San Mateo boasts some of the best eating on the Peninsula, stellar parks, and many kid-friendly attractions that make it a great place to explore with the family. Downtown San Mateo is a bustling collection of restaurants and unique shops; you’ll be spoiled for choice with the ever-growing selection of places to eat. Right next to downtown is Central Park, San Mateo’s largest park and a great place for kids to run around and get their energy out. If you have even more time, you can discover some more fun activities outside of downtown and check out some remarkable views of the bay from the shoreline.

Central Park via Yelp Dmytro Vphoto: Dmytro V. via Yelp 

Play

Central Park/Japanese Garden
The heart of San Mateo is this sprawling park adjacent to the downtown shopping district.  Extensive children’s play structures, plenty of green lawns, and abundant picnic tables make this park perfect for weekend family hangouts. Explore deeper in the park and find the rose garden and mini train that runs durng the summer. There’s also the Japanese Tea Garden, an attraction all on its own.  The beautifully maintained grounds are especially beautiful when the cherry blossoms bloom, and in the spring and summer you can feed the koi that fill the pond.

50 E 5th Avenue
San Mateo, CA
650-522-7530
Online: ityofsanmateo.org

Bel Mateo Bowl courtesy of ownerphoto: Bel Mateo Bowl via Yelp

Bel Mateo Bowl
This updated bowling alley is a great place for your kids to get into bowling.  Plenty of lanes, and you can reserve one online before you go. There’s a bar and lounge for adults, while the bistro offers kid-friendly fare such as pizza, hot dogs, and milkshakes. On late Friday and Saturday nights the alley transforms with black lights, fog machines, and laser lights.

4330 Olympic Avenue
San Mateo, CA
650-341-2616
Online: belmateobowl.com

Safari Run
This indoor play place has a massive jungle-themed play structure where your kids can run, jump, and climb to their hearts’ content.  There’s even a separate play area for little toddlers. Open play hours are typically Mondays through Fridays, while weekends are reserved for private birthday parties. Check their online calendar for hours.

341 N Amphlett Blvd.
San Mateo, CA
650-342-1977
Online: safarirun.com

Ramen Parlor Bowl by Anita Chu

Eat

Ramen Parlor
San Mateo is known as a mecca for ramen lovers. There’s plenty of excellent ramen spots, but we like Ramen Parlor as its larger size makes it more accommodating to families. It’s still recommended to get there earlier to avoid the inevitable lines, but tables turn over fairly quickly. Their specialties include the lobster pork ramen topped with soft shell crab, and a spicy crab miso ramen.

901 South B Street
San Mateo, CA
650-344-9728

The Habit Burger Grill
This outpost of the Santa Barbara burger chain will satisfy all your burger cravings. The classic Charburger is a winner, but you might be tempted to try their teriyaki burger, or the roasted Portobello mushroom burger for a vegetarian option.  Don’t miss the tempura green beans or sweet potato fries either. The kids will undoubtedly clamor for a milkshake or sundae.

1100 Park Place
San Mateo, CA
650-286-9944
Online: habitburger.com

Mendocino Farms Kids Corner

Mendocino Farms
This newly opened “sandwich market” offers modern takes on classic lunch fare, as well as a whole lot more. Along with club sandwiches and tuna melts, you can try a pork belly banh mi or a “not so fried” chicken sandwich, or a steak BLT on a pretzel. Among the salad offerings, the Impossible taco salad is definitely a favorite. There’s a kids corner with chalkboard walls, and an outdoor foosball table, making this an ideal family hangout.

1060 Park Place
San Mateo, CA
650-332-8300
Online: mendocinofarms.com

Takahashi Market
This grocery store is a bit out of the way, but along with stocking lots of Japanese and Hawaiian goods, it serves some of the best Hawaiian food around. The tiny kitchen makes some don’t- miss dishes like loco moco, bacon spam musubi, and aloha tater tots. Seating is limited to a couple picnic tables outside, so most customers take out — drive over to Central Park on a sunny day to enjoy your lunch.

221 S Claremont Street
San Mateo, CA
650-343-0394
Online: takahashimarket.com

Romolos Cannoli via Yelp Charmaine Lphoto: Charmaine L. via Yelp

Sweet

Romolo’s Cannoli
This unique dessert shop has been run by the same family for 50 years. They specialize in cannoli, an Italian pastry composed of a crisp fried shell filled with sweet ricotta cream and other toppings. You get to pick your fillings and toppings of choice at Romolo’s. Authentically old school and completely addictive, you’ll want to try all the different flavors. They also have other traditional Italian desserts like spumoni ice cream, amaretti cookies, and tartufo.

