Fall through spring is a great time to go birdwatching in the San Francisco Peninsula, as flocks of birds migrate from as far as Alaska to South America (and back) in a region known as the Pacific Flyway. San Mateo County's open spaces and coastlines are an important stop for these birds along the way, and luckily for us, that means there are many different species to see, from majestic hawks soaring in the distance to the smallest hummingbirds flitting by. Many birds also like to stick around all year, so there’s always something to see in the area.
It’s easy for anyone to start birding — you can do it practically anywhere and you don’t need much equipment. Whether this is your first time or you’re looking for somewhere new to explore, we’ve rounded up a list of some of the best places to see birds in San Mateo County. Happy birding!
This 3,000-acre habitat near downtown Redwood City offers great views of the San Francisco Bay Area and plenty of opportunities for wildlife watching. When visiting Bair Island, head down the flat trail to the Middle Bair Observation Deck, where you can expect to find a variety of waterfowl, shorebirds, and even harbor seals. You may even be able to spot a Ridgway’s Rail or salt marsh harvest mouse, two endangered species that like to hang out in the tidal channels and salt marsh vegetation.
FITZGERALD MARINE RESERVE
Located in Moss Beach along the Pacific Ocean, the rocky seashore at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is an excellent spot for watching shorebirds, as well as tide pooling! Out on the water, you may spot Brown Pelicans, Great Blue Herons, and Black Oystercatchers.
SAN BRUNO MOUNTAIN PARK
A popular hiking area, the sweeping views at San Bruno Mountain Park are worth a trip alone. On a clear day at the summit, you can see views of Mt. Tamalpais to the north, Mt. Diablo to the east, and the Farallon Islands to the west! This vantage point allows you to see hawks and other raptors, such as American Kestrels and Peregrine Falcons.
PESCADERO MARSH NATURAL PRESERVE
This area of wetlands supports more than 200 species of birds and protected species like the San Francisco garter snake, California red-legged frog, steelhead trout, and Coho salmon. When planning a visit to the Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve, be sure to bring your binoculars and take any of the trails for opportunities to see Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets. In the spring, you can also find wildflowers starting to pop up.
AÑO NUEVO STATE PARK
Año Nuevo State Park is a popular area to see migratory birds and the breeding ground for up to 10,000 elephant seals each year! Around the ocean bluffs, coastal scrub, and dune fields, you’ll likely find Bank Swallows, California Quails, Brants, and Pelagic Cormorants, as well as California sea lions. Keep in mind that the breeding season for elephant seals is in the winter, and areas of the park may be closed or restricted to ranger-led hikes.
COYOTE POINT MARINA
Coyote Point Marina is a regional recreation area with several paved trails perfect for walking, running, bicycling, and — of course — birding! This area has a saltwater marsh, making it another perfect destination for spotting shorebirds. A portion of the San Francisco Bay Trail extends through Coyote Point — begin your trip here and travel north or south along the trail for uninterrupted views of wildlife.
WINDY HILL OPEN SPACE PRESERVE
Named for its breezy, grassy ridges, Windy Hill Open Space Preserve is a 1,414-acre preserve near Portola Valley and perfect for those seeking longer hikes. It offers a variety of habitats including oak woodlands and redwood forests. For a challenging hike, take the 7.6-mile out and back Hamms Gulch Trail up to the Windy Hill summit. Or take one of the easier trails passing through Sausal Pond for a chance to see Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, and Pied-billed Grebes.
See all that The San Francisco Peninsula has to offer! Order a Visitor Guide today and start planning your trip!