San Mateo is sprawling by Peninsula standards, with more than 16 square miles within its city limits, and around 100,000 residents, making it the most populous city on the peninsula. What to do with all that space? Build a ton of parks, develop a downtown that houses over 800 shops and restaurants, and sit back and watch the residents delight in all the family friendly places to go.

Paddock ParkPhoto: Bay Meadows

Play

Central Park 
This spacious and shady 16+ acre park, formerly of the Kohl Mansion property, is the hub of San Mateo’s major community events including the popular Summer Concert Series and springtime Eggstravaganza. Within all that acreage you’ll find aesthetics: koi swimming through the beautiful Japanese tea garden and bees buzzing about the fragrant rose garden; and playsthetics: two playgrounds, paved trails for scooting and biking, and a small electric train that runs round and around for $2 a spin.

50 E. 5th Ave.
San Mateo, Ca
650-522-7400
Hours: Electric train runs year-round Sat.-Sun., 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; During summer, Mon.-Fri., 11a.m. – 3 p.m.
Online: cityofsanmateo.org

Beresford Park
In its current state, this park is aging and showing wear (there are plans in the works for a major multi-million-dollar overhaul that includes a splash pad) but kids do not seem phased by its senior status. There are two play areas here: one enclosed for the little guys and one for older kids, which boasts an old-school metal twisty slide that doubles as a human cannon—it will send your kids flying right out of its mouth! There is also a skate park for your tiny Tony Hawk, and the adjacent community center hosts all sorts of community classes and events, and is also home to the San Mateo Garden Center.

2720 Alameda de las Pulgas
San Mateo, Ca
650-522-7440
Online: cityofsanmateo.org

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Ryder Park
Ryder is a standout because it offers the city’s only splash pad (currently shut off due to dry conditions), plus it’s relatively new, so it’s still sparkling and not showing much wear. This park sits along the Bay Trail, which makes it a great stop-off for those biking or hiking during summer months to enjoy a picnic and a cool-down. The playground features unique play structures, especially if you have a kid who loves to climb-or dangle!

1801 J. Hart Clinton Dr.
San Mateo, Ca
650-522-7400
Online: cityofsanmateo.org

Magic Mountain Playground
It is indeed quite magical here at this playground, with “underground” tunnel slides, a huge 2-story slide, and fun climbing structures like the big purple dragon. And, even though tot lots can sometimes feel like an afterthought, the one here is enormous, well-appointed and enclosed, too! You’ll see lots of families camped-out for the morning (the afternoon sun can get brutal) as this park holds interest longer than most due to the wide variety of playthings. It is also situated within the larger county-run Coyote Point Recreation Area, which is home to CuriOdessey, San Mateo’s only science and nature museum, as well as several beautiful hiking and biking trails and a small strip of beach in which your kids can splash and toss pebbles. Note that because this playground is within a county park, a $6 per-car entry fee is required.

1701 Coyote Point Dr.
San Mateo, Ca
650-573-2592
Cost: $6 per car
Online: smcgov.org

Paddock Park
This park is brand new and sits in the middle of the also-new Bay Meadows housing development. It’s not on the mommy radar quite yet, as it’s in the middle of a mass construction zone, but it won’t be long before it becomes super popular. For one, it’s fully enclosed. It also boasts a play structure for every age group, a great restroom (changing table!) and a clean and working water fountain. Adjacent, there is also an expansive lawn perfect for festivals and general running amuck. Each Monday from 3-5 p.m., Paddock hosts Momdays, providing live music, entertainment like magicians or puppet shows, and a great opportunity to connect with fellow parents.

28th Ave. & Paddock Way
San Mateo, Ca
650-522-7400
Online: cityofsanmateo.org

Junior Gym 
Flip off a springboard, somersault down a wedge mat, try your hand at the rings, balance on a beam, or fly through the air on the zip line. This is one super fun spot for your kids to burn off some energy and develop balance coordination in the process. Junior Gym offers drop-in play daily as well as small group classes, day camps and hosts jumpin’ birthday parties. Best of all, it’s family owned and operated and the owners lead most of the group classes.

