If you want to check out San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica, you can easily do it in 1 or 2 days. It’s not a big city but there are several excellent cultural and historical things to do in San Jose, Costa Rica. If you have a day or two in San Jose, here are our recommendations for what to do in San Jose, Costa Rica in this blog post guide to the city.
Fun fact, San Jose was the third city in the world to get public electricity and one of the first for public telephones. Second fun fact: San Jose became the capital of Costa Rica in 1821. Previously, it used to be the city of Cartago.
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San Jose, Costa Rica Know Before You Go
- Province: San Jose.
- Airport: San Jose International Airport or Aeropuerto Internacional Juan Santamaría. Airport code SJO. Interesting fact: Although many people think San Jose International Airport is in San Jose, it is actually in Alajuela, the province right next to it.
- Time Zone: Central Standard Time GMT-6
- Language: Spanish. English is widely spoken in touristic areas and indigenous languages are also spoken
- Voltage: 110 V
- Currency: Colon. Approximately ~530 CRC to 1 USD
- Population: Approximately 339,000 (city) and 1.6 million in the province
- Driving side: Right hand side of the road (Like USA and Canada)
San Jose is not a big capital city, at just 17.23 square miles. For reference, Paris is 40.70 square miles and Miami is 55.25 square miles.
San Jose, Costa Rica Video
We took a video of us driving around San Jose so you can see what the city is like. The video includes some commentary so you can learn more about the city.
Best Time to Visit San Jose, Costa Rica
With temperate year round climate, San Jose is a fantastic city to visit nearly year round as the Central Valley is known for having the best weather in Costa Rica. However, October is the rainiest month for most of Costa Rica and the city can get heavy downpours, thunder and lightning storms and floods during this month.
Rainy season is generally from May to November and dry season is December to April, but in San Jose, it can start raining in April as it begins transitioning from dry to rainy season. Read more about Costa Rica weather here.
Year round day time temperatures range from 75 F to low 80s F (23 C – 29 C) and night time temperatures range from 60-65 F (15-18 C). It has the perfect weather to wear a tshirt and pants during the day and then snuggle up with a warm sweater and blanket at night. Get our Costa Rica packing list guide to see what essential items to bring!
Where is San Jose, Costa Rica?
San Jose is located in the Central Valley, very much right in the center of Costa Rica.
San Jose, Costa Rica Map
Here is an interactive Google map with places to do and see recommended in this blog post below. Click the left bar to open the categories. You can continue reading to get more information about things to do in San Jose, Costa Rica as well as day trips from San Jose, Costa Rica.
How to Get to San Jose from San Jose International Airport
San Jose International Airport is about 17 kilometers (10.5 miles) from downtown San Jose, approximately a 30 minute drive. To get to San Jose from San Jose International Airport without a car, you can take a taxi, an Uber or arrange a private shuttle. There is an official airport taxi stand right at the exit terminal.
An Uber/taxi costs about 8,000 – 10,000 CRC ($14 – $18 USD) one way. To call Uber, you need Internet on your phone. There is free Wifi in the terminal (upstairs, departures area) of SJO Airport but we highly recommend you to get a prepaid SIM card or have an international data plan on your phone. You can schedule Ubers but we don’t know how reliable this is in Costa Rica as we have never tried it or talked to anyone who has.
As you don’t know what time you will finish immigration and customs or if you will have any flight delays, we do not recommend scheduling an Uber to get from the San Jose International Airport to your next destination.
You can take the public bus if you’re on a budget. There is a bus stop right outside the airport. Walk down the ramp onto the main street and you will see the bus stop there. It runs frequently and costs just a couple hundred CRC to get to downtown.
Prebooking a private shuttle is the easiest, safest and most stress free way to get from San Jose Airport to your hotel in San Jose (approximately $64 USD for 1-8 passengers and the driver will pick you up directly at the airport terminal exit). Contact us if you want to book a private shuttle for any of your routes during your trip.
Getting Around San Jose
- Bus: There are many buses in San Jose, you can get to nearly anywhere in the city with the public transportation. Read our tips for taking the bus in Costa Rica.
- Uber: We use Uber a lot as it’s readily available in San Jose. Read our tips for using Uber in Costa Rica. Didi is another ride share app that works in San Jose.
- Taxi: We prefer Uber but you can find red (official) taxis everywhere in San Jose. Read our tips for taking taxis in Costa Rica.
- Walk: If you’re staying in downtown, you can easily walk to many of the attractions. We don’t recommend walking in San Jose after dark as some parts can get sketchy. Always take a taxi or Uber at night. Never walk down empty streets, alleys or unlit roads, especially alone. There is a sketchy area around Hotel Del Rey we recommend to avoid walking through at night.
