San Mateo County Beaches

  • 01 of 08

    Pacifica State Beach

    Pacifica State Beach
    ••• Pacifica State Beach. Moelyn Photos / Getty Images

    San Mateo beaches lie along the county's approximately 50 miles of coastline, from the San Francisco city/county line in the north to Ano Nuevo State Park just north of the Santa Cruz County line.

    Spring and fall are pleasant times to visit these beaches when they're less crowded, and the skies are likely to be clearer than in mid-summer.

    San Mateo County Beach Camping: You won't find any beachfront campgrounds in San Mateo County, but you can find a few places nearby - and elsewhere along the coast in this Guide to Beach Camping in Northern California.​

    Nude Beaches in San Mateo County: San Mateo County is the home of one of the state's oldest nude beaches, but it isn't the only one. If you want to enjoy some clothing optional recreation, check out how to Where to Find a Nude Beach in San Mateo County.

    San Mateo County Beach Hotels: In Pacifica, the Best Western Lighthouse is on the beach. In Half Moon Bay, the Beach House and Ritz Carlton are also right at the beach.

    Pa...MOREcifica State Beach

    The first major beach south of San Francisco, Pacifica State Beach is one of the most popular surfing spots in San Mateo County. Its location in the middle of town provides easy access to places to eat and relax when you're tired of the sun. This beach is also sometimes called Linda Mar Beach.

    What is There to Do at Pacific State Beach?

    Surfing is one of the things people do most frequently at Pacifica Beach. Waves are smaller than at Ocean Beach in San Francisco and it more days when you can catch a wave. You can also go swimming at the beach.

    What You Need to Know Before You Go to Pacifica State Beach

    No entrance fee and no parking fee

    You'll find restrooms and outdoor showers at Pacifica State Beach. There's no place to get food at the beach, but restaurants are close by in town.

    Pets are allowed on leash only.

    No alcohol is allowed on the beach and no glass containers no matter what's in them. No smoking anywhere at the beach.

    Water quality is generally good in San Mateo County, but in case you're concerned, you can check the latest water quality warnings at the SMC Environmental Health website

    How to Get to Pacifica State Beach

    Pacifica State Beach is just off CA Hwy 1 in downtown Pacifica. The parking lot next to the highway can get filled up even on a weekday in the fall, but there's another lot that you can reach by turning on San Pedro Avenue.

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  • 02 of 08

    James V. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

    Tidepooling at James V. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve
    ••• Tidepooling at James V. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. Adapted from Amy Meredith/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

    If you're looking for some of the best tide pooling on the California coast, Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is the place to find it. With lots of craggy rocks just below the surface, it's almost like a giant aquarium at low tide.

    What is There to Do at James V. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve?

    Tide pools are the big thing here, but there's also a small sandy beach to play on. You can also take guided tours to learn more.

    You won't see much at high tide and some visitors who don't plan ahead go away disappointed. To avoid becoming one of them,  them,  check a tide table before you go to be sure you get there at the right time of day. Tides are measured in feet: 2.0 means the water is 2 feet above sea level. Go when the tide level is less than 1.5 (minus tides are even better). You can get into the tidepools about 2 hours before low tide and 1.5 hours after it.

    What You Need to Know Before You Go to James V. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

    There is no entrance fee and no parking fee.

    Dogs...MORE are allowed on the Coastal Trail if they're on a leash, but don't let them into the tide pools, to protect the sea creatures.​ 

    Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is part of the Montara State Marine Reserve. Fishing is not allowed, and visitors cannot remove shells, rocks or driftwood from the natural environment.

    Water quality is usually good at the marine reserve, but in case you're concerned, you can check the latest water quality warnings on this interactive map at the San Mateo County website.

    Rocks are slippery and have sharp edges. Wear good shoes that protect your feet and have sturdy soles.

    Beer and wine only are allowed in some areas of the park. Smoking is also not allowed.

