The Ultimate Activity Guide for San Mateo

|June 14, 2019

San Mateo was one of the first suburbs of San Francisco and is now one of the most populated places in the Bay Area. As such, the community offers something for every interest and every age, whether you’re moving here to work in Silicon Valley, you’re raising kids, you’re retiring, or you’re simply exploring.

Some of the most notable highlights of San Mateo include the beautifully maintained parks, which include a Japanese garden in Central Park, historic and entertaining annual events, and global dining destinations. You’ll find all of that and more on this guide: a bucket list of things to do in San Mateo. So, kick off your adventures here and be sure to add any additional attractions, businesses and events you love in the comments located at the bottom of the page.

Click to jump ahead and learn:

Where to eat | What to do indoors | What to do outdoors | Which events to attend

Bars and restaurants

Where to eat

Truffle Butter Poke Bar

Get directions | Facebook

Things to do in San Mateo California

Photo courtesy of Truffle Butter Poke Bar

Bay Area native Chef Rafi created Truffle Butter by combining locally sourced ingredients with casual dining and good vibes. Their creative and colorful dishes are available as specialty bowls, build-your-own bowls, and famous specials, including fresh oysters!

All Spice

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Husband-and-wife team Sachin Chopra and Shoshana Wolff transformed a 1906 Victorian house into a one-of-a-kind dining destination where you can enjoy a seasonal menu that combines Indian, Japanese, Norwegian, Mediterranean and otherworldly influences. To preview their most recent creations, check out the menu here.

Apple Fritter

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This neighborhood cafe serves up delicious doughnuts, hearty breakfasts, mouth-watering burgers, delectable sandwiches and more. Their huge menu features just about every meal and treat you could dream of (including eight flavors of milkshakes) and they make healthier choices in the kitchen, like frying all fried items in rice bran oil!


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This locally-owned coffee shop and restaurant has a rich history in the Bay Area and is a favorite for countless residents and families. Open for breakfast and lunch, their huge portions include items like hashes and scrambles, enormous pancakes, delicious Eggs Benedict, and so much more.


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Porterhouse is a locally-owned steakhouse tucked away in a building that once housed the San Mateo Theater, built in 1926. Today that building is an arcade, housing start-ups, offices, a few shops, and this hidden gem where the team offers a warm and inviting atmosphere alongside house-made dishes prepared with seasonal produce and ingredients.

Sushi Yoshizumi

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Driven by Chef Akira Yoshizumi, this kitchen uses ingredients sourced both domestically and internationally to craft tasting menus rooted in the traditions of Edomae sushi. Though the restaurant boasts a casual atmosphere, the food is anything but, and it changes daily based on seasonality, availability and the bounties of local fishermen.

Vespucci Ristorante

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A little taste of Italy in San Mateo, Vespucci Ristorante features the family recipes of the owners’ mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers. Utilizing both local and imported products, they create dishes that are both authentically Italian and rich in California flavor.

Indoor activities

What to do indoors


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Things to do in San Mateo California

Photo courtesy of CuriOdyssey

CuriOdyssey is a science playground and zoo located in San Mateo’s Coyote Point Recreation Area. Perfect for kids of all ages, the museum has exhibits on bugs, local wildlife, creeks, gadgets and more. You can see wildlife in action around the park, engage with hands-on exhibits inside the museum, and enjoy events like First Friday Family Nights and free Community Days. To see what’s going on right now, click here.

Hero Hangout

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Located right in downtown San Mateo, Hero Hangout is a state-of-the-art virtual reality arcade that brings virtual reality technology to the general public. Everyone is invited to walk in, make a reservation or even schedule a private party. Walk-ins and those with a reservation pay by the hour to explore virtual reality, play games and have tons of fun.

Ryptic Room Escape

Three locations | Facebook

Ryptic Room Escape has three locations and four escape rooms total. Located in San Mateo and Mountain View, these are great ways to challenge yourself, bond with your friends and spend a fun afternoon! Themes include aliens, Sherlock Holmes, Alice in Wonderland and a spooky asylum. To get all the details, click here.

Bel Mateo Bowl

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A great place for families and bowlers of all ages, Bel Mateo Bowl offers special effects bowling, an arcade, a bar and lounge, and a huge food menu at the Bistro. For pricing and league information, click here.

Talbot’s Toyland

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When Talbot’s opened in 1953 it was a small, neighborhood toy shop. Today, the local business has grown to cover more than 30,000-square-feet offering everything from kids’ toys like dolls and LEGOs to specialized hobbies like model trains. To preview their inventory, click here.

