San José, Costa Rica doesn’t have many accolades despite there being so much to see and do all around the country so it has never been high on the priority list, but let me tell you, there are a few treasures to be discovered! Here are my top 5 things to do in San José.
1. Mercado Central (Central Market)
As with many Latin American cities, San José’s central market is easy to get lost in. It’s a huge labyrinth filled with stalls of anything and everything you might ever want or need, from fruits and veggies to fresh seafood to spices, home goods, tools, dried flowers and everything in between. It’s even a decent place to find souvenirs! I love that many people here still visit the central market to buy their goods rather than heading to one of the larger grocery or department stores. Spend some time wandering and get a feel for the ‘old world’. I’m sure you’ll come out with a treasure or two.
2. Feria Verde in Aranjuez (Organic Farmer’s Market)
If you’re ever in San José on a Saturday morning, be sure to check out the colorful Feria Verde at the Polideportivo Aranjuez just north of downtown. It’s a really fun gourmet/hippy/hipster market where you can buy organic produce, but also many specialty items such as hard to find cheeses and spices, but also clothing, jewelry, soaps, yoga mats, and lots more. There’s even a food booth section with all kinds of special goodies including pastries and fancy coffees and juices. It’s definitely worth an hour of two of fun!
3. Teatro Nacional (National Theater)
Located in the heart of the city next to the expansive Plaza de Cultura, Costa Rica’s Teatro Nacional opened in 1897 and is one of the country’s finest architectural buildings with beautiful furnishings inside. It offers regular high quality performances including operas, symphonies, concerts and plays as well as hourly guided tours for visitors and a lovely gourmet café open to the public. We haven’t yet made it to a performance, but it’s definitely worth a visit at least.
4. Museo de los Niños (Children’s Museum)
Okay, I realize this may not be for everyone, but if you have little ones , the Museo de los Niños in San José is definitely a must-see. We’ve been there twice so far and we STILL haven’t explored everything yet. There are tons of cool interactive exhibits from dinosaurs to space exploration to optical illusions to whole areas dedicated to the history, culture and wildlife of Costa Rica such as coffee production, the rise of banana plantations and how they function, historic train cars from the national train system, etc. There’s even a double decker bus, an old fire engine, an airplane and a helicopter that the kids are able to explore! We highly recommend a visit..or two…or three!
5. Barrio Amón
Barrio Amón is a lovely historic neighborhood in San José (check out Avenidas 9 and 11 just west of the zoo and botanical garden) that is going through a sort of revival. The beautiful historic mansions lining the streets were originally built by wealthy coffee growers back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some of them have been beautifully restored into hotels or restaurants, and others are in total disrepair or covered with vines which gives the neighborhood an authentic…or maybe nostalgic…feel.
With every visit we make to the capital, we discover something new, so I’m sure there are other hidden gems just waiting to be uncovered. It just takes a little digging!