Geography About San Mateo, CA

San Mateo is a vibrant, coastal city located in California’s San Francisco Bay Area. With its mild climate, excellent schools, and proximity to major tech hubs like Silicon Valley, it’s no wonder San Mateo is such a desirable place to live and work.

In this in-depth guide, we’ll explore the unique geography of San Mateo and what makes this city tick.

Location and Regional Context

San Mateo is situated on the San Francisco Peninsula, approximately 20 miles south of San Francisco. It’s borders include the cities of Burlingame to the north, Foster City and San Francisco Bay to the east, Belmont to the south, and Highlands-Baywood Park to the west.

As part of San Mateo County, the city is considered part of the Greater Bay Area and the San Francisco Bay Area metropolitan regions. Some key facts about San Mateo’s location:

  • Located in the San Francisco Peninsula between San Francisco and Silicon Valley
  • 20 miles south of San Francisco
  • 30 miles north of San Jose
  • On the western shore of San Francisco Bay

This prime location has enabled San Mateo to develop into a thriving hub that balances both urban amenities and suburban neighborhoods. The city acts as a connector between the major tech center of Silicon Valley and the cosmopolitan offerings of San Francisco.

Cityscape and Layout

San Mateo covers an area of 15.7 square miles. It has a population density of 7,123 people per square mile.

The city has a typical grid-style street layout. Many of the neighborhoods feature tree-lined streets with single-family homes. Towards the eastern side of the city, you’ll find more densely populated areas with apartment buildings and condos.

Some of the main thoroughfares in San Mateo include El Camino Real, Hillsdale Boulevard, 3rd and 4th Avenues, and Delaware Street. These major streets are lined with shops, restaurants, and office buildings.

The downtown area is centered around Railroad Avenue and B Street. This historic district features a pedestrian-friendly environment with local boutiques, cafes, and dining options. Visitors will also find the San Mateo City Hall located downtown.

San Mateo does not have clearly defined neighborhood boundaries, but some of the main residential areas include Central Park, Beresford Park, Shoreview, and Hillsdale. The Bay Meadows neighborhood is home to many retail stores and businesses.

Topography and Geology

San Mateo’s landscape consists of gently rolling hills that slope towards the San Francisco Bay. Elevations range from sea level along the bay to over 150 feet above sea level in the western parts of the city.

The underlying geology is dominated by sedimentary bedrock. During the Pleistocene epoch, massive glaciers carved through the landscape, leaving behind deposits of gravel, silt, and clay. This created the hilly terrain you see today throughout the Coastal Range region.

Earthquakes are a natural hazard in the area. San Mateo lies on the San Andreas Fault zone and experiences seismic activity from time to time. The infamous 1906 San Francisco earthquake caused major damage in the city. While earthquakes are rare, the soil composition makes the area susceptible to liquefaction during strong seismic events.

Climate and Weather Patterns

San Mateo enjoys a Mediterranean climate characterized by cool, wet winters and warm, dry summers. The proximity to San Francisco Bay has a moderating effect that keeps temperatures comfortable year-round.

Some key aspects of San Mateo’s climate:

  • Average summer highs in the 70s°F
  • Average winter lows in the 40s°F
  • Average annual precipitation of 20 inches
  • Peak rainy season from November to March
  • Occasional fog from bay during summer
  • Rare extreme temps over 90°F or under 30°F

The weather is strongly influenced by the Pacific Ocean current, which keeps the marine air mild. The Northern California coastal area lacks extreme seasonal variation seen in other parts of the country.

While the city only gets about 20 inches of rain annually, rainfall can vary substantially from year to year. Long-term weather patterns like El Nino and La Nina can bring especially wet or dry years.

Hydrology of Creeks, Lakes and Watersheds

Despite its bayfront location, San Mateo has relatively few natural sources of surface water within the city limits. Several small creeks and watersheds are present, including Laurel Creek, San Mateo Creek, and Marina Lagoon. These aquatic features drain precipitation from the western hills toward the bay.

The Laguna Vista neighborhood contains several freshwater lakes that provide habitat for waterfowl. These lakes were developed artificially through damming projects in the past century.

