During the years I lived in Costa Rica, I got to see and learn a lot about how locals live, what places they visit, which beaches are good for different surfing levels, trying local food, drinks, and others. In the following article; I will be sharing with you some of San Jose’s Top Highlights for you to visit when staying in this city surrounded by nature. People usually stay in San Jose City just for a night as their main stopping point since that is where all buses and public transportation stop, go and passes by. Although the city itself may not be the greatest of them all, I recommend you give the valley a chance and let yourself be surprised. When arriving at Costa Rica you will be welcomed by nature itself. You can appreciate it already from your window on the plane. Nature here has a voice of its own; anyone who lived here will agree. Volcanic mountains, jungle, and dense clouds will be your view at first sight. Next, in order, I will share with you some of San Jose’s most local adventures and things to do to get a true grasp of Costa Rican Culture.
San Joaquin, Heredia – CR
What to consider when coming to San Jose, Costa Rica.
So you arrived in San Jose. You find a place to stay and as I mentioned before, this might not seem the nicest city of all but it still has a lot to offer. If you are considering renting a car; I recommend a 4WD which all rentals offer (or something along those lines). Something not so big, nor too small, but still being able to go through dirt and mountain roads when leaving San Jose. Let’s check some of San Jose’s best options on things to do while visiting this very artistic city. San Jose offers a variety of neighborhoods, pubs, bars, foods, appetizers and cultural events throughout the city and surroundings. San Jose itself will surprise you with its colorful, creative and jazzy graffitis. They change continuously but always present. You can walk downtown San Jose and move around some really nice neighborhoods. You have La California, Amon, Sabana Park, Escalante, Escazu, and a bunch of breweries to try a really good homemade beer during the evening. A variety of restaurants and food shops are available as well. Each neighborhood has its personality, and you can easily tell.
First thing first: Breakfast in San Jose.
You want to consider starting your day with a typical Costa Rican Breakfast; which consists of Gallo Pinto (Rice, Beans, Vegetable and Classic Lizano Sauce), scrambled eggs, tortilla, and coffee. Some places might even offer to add sausage or plantain. Sabana’s Park is a great place to start since it has really good sodas (local dinners) that offer breakfast and you are right next to the park. This park is filled with eucalyptus trees; they have colored trunks usually orange, green and yellow. You will also notice this due to their typical smell.
Typical Breakfast – San Jose, Costa Rica
Museums and monuments while walking through San Jose’s streets.
You can walk downtown, passing through some of San Jose’s main monuments and museums, such as Costa Rican Art Museum, Central Market, National Theater, Archaeological Museum, and Nacional Museum. By now we should be arriving at La Cali. This is a neighborhood in San Jose which main street is called La California, hence the urban name for the hood. Most likely a recharge could come in handy. Like most Caribbean countries, the main meal here is based in some kind of meat (beef, chicken or fish), rice, beans, plantain, and salad. This typical lunch is called “Casado”. Any Soda or Chinchorro (dinner or pub) that offers lunch will have Casados in their menu. Other very typical and local options for lunch are Chifrijo (fried pork with rice, beans, avocado and pico de gallo*), Patacones (fried plantain homemade chips), Nachos with cheddar, beef/chicken, beans, pico de gallo, sour cream and more, chicken wings, among others.
Time for a more artistic atmosphere.
We shall walk through Amon which is very nearby. This is a typical artistic neighborhood in San Jose, on the way there you will come across several graffitis and there are often craft&art fairs. Amon is also San Jose’s most bohemian neighborhood. A few times a year there are some food, music & art festivals in the streets and small shops. From Amon, you can walk to Escalante; passing through small local shops with old books, handmade crafts and even small places where you can stop for a great cup of coffee. Something that will never let you down, is a good cup of Costa Rican coffee. Escalante is also a very nice neighborhood, and this one could be considered San Jose’s main spot for finding a good brewery and have a cold beer while enjoying the sunset evening vibe.
San Jose, Costa Rica
All over San Jose, you will find some very nice parks and remember: you are surrounded by nature and it will show; you can see, smell and hear it. Escalante is also a very gastronomic key point. Therefore; you can take a chance and have an early dinner before planning your upcoming evening. Almost all restaurants have a vegetarian and/or vegan option for those who do not eat meat.
Dining & Night Life in the Center Valley.
At night you have several options depending on each person’s preferences. If you like meeting new people, going out and nightlife you can choose between going to La Cali or to Escazu. This last one is very popular for its dining options and bars. If La Cali is your choice of preference of the night, you will have to walk up and down Cali’s main street (hard to miss it since everyone is walking down the street). Escazu, on the other hand, is most known for its places to dine with the best views of San Jose. Put on a nice shirt and enjoy the night at one of the many bars and night clubs there are in the area. This is a bit further, so I highly recommend you download any taxi app or just call for one.
Lookout View – San Jose, Costa Rica
For those who like to have a nice and more quieter dinner, you can also keep Escazu between your options, or maybe consider Escalante, or simply go to the theater or to a music concert. For these types of activities, I do recommend to do the proper research beforehand since during weekdays everything closes pretty early and shows may start around 9-ish at their latest. All information regarding cultural events is always online.
Alternatives to enjoy Costa Rica outside the city
If you rented a vehicle and you are considering options outside the city for day-trips, here is a list of places I personally recommend based on personal experience: * Barva Volcano * Peace Waterfall * Santa Ana’s Wind Turbines * Irazu Volcano * Orosi Lookout * Tapanti National Park * Mantas Beach I hope this information comes in handy when considering spending a day or to in San Jose, Costa Rica. This was my home for 3 incredible years, and it will always have a special place in my heart. I hope you can see it too! *Pico de Gallo: diced tomatoes, onions, chili, lemon juice, and cilantro. It goes with almost everything!