San Mateo County, a gorgeous area of northern California, approximately an hour south of San Francisco, has a wide and beguiling variety of things to do, activities to experience and places to see—stunning golf courses, superb cuisine, delightful farms, and romantic wineries, all of which belie its rather dry reputation as a kind of techie wonderland.
It is, for example, home to at least a handful of American’s most fascinating museums. The Computer History Museum in Mountain View is a gleaming, architecturally futuristic place that provides an eye-opening journey through 200 years (that’s right: 200) of computer history. Also fun for young and old alike is the Hiller Aviation Museum, which is to airplanes what the American Museum of Natural History in New York is to dinosaurs; it’s that definitive.
Another noteworthy place of interest is the Filoli Center, a magnificent 654-acre estate built in 1915 by William Bower Bourn II. The 36,000-sq.-ft. home, comprising 43 rooms, 17 bathrooms, 17 fireplaces and 17-ft.-high ceilings, is surrounded by 16 acres of formal gardens, world-renowned for their extraordinary beauty. And at famed Stanford University, the Cantor Arts Center’s collection of Rodin bronzes is among the largest in the world outside Paris.
Activities, Plus Those Views
There are activities aplenty in San Mateo. One of the more challenging is a hike up the Sweeney Ridge Trail in Monterey, famous for being the very spot where Spanish explorer Captain Juan Gaspar de Portolá discovered San Francisco Bay. For golfing enthusiasts, the Half Moon Bay Golf Links is one of the more spectacular golf courses in the United States, originally designed in 1973 in consultation with Arnold Palmer and subsequently redesigned in 1999 by Arthur Hills. It’s a Silver Medal Winner for “Best Resorts in the United States” and the only four-star recipient on both courses from Golf Digest’s “Places to Play in the San Francisco Bay Area.”
The spectacular Pacific Coast Highway, running along some of the most beautiful coastlines in the world, affords countless aquatic activities, including some wonderful kayaking. At California Canoe & Kayak, there are a variety of kayaking classes, ranging from private instruction to group tours, from launching and landing, bracing in breaking waves, and understanding wave dynamics. It’s an economical ($49 per day) way to check out sea kayaking and enjoy the natural setting of the coast side region of Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay.
Spectacular Regional Cuisine
For the oenophiles among you, the Thomas Fogarty Winery in Woodside, situated only 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean, is a peaceful, gentle hilltop retreat sure to warm the hearts of all visitors wise enough to make a trek up a steep hill, topped by some truly gorgeous views of the Bay area. It’s the perfect environment for a wedding or anniversary celebration, and a great place to stop before dinner.
Another unusual way to whet your appetite and have fun at the same time is a visit to Harley Farms Goat Dairy, located just off the Pacific Coast Highway in picturesque Pescadero, an eight-year winner at the American Cheese Society awards. Harley Farms is especially fun for children, who will especially love getting up close and personal with some 200 American Alpine goats and their babies. It’s also a goat-cheese lover’s idea of heaven.
As for that nagging appetite, there are myriad choices from which to choose in San Mateo County, among them Sam’s Chowder House in Half Moon Bay, winner of San Francisco Baylist’s 2011 “Best Dining in the Bay Area,” and “Best Seafood in the Bay Area.” This historic and hugely popular restaurant serves scrumptious seafood in the New England tradition, highlighted by its Lobster Roll, named one of the five “Best Sandwiches in America” by the Today Show. And if you can’t get enough of Sam’s fantastic variety of fish, a visit to Nick’s Seafood Restaurant in Pacifica will also immerse you in the seaside atmosphere of the Pacific Ocean, serving wonderfully fresh seafood while you listen to seagulls admidst the crashing of the waves on the coast—a great place to unwind.
It would be easy—and criminally insane—to miss a truly extraordinary Indian restaurant, All Spice, a magical restaurant that serves some of the most mouth-watering, visually beautiful and adventurous cuisine—Indian or otherwise—this reporter has ever encountered. Whatever your preconceptions about Indian cuisine, do yourself a favor and put them aside; All Spice may just change your mind forever. And in the heart of Redwood City, the elegant Donato Enoteca serves contemporary Italian cuisine that changes weekly, determined by the freshest available seasonal produce. Dishes from all over Italy will appeal to every taste, whether it is for wood-oven pizza, meat, fish or pasta. A wrap-around patio affords guests the opportunity to dine under the stars, under shade umbrellas and heat lamps. Another excellent choice for the discerning diner is Saint Michael’s Alley, located in a chic neighborhood in Palo Alto. Open since 1959, the restaurant is one of the established restaurants in the Bay Area, serving seasonal California cuisine in an elegant and casual setting.
If unwinding for an hour or two over cocktails or craft beer at a super-cool hangout catches your fancy, you’ll do no better than to stop by the Barrelhouse Bar in Burlingame, a hip, sophisticated place to have a drink, indoors or out, and the owners/hosts Juan Loredo and Jose Navidad couldn’t be more welcoming.
Where to stay?
Little more than a short walk from St. Michael’s restaurant in Palo Alto is one of the Bay Area’s most elegant and luxurious hotels, The Garden Court. The hotel opened in 1986 and offers 62 guest rooms and one penthouse suite. In 2010 the hotel underwent a $9 million renovation, and the result is a gracious example of contemporary, chic design, charm, luxurious amenities, all in an ideal location. Many of the staff have been with the hotel for more than 10 years. It shows.
An entirely different, unusual place to stay in the San Mateo area is the Costanoa Lodge and Camp, which features a variety of outdoor activities, allowing guests to retreat from the chaos of everyday life and discover the pace of nature. The accommodations include a main lodge, cabins (some with fireplaces), and tents.
San Mateo County Silicon Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau, www.smccvb.com; Hiller Aviation Institute Museum, www.hiller.org; All Spice, www.allspicerestaurant.com; Thomas Fogerty Winery and Vineyards, www.fogartywinery.com; California Canoe & Kayak, www.calkayak.com; Sam’s Chowder House, www.samschowderhouse.com; Costanoa Lodge & Camp, www.costanoa.com; Cantor Arts Center,www.stanford.edu; Harley Farms Goat Dairy, www.harleyfarms.com; Half Moon Bay Golf Links,www.halfmoonbaygolf.com; Donata Enoteca, www.donatoenoteca.com; St. Michael’s Alley, www.stmikes.com; Barrelhouse, www.barrelhouse.com; Sweeney Ridge Trail, www.nps.gov/goga/planyourvisit/upload/sb-sweeney-2008.pdf; Computer History Museum, www.computerhistory.org