For a Latin American city, San José is relatively safe. That does not mean that bad people don’t exist here though, so like anywhere else you should always be aware. Follow these tips and you’ll be able to enjoy the capital city without worry.
Don’t Be Flashy
Many people don’t realize that they’re making themselves obvious targets for a street robbery. While at home, it might be normal to walk around chatting on your cell phone in the street, it’s a pretty sure way to get your phone stolen out of your hand. You’re not only showing off that you have a new iPhone 6s, you’re walking around distracted and therefore won’t hear when someone walks up behind you. If you’re texting, it means you’re looking down and won’t see someone coming up to you. If you want to chat on your phone, walk inside of a shop or stop at a café. If you’re using your phone as a map (a great thing to do!) try to have the route already mapped out and just glance at it from time to time. .
If you’re out at night don’t accept drinks from strangers. If you’ve left your drink alone, its better to ditch it and buy a new one. Take an taxi or an Uber, even if the bar is close. Many of the best night spots are in areas that are a little sketchy after the sun goes down. If you’re ever uncomfortable, its best to err on the safe side and not.
Going out? Check out our post on the Best Bars in San José
Avoid the Runaround
The old taxi meter scam is alive and well in San José. that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a cab - it just means you need to be smart. Only take official taxis. They’re bright red with yellow triangles on the side panels of the car. Before you get in the taxi, make sure the driver has a working meter (la maria). If he doesn’t, or says he can’t reset it, politely decline the ride. Ask the driver if he knows the route to where you’re doing. If you have 3G or wifi, you can download the route on your phone and confer with him before hand. If you’ve download the route on google maps, you can follow along on your progress even if you’re offline, to make sure you don’t get taken for a runaround.
Solo Female Travelers
Ladies rejoice - San Jose is a great city for women traveling alone. Most Ticos are very educated, and will treat you with kindness and respect. That being said, Costa Rica still has its roots in Machismo - macho culture - so you might still get catcalled as you're walking down the street. Try to remember that as rude as it is to you, it is technically meant as a compliment. If you're going out at night, try to find a friend at the hostel or hotel you're staying at to accompany you, but if you'd rather go solo, we recommend taking a taxi, just to be on the safe side.
As mentioned, San José is relatively safe. That doesn’t, however, mean that they’re aren’t opportunists. Just a normal amount of caution when you’re out and about. Take a quick look around you before you take out an expensive camera to take a photo. Leaving your possessions alone on a table while you go to the restroom probably means they’ll get up and walk away. Its best to carry a copy of your passport, and keep your passport locked up in the safe of your hotel room. If you are traveling with a car, don't leave valuables in the car. If you have to for some reason, make sure they are out of sight so as not to attract unwanted trouble. Use common sense, and you’ll have a great time in Costa Rica’s capital city.
Traveling with children can always be a challenge. Thankfully, Latin American cultures are family oriented and therefore most restaurants, shops or tourist sites are very open to kids. Here are some of the best family-friendly activities in San Jose, Costa Rica .
The Children’s Museum
Oddly enough, the children’s museum is located in what used to be a giant prison! In the early 1990's after it had been abandoned for more than a decade, the space was remodeled into a children’s learning center. The Children’s Museum was, at the time, the first interactive museum in Central America. There are 40 interactive rooms where kids (and adults) can learn about topics like the universe, Costa Rica, animals, the natural world, recycling, electricity and more.
Downtown - Calle 4 y Avenida 9
Tues-Fri 8AM-4:30PM; Sat-Sun 9:30AM-5PM
Rich smoothies and coffee creations pair with free range, locally sourced organic egg omelets, vegan breakfast burritos and heaps of vegan and gluten free sweets. This pet friendly, family friendly, vegan friendly spot is also - when compared to other trendy San Jose joints at least - rather reasonably priced.
Barrio Escalante - Calle 35 entre Av 13 y 11
Open: 9:00AM - 5PM Daily
2253 6715; email@example.com
Walking around the Feria Verde is a lovely way to spend a Saturday morning. Besides free tastings at the food stands, there’s live music, clothes and artisan goods on display and very good vibes. The Feria runs from 7:00AM to 12:30 PM on Saturdays, and takes place at the Campo Desportivo at the back end of Barrio Aranjuez. The Feria Verde is pet friendly and kid friendly, as well as a great place to sample locally produced artisanal foods.
