national theater, San Jose

Cosmopolitan San José

In the Spring of this year we traveled to San José, Costa Rica. As usual, we started searching the Internet, visiting the local Barnes & Noble for coffee and browsing, and asking friends what they could tell us about San José. We were disappointed to learn that almost all sources told us to skip San José. The Lonely Planet warned that “San José is not a pretty city, what with the unremarkable concrete structures, clogged pedestrian arcades and fast-food monstrosities dominating its cityscape.” The nature of our trip, dental tourism (perhaps a good topic for a future post), meant we had to be in San José for the week so the reports and recommendations were depressing to say the least.

What we actually found was far different. San José is a cosmopolitan city with much to offer. Add in nearby Escazú and you have a wonderful combination of old world charm and contemporary conveniences.  We stayed in Escazú in order to be close to our dental clinic in the Hospital CIMA. It also meant we were close to several malls, the Plaza Tempo and the Avenida Escazú. The latter two are a foodie’s delight. We tried as many restaurants as we could in the time that we had available. You can make your own choices but let us recommend:

  • L’Ile de France
  • La Divina Comida
  • Terrazza Toscana
  • Búlali, and
  • La Masía

Costa Rica dinnerCosta RicaSan Jose, CRSan Jose Imperial

The above are full-service, sit down, take your time and enjoy your meal restaurants. If you want something a little less expensive, then try La Hamburguesía. There is also a food court near the cinema complex which includes a gelato shop. A Starbucks is near the entrance to Avenida Escazú.

Central San José is close and easily accessible by bus or taxi.  We found La Plaza de La Cultura to be a great drop off and pick up spot for taxis. The patio of the Grand Hotel is a nice place for coffee or lunch. We felt like we were in an old Humphrey Bogart movie when we went inside the hotel. The Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica is on the plaza so be sure to check for concerts. We enjoyed a fabulous concert for $9. You can also tour the building. Under the plaza is the Museo del Oro Precolombino.


San José is a safe city so do not be afraid to walk from the plaza to the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica. It is a stunning old fortress that was built in 1917 and was originally a military barracks. The exterior walls still have many bullets lodged in them from the country’s 1948 civil war. We enjoyed the pre-Columbian artifacts. The butter fly garden provides a calm, quite refuge from busy San José.

Between the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica and the Museo de Jade, you will find a wonderful little craft market. It is a great place to buy locally made arts and crafts. You can also find a fair number of tacky, mass produced items as well as t-shirts.  It is OK to bargain but remember that the vendors have to make a living so be reasonable and do not be rude.

“Pura vida” is a characteristic Costa Rican phrase which you will hear and see during your visit. It literally means pure life. It is often applied to Costa Rica’s many natural wonders. In November we plan to visit the Pacific coast for a few days to take in a little of the pura vida. We are also going to spend a few days in San José, ignoring the guide books, and enjoying more of the many attractions this wonderful cosmopolitan, capital city has to offer those who are willing to look.

Alla in San JoseChicken Man


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