San Jose Costa Rica does not exactly have a reputation as the nicest city in the world. However, it definitely has its charms.
If you find yourself with a day or two near the San Jose airport, there are plenty of places that are worth a visit. San Jose is home to great restaurants, museums, green spaces, and plenty of day trip options. You won’t get bored!
There are a lot of different neighborhoods and all have a different feel to them. We like the downtown area for the museums, theaters, etc. and Barrio Escalante for nice restaurants.
Now on to the rest of the San Jose Costa Rica travel guide!
From mid-December until April there is almost no rain.
The weather from December until February tends to be a bit cooler and windy. People here love it. We hate it.
From February until the start of the rainy season it can be hot during the day and cools off a bit more at night.
During the rainy season, it is difficult to predict. Typically it is sunny and nice until about 2 pm. The rain will then roll in for a few hours.
Sometimes these storms are scary with crazy lightning strikes. The evenings are typically dry.
You just never really know here though. Sometimes we will have rain all day and other times we will have several days of no rain during the rainy season.
Getting to San Jose
No matter where you are in the country you will have no problem getting to San Jose. Almost all buses end in the city.
If you are coming from the San Jose Costa Rica airport, you can read all about transportation from the airport in our San Jose Airport guide.
We don’t suggest driving in San Jose Costa Rica. We do it, but it’s not enjoyable. There is often a lot of traffic and people drive really crazy.
If you are using San Jose as a jumping off point for other activities we suggest renting a car with our favorite rental car company, Adobe. We love them so much that we asked if they could give us a discount for you.
If you book your car through us you will get a 10% discount plus several other great perks!
Getting Around in San Jose
The best way to get around in San Jose is by walking or taking Uber. There is a public bus system in the city, but it can be difficult to navigate. We still sometimes get confused after two years of being here.
Please read our guide to Uber’s and taxis before taking one.
Visit the National Theater: The National Theater (also known as Teatro Nacional) is located in the downtown section of the city!
It is open for you to check out the lobby during the day for free. There is also a really pretty coffee shop in there.
If you’d like to see a show you can see their schedule and buy tickets here.
We went here one night to see Alica in Wonderland as a ballet. It was fun to get dressed up and have a fancy night out. Plus, the inside of the theater is beautiful.
Visit Mercado Central: If you need to buy souvenirs you should do it here. Picture a large indoor market of tiny little alleyways and people selling everything you could ever possibly want.
I always feel like I’m in a Bourne movie in here. It would be a great place for a crazy chase scene!
Anyway, feel free to try to haggle, but Costa Ricans don’t do well with confrontation so if they won’t budge on the price just leave it at that.
The market is located on the foot traffic only street directly in the downtown area.
Have a picnic in the park: La Sabana Park is the main park in the city. It’s the perfect place large green space to walk around and have a picnic.
The national stadium and Costa Rica Art Museum are also located here if you want to check those out as well.
Go to a concert: One of the things I miss most in Costa Rica is good concerts. You can never go wrong with live music!
The only shows here are usually from local musicians (which can be nice) or very well known musicians who play at the stadium.
I saw Justin Bieber at the stadium just for the experience. Or maybe I have a serious case of Bieber fever 😉
Go to a soccer game: At the national stadium, you can see the Costa Rica national team play. How fun would that be to experience? The tickets are usually pretty reasonably priced as well.
Enjoy the nightlife: Sorry guys, I can’t give you that much insight into the San Jose nightlife scene because we are boring. Every time I’ve gon out partying it has been in San Pedro (the university area). There are TONS of bars and clubs there which are all packed on the weekends.
My favorite area is Barrio Escalante. This is a nice area with cute bars (think craft beer, hipster feel). I don’t recommend walking around San Jose at night but I’ve always felt safe here especially if it is a night with a lot of people out.
Check out a farmers market: There are always fruit and veggie vendors selling produce on the side of the road in downtown San Jose. Definitely, stop and try some fruits you’ve never seen before.
If you want a full-on farmers market you should ask at your hotel. Different areas of the city have their farmer’s markets on different days.
Go shopping: There are tons of places to do some shopping in the city! In the downtown area, there is a road just for pedestrians with tons of shops.
If you want a more US-ish experience, grab an Uber to MultiPlaza. This is the largest mall in Central America and has all the stores from home.