Barrio Aranjuez - Campo Desportivo; Av 15 Calle 19
Open 7:00 AM - 12:30PM Saturdays
More Info: http://www.feriaverde.org/
Maza Picnic in the Park
In front of Parque Nacional is a very cute bistro called Maza. Beyond serving yummy brunch daily, Maza will pack your food into a picnic basket for you to enjoy in the park. That means no high chairs necessary. Spread a blanket and enjoy fresh cooked, locally sourced organic dishes without the stress of restaurant manners. The kids can run about in the park while parents dine al fresco.
Barrio Carmen - Calle 19 y Av 3
More Info: 2248 4824
Natural Science Museum
This isn’t a museum you’re likely to see on many lists, as, in museum terms, it’s a little outdated. However, it is exactly that fact that makes the Natural Sciences Museum really cool for kids. The place is loaded - and we mean seriously packed - with fossils, displayed floor to ceiling on the walls surrounding a giant T-Rex skeleton. There’s not much in the way of explanation or learning, however it’s a great way to pass a rainy day marveling at the stuffed and immortalized creatures of eras past.
Mon - Fri 8:00 AM - 4PM; Sunday 9AM - 5PM
More Info: 2232 1306; http://museolasalle.ed.cr/
National Museum (Butterfly Garden)
While museums can typically be a little tiresome for kids, the National Museum offers a really special exhibit that will entertain young kids long enough for parents to enjoy the rest of what the museum has to offer. The entrance to the National Museum, which is situated inside of the old Bellavista fort, is a giant, two story butterfly garden. The warm light enclosure just inside the museums entrance has been planted with a mini tropical forest and hoards of large blue butterflies fly around, undeterred by photo happy visitors. The staff puts out fresh fruit regularly, which attracts the butterflies and makes for even easier viewing. There is a little house on the second story area where you can see the cocooned butterflies and children can learn about the lifecycle of this beautiful flying bug.
Plaza de Democracia, entre av central y Av 2
The Jade Museum has been recently renovated, and it’s new exhibitions are very kid friendly. Each room has low mounted interactive video learning centers where kids can get a pint-sized view of pre-Columbian Costa Rica. The Museum is extensive however, so its good to plan on your little one getting tired halfway through. There is a café at the museum but its menu isn’t very comprehensive, so don’t forget snacks!
Downtown - Calle 13 y 13 bis,
Open: 10AM-5PM Daily
More Info: 2521 6610
Kalu Kids Area
Kalu Bistro, one of Barrio Escalante’s hip new café restaurants its also a great place for families. the bistro, which is situated inside of a repurposed home, has a small central courtyard with a dedicated children’s play space. It’s the perfect opportunity for parents to socialize and enjoy a sophisticated meal while kids can color or run around. There are also kid friendly options on the menu, and fun gifts for children in the boutique.
Barrio Escalante - Calle 31 Av 5
More Info: 2253 8426; http://kalu.co.cr/
Street Art Walk
The outdoor murals on the streets of San José, Costa Rica easily rival the works you’ll find in a contemporary art museum. From larger than life portraits to trippy dreamscape designs, Chepe’s streets are living proof of the talent that inhabits the city. One of the best spots is the stretch of Calle 17 from Avenida 1 down to the National Museum. The entire wall on the east side of this pedestrian only street has been turned into the equivalent of a free outdoor art museum. It's one of our favorite free things to do in San Jose. If you want to get a more in-depth view on whose painting what and why, join an Art Bird Walking Tour and learn more about local contemporary artists, and what their works mean to the city.
Picnic in the Park
San Jose has several really lovely parks where you can spread a blanket, unpack some homemade sandwiches and enjoy the lovely crisp weather that Chepe is known for. Parque la Sabana is a beautiful place to picnic - the largest park in the city has excellent views of the mountains to backdrop your idyllic afternoon. For those closer to downtown, Parque Morazan is a popular picnic spot where you can enjoy the good weather with locals on their lunch break. Or plop down at Parque Nacional - an especially good destination those who would rather get a to-go burger from La Merkati or have Maza pack their a picnic basket.
Walking around the Feria Verde is a lovely way to spend a Saturday morning. Besides free tastings at the food stands, there’s live music, clothes and artisan goods on display and very good vibes. The Feria runs from 7:00AM to 12:30 PM on Saturdays, and takes place at the Campo Desportivo at the back end of Barrio Aranjuez. The Feria Verde is pet friendly and kid friendly, as well as a great place to sample locally produced artisanal foods. Easily one of the best free things to do in San Jose.