    The beach and reef are not accessible to walkers and wheelchairs, but there is a paved trail through part of the reserve.

    If you need to know more than what this summary provides, try the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve website.

    James V. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve Tide Pool Etiquette

    Walk carefully to avoid stepping on the barnacles, anemones, mussels and other tide pool critters.

    The only thing you should take home is pictures. Shells and rocks are a natural part of the intertidal ecology and provide homes for hermit crabs.​ 

    If you move rocks and shells, put them back. Creatures living on them will die when exposed to the sun and air. Leave shelled creatures stuck to the rocks to keep the seagulls from killing them. Resist the urge to put things in containers for a closer look, even for a few minutes. It can kill them.

    If harbor seals are around, stay at least 300 feet away from them.

    Best Time to Visit James V. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

    May and June have the best (lowest) tides, and they stay low longer than the rest of the year. That gives you more to see and more time to do it. 

    How to Get to James V. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

    The Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is west of CA Hwy 1 in Moss Beach at the west end of California Avenue. Look for the large highway sign that says California Avenue and a smaller sign for the Marine Life Refuge just below. Drive to the end of the road and park in the lot.

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  • 03 of 08

    Half Moon Bay Beaches

    Half Moon Bay Beach
    ••• Half Moon Bay Beach. jorkshire/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

    Half Moon Bay State Beach is made up of three beaches in and around Half Moon Bay: Francis Beach, Venice Beach and Dunes Beach. Each beach has a separate parking area and different amenities.

    The coastline is dramatic around Half Moon Bay and the beaches are beautiful. We humans share them with a tiny, endangered bird: the  western snowy plover. To survive, the little plover needs everyone's help. Leave your dogs at home or keep them on a leash so they don't disturb the nests, obey all signs that ask you to stay away and respect the rules about bonfires.

    What is There to Do at Half Moon Bay State Beach?

    You can walk, run or ride bikes on the three-mile-long Coastside Trail. It connects the  three beaches and continues north to Pillar Point Harbor. 

    Fishing is also popular at Half Moon Bay. You may catch rockfish or striped perch.

    Surfing conditions vary, but can include record-breaking monster waves best left to the professionals. If you want to go surfing, check the surf report...MORE here

    Swimming is not a good idea around Half Moon Bay. There are no lifeguard stations and the water is dangerous. The Half Moon Bay State Beach website warns: "The ocean water is very cold year round. Even a short swim can cause cramps or hypothermia (a life threatening condition which occurs when your body temperature drops below normal). In addition, strong rip currents can pull even the most experienced swimmers off shore."

    Half Moon Bay Events

    It's not held at the beach, but the annual pumpkin festival brings so many visitors that the roads are practically gridlocked, making the first weekend of October an inconvenient time to go to the beach.

    The annual Mavericks surf contest is held nearby, but the big waves are so far from the shore that you won't see anything from the beach.

    What You Need to Know Before You Go to Half Moon Bay State Beach

    Because the Half Moon Bay State Beaches are really three beaches in one, it can get a little confusing. Unless a specific beach is mentioned below, these tips apply to all three of them.

    All beaches charge a state park entrance fee to get in, which includes parking.

    Especially if it has rained recently, you may want to check the water quality in case runoff has made it unsafe.

    No beach fires are allowed on any of the beaches (for the sake of the cute and endanger plover birds).

    Dogs are allowed in the campground and day-use picnic area only, but not on the beaches.  They must be on a leash. 

    No food is available at any of the beaches, but there are plenty of places to eat in the town of Half Moon Bay.

    The park has one all-terrain beach wheelchair with balloon tires which let it go on the beach without sinking into the sand. It's available at no cost and can be checked out at the Francis Beach entrance.

    Francis Beach

    Francis Beach has a campground with 52 sites. Some are suitable for tent camping. Others can accommodate trailers and RVs. 

