The Peninsula (or San Francisco Peninsula) region of the San Francisco Bay Area lies immediately south of the City and County of San Francisco—reaching from its famous neighbor to the north into the high-tech region of Silicon Valley. For purposes of this travel guide, the Peninsula is synonymous with San Mateo County. While many of the Peninsula's residents work and play to the north or south, the Peninsula has its attractions, including some beautiful wilderness areas.
The Peninsula has two coasts—one on the San Francisco Bay, the other on the Pacific Ocean—but few major cities or ports. The Santa Cruz Mountains divide the region in half north-south, with a large wilderness area that's great for hiking and mountain biking.
- 1 Belmont
- 2 Brisbane
- 3 Burlingame
- 4 Colma
- 5 Daly City
- 6 East Palo Alto
- 7 El Granada
- 8 Foster City
- 9 Half Moon Bay
- 10 Hillsborough
- 11 Menlo Park
- 12 Millbrae
- 13 Moss Beach
- 14 Pacifica
- 15 Pescadero
- 16 Portola Valley
- 17 Redwood City
- 18 San Bruno
- 19 San Carlos
- 20 San Mateo
- 21 South San Francisco
- 22 Woodside
The Bay Area has three major commercial airports:
- The San Francisco International Airport (SFO IATA) is on the Peninsula near Millbrae and San Bruno.
- The Oakland International Airport (OAK IATA) is across the bay near Alameda and southern Oakland.
- The San Jose International Airport (SJC IATA) is at the bay's southern end between Santa Clara and northern San Jose.
All three airports are served by public transportation. The regional metro-rail service BART runs directly to SFO and connects to the commuter rail line Caltrain, as does the San Mateo County bus service SamTrans. The East Bay bus service AC Transit and a connecting bus to BART, AirBART, run to OAK. Santa Clara County's Valley Transportation Authority runs a bus (Line 10) connecting SJC with Caltrain and that county's light rail and bus system.
Motorists can reach the Peninsula from OAK by crossing the bay on the Bay Bridge (Interstate 80, to the north), the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge (Highway 92, to the south), or the Dumbarton Bridge (Highway 84, farther to the south). These are all toll bridges, and most of them cost $7 as of 2022. From SJC, drivers can take Highway 87 to US-101 northward, although avoiding 101's rush-hour traffic is often recommended. (For longer trips northward, try the scenic, parallel Interstate 280.)
- See also: Bay Area public transit
It is served by San Francisco International Airport (SFO), but Oakland Airport and San Jose Airport also offer alternatives.
This commuter railroad runs up and down the peninsula between San Francisco and San Jose, stopping at most major towns and serving the San Jose International Airport (via a short transit bus at Santa Clara station). Some trains continue further south to Gilroy. It runs 7 days a week until about 1AM (10PM on Sundays). If you've missed the last Caltrain, local bus service is available all night.
BART serves a small portion of the peninsula, with some trains terminating at either San Francisco Airport or Millbrae. Caltrain and BART connect at Millbrae.
The San Mateo County Transit District runs extensive bus service throughout San Mateo county, plus overlaps in Palo Alto and San Francisco. Some bus routes run all night. Normal bus fare for local routes and routes to San Francisco is $2.25; fares on SamTrans routes from San San Francisco are $4.00; and Clipper card users get an approximate 10% discount ($2.05 and $3.60 respectively). Useful bus routes include:
- ECR - Palo Alto Caltrain to Daly City BART, along El Camino Real. Stops at Millbrae
- 397 - Late night service between San Francisco and Palo Alto Caltrain. Stops at most Caltrain stations - useful for when Caltrain has stopped running.
- KX - Express service from San Francisco to Palo Alto Caltrain, stopping at San Francisco Airport
- 292 - Downtown San Francisco to San Francisco Airport
The San Jose VTA runs buses throughout Santa Clara County, starting in Palo Alto. Normal bus fare is $2.00, express is $4.00, and Clipper is accepted. Routes that serve the Peninsula include:
- 22 - Palo Alto Caltrain to Downtown San Jose, along El Camino.
- 522 - Limited stop version of route 22 (still $2)
The two main highways running down the peninsula are U.S. 101 and I-280. If you are driving from San Francisco to Palo Alto or San Jose, take I-280. It is a beautiful drive, free of advertising, well above the wilderness area. If you must drive on 101, avoid rush hour - it will be slow in both directions. The drive along the coast on State Route 1 (the Cabrillo Highway) is a beautiful, yet slow drive.
Many streets throughout the Peninsula have designated bike lanes, helping make cycling on the peninsula safer and easier. Key north-south bike routes include Alameda de las Pulgas, Middlefield Avenue, and Cañada Road.
About 30% of the Peninsula is nature preserve, parkland, or otherwise undeveloped. There are many opportunities for hiking and mountain biking, all a short drive away. The transition from the crowded town along the eastern coast to empty wilderness is a rapid one! Most parks are managed by the Mid-Peninsula Open Space District, while some are part of local towns or counties. Almost every park permits mountain biking, and most allow horseback riding.
Some excellent destinations for hiking include:
- Monte Bello Open Space Preserve. Features open rolling grasslands and deep, cool river valleys. The views from atop Black Mountain can be excellent. Free.
- Purisima Creek Redwoods. A densely forested park, with large redwoods. Free.
- 1 Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve. Sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and Silicon Valley. Excellent in late winter and early spring when the wildflowers are in full bloom. Great place to watch the sunset. Free.
- 2 Sam McDonald Park. This park combines dense redwood groves adjacent to wide-open grasslands. A good choice if you can't make it to Muir Woods. $5.00.
- San Mateo County Parks.
Be careful to check for ticks after hiking in fields in the Bay Area. There is a high rate of Lyme disease transmission in the Bay Area. If a bulls' eye rash develops at the tick bite site, immediately seek medical help and treatment with antibiotics.
- San Francisco
- East Bay
- South Bay - The Peninsula's southern neighbor is home to Silicon Valley, headquarters to hundreds of tech companies including giants like Apple, Intel and Hewlett Packard. Visitors will appreciate the massive array of restaurants, museums, and cultural opportunities offered by the huge city of San Jose, while at the other end of the spectrum the tiny town of Gilroy is famous for garlic, with its annual festival attracting over 100,000 garlic lovers.
- Santa Cruz County - Located south of the Peninsula, the second-smallest county in the state is home to the quirky town of Santa Cruz and a rugged coast that is equally popular with surfers and elephant seals. The Santa Cruz mountains are the abode of redwoods and bright yellow banana slugs, both of which can be easily seen on the many hiking trails. Other portions of the county are known for agriculture, with farm stands dotting the roads.