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How to Spend 50 Perfect Hours in San Mateo

by Katie Morell

San Mateo is an urban jewel of the Bay Area’s Peninsula region with a thriving downtown shopping and dining district, ample green space, and friendly residents.


8:30 a.m. – Wake up in your comfy bed at the San Mateo Marriott San Francisco Airport. Wrangle your group and be sure to pack a bag with sunscreen and sweatshirts. Load everyone in your car and drive a few miles north to Nini’s Coffee Shop. This place is located along a seemingly strange stretch of road near 101, but is completely legit. Sit down to a fantastic breakfast sandwich with teriyaki steak and potatoes on the side. Or splurge and get the buttermilk biscuits with eggs. Add a side of bacon and a hot cup of coffee and you will be ready to go.

10:00 a.m. – Take 101 South and turn right on East 3rd Avenue. Drive a few blocks down until you hit South Ellsworth Avenue and you’ve reached the San Mateo’s Central Parking Garage. Park your vehicle here (you won’t need it for the rest of the day), make sure you have comfy shoes on and walk over to B-Street to start your self-guided Historic Walking Tour.

The Downtown San Mateo Association has put together an easy-to-follow tour that can be downloaded here. The tour is interesting as it snakes its way through the city’s downtown streets with tidbits of information about architecturally significant structures at every turn.

12:30 p.m. – Your mouth will surely be watering by the time your walking tour is over, so meander over to Curry Up Now at 129 South B Street (between 1st Ave. and 2nd Ave.). This is a casual spot perfect for lunch that serves tasty Indian food in burrito form. Don’t leave without getting the Holy Moly Fried Ravioli with Tikka Masala dip. You will never think of ravioli the same again.

1:30 p.m. – Most likely stuffed from a delicious lunch, you will be ready for some exercise. Take a left out of Curry Up Now and walk four blocks down South B Street until you get to East 4th Street. Take a right and keep walking (less then a quarter of a mile) until you run into San Mateo’s beautiful Central Park. Spend some time exploring this lovely green space and then stop at the Japanese Tea Garden where there is a teahouse, a pagoda, a Koi pond and a bamboo grove.

For the kids in your group, make sure to inquire about Koi feedings, which happen at 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. every weekday during the spring and summer. Also fun for kids is the Mini Train that runs all year long on weekends from 11:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m.

4:00 p.m. – Head back into downtown San Mateo and stop at Scribble Me Happy, an adorable do-it-yourself art shop for creative types of all ages. The shop offers open studio space and classes. Call ahead to make a reservation.

6:00 p.m. – Take off your aprons and clean your hands before exiting Scribble Me Happy. Then, walk a little more than two blocks north on South B Street to Osteria Coppa. This is a 2014 Michelin Guide-recommended Italian restaurant with a delightful alfresco dining area out back. Ask the host to seat you on the patio and order as much handmade pasta as you can handle. The lasagna is not to be missed (neither is the wine—they have an impressive selection).

Tagliatelle Bolognese


9:00 a.m. – Rise and shine and head out to for breakfast at Kingston Café, a restaurant located a few miles down the road. The eatery is pint-sized with a neighborhood feel and has some of the friendliest staff in the Bay Area. Try a fresh fruit smoothie and order the Emily’s Breakfast Sandwich (lox, cream cheese, red onions and capers—delicious).

10:00 a.m. – After driving just up the road you and your group will arrive at CuriOdyssey (formerly the Coyote Point Museum for Environmental Education). This is a one-of-a-kind science and wildlife center perfect for kids. It has hands-on exhibits and children can even come face-to-face with more than 100 animals. Budget a few hours for this experience; it is fascinating for the whole family.

12:30 p.m. – Drive over to Draeger’s Market, a high-end deli, and pick up a few panini sandwiches to go (they also have some yummy boxed lunches, if paninis aren’t your thing). Then head over to Laurelwood Park, a lush green space that has plenty of room for a picnic. Remember to bring a frisbee or a ball and baseball mitt and play catch after lunch.

1:30 p.m. – Just behind Laurelwood Park is Sugarloaf Nature Area, where there are plenty of hiking trails. Before heading out, put on a hat and sunscreen. Then enjoy a few hours of breathing in fresh California air.

4:00 p.m. – Head back to the Marriott to get showered and changed before going out again. Then, drive downtown for an early dinner at 31st Union, located on 5 South Ellsworth Avenue. This is a hip eatery that specializes in California soul food and sports long, communal tables, perfect for meeting fellow travelers. Be sure to book reservations in advance and get the root beer and seafood stew.

7:00 p.m. – After dinner, drive down South El Camino Real until you get to East 25th Avenue and park near The Swingin’ Door, a music venue/bar that offers everything from karaoke and dueling pianos to DJs and live bands.


8:30 a.m. – Wake up ready for a tasty breakfast. After packing your suitcases, drive back downtown and settle at a table at Three Restaurant & Bar. Formerly Astaria, this place has been local institution for years. Don’t leave without trying the crab cake Benedict and the chilaquiles, a perfect way to end your 50-hour getaway in San Mateo.