24 hours in… San José

January 9, 2020

Sure, you’re probably visiting Costa Rica for its rainforests and natural wonders. But its capital city of San José shouldn’t be overlooked. Here’s how we’d spend a speedy day checking out the city’s burgeoning arts and culinary scenes.


Have a java

San José is a great city to wake up in if you’re a caffeine fiend. Head to a third-wave coffee shop like Cafeoteca, in Barrio Escalante, to taste the good stuff for yourself. They specialize in single estate, small-lot coffees from around the country, each with their own unique flavour profiles thanks to variations in elevation and mineral-rich soils. Knowledgeable baristas can help to select the best coffee for your tastes and prepare it using the ideal method to extract flavours. Unlike your usual morning coffee routine, you might find yourself lingering here for a bit longer than expected, whether over another cup of coffee or a fresh-baked pastry from the Cafeoteca kitchen. Don’t forget to pick up a few bags of roasted beans to take home with you.


What’s old is new again

After you’re sufficiently caffeinated, make your way to the historic district of Barrio Amon. It’s one of the oldest areas of the city and where cafetaleros, coffee growers, built mansions in the late 1800s to the early 1900s. Admire the tropical neo-Victorian architecture here, painted in pretty shades of yellow, pink, and blue. Many of the buildings have since been converted into trendy hotels, cafes, and restaurants where you can stop in to grab a bite for lunch. Cafe Mundo, located in a century-old home, boasts a bohemian vibe alongside a seafood-centric menu.


Art attack

The arts scene here is strong and growing. A former rum factory has been repurposed into the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design and features modern works from artists all over Central America. Expect an emphasis on younger artists and boundary-pushing works here. If you’re lucky, you may catch a performance at the Pila de la Melaza, the museum’s open-air theatre. Afterwards, head to the Galeria Nunu, a private gallery which showcases works from Indigenous artists. Find everything from jewellery and ceramics to folk art, textiles, prints, and Boruca masks, the latter of which were worn by Indigenous populations to defeat Spanish conquistadors and are now made to celebrate the annual 'Fiesta de los Diablitos' (festival of the devils). Pick up a print or souvenir to take home or simply admire the works of art.


Stoke your appetite with a visit to the Mercado Central and witness vendors hawking local, fresh produce along with tchotchkes and knick-knacks (it’s a great place to pick up affordable souvenirs). Purchase some market eats here for dinner if you’re on a budget, or head back to Barrio Escalante’s Calle 33, nicknamed Paseo Gastronómico or “Eat Street” for its hip restaurants and bars. At Al Mercat, the Cordon Bleu-trained chef José Pablo González serves up Costa Rican staples with a modern, attentive twist while Restaurante Grano de Oro combines local, traditional ingredients with French and Mediterranean cooking techniques. San José’s craft brewing scene is growing so complete the day with a pint from the trendy Soberanos Brewers enjoyed on the patio with fairy lights strung overhead, or challenging your travel mates on their retro arcade games indoors.

Getting there

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