81 37th Avenue
San Mateo, CA
650-574-0625
Online: romoloscannoli.com

Icicles ice cream by Anita Chu

Icicles
This Thai take on ice cream will almost certainly become a favorite of your littles. Kids are mesmerized watching workers pour liquid ice cream base over a frozen work surface and then shape and manipulate them into rolls of ice cream. It’s an amazing show every time and the ice cream is delicious as well. Flavor combinations to try are Strawberry Fantasy and Nutella & Chill.

222 East 3rd Avenue
San Mateo, CA
Online: iciclescreamroll.com

Eggettes via Yelp by Amy Cphoto: Amy C. via Yelp

Eggettes
Boba shops abound in San Mateo, but Eggettes offers the bonus of their namesake treat: a crispy, puffy waffle traditionally sold as a street snack. Fresh off the griddle, they’re a sweet afternoon treat.  Top with ice cream if you’re feeling decadent. The boba tea drinks themselves are pretty great, too.

47 South B Street
San Mateo, CA
650-393-5897
Online: eggettes.com

Antoine’s Cookies
It’s rare to find a bakery devoted to just cookies, but Antoine’s knows it has a winner. Several winners, in fact: you and your kiddies may have a hard time choosing from the ten varieties available. The Toffee and Cookies n’ Cream may definitely become favorites.  Tip: they sell boxes of day-old cookies at a discount; a great way to stock up on treats for the week.

220 2nd Avenue
San Mateo, CA
650-495-2303
Online: antoinescookieshop.com

photo: CuriOdyssey

Explore

CuriOdyssey
This wonderful children’s museum is a don’t-miss for any visit to the Peninsula. Perched on the edge of San Mateo with a gorgeous view of the bay, this museum has a combination of indoor science exhibits and an outdoor zoo area. The compact size of the museum make it especially appropriate for younger children. The animal collection features many wildlife rescues that cannot be released back into the wild, with a focus on California native species, such as bobcats, raccoons, otters, and eagles. Check the site calendar for special events and exhibitions that occur frequently throughout the year, such as First Friday Family Nights. After a day at the museum, go for a stroll along Coyote Point (see below) before going home.

1651 Coyote Point Drive
San Mateo, CA
650-342-7755
Online: curiodyssey.org

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Coyote Point Recreation Area
The CuriOdyssey Museum (above) is also part of the Coyote Point Recreation Area, a fantastic place to spend a day outdoors. There’s a huge dragon-themed playground, plenty of trails to hike or bike with amazing views of the bay, plenty of picnic tables. You can walk down the beach and dip your toes in the water or watch the planes fly into San Francisco Airport. The parking fee of $6 gives you in-and-out privileges, so you can go out to grab lunch and come back afterwards.

1701 Coyote Point Drive
San Mateo, CA
650-573-2592
Online: parks.smcgov.org

Talbots Toyland by Anita Chu

Shop

Talbot’s Toyland
This legendary toy shop is a vivid memory for many parents who grew up on the Peninsula. Most likely the best selection in all of the Bay Area with 30,000 square feet of toys, this is absolute toy heaven. The kiddos will go nuts for room after room of books, dolls, Legos, bikes, dress-up costumes, science toys, and games. There’s also an extensive selection of model trains and radio control vehicles. Don’t forget to check out their separate bike shop Talbot’s Cyclery next door.

445 South B Street
San Mateo, CA
650-931-8100
Onlinetalbotstoyland.com

Reach and Teach via Yelp Shin Hphoto: Shin H. via Yelp

Reach and Teach
This hidden gem is located in a quiet neighborhood away from the main downtown, but it’s worth the visit. This fascinating shop has a wide selection of unusual toys, games, books, and gifts sourced from around the world, with a focus on sustainability and fair trade. The owners love talking about the products they’ve picked out and give great recommendations. Also: free tea and chocolate samples!

144 W 25th Ave.
San Mateo, CA
650-759-3784
Online: reachandteach.com

Hillsdale Shopping Center
Sometimes you just need to get all your shopping out of the way at once, and Hillsdale Shopping Center provides a wide selection of stores and a friendly, clean atmosphere.  Along with essential shops including Sephora, Nordstrom, Williams-Sonoma, and H&M, the selection of kid-friendly shops includes a Lego store, Build-a-Bear store, and a massive Barnes and Noble. The mall is currently undergoing an expansion, which will add an updated food court and several more stores. There are also regular free events for families, including crafts and storytime. Other family amenities include free stroller rentals and a large family lounge ideal for nursing or just taking a break.

60 31st Ave.
San Mateo, CA
650-345-8222
Online: hillsdale.com

What are you favorite spots in San Mateo? Share below!

—Anita Chu

Photos by the author except where noted.