Fortunately, San José is a relatively safe city with pick-pocketing being a tourist's top concern. We sometimes see visitors so worried about safety they forget to have a great time. So, follow these tips and you’ll be able to enjoy the capital city and create positive memories.
Keep That Cell Phone Under Control!
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. Walking on 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, step 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 have an unlocked phone it is totally worth getting a SIM card for your trip to have data wherever you are. We recommend Kolbi or Movistar, you can even get one in the airport. This will greatly alleviate stress during many parts of your trip.
San Jose has decent foot traffic in most areas until about 8 p.m. After that hour we recommend definitely taking a taxi or Uber, the latter preferable even if only a short distance. The golden rule is if no one else is on the street, don't walk down it.
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.
If you'd like to meet local people, especially if traveling alone our tip is to arrive somewhere a little early, meet the service staff and ask for recommendations before they get busy. Going to see live music can be a great way to 'bump' into people, as well as stepping outside with the smokers. Ticos are more than happy to ask you about where you are from and if you have yet fallen in love with Costa Rica so find a way to start a conversation and enjoy making new friends!
Going out? Check out our post on the Best Bars in San José
Avoid the Taxi 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 downloaded 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.
If you think the taxi is ripping you off feel free to pay him the appropriate amount and then walk away, do not let his attitude/anger/etc. intimidate you.
This potential runaround is our main motive for suggesting the use of Uber whenever possible. You must remember that if an Uber driver is caught it is illegal to offer transport services without being registered with the government and he will be fined. So, when using Uber learn your driver's name and get in the front seat.
Solo Female Travelers
Ladies rejoice - There are many things to do in San Jose and it's a great city for women traveling alone. Most Ticos are very educated, and will treat you with kindness and respect. It is the hub of activity and culture in the country and therefore affords many opportunities to connect with locals.
Costa Rica still has its roots in Machismo - macho culture - so you might get catcalled as you're walking down the street. You could consider opting for wearing city attire vs. slinky beachwear. This will keep you warmer (San Jose is 3400 ft. above sea level) and reduce unwanted attention. ----Don't worry we are involved with various groups that focus on counter-machismo culture and we work on educating men about eliminating 'acoso callejero'. Let us put up the good fight and you enjoy your trip dressing for the amount of attention you want or don't.
If you are looking to connect with other travelers or locals we recommend using Airbnb to connect with a host or following various Facebook venue or community pages ahead of your trip to see if there will be special events during your stay. Maybe you'll happen upon a mini craft beer festival or vegan taste-testing. Our yoga-loving clients often make new friends attending classes at Downtown Yoga our sister business.
Our recommendation is to avoid having a rental car in San Jose. There are pick-up locations on Paseo Colon, it's easiest to get your car as you head out of the city or drop it before heading to airport.
If you do have a rental car in San Jose you should know that you cannot leave it in the street unattended. There is an informal industry here of 'guachis' (pronounced watchees) that hang out in the street and watch cars. There is no actual guarantee your car will be safe but it's usually the only option if a parking lot is not nearby. You can pay them about 500 colones per hour as a general rate, pay when you leave. It usually comes down to whatever change you have in the car.
Downtown San Jose also has lots of new metered spots. You must pay these (look for a machine a few blocks distance) or it is likely you will get a ticket. Unfortunately there is no security associated with it so you might also have to pay a guachi.
Parking lots usually charge about 600 colones an hour and some will negotiate an overnight rate.
When parking in the street or a lot you CANNOT leave anything in the car. A few dollars worth of valuables can help someone get the next high or meal.
Be Sensible - Other Random Tips
As mentioned, San José is relatively safe. That doesn’t, however, mean that opportunists aren't out there. Just have a normal amount of caution when you’re out and about.
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 places to visit in San José, 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 1990s, 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 - Street 4 and Av. 9
Tues-Fri 8AM-4:30PM; Sat-Sun 9:30AM-5PM
Rich smoothies and coffee creations paired 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 - Street 35 between Av 13 and 11
Open: 9:00AM - 5PM Daily
2253 6715; email@example.com
Walking around the Feria Verde is a lovely thing to do in San Jose on 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 Polideportivo at the back 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 - Polideportivo; Av 15 Street 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 - Street 19 and 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 Science 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 past eras.
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, between Av. Central and 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 it's 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 - Street 13 and 13 bis,
Open: 10AM-5PM Daily
More Info: 2521 6610
Kalú Kids Area
Kalú Bistro, one of Barrio Escalante’s hip café restaurants, is 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 - Street 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 places to go in San Jose is the stretch of 17th Street from 1st Avenue 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 José. 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 José 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 Morazán 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 Ventanita Meraki 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 - Polideportivo Aranjuez; Av 15 Street 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 twentieth century. The museum's works include photography, sculpture, paintings and more. Here 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 taking place, just as it has every day for the past century. If you want to be guided through the mazes of products to the best secrets try a Hungry Bird Tour.
Downtown - Av Central between Street 6 and 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 helping to renovate 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 José, as that the majority of breakfast places in San José do not open before 10AM. This list celebrates scrumptious breakfast spots offered at cafés and restaurants who serve breakfast at a breakfast friendly hour (late risers might want to check out our “Best Brunch” post here).
Café del Barista
One of the earliest opening great breakfast joints in town, Café del 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 del Barista doesn’t have its name for nothing. The espresso drinks are crafted by truly skilled baristas, each one trained by owner Manuel Dinarte, who organizes annual competitions to test the skills of baristas across the country. Now that's a good buzz to start off your morning with.
Barrio Amón - Av 9 between Streets 19 and 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 José, 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 (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 - Av Central between Streets 6 and 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 their 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 kept secret to now be officially revealed.
Sabana South - Street 30 between Av 2 and 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, then go for a chia seed breakfast pudding or a green juice. It's the most delicious detox you could hope for.
Barrio Escalante - Street 33 and 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 than out of the way locations. The warmth that Ticos have towards canine companions, however, helps make San José 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 cafés 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 - Street 19 and Av 15
More info: 8884-1694; feriaverde.org
Best Dog Parks
Parque La Sabana is the biggest park in San José, 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.
By Stacey Auch.