In the east, San Mateo borders the Steinberger Slough, a wetland environment connected to San Francisco Bay. The shoreline here consists of tidal marshes and mudflats, offering recreation and wildlife viewing.

San Mateo’s drinking water supply is managed by the City Public Works Department and originates from reservoirs in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The water is piped from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite over 160 miles to the Bay Area. This pristine water source undergoes filtration and treatment before distribution.

Natural Vegetation and Wildlife

The natural habitats of San Mateo are typical of the California coastal sage scrub community. Prior to development, the landscape consisted of dense scrub vegetation on hillsides with wetland areas near creeks and sloughs.

Some native plants found in the city include coyote brush, California sagebrush, bush monkeyflower, and Douglas iris. Unfortunately, very little of the native flora remains due to the urbanization of the Peninsula. Efforts have been made to restore native plants in certain parks and protected areas.

Wildlife is also limited but residents may spot birds like California towhees, lesser goldfinches, and chestnut-backed chickadees. Red-tailed hawks and great blue herons frequent the shoreline. Further inland, mammals like skunks, raccoons, and opossums may venture into neighborhoods.

Environmental Efforts and Sustainability Practices

As a modern city, San Mateo aims to be at the forefront of sustainable practices that protect the area’s remaining natural resources.

Some of the major environmental initiatives include:

  • City-sponsored volunteer habitat restoration days to improve wildlife areas
  • Adoption of renewable energy sources like wind and solar
  • Promotion of green transportation like bicycling and public transit
  • Extensive recycling and composting programs to reduce waste
  • Water conservation and pollution reduction policies
  • Green building standards for new construction and remodels
  • Commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions city-wide

Through both government and grassroots efforts, San Mateans are working to ensure their city remains clean, green, and sustainable for future generations. The natural landscape has played a key role in the area’s growth and continues to enhance the community’s identity today.

Parks and Open Spaces

Despite being an urban area, San Mateo offers residents plentiful parks and open spaces to enjoy the outdoors. Some of the top parks include:

Central Park – A 30-acre community park with playgrounds, tennis courts, a lake, and a Japanese tea garden. Home to the popular San Mateo Outdoor Art and Music Festival.

Beresford Park – 27 acres right along San Francisco Bay. Features biking trails, fishing piers, and spectacular bay views.

Sugarloaf Mountain – A 64-acre park with a 1.5-mile hiking trail up to the peak of this prominent hill. Offers panoramic vistas.

Coyote Point Park – Over 600 acres of wetlands, trails, beaches, and gardens at the county park level. Includes a promenade, sailing lake, and recreation areas.

Ryder Park – Quiet neighborhood park with a dog-friendly trail encircling a pond. Popular for birdwatching.

San Mateo also contains portions of the San Francisco Bay Trail which will eventually allow people to walk 500 miles around the entire bay. Residents take full advantage of the area’s natural amenities.


In this guide, we explored the diverse geographical features that define San Mateo, from its mild Mediterranean climate to its rolling hill terrain.

The city strikes a healthy balance between urban conveniences and access to nature. While planted in the tech-hub culture of Silicon Valley, San Mateo retains a certain small-town charm.

Its geography both shapes and reflects the community’s spirit as a welcoming, progressive Bay Area town that promises both opportunity and tranquility.

Whether you’re a resident looking to rediscover your hometown or a visitor seeking a coastal California escape, San Mateo’s geography helps make the city a remarkable place to call home.


Monday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Tuesday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Wednesday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Thursday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Friday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Saturday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Sunday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM

Contact Us.

Get Solutions For All Fencing Services

Every day from

9:00 — 5:00

Call to ask any question



  • Starting downtown, head north on South B Street then make a left on East 4th Ave followed by a right on South Delaware Street. Turn left on 9th Avenue and arrive shortly on the right.
  • Coming from Highway 101 North, take the CA-92 West exit then turn left on Delaware Street and right on 9th Avenue, arriving soon after on the right side.
  • From Hayward Park Station, walk northwest on West Hillsdale Boulevard, turn right on Norfolk Street followed by a left on 9th Avenue. 812 will be on the left side.