See a movie: I know, you didn’t travel all the way to Costa Rica to see a movie, BUT sometimes there are rainy afternoons and seeing a movie is your best option.
We actually go to the cinema often here because it’s not too expensive and almost all the movies are available in English.
Here is the website for the cinema we like at the Multiplaza so you can check out your options. Just make sure if it is a movie from the US it says “sub” next to it. This means
Hang out in Barrio Escalante: Barrio Escalante is our favorite neighborhood in the city (as we mentioned before). It’s a nice spot to spend an afternoon at a cafe, do some bar hopping, and check out the cute shops.
Just walk: During the day I sometimes just walk the downtown area of the city and see where I end up. I’ve come across some cute parks and amazing architecture during these walks.
Just please be aware of your surroundings and if you start feeling like you may be entering a bad area, turn around.
Get out of the city: Not to sound like a total downer, but one of the best places to experience San Jose is from above.
The city is basically a valley surrounded by mountains.
I suggest driving (or taking an Uber) to the Escazu area of the city and getting as high up as possible.
On a clear day, you can capture great pictures. We have a guide to great day trips from San Jose that will definitely help you out on how to experience Costa Rican coffee tours, visit nearby volcanoes, and more.
Residence Inn by Marriot– Located in the Escazu area of the city, this hotel is great to stay if you are coming to Costa Rica to go to CIMA hospital for medical tourism purposes. There are also plenty of great restaurants and shops nearby.
Gran Hotel– Located in downtown San Jose, this hotel went through a complete remodel a few years ago and is absolutely beautiful!
AC Hotel– Another great option if staying in Escazu for medical tourism. This hotel is super modern and beautiful. There is a delicious Spanish restaurant and gym on-site.
Grano de Oro Hotel– Luxury hotel located in downtown San Jose. This place is absolutely stunning. There is a delicious restaurant and pool on-site.
Isla Verde Hotel– Located a bit out of the downtown area down the street from the US Embassy. We love this place! Everything was recently updated, the staff is great, and they have a good Chinese restaurant on-site.
Studio Hotel Boutique– Nice hotel located in the Santa Ana area of the city (out of the downtown area). This hotel features a restaurant, pool, and fitness center.
La Sabana Hotel Suites– Cute hotel located near Sabana (the big park in San Jose). This hotel has an outdoor pool and breakfast is included.
The Garden CR: This place is located in our favorite area of San Jose. They offer dorms and private rooms. There are tons of great restaurants and bars around. Plus it has a super fun vibe.
Fauna Luxury Hostel: If you are in the Escazu area of San Jose this is our hostel pick for you. There is also an outdoor pool, ping pong table, and pool table.
Hostel del Paseo– Nice hostel in downtown San Jose. There is a shared kitchen and private parking for guests on-site. This hostel features dorms and private rooms.
We definitely suggest checking out Airbnb as well. Sometimes you can get some really great accommodation deals at beautiful places on Airbnb. We like Airbnb because often you can get a place with a private kitchen.
Save $30 off your first Airbnb stay here
There are a million food options in San Jose so it was pretty hard to narrow down our list, but here are a few of our faves….
Furca: Our go-to dinner date spot for steak. The service, food, and presentation is excellent.
Restaurant Grano de Oro: Located in the Grano de Oro hotel, this restaurant is beautiful! I always end up getting fish here, but they have a wide variety of delicious options.
La Divina Comida: Delicious Peruvian fusion restaurant located in Escazu. The meat here is amazing.
La Terreasa French Cuisine: The most perfect little French restaurant located downtown. It really feels like you’ve entered France here. Oh, and the food is incredible.
L’Olivo: Really great Italian food. This is our go-to date night spot in the city (I’m addicted to Italian food) so maybe you’ll see us there. 🙂
Mantras Veggie Cafe: Tasty vegetarian and vegan food cafe. The presentation is also completely on point.
La Esquina de Buenos Aires: Amazing Argentinian restaurant in downtown San Jose. Just a warning though, the portions are massive.
Cafe Rojo: Really good healthy food at an affordable price. I love the relaxed cafe vibe here.
Falafel House: You can never go wrong with some tasty falafel…at least that is how I feel. This is my go-to lunch spot downtown.
– San Jose has a reputation as being dangerous. We have never had any problems, but please do not walk around with large amounts of cash, do not flash expensive objects, and please do not walk at night.
Always get an Uber or taxi. Safety needs to be your number one concern in San Jose.
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