After I graduated from college I moved to Costa Rica where I worked as a high school science and research teacher. When I initially moved out there I thought I would be living in the jungle, or by the beach like you see in photos. Because when you think of Costa Rica, a lush rainforest should be one of the first things that comes to mind. Well, instead I was placed in a school in the capital city of San Jose. To say I wasn’t very happy about that decision, was an understatement. I almost didn’t accept the job solely because I didn’t want to live there, but at the last moment I decided to take it. And boy am I glad I did. 

I quickly began to realize just how incredible the city actually is. The little hole in the wall sodas, the parks, theaters, stadium, clubs, everything came to life. After living there for a year I can say with confidence that it is one of my favorite places on earth. There’s not a day that goes by without missing my life there and I hope that one day I’ll be able to return. But until that day comes, I am happy to share the top things to do in San Jose Costa Rica to make you fall as deeply in love with it as I have. 

Fun Things To Do In San Jose Costa Rica : Visit Barrio Escalante 

I can’t even count how many days I went here after work, or on a night out, or during the weekend. In my opinion, it’s the coolest neighborhood in San Jose. This is the place to go if you want to do work in a cafe, or grab a drink with friends, or to go out to a nice restaurant. The buildings are so colorful, the cuisine and food are excellent, and the streets are always filled with ticos, ticas and travelers looking to have a good time. 

Chingad@ Madre Escalante 

Trying out new spots is one of the top things to do in san jose costa rica
Sipping a spicy mango margarita on a balcony overlooking the city

I would often come here after work to have a drink with friends or catch up on some grading and enjoy a plate of nachos. It’s located in a food court on the edge of Barrio Escalante and they serve the best margaritas. I always loved getting a spicy mango margarita (with jalapeños and a chili rim). I would take my drink and go sit out on their balcony area that overlooks San Jose. The green mountains were the perfect backdrop for the sea of colorful homes and tin roofs. This was one of my favorite spots to go to. 

Since this restaurant is in a small food court, there are also a few other places here that are fun to enjoy like the italian restaurant near the back which serves great pasta options and has a fun wine selection as well. 

Calle 33 Mercadito 

unusual things to do in san jose costa rica include walking around Barrio Escalante
Many bars and restaurants around San Jose have cool decorations

This is one of my favorite food courts in the city for eating and drinking with friends. I also went on a couple dates here and the vibe is perfect because it’s lively but not too crowded or loud. I would always stop at the bar 33 oz first because they have fabulous drinks, both blended and on the rocks. As their name suggests, they have 33oz frozen cocteles and that’s their small size! Their big size is a whopping 48 oz. You can also get classic cocktails like margaritas, caipirinhas, and sangria. 

They also have a pizza restaurant, burger joint, Mexican food, pastries, and more. The ambience is fabulous and they have seating options inside, outside and upstairs. If you choose to sit upstairs, they have a full bar as well as fantastic views of Calle 33 down below which is great for people watching. 

El Ninot 

fun things to do in san jose costa rica include admiring art
The atmosphere at El Ninot is the best

This Spanish restaurant serves amazing tapas and wine amidst an intimate, cozy atmosphere. From the outside, the space looks like an old spanish style home, with vines running up its face and a small wooden door leading into the dining area. It’s positioned a couple streets over from the main road in Barrio Escalante, which keeps it away from the major foot traffic. 

The walls are covered with guitars, photos, antique objects, maps, and art. The lights are dim and the tables are cozily tucked away into every corner and hidden nook. An iron staircase leads you upstairs where old fashioned glass windows open up to the street below. Traditional Spanish music plays softly in the background. I highly recommend ordering the patatas bravas as an appetizer followed by paella de mariscos. Our favorite bottle of wine to order there is the Care Sobre Lías Tinto. 

Fun Things To Do In San Jose Costa Rica: Go Outdoors

Hike Tres Cruces 

Watching the sunset is one of the top things to do in san jose costa rica
Beautiful sunset while walking home from work

Since San Jose is a major city in Costa Rica, it’s not known for its hikes. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. I did this hike with my roommates one weekend and it was a fun break from our daily routine. You drive into the mountains past Barrio Escazú in Alajuelita. The path is easy to miss if you don’t know what you’re looking for. (This isn’t surprising as Costa Rica doesn’t have any addresses, and genuinely has little desire to properly label anything). As long as you park near the Valle Azul restaurant though, you’re good. Just follow the dirt path up on foot. 

The trail will initially take you past cow pastures and through meadows which is super pleasant. From there, it’s a pretty steep incline the rest of the way. If you have knee problems this is not a hike I would recommend. The hike itself is gorgeous though and takes you up into the forest and gives you amazing views of San Jose along the way. Eventually you’ll come across a large cement cross. Keep following the path until you reach the second cross. This is a lovely place to stop and catch your breath, admire the scenery, and go back, or continue to venture on. 

The last bit of the hike is the hardest. My friends and I were in pretty good shape when we did this and we were still struggling with this last bit. But the views you get from up there– super worth it! In all, it probably took us about 2 hours to complete. 

Visit Parque La Sabana 

If you're looking for fun things to do in san jose costa rica, sitting by the lake at the park is great
The view of the lake at Parque Metropolitano La Sabana

Like I said before, this big city doesn’t have a ton of open spaces. There are parks in almost every neighborhood for children to play at, but they’re relatively small. Parque La Sabana is an exception to this though. And coming here was one of my favorite ways to spend a day off. The park is huge and has multiple fields where people run, play fútbol, fly kites and relax with friends and family. There are jogging and walking paths that weave throughout the grass fields and intermittent trees to provide shade. In the center is a large lake, which offers the best backdrop for photos. 