    The campground doesn't have hookups, but it does have a dump station and coin-operated showers

    Venice Beach

    Venice Beach has flush toilets and outside showers

    Dunes Beach

    The name might make you guess that there are sand dunes at this beach. You'll take a steep sandy trail through them to the beach

    Restrooms are available at the parking lot.

    How to Get to Half Moon Bay State Beaches

    Half Moon Bay State Beaches Website

    The beaches are west of CA Hwy 1 in Half Moon Bay. Exit at:

    • Kelly Avenue for Francis Beach
    • Venice Boulevard for (you guessed it) Venice Beach
    • Young Avenue for Dunes Beach

     

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  • 04 of 08

    San Gregorio State Beach

    San Gregorio State Beach, protected estuary for numerous birds and small animals, with Highway 1 in background.
    ••• San Gregorio State Beach. Ann Cecil / Getty Images

    San Gregorio State Beach is a scenic beach, formed at the intersection of San Gregorio Creek and the Pacific Ocean. The sand is often strewn with driftwood.

    This profile describes San Gregorio State Beach. Don't confuse it with the private nude beach with the same name.

    What is There to Do at San Gregorio State Beach?

    People like to go surfing at San Gregorio. Besides that, ​swimming and beach play are the most common things to do. You can also watch birds in the adjacent estuary.

    What You Need to Know Before You Go to San Gregorio State Beach

    There is an entrance fee which includes parking.

    No alcohol is allowed on the beach and no bonfires

    The beach has restrooms, picnic tables and barbecue grills.

    No pets are allowed.

    Water quality is generally good in San Mateo County, but in case you're concerned, you can check the latest water quality warnings at the SMC Environmental Health website

    How to Get to San Gregorio State Beach

    San Gregorio State Beach is 10.5 miles south of Half Moon Bay...MORE on CA Hwy 1.

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  • 05 of 08

    Cowell Ranch Beach

    Cowell Ranch Beach
    ••• Cowell Ranch Beach. Miguel Vieira/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    Cowell Ranch Beach is one of the prettiest on the San Mateo Coast, a small, curving stretch of golden sand protected by sheltering cliffs in the middle of an area that's been a ranch since the late 1800s. It's a quiet spot with little to do but relax and enjoy the views.

    If you know of Cowell Beach in the town of Santa Cruz, don't be confused. Cowell RANCH isn't the same place. It's closer to Half Moon Bay than it is to Santa Cruz.

    What is There to Do at Cowell Ranch Beach?

    Most people go to Cowell Ranch to enjoy the natural beauty.You can go bird watching and it's an especially good place to watch the brown pelicans.

    Harbor Seals come ashore on the north beach from February through May. You'll see them with their pups March through April when they're visible from the clifftops but the area is not open to the public

    The sand is coarse, the water is not swimmer friendly and the beach is small. It may not be the best place to take the kids.

    The clifftops are...MORE unstable at Cowell Ranch. Stay away from the edge. Sand slides sometimes close the staircase that leads down to the beach, but it's a pleasant walk out to there on the trail, even if you find it closed when you get there.

    What You Need to Know Before You Go to Cowell Ranch Beach

    There is no entrance fee and no parking fee.

    No pets allowed at any time.

    Vault toilets are at the parking lot and end of the path. Think of them as permanent porta-potties, with no running water.

    The walk out to the beach and back is about a mile total and flat. You will have to descend on stairs to get to the beach itself.

    Take your binoculars if you want to get a better look at the wildlife.

    When you pack your things, think about that long staircase that you'll have to haul everything up when you're ready to go.

    Water quality is generally good at the Cowell Ranch, but in case you're concerned, you can check the latest water quality warnings on this interactive map at the San Mateo County website.

    Bring anything you think you might need. There are no amenities or facilities at the beach

    How to Get to Cowell Ranch Beach

    Cowell Ranch Beach is 3.3 miles south of Half Moon Bay. The parking area is on the west (ocean) side of CA Hwy 1. It's about a quarter-mile walk from there to the cliffs above the beach, along a wide, well-maintained gravel road.