811 S. B St.
San Mateo, Ca
650-548-9901
Hours: Mon.-Sun., 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Online: juniorgym.com

Safari Run
Your kids will have a blast at this jungle-themed indoor play space, shooting down slides, clambering up tunnels and getting lost and found in the giant maze. There’s a separate area for toddlers, a lounge for parents, plasma TVs in every room and free wi-fi, too. All this means there’s chance your kids can burn off some steam while you catch up on e-mails. There are plenty of drop-in playtimes daily, in addition to classes and camps.

341 N. Amphlett Blvd.
San Mateo, Ca
650-342-1977
Hours: Open play times vary, please visit website for more information
Cost: $8/hr
Online: safarirun.com

Scribble Me HappyPhoto: Scribble Me Happy


Create

Scribble Me Happy 
This art studio was born as a response to budget cuts in local school based art programs, and from the love of art of two best friends. You can feel the love and the creative energy the minute you walk through their door and into this pretty, bright, pastel-accented space. One thing you’ll also notice is how spotless this place is—you won’t be afraid to have a seat in the kiddie chairs here! Register for one of their seasonally inspired classes (currently Winter Art and upcoming Valentine Art) or drop-in for the weekly Mommy and Me art class, although reservations are recommended, as this one tends to fill up. Also offered are classes taught in French that include a French-inspired art project, and sewing classes for adults. We think they should teach a class on how to keep a children’s art space looking as crisp, clean and pretty as they do!

411 S. B St.
San Mateo, Ca
650-343-4119
Hours: Tue.-Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; Closed Mon.
Online: scribblemehappy.com

CuriOdessey

Photo: CuriOdessey

Explore 

Coyote Point Recreational Area 
This county park has lots to offer, all within the setting of a beautiful nature preserve. You can see Coyote Point as you’re coming in for a land at SFO; its green space stands out amid the concrete build-up of surrounding suburbia. You definitely feel like you’re out of the city once you enter the gates, though. Past the playgrounds and strip of beach to the left, you’ll start winding up towards CuriOdessey and through a Eucalyptus grove. Signs will direct you towards the marina, the museum, or one of seven hiking/biking trails. This rec area is also popular with windsurfers, which makes for colorful viewing on breezy days.

1701 Coyote Point Dr.
San Mateo, Ca
650-573-2592
Cost: $6 per car
Online: smcgov.org

CuriOdessey 
San Mateans are beyond blessed to have this museum in their backyard: this place is seriously cool, and so much fun for the entire family. The science exhibit is hands-on learning at its finest.  Kids can see the science behind waves, build a thingamajig at the pipes and fittings table, and work together to maneuver marbles through gears and cranks on the giant interactive marble run, then go watch honeybees coming-and-going through a clear tube connecting their clear hive to the great outdoors. Outside you’ll find an impressive collection of small wild animals, going about their business for all to see. Watch the bobcats swinging in their hammocks; the raccoons, Tilly and Pebbles, splashing around in their creek; the coyote canvassing his perimeter and the otters splashing playfully. There are lots of other animals on display here, too: owls, snakes, frogs, birds, and even a banana slug, to name a few. Outside food is allowed here, and picnics are encouraged in the designated area.

1651 Coyote Point Dr.
San Mateo, Ca
650-342-7755
Hours: Tues.-Sun., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Closed Mon.
Cost: $7/Adults, $7/children (13-17), $6/children (2-12), FREE/children 0-23 mos.; check calendar for FREE Community Days
Online: Curiodessey.org

 

Ravioli House

Photo: Heather Rodgers

Eat

Pizza My Heart 
Sure, it’s a chain, but they’ve got the whole pizza thing down, and on Tuesdays from 4-8 p.m., bring your kids in to make their very own pie, starting with fresh dough and ending with their choice of toppings. The newfangled touch-screen soda machine is a fun one, too.

140 E. 4th Ave.
San Mateo, Ca
650-344-9800
Hours: Mon.-Sun., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Cost: $7/make your own pizza including drink and T-shirt
Online: pizzamyheart.com

Pancho Villa
Sister to the San Francisco location, this taqueria was once described as “the French Laundry of taquerias.” Tacos, quesadillas, super burritos-all served out quick and fresh.  It’s also vegetarian-friendly, has a substantial salsa bar from which you san sample, and a juice bar in the back that cranks out amazing Agua Frescas. Be warned, peak lunch hours can be loco. Plan your visit accordingly.

