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This isn’t a museum you’re likely to see on many lists, as, in museum terms, it’s a little outdated.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
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: firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.
By Stacey Auch.