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.
By Stacey Auch.