Memorial County Park, San Mateo

Location: Memorial County Park (San Mateo County, California)
Directions: 9500 Pescadero Creek Rd., Loma Mar. From Hwy 1 drive 20 minutes east on Pescadero Creek Rd to Memorial Park.
Fee: $6 entrance fee
Hike: 4 mile hike through the various trails in the park including: Tan Oak Nature Trail, Mt Ellen Nature Trail, Mt Ellen Summit Trail and Pomponio Trail.

I have a college buddy who I’ve known for decades (oh my gawrsh!) years. He recently had a birthday, so we planned to celebrate with him and his girlfriend by going on a day trip together. We talked about going on a hike, cooking some crab cakes, and hanging out – basically go camping, but just for the day. So…day camping (that’s a thing, right?). Many parks have great day use areas that have picnic sites that feel like campsites because they are more private and also have BBQ grills or pits that allow you to cook food. Once you pull up to a site, set up some chairs and cook some food, it feels just like camping, except you go home at night. Memorial Park in San Mateo County (about 1.5 hr south of San Francisco) has a nice day use area in a forest like setting (think coastal redwoods) perfect for day camping.

We decided to meet up in the small town of Pescadero about 20 minutes south of Half Moon Bay (and only 5 minutes from Hwy 1) before heading up together to Memorial Park which was only about 15 more minutes from there. A little research about Pescadero revealed it has a market called Arcangeli Grocery Co which is known for its famous Artichoke Garlic Bread. We went in the store to pick up a loaf to share for lunch, and were amazed at how well stocked the store was for picnics. If I hadn’t already brought stuff for lunch I could have picked up some tasty looking local items for a picnic. We did end up buying a giant pickle out of their pickle barrel, some Sopresso, a couple of freshly baked pastries and of course the Artichoke Garlic Bread which was still warm. You CAN NOT make me hold a warm loaf of bread and expect me to just put it away for lunch. I had to take a nibble and instantly knew why this bread was famous. The bread itself was amazing (nice crusty loaf with super soft flavorful inside), but the large chunks of artichokes tucked in throughout the bread was nothing I had ever had before – just delicious! I had everyone try some and pretty soon we had eaten the entire loaf. So, I did what I had to do -send my daughter in to buy another loaf.

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Famous Artichoke Garlic Bread
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Lightly sweetened raspberry twist was very good also

Memorial Park is a county park in the San Mateo County park system and is one of five parks in the area. Four of the smaller parks including Memorial Park, Sam McDonald, Heritage Grove and Pescadero Creek together are called the Pescadero Creek complex. Portola Redwoods State Park is another park at the far end of this group of parks, making this entire area a large forested region perfect for hiking. What’s great is that although all of these parks are separately maintained, they are close enough to have an interconnected trail system. Apparently these parks don’t get very crowded either, another bonus!


Memorial Park has a nice campground and day use area, but their hiking trails are somewhat limited if you only stay in the park. This was especially the case last Saturday when we noticed a sign posted on the Mt Ellen trailhead warning us of trail closures due to poison oak. In fact, the park ranger told us to go to Sam McDonald park if we wanted to go on a longer hike. However, we managed to piece together a beautiful 4 mile hike (sometimes backtracking because of poison oak) that covered a variety of terrain from redwood groves on the lower elevations to mixed forests on the higher elevations. My favorite part was when the trail paralleled Pescadero Creek, just beautiful! In fact, we even passed by an area where a wedding was about to take place. Overall, we had a fun time exploring the different areas and getting a decent workout from climbing up and down the trails. These trails were shaded and we felt cool under the canopy of trees on what was a pretty warm day.

Heading out for our hike through the giant redwoods
Mixed forest area
Redwood canopy
Higher elevation
Wildflowers dotted the trail
Even higher on the Mt Ellen Summit trail

There was an area where a number of giant trees with their giant roots exposed had slid down the mountain and blocked the trail in front of us. I was a little nervous because the dirt looked fresh and I didn’t want us to go sliding down the mountain, like in a tree avalanche (I’m coming up with all kinds of terminology today). We managed to cross this area safely and chalked it up to another adventure on our day of exploring.
“The time we barely survived crossing a tree avalanche area… 🙂 ”


Mt Ellen Nature Trail
Pomponio Trail

My favorite section of the trail was walking next to Pescadero Creek, the water was beautiful and there were many sections that looked like a nice place to sit for a spell. By this time, however, we were getting hungry for lunch, so no hanging out by the creek for us.

Pescadero Creek

The trail passed by the “Largest Tree” in the park, and the nicest part of this area was the big bench that we all sat down on and said, “ahhhhh” as we gave our feet a rest for a couple of minutes.DSC_6006

Hi Largest Tree!
This area is called the “Old Swimming Hole,” must have been dammed up at one time
“I dare you to go in there”
Wild turkey?

After our hike we got busy setting up our day campsite and cooked some crab cakes as requested by birthday boy. There are mosquitos here so be prepared for them (unlike us). Even with the mosquitos, we had a nice time relaxing after our hike, cooking and eating lunch under the redwood trees, and breathing in all that fresh air.

Our day campsite

DSC_6060Memorial Park is a nice place to come and hike in the middle of some beautiful redwoods, relax by the creek, and enjoy a spacious day-use area. We saw a large group of girl scouts and their families with all their chairs set up in a circle around the fire pit. They spent the day hanging out at their site and going on hikes. If that’s not day camping I don’t know what is 🙂 ? We are excited to come back and explore the other parks in the area and try out some longer hikes. I feel like we’ve only just explored a tiny portion of this large park system. Keep this area in mind if you’re driving along the coast on Hwy 1 and have a hankering for Artichoke Garlic Bread and a place to relax or hike among towering redwoods.

4 replies to “Memorial County Park, San Mateo

  1. I think NPS should start issuing warnings for fresh tree avalanches, lol. I’m totally with you–tree avalanches and day camping are definitely a thing. Love that there are so many state parks to enjoy the redwoods at without having to drive all the way to Humboldt. Gorgeous photos, and wow, those day use areas look really secluded and beautiful–thank you for sharing that great tip! BTW, you can’t just post amazing photos and mouthwatering descriptions of garlic artichoke bread and expect me not to think about it all day, haha! We’re carb addicts, so that one’s definitely going on the list for next time, yum!

    Liked by 1 person

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