If you’ve done any research for your trip to Costa Rica, you are probably planning on skipping San José. Every single blog will tell you to get out of the city as soon as possible. I’ll tell you why it is worth spending a day there. Due to some unfortunate planning we were forced to spend a day in the city and we ended up really loving it.
When we arrived we went straight to our hostel to drop our bags. We expected to arrive in a chaotic city where we would feel a little uncomfortable. This was not the case at all. You will probably find San Jose has a pretty chilled vibe. After only a few hours in the city, San José had won us over! It is also one of the few places in Costa Rica that didn’t feel like it was built only for tourists. In a lot of places it seems like there are just tourists living there, but here you’ll actually meet some locals.
What to do in San José
We decided to do the free walking tour in the morning so we could get to know the city better. It leaves every morning at 9 in front of the national theatre. Our guide Carolina explained all about Costa Rica’s history and politics. Although San Jose might not be the most beautiful city, it certainly has a lot of charm and plenty of interesting and beautiful buildings. The walking tour takes 3 hours and with a new understanding of the city exploring by ourselves was a lot easier. We visited the national theatre, the central market, the national museum, lots of street art, some parks and the tourist market. I would advice doing the tour first and then taking the rest of the afternoon to explore by yourself. Everything is located around Avenue 1, which is a boulevard running through all of the downtown area. Parque Morazan is a great place to chill late afternoon too as all the locals come there to hang out. You’ll see people slack-lining, dancing and doing gymnastics. In the evening head over to Calle 21. This is a street full of cafés and clubs where you can go to party. We were only 1 block away from the party street, but if you’re staying further away make sure to take an Uber!
Where to eat in San José
The Central Market: For lunch head over to the central market for lots of cheap food. Here you can find typical Costa Rican food and it’s a fun place to roam around. San Jose in general is pretty chill, but here you’ll feel the hustle and bustle of the city.
Café de Alma: If you’re looking for something a little quieter this café is a good option. It is located in the National Theatre and has some of the best cake in town. Besides cake it is also great or coffee lovers as you can choose the type of coffee bean. If you use the restroom while you’re there you get to see some of the theatre without taking the tour.
Café Miel: This place has is super tiny, but feels very homey and has amazing coffee! If you’re looking for something cheap to eat, try the empanadas!
Galeria Talentum: I haven’t actually visited, but heard great things. We passed by it on our way to the bus station and regretted not going here. If you manage to make it here, I’d love to hear how it was.
Calle 33: This whole street is full of trendy restaurants. To me these places felt very European. We ended up at Katzenbar, but almost all of these restaurants have great recommendations.
Foodmarket in Calle 21: This is the party street, but there is a food market hidden there as well! They have Pizza and Tacos for a decent price, among other things. This is a place where all the local young people come to hang out. When we were there, we were the only tourists. We noticed that it is pretty quiet there around dinner time, but later in the evening there was an enormous line! So make sure to be there in time if you want to grab a quick dinner.
Where to stay in San José
Make sure you stay somewhere downtown so you are able to walk everywhere. We stayed in Costa Rica Guesthouse. It is located in a great area. It is only one block away from the party street and a few blocks from all the trendy restaurants, but it is very quiet there. The staff was extremely helpful and the rooms and beds were really comfortable. We even went back there a second time!