What’s so great about San Mateo County? No, seriously. As the economic bubble once again swells, Bay Area roads congest further, rents soar and home ownership becomes even more elusive for those outside the tech jackpot unwilling or unable to crowd multiple bodies into a studio apartment, sell a kidney, inherit well or marry and divorce better. The average price of a San Mateo County home according to May data is $1.13 million. Maybe make that two kidneys plus some plasma, then.
Point being, the astronomical cost of living in this corner of the state often leads those outside it to wonder what in the heck is so fantastic about the Peninsula that folks are willing to forgo food and the ability to pad a savings account simply for the opportunity to call San Mateo County home. Is there a hidden Fountain of Youth? Do the trees actually grow money? Are those mints left with the restaurant bill actually some sort of happy pill?
Joking aside, it is understandable to see why others might not see what makes San Mateo County tick. Frankly, it is also easy for residents to grow comfy in their day-to-day existence and forget about the region’s hidden gems. Perhaps it’s time to take a look around and remind yourself and everybody else what is so great about this place.
Literally, seven years ago this month I proposed forming a list of the Seven Wonders of San Mateo County. Why should the rest of the world horde all the designated places one should see before signing off from this life, I figured. At the time — remember this was 2007 — I offered a few humble suggestions befitting the county and the time period: Tom the Tree in Burlingame, the proposed but never accepted Peace Pole of Belmont, the South San Francisco sign, the wooden owl of the White Oak neighborhood, IKEA in East Palo Alto and Estrella Benavides’ San Mateo home emblazoned with brightly hued messages from God.
In response, readers offered their own outpouring of suggestions both serious and tongue in cheek, of local competition for the Taj Mahal and Hanging Gardens of Babylon. One suggested the Redwood City parking meters for the pure mystery of how the then-new system worked. Another included the Kmart store at Concar Drive and Delaware Street, noting that it seemed to be the only Kmart store to have survived its financial crash. Flash forward seven years to now and the Kmart is about to bid farewell. Like those other Seven Wonders, the Kmart will soon be nothing but a historical notation.
Aside from the heavy dose of snark, the call for wonders also turned up some very serious contenders for what makes San Mateo County special. The Father Junipero Serra statue at the Interstate 280 rest stop, the Crystal Springs Reservoir, the Pulgas Water Temple, Bair Island. A reader mentioned the Igloo House in Hillsborough. I’d never before even heard of that.
So indulge me again, dear readers. What else is out there in San Mateo County, wondrous, quirky, special or kooky enough to help explain why newbies want to come and old-timers want to stay. Are those looking for a little older lady love misguided by the preponderance of mountain lions? Is the doggie diner head at the Peninsula Humane Society a fun thing to show visitors? You can’t find that in central Kansas. Maybe the reported ghosts traipsing through the Carolands Mansion or Union Cemetery is what does it for you. Or maybe what makes San Mateo County special is specific to your needs — that corner barber that still delivers straight-edge shaves, those certain purveyors at the farmers’ market, that perfect spot for stargazing that nobody else seems to know about it.
Lots of people wonder what it is about San Mateo County. Help give them some answers.
Michelle Durand’s column “Off the Beat” runs every Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. Follow Michelle on Twitter @michellemdurand What do you think of this column? Send a letter to the editor: email@example.com.