Barrio Aranjuez - Campo Desportivo; Av 15 Calle 19
Open 7:00 AM - 12:30PM Saturdays
More Info: http://www.feriaverde.org/
Costa Rican Art Museum
The Costa Rican Art Museum exhibits more than six thousand works by national and international artists from the mid nineteenth to early twenty century. The museums works include photography, sculpture, paining and more, where you can reflect on different artistic periods and discover artistic movements that have left their mark on Costa Rican art. The museum has a lovely sculpture garden and a rooftop exhibit area with views of La Sabana Park. Best of all, the Costa Rican Art Museum is free to the public every day.
Open Tues - Sun 9AM - 4PM; Closed Monday
Free to the public
Walk around the Central Market
The Central Market is one of the most interesting sights in San José, as it is a piece of living history. The market has been open since 1880, in the exact same place, and every day the people of Chepe come to do business here. Vendors sell fresh fish and poultry to ladies whose bags are already filled with fruits, nuts and spices. While most tourists only show up in the late afternoon when the place is packed, its worth arriving early in the morning to see the local business take place, just as it has every day for the past century.
Downtown - Avenida Central entre Calle 6 y 8
Open 6AM - 6PM Daily; Closed Sundays
More Info: 2547 6104
Colonial Architecture in Barrio Amón
Barrio Amón is having an architectural resurgence. More and more business are moving into the area and are buying up and renovating old colonial houses, reigniting the urban beauty of the neighborhood.
Walk around and take a look at the old buildings - and if you want to stop inside of one, try Casa Pejibaye. This huge old house has been restored and turned into a co-working space. It’s one of the few buildings you can freely wander into (downstairs at least).
While your wowing at the vaulted ceilings, check out the Costa Rican designer goods at Tienda Carmen, or lounge on the wrap around porch drinking a coffee from Cafe Nauta, the coffee shop downstairs. If you want to know where all the most interesting architecture in the city is - and learn more about the history of each building - join a Barrio Bird Saturday’s Favorites tour.
It was tricky to compile a list of the Best Breakfast in San jose, as that the majority of breakfast places in San Jose do not open before 10AM. This list celebrates scrumptious breakfast spots offered at cafés and restaurants who serve breakfast as a breakfast friendly hour (late risers might want to check out or “Best Brunch” post here).
Café de la Barista
One of the earliest opening great breakfast joints in town, Café de la Barista serves gourmet coffee, eggs, pancakes, waffles and pastries to the hip and hungry. The menu switches at lunch to focus on small plates, quesadillas, salads and the like, or you can choose for their any time menu of sandwiches, wraps and bagels. For coffee lovers though, the most important thing to know is that Café de la Barista doesn’t have its name for nothing. The espresso drinks are crafted by truly skilled baristas, each one trained by owner Manuel Diarte, who organizes annual competitions to test the skills of baristas across the country. Now thats a good buzz to start off your morning with.
Barrio Amón - Av 9 entre Calle 19 y 21
Open Daily 7am - 6pm; Closed Sundays
More Info: 2221 4712; http://cafedelbarista.com
If you’re looking for the best typical breakfast in San Jose, head down to the Central Market for some good, down-home cooking. While much of the market selling souvenirs and the like stay closed until later in the morning, many restaurant and food stalls open at 6am to cater to early morning food shoppers. Try Soda Los Angeles (2223-2606); where fresh squeezed juices are mixed with water or milk and sugar for a breakfast smoothie, or head upstairs to Soda Cristal (2223-5002), where you can hanker down for a traditional plate of gallo pinto. The Cafeteria y Cafe Central (2222-1769) serves delicious, fresh roasted coffee, and if you’re feeling cheeky, grab a post-breakfast dessert at Sorbetera de Lolo Mora (506/2256-5000), near the main entrance. This institution of an ice cream parlor makes one flavor only: a vanilla sorbet-like ice cream with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves - and has been making it for more than 110 years.
Downtown - Avenida Central between Calle 6 y 8
Open Daily from 6am; Closed Sundays
Grano de Oro
The gold medal winner for our number one best breakfast in San José is potentially the least known as well. Not that Grano de Oro itself is unknown - this beautiful boutique hotel has been delivering five star service and old world glamour to San José city lovers for more than two decades. Their restaurant is considered one of the best fine dining establishments in the city. What people don’t seem to know is that Grano de Oro also serves an excellent breakfast at completely reasonable prices.
