Usually considered a city to pass through, San Jose has hidden gems that will make your stay in Costa Rica’s capital worth while. With many international flights arriving at SJO, San Jose should be your first stop on your journey through Costa Rica. A relatively young city, San Jose has many architectural beauties packed with culture and history. As the nation’s capital, it is the most populated city in Costa Rica, but it feels far from crowded, especially compared to its other Latin American counterparts. Enjoy the museums, the cuisine, the culture, and the nitelife as you explore Costa Rica’s underrated gem.
What are the Best Things to Do in San Jose?
Thankfully a lot of the beautiful buildings and main sites are all within walking distance of each other. This will make your tour of San Jose effortless and enjoyable, while you discover some of the best things to do in San Jose.
What to See in San Jose Costa Rica?
A stunning building in the center of San Jose, Teatro Nacional is home to Costa Rica’s national ballet and opera companies. Constructed in a neoclassical style the interior is even more grand than the exterior. With a beautiful chandelier, lovely painted murals, and gilded box seats, a night at the theatre feels like a royal occasion. If you are unable to catch a show, the theatre does provide tours where you can see almost all of the interior and marvel at the ornate fixtures, it is truly one of the top things to do in San Jose.
Head a few blocks down the street and you will find a cathedral just as grand as the theatre. The Metropolitan Cathedral was built with a combination of architectural styles in mind, but is beautiful nonetheless. While a stunning altar draws your eye, the high ceilings are what really make this cathedral feel larger than life. Please note this cathedral operates for parishioners, so it is always a good idea to enter with a respectful mindset.
La Sabana Park
Known as San Jose’s central park, this space is the most green that you will be able to find in the city. But it’s not like any of the other forests in Costa Rica, you will most likely see kids playing sports or business people taking a break from their day to eat lunch or take a walk. There are a couple paths where you can take a leisurely stroll, there’s even a small lake where you can sit and enjoy the afternoon sunshine, which makes it easily one of the top things to see in San Jose Costa Rica.
Located in the center of San Jose, this is the main drag where you can get to any of the major sites. This is where you will see some impressive architecture, and you can get to the Teatro Nacional and the Metropolitan Cathedral easily from this main street. Consider it your focal point when you are organizing your itinerary for the best things to do in San Jose.
Where to Go in San Jose Costa Rica?
Off the Paseo Colon main drag you will find Costa Rica’s National Museum, it’s a bright yellow building with intriguing sculptures sitting out in front. Dive into Costa Rica’s history as you learn about early settlements, the Spanish Inquisition, and the caribbean influence on Costa Rica’s culture. Then take a look at the pre-columbian history, where there are many pre-columbian artifacts preserved and on display, then check out the butterfly garden, you can wander the beautiful green gardens and see how many species of butterfly you can spot! There are other exhibits that come and go, but even the main exhibits should be on your list of things to do in San Jose.
Contrary to the name, a ‘soda’ in Costa Rica is not a sweet fizzy drink. A soda is a small family owned eatery, usually street side, only having a few tables. In the family business, usually, one member of the family is cooking and the other member of the family is attending to the customers. Sodas are the quintessential way to dine out and have a quick meal in Costa Rica, they may be small but the food is delicious and authentically Costa Rican.
Check out the historic neighborhood of Barrio Amon. Formerly mansions that belonged to coffee growers, the buildings have been reconstructed and revitalized, as they are now hotels, coffee shops and restaurants. Enjoy the feel of historical architecture while sipping a perfect cup of Costa Rican coffee, it’s no wonder this is one of the top places in San Jose.
Unusual Things to Do in San Jose Costa Rica
If you’re a history or archaeology buff, the Jade Museum is the perfect thing to do in San Jose. This museum houses the largest collection of American Jade in the world. There are thousands of preserved pieces of different kinds of jade, from translucent stones to idols and figures. Also fun for the whole family, this museum has some interactive exhibits, making this one of the best places in San Jose for the whole family!
Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica
Catch a football game, or a concert at San Jose’s new stadium! Newly finished in 2011, this 35,000 people stadium draws a crowd from all over Costa Rica to watch the latest football match or rockstar. If you are in San Jose for one of these events, as the crowd becomes lively and electric with a sense of pride for their home team. What really makes this stadium unique is that the shape is reminiscent of a clam shell, truly one of the more unusual things to do in San Jose.
Waterfalls Near San Jose Costa Rica
La Paz Waterfall
Take the two mile hiking trail to the ‘waterfall of peace’ where you can enjoy the serenity of the natural rainforest. Once you reach the waterfall, the 120 foot stream of water pours into a small pool where the crash of the fall creates a white foam and a strong stream. It is recommended to hire a guide as they can really show you the best spots to see the waterfall, as well as point out different local flora and fauna. The best part is, La Paz waterfall is only about an hour away from San Jose, making it one of the best waterfalls near San Jose.
Los Chorros Waterfall
Less than an hour from San Jose, you’ll be at the Los Chorros Waterfall! “Los Chorros” means ‘the jets’ in spanish, and it’s rightfully so that this fall has that name. The fall is about 150 feet high, so when the water comes streaming over the fall, it’s tumbling to the pool below as fast as a jet. While you can’t swim at these falls, there are others along the trail where you can take a dip if the heat is intense that day. With the beautiful surrounding forest and powerful falls it is definitely one of the best waterfalls near San Jose.