El Lobo Estepario
El Lobo is the local rock bar. This low lit, black and red beast is a fan favorite for rockers and groupies alike. Both the food menu or drink menu are full of traditional bar fare. The tables, of which there are many here, are usually covered with nachos, burgers, beers and vodka & cokes. The predictability is clearly comforting to the right crowd, as even with two floors of seating extending far back from the street, you’ll still find a line at the door as early as 9:30PM on a Friday Night.
La California - Av 2 Calle 13
Open 4:00 PM - Just past Midnight Daily; Until 2AM Saturdays & Sundays
More Info: 8704 4111; 2256 3934; https://www.facebook.com/loboestepariocr/
In the middle of a city that has grown increasingly too expensive, it’s refreshing to find a clean bar serving affordable, no frills drinks and food. This is a bar of olden times known for it's draw of the local theater and political crowds both with offices nearby.
The music is pretty good, the bar is spacious and tables are plenty enough that those without deep pockets can still enjoy a night out with their friends. There isn’t much in the way of design or decor, and you’ll be hard pressed to find craft beers or fancy drinks on this menu, but if all you’re looking for is a place to hang out and chat with friends over a cold beer, El Acapulco is your destination.
La California - Av Central entre Calle 17 y 19
(not to be confused with Bar Acapulco)
More Info: Click here
La California’s coolest new night spot could be boiled down to little more than a collection of food and drink stalls inside of a gated off alleyway. El Mercadito, however, is so much more. An artistically designed, light blue iron gate walls off the outside world, and polished wood kiosks dressed with artistic wood burned signs serve fusion tacos, buffalo mozzarella pizzas, craft beers, wine and gin tonics. The narrow entrance opens up into a large courtyard full of seating areas, where bohemian string lights hand between the trees. Each stall specialized in only one or two items, so you’ll never have to be standing in line for too long. Four footed companions are welcome here.
La California - Avenidas 1 y 2, Calle 21
Thurs 9PM - 3AM; Fri & Sat 6PM - 3AM; Sun 1PM - 10PM
More Info: email@example.com, https://www.facebook.com/MercadoLaCalifornia/
Mil 948 is not just a cocktail bar - is a mixology house. Set in a redesigned colonial mansion, this bar is an updated spin on the speakeasy era theme. Design mixes classic pieces - like the 1950’s powder blue Chevy truck on the side patio - with modern furniture and decor. There is a main bar, ample indoor seating, outdoor seating and a large area outback equipped for private parties (there’s even a pool). Best seating is on the outdoor patio, or if you’re keen to learn about cocktails, grab a stool at the main bar and watch the bartenders - oops, mixologists - put on a show. Private, secure parking in the back.
San Pedro - Edificio B, Calle Negritos; Av Central entre Calle 29 y 33
Tues - Thurs 4PM – 12AM; Friday & Saturday 4PM – 2AM; Sunday 11AM – 10PM; Closed Monday
More Info: 8990 4527; https://www.facebook.com/mil948/
Stiefel is a craft beer pub that outdoes expectations. There is nothing flashy or contemporary about this joint - in fact, if it weren’t for the neon green sign announcing its existence, you might easily walk right by. The sign is there though, and so is a bouncer who welcomes you at the wrought iron gate of the narrow downtown house. After passing inspection, make your way through the world’s tiniest front yard, that somehow manages to hold two full tables of beer drinkers.
If you expected tack - due to the neon green signage and the conspicuously large boot shaped beer glasses, you might - you’ll be pleasantly surprised. A chilled out vibe resonates from every inch of the old house. Besides an extraordinarily large selection of both draft and bottled craft beers, Stiefel has a second floor of fun and different ambients. There is a room with low pallet sofas for relaxing; another with small tables and low music for easy conversation; a third room with a fussball table and bar seating for more active crowds. Twin tiny narrow balconies, each holding up to four people, cater for people watchers and lowers of fresh air. Rowdier drinkers hang out downstairs by the bar, and patrons can admire the cool artwork murals that fill the staircase on the way to and from. An excellent place to start off your night.
Barrio Otoya - Av 7 Calle 11A
Open 11:30AM–2PM & 6PM–2AM Daily ; Closed Sundays
More Info: 8850 2119; https://www.facebook.com/StiefelPub/
Antik is a lunchtime restaurant that turns into one of the city’s most popular clubs on Friday & Saturday night. For lovers of a late late nights, electronic or Latin/Pop and fun debauchery, you’ve found your mecca. At this three floor beautiful colonial house, the party here really gets started around 3AM - before then there’s not much action past the dinner crowd. At 6AM, those still standing are sent back out onto the streets. Check their Facebook page or website for parties and events.
Casa Matute, Calle 21 Ave 10,
Tue - Fri 11:30AM - 3PM (lunch); Thursday 6PM -11PM; Fri &Sat 6PM - 6AM; Closed Sundays
More Info: 4033 3324; https://www.facebook.com/pg/antikcr
Pulperia La Luz (Food Truck Park)
Pizza, Tacos, Artisan Beers
According to their Facebook Page, Pulperia La Luz is "a space for gastronomic expression, where one can enjoy authentic street food, artisan bears food trucks and music"
Pulpería La Luz "La Cantina del Barrio" is less of a bar and more of of nighttime feed and gathering spot. An indoor building serves drinks, music (and a much needed toilet break) for the parking lot food fest.
