Coyote Point Recreation Area is one of the most popular parks in the County of San Mateo and yet, it is still a hidden gem waiting to be explored by many. Located bayside, just a couple of miles south of San Francisco International Airport in San Mateo, Coyote Point is a 149-acre park full of hiking trails, fishing spots, picnic facilities, playgrounds, a marina and much, much more.
A bike ride along the Bay Trail through Coyote Point will take you past Magic Mountain playground which features a 42-foot high castle atop a hill and two big purple dragons. Heading south, you’ll continue past the rifle range, picnic areas and the marina. The City of San Mateo’s Poplar Creek Golf Course hugs the Park’s southern border.
A walk along the Promenade Trail offers stunning views of San Francisco Bay. Benches provide a front-row view to planes landing at SFO and windsurfers and kiteboarders taking advantage of this particularly windy spot. In fact, Coyote Point is a great place to fly a kite.
Coyote Point includes the following:
- Coyote Point Marina offers berths for sailboats, motorboats, and multi-hull boats at competitive prices in a beautiful and convenient location.
- CuriOdyssey is a nonprofit science museum and zoo where kids are let loose to observe wild animals and experiment with scientific phenomena.
- Coyote Point Rifle Range is under the direction of the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Dept. and can accommodate both small bore and high power guns. The Range is open separately to both the public and law enforcement personnel.
- Coyote Point Yacht Club encourages family yachting for sport, recreation, seamanship and fellowship.
Coming Soon: A revitalized Eastern Promenade will include a new sandy beach shaped as a crenulate bay, providing universal and year-round beach access. The Promenade Trail will be elevated to prepare for sea level rise and a new linear seat-wall will be installed. Learn more from San Mateo County Parks.
Coyote Point was once an island in the bay connected to the mainland by salt marsh until the 1800s when the marsh was filled to create pastureland. A knoll in the center of the park offers sweeping views and includes stands of eucalyptus and Monterey cypress trees. To the west of this knoll is a stretch of gravelly beach providing unrivaled access to San Francisco Bay.
This park on the bay is also a wonderful place to watch for birds. Fall and mornings are best, but any time of year or day will guarantee some great sightings of birds. Keep an eye open for Great Blue Herons, Peregrine Falcons, Red-tailed Hawk, Yellow Warblers, Western Sandpiper and many more birds.
For over one hundred and thirty years, Coyote Point has been prized for its remarkable location, access to the bay and abundant recreational opportunities. Coyote Point’s sandy bathing beach was a celebrated recreation destination for people around San Mateo and Burlingame in the 1890s. It was known for its shallow, warm water that would often reach seventy degrees in the summertime. A bathhouse was constructed and used until the early 1920s. Coyote Point became so popular that it was highlighted in travel magazines. “There is no pleasanter spot on the bay for an outing than the ‘Coyote’. There is good bathing, fishing, boating and clam-digging, and the clean, sandy beach is a positive joy for children.”
In 1922, a grand amusement park rose up along the sandy shoreline. Pacific City was touted as the next Coney Island and drew in approximately one million people in its opening year. A young Houdini challenged local policemen. The second largest roller coaster in the United States, and the fastest in the West, thrilled youngsters. And on sunny days, thousands frolicked in the bay. But it didn’t last. Many factors, including a fire, brought about the enterprise’s early failure.
It was in 1940 when the San Mateo County Parks and Recreation Department purchased 727 acres, including 7,000 feet of shoreline, at Coyote Point. From this time to the end of the war, San Mateo County’s population grew by 110 percent. This rapidly developing area was in need of recreational amenities, but park officials would have to wait two decades to realize their dream of a larger recreational area.
During World War II, the park became home to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, which churned out hundreds of officers to aid with the war effort. Classrooms, a gymnasium, machine shop, infirmary and barracks were quickly erected and accelerated courses for deck and engineering officers were offered.
After the war, the San Mateo Junior College was allowed to locate at Coyote Point ‘temporarily’ to accommodate the influx of students heading to college with the support of the G.I. Bill of Rights. The wartime buildings were not ideal for teaching, but it took longer than originally thought to raise the money for a new college campus. Before moving to its current location in the western hills as College of San Mateo, the Junior College remained at Coyote Point until 1963. Once it moved, a master plan for the development of a park at Coyote Point was finally drafted.
While most of these institutions were short-lived at Coyote Point, some amenities continue to grow with popularity. Consider the San Mateo County Junior Museum which opened on the knoll in a Quonset Hut by the San Francisco Junior League in 1953. In 1974, it became the Coyote Point Museum for Environmental Education and today is known as CuriOdyssey. Thousands of local school children continue to come through its doors to learn about local wildlife or enjoy hands-on science experiments.
Today, over half a million people visit Coyote Point each year to fly kites, watch planes land, look for birds, picnic and play at the beach, and generally bask in the glory of this gem of a park on the bay.
Excerpts from San Mateo County Parks: A Remarkable Story of Extraordinary Places and the People who Built Them, by Michael Svanevik and Shirley Burgett. Copies available for purchase from San Mateo County Parks Foundation.