Try the Eggs Benedict with salmon and avocado, accompanied by a fresh squeezed orange and pineapple juice. Or, the truffled eggs with a smooth black coffee. Really, who doesn’t want to lounge in an impeccably decorated courtyard, an oasis from the city’s bustle, eat delicious food and experience five star service for the same price you’d pay at any trendy café in the city? Consider the city’s best known secret to now be officially revealed.
Sabana South - Calle 30 entre av 2 y 4
Open Daily 7AM - 10PM
Our favorite Mediterranean restaurant, Sofia's, has opened up a breakfast cafe right down the street in Escalante and we couldn’t be more thrilled. Everything that you love about Mediterranean food - fresh ingredients, delicious, dips, feta cheese and the like - is now available in breakfast form, all day long.
The best thing about Mediterranean food is that the quality of the ingredients will always shine through, and Pandeli is no different. Fresh breads, rich butters and jams,thick honey and dark coffee enlighten the senses even for those surfing from the worst hangovers. If that won’t do it, than go for a chia seed breakfast pudding or a green juice. It's the most delicious detox you could hope for.
Barrio Escalante - Calle 33 y Av 1
Tues - Sat 8AM - 7:30PM; Sunday 9AM - 4PM; Closed Monday
More Info: 2253 6474; https://www.facebook.com/pg/pandelic
Traveling with your four footed companion is not always an easy task, and cities usually prove more difficult that out of the way locations. The warmth that Ticos have towards canine companions, however, helps make San Jose one of the most dog friendly cities in Latin America. Although the actual dog parks leave something to be desired, there are many parks and sports fields where your dog can run, as well as cafes and restaurants that are happy to host your well behaved dog along with you.
The Feria Verde was easily our top pick for dog friendly places in San Jose. From 7AM - 12:30PM every Saturday, a whole punch of people who like kids, dogs, natural products, healthy food and good music get together to hang out and enjoy these things. You can walk around with your dog and explore the for stalls - where you both can get free samples. Afterwards, sit down to have a coffee or lunch, then take fido for jog around the track or into the football field to run around and play with the other dogs. The Feria Verde is a Saturday morning must for all downtown dog owners.
Barrio Aranjuez - Calle 19 y Av 15
More Info: 8884-1694; feriaverde.org
Best Dog Parks
Parque La Sabana is the biggest park in San jose, meaning it easily has the most space for your dog to run. What's lacking is closed off areas, so La Sabana is best for dogs who are well behaved off leash. However, it's still a great option for going on runs or walks with your furry companion.
Smack in downtown is a lovely green space where many local dog owners come to walk their pups. Although it is not an official off leash area, you’ll see more than a few off leash dogs, especially in the morning when the park is relatively quiet.
The field where the Feria Verde is held on Saturdays is the easy winner for best dog friendly run downtown. The football (soccer) field is fenced in, so many dog owners take their dogs here to play off the leash. It is the only real fenced off field that we found anywhere near the downtown area. The football field is also encircled by an asphalted track, making it perfect for owner+dog runs.
San Pedro Dog Park
I have to include the dog park because someone will inevitably google "Dog Park San José." They will see this park, and they will get excited. If your dog is small and likes running dog agility courses, stay excited! If your dog is big and would rather run around and play with other dogs who are not small, then perhaps skip this one. The park itself is pretty small (not ideal for long legged dogs to run), and unfortunately most of the (little) dog owners that frequent here were not keen on their pups playing with our very big dog.
Rainy days on vacation might lure you to stay in, wrap yourself in a blanket and snooze, but this shouldn’t be the case when you have such a vibrant city like San José to discover!
If you’re visiting the Costa Rican Central Valley during rainy season (April-November, most rainfall occurring in September and Oct.) you’ll most likely encounter a half day of either light drizzle or heavy rainfall.
There’s no need to be discouraged, you can still have fun and explore the city even when it’s pouring outside!
Follow our guide of the best places to visit in San Jose on a rainy day.
Morning: Take in Your Best Chance for Sunshine on Our Bird’s Nest Tour
If you’re interested in stepping off the beaten track then this is the tour for you!
