San Mateo County stretches from Silicon Valley to San Francisco and from San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean. Its population of almost 750,000 is nearly equal to that of its glamorous neighbor to the north; unlike San Francisco, which is famously seven miles square, San Mateo County fits its ¾ of a million residents into an area covering 448 square miles. That’s plenty of room for cities, suburbs, opens spaces, hills, beaches and flatlands.
Locals call it “The Peninsula,” 28 cities and unincorporated towns ranging from tiny, rural spots like Pescadero and La Honda to bustling mini-cities like San Mateo and Redwood City. Here you’ll find Foster City and Redwood Shores, a pair of waterfront planned communities, and also Half Moon Bay, a coastal town of 11,000 boasting the largest surfable waves in the world. It may not be San Francisco, but San Mateo County takes a back seat to no one.
For residents, The Peninsula offers every sort of neighborhood imaginable, from entry-level to the highest of high end. At one end you’ll find the sturdy, working-class districts of San Bruno, Daly City, East Palo Alto and South San Francisco; at the other are the rarified enclaves of Hillsborough, Atherton and Woodside, longtime centers of wealth where today many tech industry titans have chosen to make their homes.
In-between you’ll find opportunities at every price point, in economically diverse cities like Menlo Park, Millbrae, Redwood City, San Mateo and San Carlos, places where a family can go from entry-level to high-end without ever leaving town. A step below Hillsborough and company are Burlingame and Portola Valley; the former has one of San Mateo County’s most charming downtowns, the latter is a spread out, rural-ish community favored by cyclists and equestrians.
San Mateo County offers countless recreation opportunities besides cycling and horseback riding, with 62,000 acres of protected open space, a regional greenbelt system known as the Mid-Peninsula Open Space District. Individual parks like downtown San Mateo’s Central Park and Redwood City’s secluded Edgewood Preserve show the diversity of The Peninsula’s green space, while the groomed fairways of the Burlingame Country Club speak to the county’s more refined side.
Each Peninsula town is a unique treasure. Almost all feature well-established downtown cores, with boutique shopping and exceptional restaurants making trips to San Francisco for nightlife and excitement absolutely unnecessary. Some, like leafy Belmont, lean more toward hilly seclusion and panoramic views; Belmont residents rave about their city’s beauty and serenity, while locals in Foster City and Redwood Shores, two master-planned, mostly residential cities founded in the 1960s, wouldn’t trade their canals, lagoons and San Francisco Bay views for anything. Foster City and Redwood Shores each feature miles-long sections of the 500-mile San Francisco Bay Trail, making them favorites for bay front strolls.
San Mateo County is a family-friendly place with active neighborhoods and some of California’s most highly regarded public school districts, notably those in Burlingame, Hillsborough, Menlo Park, San Carlos and San Mateo. Each city works hard to maintain a busy slate of community events and activities. Almost all stage a yearly downtown arts festival, offering diverse gatherings like the San Carlos Art and Wine Festival, the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival and the Pacifica Fog Fest. Community spirit comes in all shapes and sizes, notably on Eucalyptus Avenue in San Carlos, where each Halloween the street shuts down and trick-or-treaters rule.
It’s almost impossible to characterize San Mateo County in any single way. This thriving, vibrant place bridging San Francisco and Silicon Valley is simply too big and too diverse. One thing you can say about it is this, though: whatever you’re looking for in a community, you’ll find it here.