Though the main crowd seems more interested in the drinks and music, hanging out in the ample seeing area enjoying the DJ and beers, we prefer the outdoor picnic benches under stretched string lights, surrounded by the wafting smells of grilling choripan, chicharrones or gourmet burgers - the perfect nightcap for a booze soaked stomach.
Barrio Escalante - Av Central y Calle 33
Wed & Thurs 6PM-Midnight; Friday 5PM- 1AM; Saturday 3PM - 1AM; Sunday Noon-10PM;
More Info: https://www.facebook.com/pg/PulperiaLaLuz
This intimate basement jazz club is located downstairs in a beautiful 1920’s house in the Amón neighborhood. The tiny music club has two gallery rooms upstairs, a small menu of yummy food, and incredible jam sessions, live music shows or vinyl presentations. It’s a spot for musicians and true music lovers.
The brick-walled club, which holds maybe 30 people at once, is truly from another era. Both international and local groups play here - impressive for the small stature. Mondays is considered by many to be the best night to go. The one downside is a slightly sketchy location. If you arrive during the day you’ll be alright walking, but after dark its advised to take a taxi or an Uber.
Barrio Amón - Calle 3 Av 11
Monday - Saturday 3PM - 2AM; Check for Sunday events
More Information: 2221 2302; https://www.facebook.com/pg/sotanocr
San José isn’t a huge city, but it’s not small enough to walk around in a day. If you want to get the most out of your visit, you might want to employ a few different methods of transportation.
The adventurous sort might consider renting a bike to get around San José. Although you’ll need to be careful on the roads, as there are very few designated bike lanes, cycling can be a great way to see the city. Many locals get around strictly by bicycle, especially since San José starting limiting driving in the city to help alleviate the traffic problems. We caution only expert bike riders to try this and definitely wear all safetly gear as drivers have little respect for cyclists.
Cycling as a sport is very popular in Costa Rica, so if you’re looking to go outside of the city it’s an amazing way to visit some of the further away sights. For example, there is a fantastic 4-5 hour ride up to Poas Volcano. You can rent a bike (and get connected with all the cycling information you’ll need) from companies like BiciRent Costa Rica or Costa Rica Cycling.
If you’re staying in or near downtown, walking is the best way to see most of the nearby things to do in San Jose.
The Jade Museum, Gold Museum, Central Market, National & Morazán parks, the Antigua Aduana, the National Museum the colonial architecture of Barrio Amón, the restaurants of Barrio Escalante and the bars of La California are all within walking distance of the each other - as long as you’ve got a decent pair of walking shoes.
Walking during the daytime in San José is pretty safe, so it’s a good way to get in some sightseeing and exercise at the same time. There aren’t too many hills in the downtown region, and you’ll get to see some cool street art along the way.
Obviously we support a walking tour as one of the best things to do for San Jose sightseeing.
Buses & Trains
The city bus system in San José is very complete, and once you’ve gotten the hang of the routes you can get almost anywhere. For destinations outside of San Jose there are usually bus stations where you can wait and buy tickets.
For the buses that take you shorter distances within the city, it will be trickier because they are located at random spots on a sidewalk, possibly marked with a sign. We recommend this only for people who have more time in the city---time to get on the wrong bus and get lost to be exact because it's inevitable. The best way to figure out how to get where you’re going is to ask people at the bus stop. Bus fare costs between 90 cents and a dollar forty (460-820 colones)
There is commuter rail service mostly during rush hours to: Cartago, Belen, Alajuela and Heredia. Routes and schedules can be viewed at Incofer. Rates vary from about 1000 - 1500 colones.
A taxi or an Uber only costs a few dollars, so if you’re really having trouble figuring out a route it might be worth a little bit of extra money just to grab a cab.
Taxis are plentiful in San José and are a good way to get around the city, especially at night. Official taxis are red with yellow triangles on the side panels, and are relatively safe. They also aren’t too expensive, with a 5km (10 min) ride costing about $7 USD.
Unfortunately it’s not uncommon for tourists to get ripped off by taxi drivers who pretend their meter isn’t working or take the long way round. When you get in the cab, insist that the driver start (or restart) the meter - called la maria. If you’re riding alone, the driver may try to pick up another fare. If he does try this, politely ask him not to.
Ride share services like Uber are popular in San José. Whatever you feel about the company ideologically, Uber is a safe and simple way to get around the city. As your route is pre-determined, you won’t have to worry about getting overcharged or taken a round-about route so you’ll pay more. There are a fair amount of drivers and the city is small enough you won’t be left waiting for a ride for very long. It’s safe, as you don’t need to exchange cash with the driver, and very economical - a 6 km ride (20 minute) cost just over 2000 Colones.
