Abstract The development of biomaterials for tissue engineering applications has recently focused on the design of biomimetic materials that are capable of eliciting specific cellular responses and directing new tissue formation mediated by biomolecular recognition, which can be manipulated by altering design parameters of the material. Biomolecular recognition of materials by cells has been achieved by surface and bulk modification of biomaterials via chemical or physical methods with bioactive molecules such as a native long chain of extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins as well as short peptide sequences derived from intact ECM proteins that can incur specific interactions with cell receptors. The biomimetic materials potentially mimic many roles of ECM in tissues. For example, biomimetic scaffolds can provide biological cues for cell–matrix interactions to promote tissue growth, and the incorporation of peptide sequences into materials can also make the material degradable by specific protease enzymes. This review discusses the surface and bulk modification of biomaterials with cell recognition molecules to design biomimetic materials for tissue engineering. The criteria to design biomimetic materials such as the concentration and spatial distribution of modified bioactive molecules are addressed. Recent advances for the development of biomimetic materials in bone, nerve, and cardiovascular tissue engineering are also summarized.