365 B St.
San Mateo, Ca
650-343-4123
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Online: smpanchovilla.com 

The Ravioli House
You can probably guess what’s the main dish here: homemade pillows of pasta, stuffed with everything from cheese, to spicy sausage, seafood and veggies. It is delicious and it is fresh, and if your kid likes pasta, you can bet he’ll like this place. One order of this perfection can feed a few kids (they’ll split one order into smaller portions, just ask), so this is one meal that won’t break the bank. Also on the menu are sky-high deli sandwiches and a cooler full of specialty sodas like ginger root beer and sarsaparilla soda. Also awesome? You can get sheets of the frozen ravs and containers of their amazing sauce to-go for a quick and restaurant-quality meal at home.

505 B St.
San Mateo, Ca
650-344-7433
Hours: Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sat., 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Online: theraviolihouse.com

Heidi’s Pies
To call Heidi’s Pies a diner would be quite an understatement, but that’s the feel you get when you walk in and notice the classic padded bar stools and counter service. Belly up for novelty’s sake, or grab a table and prepare to be impressed when your server plunks down a kid’s menu/activity booklet that is about as fancy as any we’ve seen. There will be no issues finding fare for even the most finicky eaters here: smiley-face pancakes and chicken fingers served with milkshakes… dinner done!

1941 El Camino Real
San Mateo, Ca
650-574-0505
Hours: 24/7/365 – Yep, even on Christmas
Online: heidispies.com

Sharona's
Photo: Sharona’s Chocolates

 

Sweets

Dessert Republic 
As the name implies, this place has a fine selection of super fun desserts, some of which are designed to look like anything but. Highlights include the Cheesecake Ramen (looks just like a bowl of ramen complete with a fried “egg” on top—all sweets, all delicious) and the Tiramisu Pot (comes out as a “potted plant” a.k.a. mint, with crushed cookie dirt and pop rocks garnish). It’s just plain fun to come here and behold these creative and tasty concoctions. There’s also a full menu including dozens of rice and noodle dishes, tofu and dim sum. If your kids have any self-control (insert LOL here) let them take turns using the button at your table for beckoning your server. It never gets old buzzing for more ice cream!

138 Main St.
San Mateo, Ca
650-401-3570
Hours: Tue.-Thurs. & Sun., 5 p.m.-11 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 5 p.m.-1 a.m.; Closed Mon.
Online: dessertrepublic.com

Sharona’s Chocolate Shop
Are you the parent of a chocoholic? Do you know someone who is? The confections they’re hand crafting at this chocolatier will give any sweet tooth the satisfaction it’s craving, and you won’t believe what they’re coming up with here. Think all the classics like truffles and peanut butter cups, to the following items smothered in chocolate: rice krispie treats, caramel apples, s’mores and even chocolate covered bacon and potato chips! Just try making it out of here with under a pound of SOMETHING. You can also book a fondue party. Dip, dip…horray!

128 E. 3rd Ave.
San Mateo, Ca
650-348-3128
Hours: Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sun. 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Online: sharonaschocolateshop.com

CREAM 
Cookies Rule Everything Around Me. This cookies-n-ice-cream franchise is popping up all over the Bay Area, and now it can call San Mateo home, too. It’s really very simple here. Select from one of 10 types of homemade cookies, then pick a flavor of ice cream in which to be sandwiched, then add some toppings. Bam! You have your own personalized ice cream sandwich. Also to try: ice cream tacos.

134 S. B St.
San Mateo, Ca
650-344-2736
Hours: Mon.-Thurs., 12 p.m.-12 a.m.; Fri.-Sat., 12 p.m.-1 a.m.; Sun., 12 p.m.-11 p.m.
Online: creamnation.com

Sidewalk Juice, SF, Peninsula
Photo:  Sidewalk Juice

Sip

Sidewalk Juice
This popular San Francisco juice bar can now be found at a sidewalk near you! Who needs a milkshake when there are smoothies on the menu like Chocolate Strawberry (chocolate soy milk, strawberries, Nutella, vanilla fro yo and ice)? While your kid guzzles that deliciousness down, go ahead and treat yourself to the Green Energy (spinach, parsley, kale, celery, cucumber, apple, lemon and ginger… whew!). After that powerful punch, you won’t feel guilty for sipping down the remainder of your kid’s chocolate smoothie. Why waste?