Things to Do in San Jose, Costa Rica
Walk Central Avenue
Central Avenue is San Jose’s downtown and the road goes straight through it. It’s an excellent starting point to see downtown and to also visit the various places of interests like museums around.
If you go around 4-5 PM, you’ll see all the locals getting off work and it’s fun to people watch. Walking through Central Avenue is one of the best things to do in San Jose, Costa Rica because you get to experience and see typical city Costa Rican life.
The Costa Rica national theater is the cultural and architectural gem of Costa Rica. Take a tour to learn about the theater and see the stunning architecture.
You can visit the Theater on your own without a guide as well. Purchase tickets at the door to wander through the beautiful rooms and the main stage. The guided tour is about 1 hour, you can visit on your own and finish in about 30 minutes.
If you’re hungry afterwards, the National Theater has a lovely cafe with coffee, food and snacks.
Restaurante Tiquicia Dinner Show
This restaurant up in the hills of Escazu has a stunning view of San Jose, the surrounding mountains and nearby cities. This is a wonderful place to see the city lights, eat local food and experience some Costa Rican culture.
Restaurante Tiquicia offers “Noche Tica” which is their dinner show now on Thursdays at 7 PM. Recommended to make reservations to guarantee your spot.
The San Jose Central Market is a must visit in San Jose. I love the atmosphere of local markets! It’s fun to watch the locals go about their daily life. In the market, you can try traditional food and do some Costa Rican souvenir shopping.
Most San Jose city tours stop by this market as it’s one of the most important San Jose, Costa Rica tourist attractions.
You can spend about an hour wandering through the stalls as the market is not that big. Highly recommend to grab breakfast or lunch there to try traditional Costa Rican food. We love Soda Tala and their gallo pinto. Don’t forget to try the local ice cream, visit La Sorbetera de Lolo Mora.
Municipal Craft Market
For more souvenir shopping, head to the Municipal Craft Market. They have dozens of local vendors selling their artisanal products. You may need to dig around a bit but there are some hidden gems.
San Jose Museums
San Jose has several small but superb museums to learn about the history of Costa Rica.
- Jade Museum: This archeological museum has the largest display of American jade in the world with over 7,000 artifacts and pieces. In the Plaza de la Democracia.
- Children’s Museum: Formerly a jail, the children’s museum has hands-on exhibitions and science and culture presentations.
- Gold Museum: This museum has a large collection of Pre-Colombian gold dating back to AD 500. Under the Plaza de la Cultura.
- National Museum: Formerly a fortress, this museum is one of the most important places in Costa Rica since it’s where former president Jose Figueres Ferrer abolished the army in 1948.
If you only had time to visit one museum, we recommend the Jade Museum. This is our personal favorite museum, it has five floors with permanent exhibits and normally 2 temporary exhibits. The Museum of Gold is fascinating too but it’s very small. We personally think the entrance fee to the Jade Museum is more worth the money. ($15 USD per adult for Gold Museum, $16 USD per adult for Jade).
Parque La Sabana
We absolutely love visiting city parks and Parque La Sabana is no exception. Known as the lungs of the city, this large park is home to the National Stadium and it previously was the site of the first international airport. They replanted thousands of trees throughout the park several years ago so you can stroll through the forest trails to see native trees and flowers.
You can spend an hour or so in the park to see the lake and walk around, you don’t need much more than that. The Park is right in between downtown and the airport, you can even walk to downtown on a nice day to get your steps in. Or taxi/Uber there in about 5-10 minutes.
A visit to Parque La Sabana is one of the best free things to do in San Jose.
Sample Itineraries for One Day in San Jose
Here is our recommended DIY itinerary for one day in San Jose.
10 AM Morning guided tour to the National Theater
11-1130 AM After the tour, sit in the Plaza de la Cultura to people watch.
12 PM Have lunch at the Central market and spend an hour or two souvenir shopping and walking around downtown.
2-3 PM Get a coffee and cake at Spoon in downtown San Jose on Second Avenue. Or go to the cafe in the Gran Hotel Curio Collection for a nice view and more refined experience.
Afterwards, head to hotel to relax and freshen up. Then Uber to dinner. 11.47 Aranjuez is very good or you can go to Barrio Escalante as it has a ton of options. For our favorite Costa Rican restaurant experience, go to Posada de las Brujas in Escazu.
For 2 Days
Here is what we recommend for day 2.
Breakfast at your hotel or if breakfast isn’t included, get breakfast at Soda Tapia
Around 10 AM, Uber to La Sabana Park. Walk the trails, see the lake and enjoy the nice weather. Also visit the Museum of Costa Rican Art to see the exhibits and old airport.
For lunch, there’s a bunch of restaurants and fast food around the park. We recommend Republica Casa Cervecera for a nice burger and beer with stadium view. You can also visit the restaurant of the HIlton Garden Inn La Sabana which has a fantastic view right into the stadium (more expensive).
After lunch, Uber back to your hotel. Rest, freshen up.
For dinner, we recommend Restaurante Tiquicia for beautiful city views. Hopefully you can visit on Thursday when they have their dinner show.
For More Days
If you plan to use San Jose as a homebase or have more days in the city, here is a sample 5 day San Jose itinerary.
Guided San Jose City Tour
There are several tour companies that offer San Jose city tours. They’ll take you around to the highlights of the city such as Parque Morazan, a couple of museums, the Catholic church, the central market and other points of interest.
For a full day of cultural and fun, we recommend to do the San Jose city tour and then Restaurante Tiquicia at night. The City tour is in the afternoon and they’ll take you straight to the restaurant afterwards.
Get a discount off the San Jose city tour here! The tour is called Classic San Jose.
San Jose Day Tours
Just one hour away from San Jose are several volcanoes, waterfalls and other natural attractions. As a result of San Jose’s great location, there are plenty of awesome day trips where you can go ziplining, cruise to an island and hike up to a volcano crater!
A couple of our favorite day trips from San Jose are Tortuga Island (get $10 off the tour here), Rio Pacuare white water rafting (get $5 off the tour), 3 in 1 rainforest tour, Arenal Volcano day tour, Doka coffee tour and Irazu Volcano. Just 30 minutes away still in San Jose is Hacienda La Chimba with hiking trails, ziplining and coffee tours.
Where to Stay in San Jose, Costa Rica
The best place to stay in San Jose to explore the city is in downtown. However, as such as small city, you can stay in the other popular neighborhoods and Uber around. There is a lot of traffic during rush hour (5-7 AM and 3-6 PM) so take that into account.
If you stay at a hotel near SJO Airport, you are about 30 minutes away so it’s not the best location if you plan to explore San Jose. It’s best to stay closer to the city. Do not forget that SJO Airport is in Alajuela, so don’t choose a hotel in Alajuela either.
These are three popular neighborhoods to stay in to explore San Jose.
This is around Parque La Sabana and is divided into two main areas: Sabana Norte and Sabana Sur. In Sabana Norte, the Nunciatura area is very nice and has many condo towers. The park is about halfway from the airport to downtown and has tons of restaurants around. Great location and is our favorite.
You will be in the heart of the action if you stay in downtown San Jose. Parking is incredibly difficult in that area and not necessary so you should stay here without a car. You’ll be in walking distance to all the main cultural attractions like the museums, theater, church, and Central Market.
This is an up and coming neighborhood known for its hip nightlife and trendy food scene. About 40 minutes from the airport.
San Jose Hotels
- The Gran Hotel: In downtown and close to the museums, the national theater, restaurants, banks and shops.
- Hotel Presidente: A very nice modern urban hotel right in downtown. Has a very funky decoration and is pet friendly
- Holiday Inn Aurola: Has a large indoor swimming pool, a restaurant and bar. Near downtown.
- San Jose Barcelo: A nice resort like hotel with a gym, restaurant, outdoor pool and racquetball court. In between La Sabana and the airport.
- KC Hotel: Nice hotel near La Sabana Sur with a pool, restaurant and bar. Includes breakfast and free welcome cocktail
- Park Inn by Radisson: Very comfortable hotel in between La Sabana and downtown. Includes hot breakfast, has a gym, work station and breakfast.
- Adventure Inn: Great option if you need a place near the SJO airport. Beautiful little inn with excellent breakfast. Has a gym, office and restaurant. Get 10% off your booking in the link.
- Hotel Aranjuez: Good mid range/budget option for a hotel in downtown San Jose. They have an amazing restaurant.
- Fauna Luxury Hostel: This luxury hostel has pods dorms and private rooms. It also has a co-working space, pool, rooftop, restaurant and game room. In Escazu.
- Hotel Balmoral: This is a very nice hotel near downtown. They have a restaurant and gym with standard rooms and apartments.
- Selina: They have a hip co working environment and private rooms. In between Barrio Escalante and downtown.
There are also a ton of Airbnbs in San Jose and we recommend to pick one in a condo tower as they have secure parking, front desk/concierge and amenities like gym, laundry and pool.
