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Japanese Tea Garden, Lighthouses Add Culture to Fun in Beach Town

Central Park
Central Park

The hardest part about relaxing in San Mateo is deciding where to do it.

The coastal town plays host to all the usual suspects: beaches, lighthouses and golf courses. But there are a few surprises, if you know where to look.

Central Park may sound like your standard stroller-pushing, picnic-munching haven, but it’s so much more than that. The Japanese Tea Garden within is newly renovated and home to a granite pagoda, a teahouse, lanterns and bamboo groves. The San Mateo Arboretum is another unique feature of the park.

The Ano Nuevo State Reserve is the largest mainland breeding area for elephant seals in California. The reserve offers guided walks for $2 annually December 15 through March 31.

Just south of San Francisco International Airport, Coyote Point Park is the perfect spot to unfurl a blanket and watch the planes fly over. The 670-acre park that juts into the bay also features playgrounds, beaches, large lawns, a marina and yacht club, a fishing jetty, a nature museum and a public firing range.

If you’re looking to spend your weekend a little more traditionally, pack your sunscreen and sandwiches and hit the water at the San Mateo County beaches or the Half Moon Bay Coastside. The waterfront neighborhoods also offer many non-beach activities, including fine restaurants and walking trails. Half Moon Bay Coastside is also the site of the annual Pumpkin Festival in October.

Along the water, lighthouses are a perennial attraction. The Point Montara Lighthouse, which was built in 1875 and served as a naval training base during World War II, is now a hostel. Pigeon Point Lighthouse is one of the tallest in the U.S. and was built in 1872. Tours are given every Sunday year round and Saturdays through the summer.

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