Burlingame Museum of PEZ Memorabilia

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With more than 1,000 pieces in the collection, this Burlingame museum features an example of every PEZ candy dispenser ever sold, and it’s located just minutes from the heart of San Mateo. Inside, you can see vintage and imported collections and even the world’s largest PEZ dispenser! At the same location, you can also tour the Classic Toy Museum and the Banned Toy Museum.

Outdoor activities

What to do outdoors

Central Park

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A gem of the city and of all the parks in the Peninsula, San Mateo’s Central Park is home to several of the community’s favorite annual events as well as the Central Park Recreation Center, the Mini Train and the Japanese Garden. Designed by Landscape Architect Nagao Sakurai, this garden is one of the finest in California featuring a granite pagoda, a tea house, a koi pond with public feedings, and a bamboo grove.


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Filoli is a historic house with six classical gardens, two terraces and an orchard—all surrounded by 654 acres. The home was built between 1915 and 1917 but didn’t open to the public until 1975. Today, you can peruse the grounds, tour the home and take classes in fine art, flora and nature. Hosting over 100,000 guests every year, there’s something to see during every season. But in early December, you can also see gorgeous fall color from Japanese maples, cherry trees, Virginia creepers, hawthorns, fruit trees, viburnums, ginkgos and other rare plants.

Coyote Point Recreation Area

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Maintained by the County of San Mateo, Coyote Point Recreation Area is one of the best recreation areas in the Bay Area. Located right on the San Francisco Bay, it offers opportunities for picnicking, swimming, windsurfing, bicycling, jogging, fishing, boating and sailing. It’s also home to Magic Mountain Playground and CuriOdyssey, another essential activity on this guide!

Crystal Springs Regional Trail

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Crystal Springs Regional Trail currently consists of more than 15 miles from San Bruno to Woodside and will offer more than 17 acres when complete. The full trail serves more than 325,000 visitors annually, and one of the most popular sections—Sawyer Camp Segment—is located directly west of San Mateo, Burlingame and Hillsborough. The segment is wheelchair accessible, has restrooms, and is perfectly suited for bicyclists, hikers, joggers and equestrians.

San Mateo Farmers’ Market

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This year-round market is a beloved tradition for San Mateo residents. Operated by the Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association, the market is the ideal place to shop local for seasonal fruits and veggies and other goods like honey, eggs and artisan cheese. You can do just that every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the College of San Mateo.

From May through October, we recommend adding the 25th Avenue Farmers’ Market to your weekly itinerary, too! This is another San Mateo market operated by the Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association.

Annual events

Which events to attend



Things to do in San Mateo California

Photo courtesy of City of San Mateo

The City of San Mateo’s signature spring event has been a tradition for more than 40 years. The epic event includes one of the largest egg hunts in the region and it takes place throughout beautiful Central Park. For more details, click here.



This event is the Bay Area’s longest-running science fiction convention—and it’s run completely by fans. If you love reading post-apocalyptic or out-of-this-world novels, viewing fan-made art, or simply exercising your imagination, this convention will be right up your alley. To get all the details on the next event, click here.

San Mateo County Fair


Originally called the ‘Little Flower Show’ in 1926, the San Mateo County Fair has grown into one of the largest annual events in the Peninsula. Striving to educate our community about culture, technology, agriculture, horticulture, arts and sustainability, special programming includes Pacific Islands Day, Family Pride Day in celebration of the LGBTQIA community, Dia de la Feria, the Domini Hoskins Black History Museum and more. Classic fair attractions like carnival games, live performances, art demonstrations and animal encounters also return every year!

Spring Dance Show


This annual tradition unites the community for a full day of youth and adult dance performances organized by the San Mateo Parks and Recreation Department and the San Mateo Dance Association in the park. For details on times and performances for the next event, click here.

Central Park Music Series

June – August

Every summer, the Central Park Music Series brings free musical entertainment, local food vendors and raffle prizes to San Mateo’s Central Park. To see dates and bands playing this year, click here.

San Francisco Bay Area Aloha Festival


Organized by the Pacific Islanders’ Cultural Association, this huge, free, family-friendly festival celebrates the culture of the Pacific Islands and our Pacific Islander community here in the Bay Area. Entertainment includes live music and Polynesian dance, arts and crafts vendors, island cuisine, educational exhibits and workshops, and an `Ohana Korner with fun games for kids!

Movies in the Park Series


Throughout the month of September, the City of San Mateo hosts this free, fun and family-friendly series in a different park each evening. For the full details on food vendors, start times and locations, click here.

San Mateo on Ice

November – January

Each winter, San Mateo on Ice returns to Central Park and provides our community with the Bay Area’s largest outdoor ice skating rink. Open to all ages, this rink features 9,000-square-feet of real ice so skaters can skate all day and even into the night.

What would you add?  

In the comments below, tell us about your favorite San Mateo businesses, eateries, attractions and events!

Category Community Guides, Peninsula

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