The Ohlone Indians were the first inhabitants of what is now San Mateo, as long as four thousand years ago. Spanish explorers came to the area in 1776, followed by missionaries who established an outpost at San Mateo in 1793. The abandoned mission later became a stagecoach stop, but it was the arrival of the railroad in 1863 that marked the beginning of Downtown San Mateo. Buildings and businesses sprang up near the tracks along today’s Main Street and Railroad Avenue. Downtown saw major growth after San Mateo incorporated as a town in 1894, and today it boasts one of the largest downtowns on the Peninsula. Many historic buildings dating from the 1890s to the 1930s can still be seen, lending Downtown San Mateo much of its unique character. You can take an easy Walking Tour to learn more about the history and architecture of the downtown district.
For a deeper dive into San Mateo’s history, check out these great books: