Let’s face it, when you plan a trip to Costa Rica, the first thing that you think of is the gorgeous wildlife, exploring national parks, and relaxing at its beaches. Most of you don’t exactly want to make San Jose, the capital city, a destination. But you’d be surprised by the number of interesting things to do San Jose has to offer.
A little over a decade ago, I lived in the San Jose area and got plenty of time to explore it. So I was able to find fun attractions that travelers can enjoy. So trust me when I say that it’s actually a fun spot!
San Jose is where you get to learn about Costa Rican culture and history.
Things to Do in San Jose Costa Rica
1. Avenida Central
If you are looking to explore San Jose, this is the best place to start. It is a closed-off street, almost like a promenade with tons of shops and restaurants. On one end you will find Mercado central and on the other one, there is a bus terminal. Right in the middle is the elegant National Theater of Costa Rica.
I recommend spending at least a full afternoon exploring everything that it has to offer and making it your base for getting food or gifts for your friends.
2. Mercado Central
This is a must! The oldest and largest Central Market of Costa Rica is always full of excitement and activity. Hundreds of fruit /veggie stands, fish stands, butcher shops, poultry vendors, souvenirs, and food stands occupy the indoor arena. You can enjoy a typical Costa Rican lunch while shopping for typical souvenirs to bring back home.
For all of us who prefer to stay-at-home rentals or Airbnb, knowing our way through this market is essential. This is where you get the freshest and cheapest ingredients to cook.
3. National Theater
This is one of the most beautiful and elegant buildings in all of San Jose. The place was built in 1897 in a beautiful European style.
If you have a chance to catch a show, do so! The tickets can range from $2 – $30 and it hosts a variety of shows: dance, opera, symphony, and much more. Even if there is nothing showing that day, you can still enter and take a guided tour or enjoy their cafe and gift shop.
It is usually open between 9 am and 6 pm but may close at 4 pm at times.
4. La Sabana Park
Every city has a grand central park and San Jose is right up there with the best. Sabana Park is amazing!
The park is a well-kept area with lots of trees and flowers, there is also a huge man-made lake and a beautiful cemented trail that takes you all around it, you’ll feel like a true local. I loved to take my son there for a horse ride and then let him burn more energy off at the playgrounds.
5. Pre-Columbian Gold Museum
This museum guards some of the most amazing treasures from Precolumbian times that Costa Rica has. There are over 1,600 artifacts made of gold that go as far back as 500 A.D.
This museum offers a great opportunity to learn all about the Precolumbian days of Costa Rica and the history of the gold mining industry in the area.
You can find the museum under Plaza de la Cultura and the entrance fee is $9. It is also right next to the coin Museum, so you get a two for one in this location.
6. Kids Museum
What makes this museum so unique is the fact that is hosted in a building that resembles a medieval castle that was once used as a prison.
It has tons of fun interactive exhibits where kids get to learn about nature, technology, and even history. It makes a great place to visit if you are traveling with kids.
The entrance fee is around $4, and it is open from 8 am to 5 pm almost every day of the year.
Other Fun Things to Do in San Jose Costa Rica
- Check out the cathedral
- Visit the natural museum
- Go shopping at Biesanz Woodworks
Things to Do Near San Jose Costa Rica
As mentioned above, there are tons of things that are also available for travelers on the outside borders of the city. This is a chance for nature and adventure lovers to have some fun.
- Take a cultural tour of a coffee plantation
- Hike up to the mouth of Poas and Irazu Volcanoes
- A full day at a nature adventure park
- Go white water rafting in Rio Pacuare
- Enjoy a canopy tour over the forest
- Explore La Paz Waterfall Gardens
- Search for Catarata del Toro and enjoy its pool
If on the other hand, you are looking for a fun beach getaway, you can check out Samara Beach. According to a STORAGE Café study on best places for digital nomads, Samara beach in Costa Rica is a hotspot, which is just a 4-hour drive from San Jose making it an excellent weekend getaway.
Where is San Jose Located?
San Jose is located in the Central Valley of Costa Rica and is surrounded by large forested mountain ranges and some active volcanoes. There are also green savannas, and rivers, perfect for rafting and working coffee plantations. So you can also enjoy plenty of nature adventures if you drive 30 minutes outside of the city. But first, let’s explore the things you can do within the city.
How to Get to San Jose
There are many ways to get to San Jose from the airport, but the best way is by car (taxi or rental car) and with a hotel transfer. You can take a bus from the airport too, but I don’t recommend it for first-time travelers. It will take you 35-minute approximately to get to San Jose from the airport. A taxi ride will cost you $25.
One of the best options for getting around in San Jose is using the local bus, they are reliable, easy to navigate, super cheap, and you’ll see them frequently. If you’re staying in San Jose downtown your best option is to walk around, from there most of the interesting places are within walking distance, a good way to avoid the traffic of this area. Of course, you have taxis, they are more private and can take you to any place you want without the tons of stops buses make.
Where to Stay?
In San Jose, you can find a huge variety of hotels for any kind of traveler that will cover all of your necessities. Ranging from budget to mid-range and luxury hotels. Here I’m going to list some of my favorite options.
Butget – Santo Tomas Hotel & Wellness Center
Despite being on the “budget side”, Santo Tomas Hotel has all the amenities a top-notch hotel has. From free parking, Wi-Fi, a pool, and a gym to children’s activities and a kids club. It also offers car hire. Rooms are clean too and have all the things you need, each room comes with a desk, a safe, a seating area, and a TV. Bathrooms are spotless and have all the toiletries you need, a walk-in shower, and a hair dryer for example.
Mid Range – Adventure Inn
One of the biggest draws of Adventure Inn is the fact that kids stay free. It is packed with all the amenities you need for a comfy stay, free Wi-Fi, a pool, and a gym. Rooms and bathrooms are clean and most of the rooms come with air conditioning, a desk, a dining area, a TV, a coffee and tea maker, and a walk-in shower.
Luxury – Hotel Grano de Oro
This may not be a luxury hotel you can find in the US, but it definitely doesn’t fall short. The property has some unique amenities that make this hotel stand out in the area, like a hot tub, and walking tours among the usual amenities like free parking, and WIFI. It also has a nice patio and a bar. Kids stay for free too and they have a huge children’s television networks.
A Bit of San Jose History
San Jose City (better known as San Jose) is actually the second capital of Costa Rica. The original capital was Cartago until it was moved in 1835. The city was originally called ‘Villa Nueva de la Boca del Monte del Valle de Abra’. A few years later the name was changed after the city’s patron, who was Saint Joseph.
The historic events that made San Jose what it is now were the development of the coffee exports industry, the influence of the French revolution and the country’s declaration of independence from Spain. Right after independence, the country was split into two: the Democrats, who wanted the country to remain a Spanish territory, and the Republicans, who wanted to centralize the power and make Costa Rica an independent country. After a short civil war, the Republicans from San Jose and Alajuela won. The capital moved to San Jose and Costa Rica became an independent country.
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