212 E. 3rd Ave.
San Mateo, Ca
650-548-5363
Hours: Mon.-Sun. 8 a.m.-7 p.m.
Online: sidewalk-juice.com

3 Bee’s Coffee House 
This cozy coffee house is a great place to stop in for a warm up during these chilly days of winter. Family run and family friendly, the owner, Rafat, will likely be your barista; serving up amazing lattes and chai teas, among many other specialty beverages. Warm up your wee ones with creamy hot chocolate loaded with whipped cream and select from lots of little bites for your whole crew to enjoy like bagels, cookies, muffins and pastries.
224 E. 3rd Ave.
San Mateo, Ca
650-344-2339
Hours: Mon.-Thurs., 6:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri., 6:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Sat., 7 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Sun., 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
Online: 3beescoffee.com

Talbots

Photo: Heather Rodgers

Shop

Talbot’s Toyland
Toyland?  More like ToyWORLD.  Be prepared to be blown away by the size of this toy store, as well as the vast selection of kid stuff. And, while the mere idea of a trip to the toy store with tots in-tow can brew anxiety in even the most zen mama, you’ll have a shot here at a tantrum-free trip as kids are welcome to play in the outdoor cottage display, lay some tracks on the train table or cook up some imaginary edibles in the play kitchen. Head over to the hobby shop and watch your kids race mini Lamborghini around the electric track, then wind down on your way out at the wind-up toy race track, where you and your kids can test out the wacky wind-ups like classic chattering teeth and chimps banging cymbals. Before you know it, you’ve gotten everybody out the door, tears not included. Speaking of no-tears, Talbot’s will also assemble (you’re welcome, dad), deliver, gift wrap, and even store your purchased toys. Some fees may apply.

445 S. B St.
San Mateo, Ca
650-931-8100
Hours: Mon.-Sat., 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Online: talbotstoyland.com

Once Upon A Child 
Bay Area residents love to recycle, with no exception to baby and kid’s gear. At OUAC you can find gently used kid’s items at a fraction of the cost to buy new, ranging from clothing and toys to baby essentials like electric swings and bouncy seats. It’s also a great option for those fleeting seasonal needs like Halloween costumes, dance wear, snow gear and swimwear.

1878 S. Norfolk St.
San Mateo, Ca
650-458-3595
Hours: Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sat. 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sun., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Online: onceuponachild.com

Hillsdale Shopping Center
There is so much inside this mall for you and your little ones to do, see, and buy! Make sure to join their free Kid’s Club program to get offers and special invitations to events like the upcoming Chinese New Year Festival where you can watch a performance by the Red Panda Acrobats of San Francisco, try on one of their elaborate costumes, then make a Chinese lantern to take home. For some retail therapy, kid favorites include the Lego Store (your little engineers can busy themselves at the build-it station), Sanrio (Hello, Kitty!) and Build-A-Bear (the fluff machine is always fun!).

Sixty 31st Ave.
San Mateo, Ca
650-345-8222
Hours: Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Online: hillsdale.com

San Mateo Farmer’s Market
There are over 100 vendors that participate in this mammoth of a market held at the College of San Mateo, and yes, you CAN do this one with kids. How? Head to the back of the market first, where the bakery is, to start off with a soft pretzel to share, then do some browsing/buying. Along the way, enjoy many free samples of everything from fruit and veggies to baked goods. Next, find the balloon artist, have him twist up a balloon minion or wiener dog, load up on more goodies, then find the kettle corn… repeat! You won’t even have to go home and scramble to make lunch, although with a tasty lineup of food trucks on site, you might want to pause for a bite. Add in live music, and this is a really fun morning out. Tip: to avoid high-traffic, show up 20 minutes early as most vendors are ready to vend by then; or show up late, when 30 minutes before closing, many fresh items are marked down for a quick sale.

1700 W. Hillsdale Blvd.
San Mateo, Ca
925-825-9090
Hours: Saturdays, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Online: pcfma.com

—Heather Rodgers

Where do you like to go in San Mateo? Let us know in the comments below!