is Stanford University. There, you’ll find the Cantor Center for Visual Arts, a showcase for students and international artists’ sculpture, paintings, drawings and more. While you’re on campus, walk through the Rodin Sculpture Garden and climb to the top of Hoover Tower to view the Bay Area from the 285-foot-tall Observation Tower.
Then, check out a band or performer at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View! Nearly every day of the week they have shows from local acts, world-famous bands and comedians.
Make Yourself at Home
If the diversity of options, amazing work environments and laid-back beach culture have convinced you to stay, we completely understand. The Peninsula’s open spaces, tech culture and friendly people are hard to leave. And when you need a bit more population, it’s just minutes away from larger urban centers like East Bay and San Francisco!
Check out our community pages for San Mateo County and Santa Clara County to find out more about the region. Then swoon over gorgeous homes that show off everything we love about the Peninsula, like this luxury home in San Mateo.
What do you love about the Peninsula?
Spread the love and let us know what places we missed! We know there are more reasons why the Peninsula is one of the best communities in the Bay Area.