I loved coming to this park and walking along the winding paths to the lake. Along the way I would stop at one of the vendor carts who would be selling mango slices with salt, coca cola bottles, chips and water. I would bring my new goodies to this patch of grass that jets out into part of the lake. Underneath a shady tree I would lay out my blanket and take out a book and my journal. And there I would stay until the sun set behind the apartment buildings lining the edges of the park. If I ever grew hungry, it normally wasn’t long until another vendor would come through, pedaling ice cream and other treats. 

Watch A Game At El Estadio Nacional 

top things to do in san jose costa rica consist of watching a game at the national stadium
Watching a game at the National Stadium is something you must do in San Jose

This National Stadium is in La Sabana, which makes it a very short walk from the lake stop I just finished talking about. This is where the major professional fútbol games are held as well as large concerts. When I lived here in 2022, I watched two games of the Women’s U-20 World Cup here. This is also where my friends got to see Bad Bunny and Daddy Yankee perform. This open air stadium sits a little over 35,000 which creates an atmosphere that is both grand yet intimate at the same time. Watching a game or performance here is one of the top things to do in San Jose. 

During games, food vendors sell snacks and merchandise outside the stadium. When I went, I bought a hot dog and no one told me that it’s typical to put potato chips on top. Though I was very skeptical, I have to be honest, it wasn’t bad! I would definitely try it again. Though maybe not if I wasn’t in Costa Rica. One thing I do have to tell you though, (because NO ONE told me) is that they don’t allow alcohol inside the stadium, or even once you pass the gate to enter into the front courtyard. Latin American fútbol games are known to get very rowdy so they prohibit alcohol to keep the fans at bay. While I understand their rationale, watching a fútbol game without a beer doesn’t feel the same. 

Fun Things To Do In San Jose Costa Rica : Enjoy The NightLife

I love to dance. When I lived here, I was taking private lessons three days a week and got pretty good at it. So of course, during the weekends all I wanted to do was show off my Salsa and Bachata moves at a club. 

Peppers Club 

Karaoke bars are some of the unusual things to do in san jose costa rica
There are many hidden bars around the city, like this karaoke one

This was one of my favorite things to do in San Jose. This club is located in Barrio Zapote and while that area as a whole is not the safest to aimlessly walk around at night, the street Peppers sits on has fun bars and smaller clubs to try out which makes that section really fun. They would often hold dance competitions here and host themed nights, so depending on when you went, the place was packed out. They have a live band that plays Salsa music all night long. Each song lasts like 15 minutes and by the end of a couple I would be out of breath and laughing so hard I couldn’t handle it. 

If I’m being completely honest, this place was great for my friends and I as we knew how to dance, and our group was mainly women. This means that it was common for men to come up and ask us to dance as we stood on the edge of the dance floor. One friend of mine and I were dancing non stop throughout the night, getting spun and dipped by different men. However since it’s customary for the male to lead, not just in the dancing but also in approaching other people to dance, it might not be the spot if you are a guy who is not familiar with Salsa or Bachata. That being said – if you love to go out there and be silly regardless of what everyone else is doing– then do that! Life is more fun that way. 

Casa Felix y La Concha de La Lora 

The nightlife here is some fun things to do in san jose costa rica
Casa Felix and La Concha are some of the best places to go out in San Jose

Not every club in San Jose is a Salsa club – in fact, most aren’t. So if that isn’t your style of dance, don’t worry about it. There are many places where you can go and just dance how you normally would. The main area where people go out to dance and drink in San Jose is La Cali (full name is Barrio La California). The two clubs are right next to each other and are accessible to each other from the inside. This makes going out really fun and easy because once you get to a location you can pretty much just stay there the rest of the night. 

In La Concha there is a giant outdoor floor area with a stage where the DJs play their sets. The dance floor is always packed with people and the blue and green and purple strobe lights illuminate everything in a wondrous hue. Next to the dance floor is Casa Felix. Here, there is an outdoor seating area and bar. Through a door to the left of the bar is another room with house music.  I loved coming here because La Concha typically played Reggaeton and Casa Felix normally had dance hall music so there was a nice combination. 


There are so many other parts of San Jose that I wasn’t able to cover in this article, such as the Pre- Columbian Gold Museum, Central Avenue or different hotels to visit. However I hope I was able to provide you with some insight as to the types of unusual things to do in San Jose Costa Rica that I enjoyed when I lived there. Above everything, it was lovely to just walk around the city and smile and wave or chat with the locals. Everyone there is so lovely and they really made the city feel like home to me. I can’t say enough good things about it and I hope one day you are able to experience it during your travels. 


What food is Costa Rica famous for?

My favorite topic to talk about! My favorite Costa Rican dish is Gallo Pinto. It’s made from rice, beans and Salsa Lizano (a staple sauce in Costa Rica). The rice and beans are mixed together and “desayuno típico” is served with gallo pinto, queso fresco, huevos, pan y cafe. There are other dishes like Casado, and Rice and Beans (which is a Caribbean dish) but Gallo Pinto has to be my top choice.

Is San Jose Costa Rica a walkable city?

Well.. yes and no. But mainly no. Once you’re in a barrio, that barrio is easy to get around on foot. However, you will definitely need a car while in this city. When you’re just visiting I recommend not using the buses as honestly they’re so confusing and take a long time. Uber is available in the city (though they’re technically illegal) so if you don’t have a rental car I would use this option.

How many days are enough for San Jose Costa Rica?

While I was there for a year and still felt like I didn’t get to see and do everything I wanted to, I would say if you’re just visiting, two or three days is enough. Most people come to Costa Rica to head to the beaches or visit the national parks, which you need to go outside of San Jose for.


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