Just 10 miles south of San Francisco you’ll find the quiet, unspoiled coastline of San Mateo County.
It is a stark contrast from the bustling technology hubs of Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Redwood City, Cupertino, and Mountain View.
What to see, do and eat on this route, featuring wild coastlines, enchanting wineries and small towns
On this southerly route, the urban landscape gives way to farms and forests ringed by mountain peaks.
As you take in the breathtaking views, the ocean breezes seem to caress your senses like a healing balm.
Things to do in San Mateo County
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This drive should take about an hour unless you stop to enjoy the delicious eats available in the little towns along the way, which coupled with the sheer beauty have helped make this area so popular.
Don't Miss These Coastal Towns On Your Next Trip To San Francisco
Experiencing the Coastal Route
There’s usually more than one way to reach a specific destination – in this case, San Mateo – but when it comes to this coastline, the slow scenic route is the best way.
This stretch of Pacific Coast is exciting and filled with unique experiences as you pass rocky cliffs which give way to small towns and back to roughed coast.
During our road trip, we chose three towns to explore and their surrounding vicinity.
The sleepy town of Pacifica is unique as it spreads across 6 miles in the pristine San Mateo Valley.
With Montara Mountain to the south, beaches and rocky bluffs to the west, this town has become a big draw for tourists and families.
It’s a popular mountain biking destination and there are many hiking trails leading to panoramic views.
There’s also good fishing for Striped Bass and Salmon or golf at Sharp Park Golf Course designed by world-renown architect Alister MacKenzie.
One of the most scenic spots is Rockaway Beach. If you’re into surfing, grab your board and head to Linda Mar Beach.
Breathtaking Coastal Ocean Views
It’s not every day that you get to enjoy the phenomenal views of coastal California, but we did many times on this road trip.
In every town along our way, we made a point of pulling over just to experience the salty air and beautiful ocean views – they go on for mile after breathtaking mile.
Moonraker Restaurant has one of the most amazing locations on the Pacific Ocean coast!
Floor to ceiling windows provides a mesmerizing view of the ocean and distance surfers riding the waves.
The interior has retro accents but remains classic, modern and comfortable; there are texturized treatments throughout the restaurant, giving a weathered, ocean-side feel.
The menu features classic seafood dishes with a modern twist, local wines and beers. This would be an outstanding date spot.
Try the Dungeness Crab Cakes with summer vegetables or the seared rare Ahi Tuna, and don’t forget the oyster bar, always a favourite.
Located in Pacifica, Tripps Distillery brews small batch alcohol the old-fashioned way.
Owner Jason Tripp a refugee from Silicon Valley is passionate about his business. Housed in a warehouse unit, the distillery produces Whisky, Vodka, Rum and Gin.
Tastings are on offer with Tripp explaining how each batch is made. On Friday nights, the distillery is a great stop for cocktails, live music and a food truck featuring different eats each week.
Half Moon Bay
This small city is located close to the Purisima Creek Redwoods where you can see trees that appear to touch the sky.
After exploring the redwoods, head to one of the popular beaches like Half Moon Bay State Beach, Poplar Beach, and Dunes Beach to enjoy the sun and sand.
Picture perfect Main street is lined with galleries, restaurants and shops.
Horseback ride along a scenic beach, play golf on a spectacular course overlooking the ocean or browse through the numerous shops and art galleries in the historic section.
Devil's Slide Trail
The Devil’s Slide Trail is a 1.3 mile trail that eventually allows you to access the Devil’s Slide, which is located right above the Pacific Ocean.
The trail lies south of Pacifica and north of Half Moon Bay.
Don’t worry, you won’t actually slide down a trail. This is one natural beauty you must see and experience.
Another gem located in Half Moon Bay is known as the Barterra Winery, where they bottle premium wines (Napa Valley, Sonoma, Carneros, Amador, Lodi and Madera) under their label.
The business was built from the ground up by the founders, Bart and Mary Colluci, in 2005. They established relationships with wineries and selecting premium wines to bottle.
Bart Colluci learned about the wine making process from his grandfather who came to America in 1905, establishing a better life for his family.
With a nose for fine wines, the Colluci’s established a wine club so aficionados could buy the best for their collection and consumption.
In 2019, Ginger Minoletti along with her son Paul purchased Barterra Winery. The Minoletti’s run a travel agency in town and saw an opportunity to continue the legacy of Barterra Winery.
San Mateo Award-Winning Wines
Here are some of their award-winning premium wines you should sample:
- Alexander Valley cabernet – medal winner
- 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir – Double Gold, San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition
- 2010 Old Vine Zinfandel – Double Gold and Best of Class, Amador County Fair
- 2010 Chardonnay – Silver, Finger Lakes International Wine Competition
Flying Fish Bar & Grill
Another great stop for a seafood fix is the Flying Fish Bar and Grill in Half Moon Bay.
It’s ranked as #9 for America’s Best Fish and Chips and you can also get killer fish tacos (fresh cod, mahimahi and salmon) or a delicious crab melt and don’t overlook the margaritas.
The restaurant has friendly staff and a tropical vibe with bamboo, murals and tiki overtones.
Granola’s Coffee House
This coffee house is a great place to fuel up with breakfast or lunch and it’s known for the best homemade granola you’ve ever had.
Try one their breakfast sandwiches or a bowl of granola loaded with fruit.
Located about 14 miles from Half Moon Bay, Pescadero is a rural community offering restaurants, shopping, markets, & farms.
The city has a small main street and is located close to the Pescadero Marsh, a popular place for ranching.
It’s a big draw for tourists during the summer due to the beautiful beaches which include Pescadero State Beach and Bean Hollow State Beach.
Here’s a quirky point, the residents have a tradition of painting their houses white; apparently a large quantity of white paint was recovered from a shipwreck in the 1800’s – thus the tradition began.
Arcangeli Grocery Co – Norms Market
If you’re headed for a picnic or on an excursion, this is the place to stock up on food and delectable treats.
Another fine establishment, Arcangeli Grocery Co. – Norms Market, is located in Pescadero.
You’ll find that they make the best asparagus bread, sandwiches and other prepared foods in this quaint town.
Pigeon Point Lighthouse
Don’t miss stopping at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse, , also located in Pescadero.
Built in 1871 to help guide vessels on the Pacific Ocean, it now serves as an amazing historical reminder.
It’s also been noted as the tallest lighthouse on the West Coast!
Harley Farms Dairy
Located in Pescadero, the Harley Farms Dairy is the place to go if you’re in the mood for some of the best goat cheese in the region.
You’ll get the experience of a lifetime as these alpine goats have a lot to offer; 200 of them, from babies to adult animals, roam freely over the 9-acre farm.
The farm started with just 6 pet goats and today Harley Farms is open year-round for farm and dairy tours, retreats, and events which can be held in their atmospheric hayloft.
This would make a great family destination as you can watch the goats get milked, wander amongst them, or take a tour with David Hope and learn all the history of the farm.
Where to Stay in San Mateo County
Half Moon Bay Inn in Half Moon Bay is a darling boutique hotel, a little bit of Europe, in the heart of town.
It was built in 1932 and recently renovated, but still full of old-world charm with its Spanish revival Architecture.
There are several styles of guestrooms which have luxurious beds with pillow-top mattresses, fine linens, and robes. They also have a few kitchen suites and villas with all the comforts imaginable enabling you to move in for a week or a few months.
This Inn is just a stroll from shops, some of the best restaurants and close to Coastal Route 1.
The entire California coastal drive would take you about ten hours non-stop.
But this is not a trip to rush; the magnificent views and salty ocean air should be savoured, so take the time to fully appreciate all that is offered.