We’ve stayed at Ambar Torre Condos, Nunciatura flats, QB SkyHomes, Condominio Vistas del Robledal, Apartamentos Witite, Cosmopolitan, Secrt Sabana, Iconnia and Azena Towers. The only thing to note is if you stay at an Airbnb condo tower, tour companies will most likely have you go to the nearest hotel for the pick up and drop off point since they can’t pick up at Airbnbs.
If you’re looking for a hotel near the airport, read our post for SJO Airport hotels.
San Jose Restaurants
Here are some of our favorite restaurants in San Jose, Costa Rica. Barrio Escalante is a fantastic neighborhood for food and a fun, hip nightlife. Uber Eats and Globo work in San Jose.
- Posada de las Brujas: This restaurant in Escazu is one of our favorite places for local food in San Jose. Big portions, very good prices.
- Septimo Sentido Gourmet: A cute restaurant in Escazu with homemade recipes and fresh ingredients. Has veg/vegan options, sandwiches, pasta, breakfast, dessert, burgers and coffee.
- The Cental Market Market: Has several local restaurants. Highly recommend Soda Tala or Soda San Martin for local food. Then get a delicious ice cream sorbet style at La Sorbetera de Lolo Mora.
- Apotecario: One of our favorites in Barrio Escalante for beer, burgers, gallos and fried yam.
- Soda Castro: A classic soda known for their fruit and ice cream desserts
- República Casa Cervecera: Good place for beer and food right in front of the National Stadium.
- Pho Yummy: Fantastic place for pho and Vietnamese food
- Soda Gloriana2: Typical buffet style Costa Rican soda. Cheap.
- Dulce Pecado: Cafe and soda with traditional Costa Rican food
- Tamura: Excellent place for sashimi, sushi and ramen
- O’Libano: One of our favorite places for shawarma, salads and hummus
- Craic Irish Pub San Jose: Irish pub with fish and chips and good craft beer.
- Stiefel Pub: One of the best places for craft beer and bar food in San Jose.
- Taste of India 506: In Escazu Village, very good Indian food.
- Silvestre: Amazing fine dining restaurant, same owner as Don Rufino in La Fortuna.
- Restaurante Machu Pichu Excellent Peruvian food. Their seafood is really good.
- 11.47 Aranjuez: Gourmet Costa Rican fusion food. Reservation only.
- Cafe Franco: Chill cafe spot with lots of pastries, great coffee and vegan/vegetarian options.
San Jose, Costa Rica is generally safe during the day but there are some places we recommend staying away from and things to keep in mind.
- Don’t walk alone at night past 9 PM. If you want to go out, always take a taxi or Uber. Never walk down empty or dark streets.
- If you are lost or feel unsafe, go into a safe public area (supermarket, gas station, business) and ask the employees to help you. Most city Costa Ricans speak a degree of English.
- In case of emergencies, the emergency line is 911 and they have an English speaking option.
- Don’t wear beach clothes in the city. You should also wear good closed toed comfortable shoes. Sidewalks and roads have a ton of cracks and holes.
- When purchasing things, never take out all the cash in your wallet. Take out only the amount needed. If you use your credit card, always keep an eye on it, never let it leave your sight.
- Always keep your belongings close to you and where you can see them. Never hang your purse or backpack on the back of your chair or put it underneath. Always put it somewhere you can see it at all times.
- The area around Hotel del Rey is one of the sketchiest. Avoid that area at night.
- Don’t leave your expensive camera out. Put it in your backpack when not using it.
Costa Rica Vacation Checklist
- First time to Costa Rica? Read our First Time in Costa Rica guide.
- Not sure how to move around Costa Rica?Read our How to Get Around Costa Rica guide to find the best transportation method for you.
- See what Costa Rica Weather is like in our blog post.
- Click the link to get our detailed Costa Rica Packing List so you know what essential items to bring.
- Do not forget to purchase Travel Insurance for your trip to Costa Rica.
- Stay connected by purchasing a prepaid SIM Card in Costa Rica.
- Save money with Mytanfeet Deals for tours and hotels. Save more money with our Costa Rica Car Rental Discount.
Read Other Costa Rica city guides below!
La Fortuna, Costa Rica: Main town and tourism hub near Arenal Volcano, famous for adventure, wildlife and nature
Jaco, Costa Rica: Biggest and most developed beach town, only 1.5 hours from San Jose. A popular surfing beach.
Tamarindo, Costa Rica: The main surf town in the North Pacific (Guanacaste province). Popular for backpackers and families, has good nightlife and lots of beautiful beaches around
Monteverde, Costa Rica: Small farming town up in the cloud forest. Famous for nature, hanging bridges, ziplining and birdwatching