Many people, from tourists to tech workers, decide to visit or live in the Bay Area in large part for its scenic nature. From the Golden Gate Bridge to the redwoods and the coastline, the region is home to sweeping ocean and Bay landscapes, skyline views and everything in between.
We’re especially lucky in the 650 to have a wide array of climates and topography. The Peninsula as a whole generally isn’t socked in with fog like San Francisco or baking under triple digits throughout the summer like in the Tri-Valley, and there are spots to meet everyone’s preferences. Want cool air and sand under your feet? There are 40 miles of coastline between Pacifica and the Santa Cruz County border. Want warmer temps and mountains? There’s literally a city named Mountain View.
The Six Fifty staff has curated a list of our favorite vistas and viewpoints around the Peninsula, places we go to show off our home turf to out-of-town friends and relatives, exercise or just pull off the road to catch the sunset. From parks to preserves to neighborhood perches, there are plenty of vantage points to take in the best sights of the 650.
College of San Mateo
A local community college might not be the first place one thinks of when seeking out scenery, but College of San Mateo sits on 153 acres in the San Mateo hills with a panoramic view of the Bay and surrounding communities. Its track is used by student athletes and local runners alike, and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. the campus hosts a year-round farmers market with dozens of vendors selling produce, flowers, baked goods, tamales and food truck fare from spots like The Chairman and Scott’s Chowder House. Grab a pastry and coffee or some lunch and stroll to the edge of the market to take in the views and listen to that day’s market musicians.
CSM, 1700 W. Hillsdale Blvd., San Mateo.
Head up Club Drive from Alameda de las Pulgas in San Carlos or Hastings and Carlmont drives in Belmont to find a winding neighborhood with views of the San Francisco skyline, Stanford and more. In the 1920s and ’30s, the top of Club Drive was home to the Devonshire Club, which hosted many social events until it turned into the Service Club for the World War II Dog Training Center. The neighborhood has a vista point designed for cars to pull over and take in the view (the area is also popular with cyclists), and two small parks: Vista Park and North Crestview Park, an undeveloped spot where locals like to walk their dogs.
Club Drive, Belmont/San Carlos.
Windy Hill Open Space Preserve Summit
Named for its breezy hilltop, this 1,414-acre preserve has open grassland ridges and forests of oak, redwood and fir trees. From the peak, at 1,905 feet, there are 360-degree views of the Bay, the ocean and the Santa Cruz Mountains, and the preserve permits cyclists, equestrians and leashed dogs on designated trails. And for more a really unique vantage point, Windy Hill is considered “the most technical site in the Bay Area” for paragliding and hang-gliding (with a permit, of course). Unless you’re accessing the preserve by hoof, foot or bike, beware that parking can be hard to come by.
Windy Hill, Skyline Boulevard, Portola Valley.
Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park
Pulling off Highway 1 heading south toward Santa Cruz County offers a photo opportunity we rarely pass up. The Pigeon Point Lighthouse in Pescadero has been standing since 1872, offering motorists the opportunity to stop in a turnout off the highway for some quick snapshots. Coastal wildflowers frame the lighthouse in temperate months, and on a clear day the surrounding coastline is visible. The lighthouse property (though not the structure itself) is open to the public as a state park, with a fog signal building housing the Fresnel lens made up of 1,008 prisms, which was used to guide mariners, and former U.S. Coast Guard residences converted into a hostel open for vacation rentals with separate bunkrooms for couples and families. The state is spending $18 million to restore the lighthouse, work that’s expected to start in the spring.
Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park, 210 Pigeon Point Road, Highway 1, Pescadero.
The Stanford Dish Trail allows visitors a close-up view of the Dish, a radio telescope still in use and a familiar landmark off I-280 in the Palo Alto hills. There’s steep terrain, no shade or benches and parking can be a pain, but the winding trail offers up views of the Stanford campus and surrounding cities.
