San José, Costa Rica is no longer just for visiting the airport or passing through on your travels from one coast to the next.
While we started to see a cultural shift 5 years ago the past two have shown a real change in locals' opinions of the city and their desire to work on its potential as an adorable, culturally vibrant and livable city. Many new projects are underway and we can't wait to see what the next two years will bring. In the meantime we have created a list of 10 reasons to visit San José now.
The entire size of the downtown area is about 2 miles in length. Streets are on a grid, and finally there are street signs to help visitors get around. There are 2 main pedestrian-only routes down Avenida Central and Avenida 4 for sightseeing. There are many historic and tasty treasures hidden on the side streets of these paths so we recommend any of our city walking tours to get a real look at the history and new developments of the city.
2. Nighttime Views
San José sits in a valley and if you can get high enough you can see the lights rising up the mountainsides in every direction. Our favorite choice in downtown is the restaurant on the 17th floor of the Holiday Inn at Parque Morazan. The food is ok and a little more expensive than usual so maybe pop up right at 6:00 for sunset and early drinks and appetizers, or dessert at the end of the night.
3. Affordable Shows
At any moment downtown you can catch concerts and theater shows for a reasonable price. The National Theater offers short performances Tuesdays at noon and Thursdays at 5 for under $8 a person. International acts perform at the National Stadium and Teatro Melico Salazar for usually much less than a ticket in the US or Europe. If you speak Spanish there are dozens of small theaters for live performance and stand-up comedy such as on the Teatro Urbano on the south side of the Plaza de la Democracia. Club Vertigo, El Lobo Estepario, Latino Rock, Steinvorth and Hoxton are also great for live music and DJs.
4. Microbrew Beers
It has been an uphill battle for small brewers to bring beer to the local market between fighting the monopoly beer company La Cervecería and getting Ticos to try something new. Finally, gastropubs are opening and featuring these brewers. An entrepreneur just hosted the first Oktoberfest and this year saw the second annual beer tasting festival. Our food tour gets you 10% off a beer tasting sampler at one of the new gastropubs.
5. Century-old Architecture
Downtown neighborhoods continue to clean up and many historic sites have experienced some form of restoration. A stroll through many streets in the immediate center and Barrio Amon can take you back in time to see the direct European influence and to appreciate the luxuries people had in such a small pueblo.
6. Green Fashion Design
Downtown boutiques display costa ricans' environmental conscienceness via fashion design with recycled fabrics and materials. Tienda Eñe always provides a look at the newest trends in this field.
7. La Sabana City Park
Originally the airport, this city park, now swallowed by urban sprawl, provides a green escape from the noisy city streets. One can run on the marked trails, speed skate on the rink, swim at the public pool or visit the free art history museum on the eastern end. On the weekends you can people watch or join others in pic- up soccer games or sponsored aerobic dance classes.
8. Street Art
Growing as a popular art form, incredible graffiti murals decorate different areas of the city. A new program is even commissioning artists to paint the metal doors of downtown shops, turning ugly security panels into visual stories of San Jose. Works still exist from the Transitarte festival held 2 years ago at the Legistlative Assembly.
9. Free Festivals
At almost any time of year one can find a free festival happening downtown. Every Sat. except the Christmas holiday season you can visit Parque Morazan and Parque Espana for free dance and art classes, and catch concerts. December to April are host to Topes, Festival of Lights, Rock el Farolito, FIA and Transitarte.
10. Day Trip Hub
San José is centrally located in the country and if you have 5 or less days it might be easiest to base yourself in the city and take day trips out to volcanoes, birding, hiking, rafting and beaches. On a side note, we think the Arenal Volcano and Monteverde are two places to stay overnight. Many agencies sell these as a 1 day trip but it's 4-6 hours each way. For closer destinations see our recommendations.
Brunching, a favorite activity amongst many expats and travelers has been difficult to accomplish in downtown San Jose.
Aside from the occasional breakfast buffets inside hotels, you'd come up with nothing more than the traditional gallo pinto available on morning menus.
Recently, however, two restaurants are taking the plunge to open on Saturdays for mostly brunch hours. And the good news you can leave full for a reasonable amount of money.
Jardín del Parque, situated on the northeast corner of Parque Nacional is now open from 12 p.m. - 4 p.m. on Satudrdays.
This is a fantastic vegetarian restaurant with a combination of breakfast and lunch menu options on Saturdays. Fruit parfaits, egg skillets and homemade pancakes with homemade jams will make for a nice first meal of the day. They do not have a liquor license however so you'll have to hold on the mimosas. Prices range from $5 - $10.
Restaurante Kalu, a restaurant and art gallery with a delightful eclectic menu is opening its doors 8 a.m. - 11:30 only for brunch, changing to a regular menu at noon, which kind of misses the point of leisurely brunch hours but at least it's a start for greater Saturday breakfast options.
Kalu has chosen to provide an extensive and creative menu with only breakfast dishes. One can choose from homemade chocolate bread pancakes to homemade bread topped with egg and toppings of your choice. We had the smoked salmon (another hard to find dish) which was well prepared but would have been wonderful with capers. Again, prices were reasonable between $5 and $10 for most plates.
The arrival of brunch to downtown San Jose rounds out a variety of options for urban fun. I would recommend the following agenda:
8:30a - 10a Organic Farmer's Market at Feria Verde
11a - 12p Free Yoga in Parque Espana
Brunch before or the farmer's market or after yoga, whatever works well for you!
Remember, if you like a new effort from a business be sure to support it. I guarantee these brunch options won't last long if clients don't stop by!
**This Saturday June 29 you can also participate in a bike ride with Chepe Cletas and showing of The Triplets of Belleville at the Historic Cine Magaly. The ride will start from the National Monument in Parque Nacional at 8:30.
We are very happy to announce an expansion of our services -- city tours in Spanish! Mariel is joining our team as a fluent English and Spanish speaking guide.
Native to Costa Rica, Mariel not only is able to provide city tours in Spanish, but also chat with our clients about life growing up in Costa Rica and wildlife. Get ready to hear some new stories!
Mariel graduated from the program of Biology and Sustainable Development at Universidad Latina, Costa Rica. She then pursued the field of Tropical Forest Conservation and management at the Higher Education and Research Center CATIE, where she became interested in the social aspects of natural resource management.
Her work experiences are broad and include tourism, experiential education, rural conservation programs, research and community-based workshops. She is also passionate about nature, Thai massage, teaching Spanish and reading!
Interested in taking a tour with Mariel? Reserve a San Jose walking tour!
A Review of My Ride with Chepe Cletas
From time to time I get to guest write with the English-speaking newspaper The Tico Times.
Last Sunday I had the pleasure to finally participate in a biking event with the 3-year-established Chepe Cletas, a group working on promoting zero transmissions as a way to create a better San Jose.
After being temporarily gifted a bike I took off with this group to see how the group has advanced and to see for myself what changes were happening because of Chepe Cletas and what challenges still exist.
You can read my review of riding a bike in San Jose. Overall, I had a great time socially and look forward to the next event, but I realize we are farther off from a bike-friendly San Jose than I was hoping.
Our walking tours strive to show tourists and expats the history and new advancements that give this city great potential. Chepe Cletas is also working towards the same goal. We want a healthy San Jose, a city people can be proud of at every turn, but it will take the effort of more than a few hundred people to create this change. Please continue to support downtown businesses and activities -- We get the city we deserve.
By Stacey Auch.