San Jose has a bit of a bad reputation and a lot of the reading we did before we came suggested spending as little time as possible there and only really use it as necessary to travel around the rest of the country. We did use it as a travel hub but the three times we stayed we made sure to do it for at least 2 nights each time. San Jose is expensive but the quality and variety on food on offer as well as the number of museums and galleries to see around town mean the time is never wasted. San Jose is quite spread out, especially when getting between the bus stations that take you to other parts of the country but fortunately they have Uber so most journeys around the city cost us less than $3 USD.
We spent the majority of our time around Barrio Escalante which is a very popular neighbourhood with loads of great shops, bars and restaurants all around. We did also stay close to the Parque Nacional on our first few nights but in either of these areas you will be within walking distance of the areas worth visiting. We had heard stories about feeling unsafe around San Jose so we avoided spending much time walking around after dark and stuck to populated areas and never really had any problems.
Where to eat
San Jose has a bustling food scene. Around every corner is a Soda (serving traditional Costa Rican food) and lots of bakeries and street food stalls. With so many people of all nationalities choosing to settle in Costa Rica over the last few years San Jose has become a boiling pot of food from around the world. Below is a few of our favorites that we were lucky enough to try out while we were there.
For as much we love food we also love a bargain so when we saw the well-reviewed Woki offering ramen specials all day on Mondays we decided to go and check it out. All the ramen on their menu was 20 percent off and they have a really extensive menu with ramen and much more. I went for the trio of mushrooms ramen and Tom went for the mushroom chow mein so that I could sample some! Both dishes were amazing, full of flavour and good sizes. The noodles in the chow mein were deep fried so they were crispy which gave the meal great texture which was something different and delicious.
My favourite meal in San Jose, and possibly all of Costa Rica, came courtesy of the wonderful Cafe Rojo. We tried to order from Cafe Rojo using the Glovio takeaway app but unfortunately we couldn't get it working so we called the restaurant and they were super helpful. We ended up going to pick up our order using Uber which was a great decision. I had the Bun Salad and chocolate cupcake and Tom had the Banh Mi and a chocolate and rosemary cookie. It was great portions and a great price, the staff were super helpful and the food was absolutely amazing.
Luv Burger, in Barrio Escalante, was a little bit more expensive but again the food was amazing. It's completely vegan and there are many different options. The patty is a lentil style patty and it blew me away with it's flavour and texture as I'm not a big fan of fake meat. I went for the Philly with coconut bacon and cream cheese and we tried a chocolate and coffee cheesecake which was also great.
Kula is a health food cafe that we had also heard good things about before we arrived. It's a little on the pricey side but with most meals you get a salad and soup as well as a ginger and hibiscus drink, definitely more than enough food, especially at lunch!
La Ventantia Meraki is a hole in the wall burger joint, literally! You can make any burger veggie by replacing the patty with a portobello mushroom. They also have a good variety of sides and the burgers come with wedges. The food tastes great and is a real messy, get sauce everywhere kind of place, just make sure you have plenty wipers!
On one of our first nights we discovered El Jardin de Lolita, a nifty food market/food truck area which serves a variety of different foods: taco's, fish and chips, burgers, fries, and sushi! We went back twice and had a tasty vegan nachos, vegan panini and sushi bowl. They also have drinks and plenty of seating in a pretty courtyard area.
The address for the places mentioned above are here:
Woki - Avenida 7 & Calle 35, Barrio Escalante
Cafe Rojo - Barrio Amón, 120 meters west of the French Alliance. 7th Avenue between 3rd and 5th streets
Luv Burger - Calle 37, Barrio Dent
Kula = Avenida 7A & Calle 15
La Ventantia Meraki - Avenida 3, opposite the Atlantic train station, the main train station in San Jose
El Jardin de Lolita - 50 m east on the south side of Antigua Customs, Barrrio Escalante
Where to sleep
We visited San Jose three times, and decided to try three different hotels/hostels. The first place that we stayed was Casa Parque Nacional, a hostel on the Parque Nacional in central San Jose. We opted for a double room with a private bathroom. The room was big and it was good to have our own bathroom, but it wasn't our favorite place as it felt a bit worn down and not the best value for money. The second place that we stayed was The Garden (El Jardin) and was probably the best place that we stayed at in San Jose. It was located in a quiet area near Calle 37, my favourite street in San Jose for the shops and food. The hostel was so clean, and the bed had a really cosy duvet. There was no option for a private bathroom but the bathrooms were clean and the showers had hot water which is a bit hit and miss in Costa Rica! The final place we stayed at in San Jose was a little hotel called Casa 69, again it wasn't far from Calle 37 and we thought that it was very good value with a double room with private bathroom and fresh fruit breakfast costing around $30 USD per night.
Where to Look
Our favorite part of San Jose was the Barrio Escalante neighbourhood. It had fantastic food options (although they were a little pricier), lots of nice little gift and art shops, as well as a big Auto Mercado supermarket (lots of vegan options). Right next to the supermarket we discovered the cutest plant shop called Hobby Arte Planta where we met the owner and spoke for ages about plants. She even gave us a little propagated succulent to re-gift on our journey which as so kind.
Near the Government buildings and the Jade Museum there is a lot of street art that is worth checking out, loads of bright colours and crazy art which was just to my taste! On our last day we took a free San Jose walking tour. I would highly recommend this three hour tour as it took us around all the hotspots of San Jose and helps paint the city in a different light. We did some reading beforehand and it sounds like there are copycat tours that start in the same place and at the same time as the 'official' one so worth just checking into this on Trip Adviser if you are interested.
The food in San Jose was the most expensive part for us. As we spent a lot of time exploring Costa Rica we didn't take any day trips from San Jose, instead we spent our time wandering the streets, browsing art shops and relaxing.From what we did see the tours from San Jose to the surrounding areas seemed about the same as the rest of the country so expect to be paying $50+ USD per person for any trips.