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  • 06 of 08

    Pomponio State Beach

    birds on Pomponio State Beach
    ••• Pomponio State Beach. Connie Spinardi/Getty Images

    Pomponio State Beach has lots of gently sloping sand at the base of high sandstone bluffs. The small lagoon faces onto roaring surf.

    Part of Pomponio State Beach is used as a clothing optional beach, but it's isolated from the rest of the beach.

    What is There to Do at Pomponio State Beach?

    Pleasures at Pomponio Beach are simple: mostly beach play and sunbathing. Swimmers should beware of rip currents.

    You can also go beachcombing, especially after a stormy day.​ The beach sometimes collects a lot of driftwood. 

    What You Need to Know Before You Go to Pomponio State Beach

    There is a state park entrance fee which includes parking.

    The park has pit toilets with no running water.

    You'll find some  picnic tables (on the grass) and some of them overlook the beach. There are also barbecue grills.

    No pets are allowed.

    Water quality is generally good in San Mateo County, but in case you're concerned, you can check the latest water quality warnings at the SMC Environmental Health website

    How to...MORE Get to Pomponio State Beach

    Pomponio State Beach is 12 miles south of Half Moon Bay on CA Hwy 1.

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  • 07 of 08

    Pebble Beach

    Pebble Beach at Bean Hollow, San Mateo County
    ••• Pebble Beach at Bean Hollow, San Mateo County. David Barron/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

    Instead of the usual sand found along this stretch of coast, Pebble Beach is covered with small stones, making it a bit of a different place to experience the ocean. It's technically a part of Bean Hollow State Beach, but we list it separately because of its unusual nature.

    What is There to Do at ​Pebble Beach?

    The most interesting thing here is a walk on the beach, checking out the pebbles. Just don't take any home with you. People also go fishing at Pebble Beach.

    What You Need to Know Before You Go to ​Pebble Beach

    No entrance fee and no parking fee.

    There are restrooms and one picnic table near the parking lot.

    Pets are not allowed.

    Swimming is dangerous at Pebble Beach. The water is cold, the waves high and the surf is full of rip currents that can drag you out to sea.

    Water quality is generally good in San Mateo County, but in case you're concerned, you can check the latest water quality warnings at the SMC Environmental Health website

    How to Get to ​Pebble Beach

    Bean Hollow...MORE State Beach is 17.5 miles south of Half Moon Bay and 3 miles south of Pescadero on CA Hwy 1. The Pebble Beach parking area is just north of the one with signs for Bean Hollow.

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  • 08 of 08

    Bean Hollow State Beach

    Rocks at a coastline of a sea, Bean Hollow Beach, Highway 1, California, USA
    ••• Bean Hollow Beach. Medioimages/Photodisc / Getty Images

    Bean Hollow State Beach is a protected cover with a wide, sandy beach. It's dog-friendly, but you'll still have to keep Poochie on a leash.

    What is There to Do at Bean Hollow State Beach?

    Bean Hollow State Beach has some spectacular rock formations that form the base for fascinating tidepools. You can also go beachcombing or walk on the pathway that connects Bean Hollow to Pebble Beach.

    Swimming is dangerous at Bean Hollow. The water is cold, the waves high and the surf is full of rip currents that can drag you out to sea.

    What You Need to Know Before You Go to Bean Hollow State Beach

    No entrance fee and no parking fee

    You'll find restrooms and picnic tables overlooking the beach.

    Bonfires are not allowed.

    Dogs are allowed on a leash no more than 6 feet long. 

    Water quality is generally good in San Mateo County, but in case you're concerned, you can check the latest water quality warnings at the SMC Environmental Health website

    How to Get to Bean Hollow State Beach

    Bean Hollow...MORE State Beach is 17.5 miles south of Half Moon Bay and 3 miles south of Pescadero on CA Hwy 1. Look for San Mateo County mile marker 11.08 or 12.0 (the beach has two entrances).