Driving in Costa Rica is not for everyone. In San José, there are a lot of one way streets, creative driving maneuvers and parking difficulties. Be mindful of rush-hours (6a.m - 9a.m., 4p.m. - 7p.m.) as traffic can and most probably come to a standstill and take hours to cross maybe 5 - 15 miles of distance.
If you’re staying downtown or nearby, it’s important to have secure parking overnight, as car theft or break-ins do happen.
Ticos tend to drive fast and the normal rules of the road may not always be followed, but for an alert driver it’s not impossible. However, with so many options for transportation inside of the city, you’ll enjoy your trip more without the hassle of a car to take care of.
We recommend picking up your car rental when you’re on your way out of town.
As San Jose’s gastronomic culture grows, restaurants and cafés alike are finally catching up with the world’s favorite Sunday morning tradition - Brunch. These are our recommendations to experience the best brunch options in San José, Costa Rica.
Manos en la Masa - Creative
Get up early to beat the crowd at this local favorite hidden away near the railroad tracks in a renovated white and red house on a quiet street in Barrio Escalante.
Many times we have arrived at 10am or later and either had to wait or move on, only important if you are on a tight schedule.
When you finally do get a seat, be sure to check the specials board. Chef Adrianna, soft spoken in person speaks volumes with her tasty creations such as tostados with buffalo mozzarella, and fruit flambé with sourdough bread (made in house daily).
You could just as easily indulge your sweet tooth with an orange cinnamon roll and a bubbly mimosa (we may have been guilty of this a time or two ourselves.).
Barrio Escalante; Calle 25 entre Av 1 y 3
Tues - Fri 8AM - 7PM; Sat 9AM - 5PM; Sun 9AM - 3PM
More Info: 4035 6230; firstname.lastname@example.org;
Kalu - Scene
More than just a brunch spot, Kalu is a bonafied meeting place for the hip Tico crowd. Couples, families and groups of friends share the beautiful green courtyard in this repurposed house (the chef's husband is an architect) in Barrio Escalante with the few foreigners who are lucky enough to be in the know.
Young families keep an eye on the little ones running around in the dedicated kids' play area while they enjoy Eggs Benedict and fresh coffees. This is Kalu's second home and just as before they make wonderful use of outside space with a bamboo terraced roof and white globe lights.
Beyond a very cool garden terrace, Kalu also hosts a shop selling designer Costa Rican made goods, and a luxury coffee bar where discerning coffee lovers can get their caffeine fix. This couple really was one of the first to successfully bring contemporary and national design to the public in a dining setting and now their prices reflect that.
Barrio Escalante - Calle 31 y Av 5
Open: Tues - Fri Noon - 10PM; Saturday 9AM - 10PM; Sunday 9AM- 4PM; Closed Monday
More Info: 2253 8426; http://kalu.co.cr/
Mantras - Vegan/Veggie/Value
Mantras is #1 on our list for best brunch in San José.
This already popular vegetarian/vegan restaurant (which covers all its bases serving organic, raw, lactose-gluten-free, and artisan food) posts special brunch offerings on its Facebook page every Saturday and Sunday.
Faithful fans will line up to eat in one of the green-enclosed restaurant's four seating areas. The front terrace for people watching; back terrace for nature lovers; main dining room for the see and be seen crowd and the back dining room for those who prefer privacy.
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 reasonably priced for the area and considering portion sizes - a Sunday morning win for everyone!
Barrio Escalante - Calle 35 entre Av 13 y 11
Open: 9:00AM - 5PM Daily
2253 6715; email@example.com
Saul Bistro - Best Design
It doesn’t mater if you eat the food at Saul Bistro, because just being there is an experience in itself. The eccentric design has won awards (and second looks) since its opening in 2015. The new Escalante location is one of four Saul locations in San José - there are more than a dozen in Guatamala where it first opened- and if Saul has anything to say about it, more will be one the way. Each restaurant tries to outdo the last in its avant guard design.
In Escalante, a tropical painted car on the front lawn is easily overlooked thanks to the life-size zebra greeting you at the door. The fun doesn’t stop there. Four different indoor and two outdoor seating areas are each designed in their own unique style. The service is also stellar in a country where attention to details is often lacking. Foodies however might be a little let down with the menu creativity and portion size compared to price but design lovers will have their day!
Barrio Escalante - Avenida 9 y Calle 31
Open 7AM - 10PM daily; Thurs until 11PM; Fri & Sat until Midnight
More Info: 2234 7936; https://www.facebook.com/SaulBistroEscalante
Maza - Downtown
No brunch list would complete without Maza, one of the pioneers of brunch in San Jose. Maza is a well known and popular brunch spot - with Canadian mixologist, Liz Furlong, at the helm for those hangover curing bloody marys.
Just as popular as their yummy food are the adorable picnic baskets they’ll pack you to enjoy your goodies in the park across the street. Maza has truly cornered the market in changing the typical brunch experience into a kid & pet friendly experience.
Calle 19 y Av 3
Open: 9AM - 6PM Daily, closed Mondays
More Info: 2248 4824; https://www.facebook.com/pg/MazaBistro/
By Stacey Auch.