Fun and Games and Reflection in Downtown San Mateo’s Central Park
Are you looking for a lively spot in San Mateo County to play, socialize and stay fit? Are you searching for a quiet, tranquil spot for reflection and enjoying nature? Those goals may seem contrary, but you’ll be able to to find both activity and tranquility in San Mateo Central Park. It’s the region’s favorite green space, beloved for its verdant Japanese Tea Garden and kids’ train. It’s the quintessential town park, full of family fun and dynamic events.
Japanese Tea Garden
Finding the perfect spot to revel in nature doesn’t cost you a thing in Central Park. Admission to the colorful Japanese Tea Garden is free and open to everyone. The small, intimate garden overflows with inviting spaces, The large koi pond is always a favorite, filled with large, well-fed and colorful koi. Kids and adults alike adore watching the koi darting about during their twice-daily feeding. Feedings occur at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. from spring to fall. There’s more to see than just koi though. A peaceful Japanese pagoda and a tea house offer authenticity. There are burbling waterfalls and enticing bridges. There are gorgeous Japanese maple trees and well-tended bonsai. In spring, the cherry tree blossoms, or sakura, are spectacular. Statues and other visual treats are tucked away along the pathways for added appeal. Many Japanese immigrants came to San Mateo to work in the salt ponds in the early 1900s. This makes the tea garden particularly special as a celebration of that heritage. The garden was designed by the Imperial Palace of Tokyo’s Nagao Sakurai. Sakurai also designed Golden Gate Park’s Zen Garden. The Japanese Tea Garden ranks 14th as the best public gardens in North America.
Bianchi Mini Train
For decades, local kids have thrilled to the park’s Mini Train. Today, parents and grandparents who rode this train as children bring their own tots to enjoy the ride. This miniature locomotive is perfectly sized for toddlers and kindergarteners. It runs in the mornings on weekdays, with slightly more generous hours on weekends. Boarding the train requires a nominal fee, well worth the look of joy on kids’ faces.
Recreation Center and Space
Get your groove on in the park’s morning aerobics classes at the Recreation Center on weekends. Aerobics classes are also held most evenings during the week. The popular Rec Center has plenty of fun spaces to host parties, special events, fairs and dances. It’s open on weekends from noon to midnight.
Outside, tennis courts and a baseball diamond give kids and adults plenty of extra play space. The playground area’s perfect for outdoor play dates and after school activities. A horseshoe pit is an excellent complement to a fun-filled picnic. Central Park has you covered on picnic spots too. Picnic spaces can be reserved for special gatherings, including birthday parties. The largest of the four reservable picnic areas contains 10 picnic tables and a large barbecue. There’s also a drop-in picnic spot for spontaneous lunches in the park.
A Rose Is a Rose
The smell of roses in the air is always enticing, especially in the center of downtown. The park’s rose garden is a local treasure. Its gazebo is particularly appealing to prospective brides and grooms. As a result, you often see weddings taking place in the park’s rose garden on weekends.
You’ll find a variety of statues and public art placed throughout the park. Most notably, a life-size giraffe, Leon, greets park-goers near the 5th Avenue entrance. The giraffe is made of bronze plates to mimic the pattern on a real giraffe. The giraffe was created by artist Albert Guibara and installed in the park in 1978. It stands 13 feet tall and is a popular spot for photos and impromptu picnics. Across the park from Leon the giraffe sits another statue at the 9th Avenue entrance. The statue is of a cast iron dog, put in place by the original land owner, William Kohl. The friendly dog hails from Italy and pre-dates the park by several years.
Music and Mirth in the Park
You know a truly excellent park by the number of people who visit and the events it hosts. By these measures, San Mateo Central Park is truly a success. In the summer, music fills the park with the annual music series. Each Thursday night from June to August, locals arrive with blankets over one arm and lawn chairs over the other. They settle in to enjoy the live music that covers every conceivable music genre. The free concerts are great venues for socializing with neighbors and relishing family time.
The park also hosts fun Shakespeare in the Park performances each September. These aren’t usually your traditional Shakespeare productions though. They’re often modern twists on classic Shakespeare plays. One of the recent productions, for instance, was a 90s musical version of “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” In this version, Ferdinand is the king of pop and his court is a boy band. These Shakespeare performances are free and a great way to introduce older kids to The Bard.