San Jose has a brand new face. Over the last several years, downtown San Jose has experienced a revival of energy and color as foodies, creatives, and designers are breathing fresh life into the city center.
San Jose and the Central Valley are the heart of Costa Rica and home to over half the population that was first attracted to the region’s fertile land and pleasant “eternal spring” climate. Visitors to this metropolitan area are pleasantly shocked by the proximity of the mountains and the natural attractions that define Costa Rica. The city of San Jose offers a complete assortment of museums, parks, restaurants, and discos. There are also plenty of hidden gems in San Jose to be unearthed by anyone looking for a truly local experience.
Flights into San Jose International Airport
Many guests choose to fly into San Jose’s Juan Santamaria International Airport as it is the larger of Costa Rica’s two airports and its central location makes it a great jumping off point for any kind of adventure. Volcanoes, cloud forests, and beaches can be reached within a few hours drive and local airlines offer short domestic flights to almost every destination.
Downtown San Jose
A day exploring the downtown city center of San Jose is a fantastic introduction to the bustling energy of the city. Located on Avenida Central (Central Avenue), a convenient street for navigating places of interest, Plaza de la Cultura is the cultural and physical center of the city. Start here. This well-known pedestrian plaza is fantastic for people watching. Grab a snack from a street vendor and watch the buzz of the city come to life. The Plaza de la Cultura is located above the Museum of Pre-Columbian Gold. On the south side of Plaza de la Cultura sits the National Theater, Costa Rica’s architectural gem. Open to the public in 1897, the National Theatre was modeled after the Paris Opera House in the neoclassical style. The newly renovated Gran Hotel is right next door to the west of the plaza. A five-minute walk east along Avenida Central will bring you to the Jade Museum, an archeological museum that sheds light on Costa Rican culture and pre-Columbian communities. Further east on the Avenida Central, pass through the Plaza de la Democracia for its lively open-air markets. The Costa Rican National Museum sits directly to the east of the plaza.
Shop at Mercado Central
San Jose is one of the most modern cities in Central America, but a visit to the Mercado Central will place you in an old-school maze of wonderful sensory experiences. Over 200 stalls of vendors sell everything from fruit and spices to toys and souvenirs. Sample some exotic fruits and be sure to grab a bag of that famous Costa Rican coffee to bring home.
Music, Dancing, and Entertainment in the San Pedro Neighborhood
A few minutes east of main San Jose by taxi, Jazz Café is a popular live music venue in the San Pedro neighborhood. The bohemian neighborhood of San Pedro is located near the University of Costa Rica with trendy local shops. Jazz isn’t the only thing you’ll hear though – on any given night, local musicians treat patrons to reggae, rock, indie, and folk. With a full menu and casual atmosphere, it is easy to devote an entire evening here. It is no secret that Costa Ricans love to dance! Salsa, Merengue, and Cumbia are hugely popular, and you can test your skills at Castro’s. Younger crowds might enjoy clubs like Nova Rio Lounge, near the universities in San Pedro. For a little nostalgic family fun head to Salon de Patines, a large indoor roller-skating rink where the lights and music are just as important as the wheels.
Dining by Neighborhood:
When it comes to food in San Jose the only problem you’ll have is choosing. Sodas can be found just about anywhere, ready to serve up large, inexpensive portions of Costa Rican food.
Take a Foodie Tour Through the Escalante Neighborhood.
Exploring the up-and-coming Escalante neighborhood is a must for foodies. Visit Cabra Negra, a fun coffee shop with lite bites. Luna Roja offers a variety of innovative yet traditional Costa Rican dishes. Stop by Al Mercat for the vegetarian and vegan fare. They also have their own farm for delicious farm-to-table cuisine. Lulu & Saturnino is another highlight with delicious cocktails and a fun, energetic space. Don’t miss the Azotea Calle 7 restaurant within Hotel Presidente for great cocktails, good food, and gorgeous rooftop view overlooking the city.
If you’ve had your fill of the comida típica, pizza and wine at the casual Il Pomodoro in San Pedro will satisfy your carb cravings. For something a little more delicate, head over to San Pedro for cupcakes at Sweet Sensations. Right next to the Salon de Patines, this quaint British-owned café offers a cozy atmosphere and some downright delicious baked goods.
Experience refined dining at Hotel Grano de Oro, just a few blocks west of the Paseo Colon. Their gourmet take on Costa Rican classics has made the restaurant at Grano de Oro one the best in the city.
Downtown San Jose
Located in central San Jose, POPS is a great place to stop for helado, or ice cream. First opened in 1968, Pops has become a staple for locals and tourists alike.
San Jose Attractions
- Unique Boutique Hotels
- Fine Dining
Activities from San Jose City
- Pacuare River Rafting (1 day or multi-day trips available)
- Poas Volcano, La Paz Waterfall Gardens & Doka Coffee Plantation Combo Tour
- Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation Tour
- Cultural Highlands Tour
- Rainforest Adventure 3 in 1 Tour
- Irazu Volcano, Orosi Valley & Lancaster Gardens Tour
San Jose Travel Information
Climate: Dry- December to April, Green- May to November
Temperature: mid 70’s during the day and cooler at night
Bring: a variety of clothes as the days are warm and the evenings are cool