Chances of rainfall are greater in the afternoon so start the day outside by exploring downtown San Jose. We designed the Bird’s Nest to take you beyond the common tourist experience by giving you an insight into day-to-day Costa Rican city life.
We’ll take you on a walking tour of over 40 stops that combine history with architecture, artwork, urban landmarks and local personalities. If you have a topic in mind that you want us to focus on we can do that too.
Take this opportunity to make the most out of your morning and get an insider’s experience of San José!
Lunch: Central Market
Get some lunch, rub shoulders with the locals and buy souvenirs, all in one place.
After exploring the city for 2 hours you’ll be ready to refuel and people watch. San José’s Central Market is the one-stop-shop for locals. Here you’ll find goods ranging from medicinal herbs to handcrafted items (jewelry, decorative sculptures, woven hammocks, etc.). It’s also a great place to purchase fresh produce or buy a quality meal at a very economic price.
If you want to eat like the locals then this is your best bet for lunch. We recommend tortillas with cheese, ceviche and ice cream!
Afternoon: Jade Museum
Right in the heart of city, the Jade Museum proudly stands as an emblem of Costa Rican pre-columbian archaeological and artistic heritage.
This museum manages to fuse pre-columbian cultural legacy and contemporary elements of display in a truly modern space. Its current installations are packed with jade and ceramics. The craftsmanship is truly incredible and inspiring, particularly for our creative visitors.
Located adjacent to Plaza de la Democracia, it sticks out because of its unusual exterior -a five story silver building resembling an uncut block of jade.
The museum showcases its precious stone artifacts as the highlight of various exhibits that include gold, shell, wood, resin and clay items. A total of six halls are open to the public, each with a different theme and providing a distinct visitor experience. The lighting and sound effects strategically placed throughout the galleries are meant to immerse you in a narrative of sorts: a timeline of Costa Rica’s early inhabitants and their ways of life.
This peculiar site is home to one of the most important Pre-Columbian jade collections in the continent, a must see attraction during your visit!
Tip: It is a great spot to sneak in panoramic views of the city as you climb the stairs from floor to floor. Allow about 2 hours.
Late Afternoon: Coffee at National Theater
There’s no better way to end an active afternoon on a rainy day than with a cup of coffee - just as the locals do.
All over the city you will see Costa Ricans also stopping for an afternoon coffee (it’s not just to start the day here). Culturally it is a chance to catch up with friends and wind down the day’s activities.
One of the most beautiful spots to participate in this tradition is at Alma del Café located inside the National Theater, boasting much like its host an ambiance of art and tradition. The café brings together elegance and daily life, becoming a place where the theater and musical enthusiast is as welcome as the casual passerby.
The menu offers a broad selection of hot beverages, coffee being the specialty of the house. With a choice of top local brews, you can order anything from a simple cup of black coffee to one of their elaborate warm cocktails -some of which have been inspired by Costa Rican regions and customs. We suggest pairing your drink with a dessert or pastry for a quick late afternoon bite!
Evening: Cine Magaly
End your day with an independent film at one of the most iconic metropolitan cinemas.
Cine Magaly opened its doors in 1978, soon becoming one of the most prestigious movie theaters of its time. It is also important for its distinctive architecture. Crowds of locals flock here to watch independent movies, enjoy national audiovisual productions and take part in the occasional film festival.
*Many films run in English with Spanish subtitles so you can still understand. Watch out for titles, they do not get translated word-for-word into Spanish. Google is great to figure out how you may of heard of the film in your native language.
Cine Magaly is the perfect spot for laid-back evening entertainment. If you arrive here hungry you can grab a panini or personal pizza with craft beer beforehand from Kubrik’s just to the right of the theater entrance.
Added Bonus: Movies in Costa Rica are a half or third of the price in the US or Europe. Expect to pay $8 max, have the option of caramel popcorn and enjoy comfy, reclining seats too!
Contrary to popular belief, downtown San José is filled with activities to enjoy even when it’s pouring outside.
These are just a few ideas that we hope will encourage you to walk around and take in the city. If you feel like you need any more suggestions feel free to contact us.
From the Barrio Bird Tours staff, we wish you a wonderful rainy day!
By Stacey Auch.
Stacey is the founder of Barrio Bird Walking Tours and an original advocate of San Jose's revitalization. She has opened 4 businesses all with a focus on sharing San Jose secrets and tips with locals and visitors.
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San Jose Day Trips