Stanford Dish, 400 Reservoir Road, Stanford.
Pillar Point Bluff
At Pillar Point Bluff on the Coastside, find sweeping ocean views and views of Half Moon Bay, Pillar Point Harbor, surrounding agricultural lands, the world-famous surf spot Mavericks and the “golf ball,” the Pillar Point Air Force Tracking station situated on the bluffs above the ocean. The 3-mile roundtrip Jean Lauer Trail comes with a surprise this time of year: migrating gray whales can be spotted offshore, making it a prime spot during whale-watching season in the Bay Area.
Pillar Point Bluff, Airport Street, Moss Beach.
Crystal Springs Reservoir
The trails around the Crystal Springs Reservoir — the water itself is off-limits — are a popular spot for families, casual hikers and serious runners alike, with views of the sparkling reservoir and surrounding tree-covered hills. In 2019 after a yearslong replacement project, the dam bridge at the reservoir reopened, adding a new segment to the Crystal Springs Trail that allows one a peek at the famed “Flintstone house” from the dam bridge. The most popular trail segment, the Sawyer Camp Trail, is used by cyclists, hikers, runners and equestrians and is home to the over 600-year-old Jepson Laurel, the oldest and largest-known laurel tree in California.
Crystal Springs Reservoir, 950 Skyline Blvd., Burlingame (also accessible in San Mateo off Skyline Boulevard and Crystal Springs Road).
Mori Point/Pacifica Pier
One can go from beachside to blufftop on a walk from Pacifica Pier to Mori Point. Grab a coffee and a bite to eat from the Chit-Chat Cafe, then meander at the pier or head straight to Mori Point. The site of the former Mori Point Inn, which had a notorious reputation during the Prohibition days, and sand and gravel extraction during World War II, Mori Point became apart of Golden Gate National Parks in 2000. Hike up to the point for a backdrop of wildflowers, Pacifica homes and pier and the coastline.
Mori Point, Mori Point Road, Pacifica.
Foothills Nature Preserve
From 1965 until December 2020, only Palo Alto residents and their guests were allowed in what was formerly known as Foothills Park. But last year the Palo Alto City Council reversed the nonresident ban to settle a lawsuit from the NAACP and ACLU, which called the policy “unlawful.” Now the miles of trail access and spectacular views are open to everyone, allowing you access to this pristine preserve. There are 15 miles of hiking trails; fishing, boating and selfie opportunities at Boronda Lake; and a seasonal campground that’s dog-friendly during the week, as our intrepid outdoors writer Kate Bradshaw discovered this summer. Know before you go: There’s a daily cap on park visitors and a $6 per car entry fee.
Foothills Nature Preserve, 11799 Page Mill Road, Palo Alto.
A 50-acre lake not far from the amphitheater of the same name, the shoreline at Mountain View Park has a backdrop of the surrounding mountains and is a popular spot to rent sailboats, windsurfing boards, kayaks and paddle boats, especially on the Fourth of July when fireworks light up the sky at Shoreline Amphitheatre’s annual fireworks show. American Bistro at Shoreline Lake serves breakfast sandwiches, salads and burgers and offers takeout you can enjoy picnic-style. The park has more than 10 miles of trails linking Palo Alto and Sunnyvale.
Shoreline Lake, 3160 N. Shoreline Blvd., Mountain View.
Sign Hill Park
You’ve seen the “South San Francisco: The Industrial City” sign in the hills above South City, but did you know you can hike up to it? Sign Hill has 65 acres of open space and almost 2 miles of hiking trails, and in 1996 it made its way onto the National Register of Historic Places. In the spring, California poppies, goldfields and hummingbird sage take over the slopes which, along with the Bay views and the sign itself, make for a beautiful backdrop to show off on Instagram. The hike is steep, but the ability to forever say you hiked up to the South City sign is priceless.
Sign Hill trailhead, Ridgeview Court, South San Francisco.