One Day in San Jose Itinerary – Top Things to do in San Jose, Costa Rica

Spending a day in San Jose offers travelers a unique blend of urban sophistication and cultural richness. As the vibrant heart of the country, San Jose is home to an array of museums, including the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, showcasing the ingenuity of ancient civilizations. The city’s bustling markets, particularly the Central Market, provide a sensory feast of colors, flavors, and aromas, encapsulating the essence of Costa Rican life. Green spaces like La Sabana Metropolitan Park offer a tranquil escape, while the historic National Theatre promises awe-inspiring architecture and performances. One day in San Jose immerses visitors in a world where contemporary amenities meet rich cultural heritage, making it a must-visit destination on any Costa Rican itinerary.

San Jose: A Perfect Day Itinerary

Explore the Cultural Gems of Downtown San Jose

Begin your day by immersing yourself in the cultural riches of downtown San Jose. Visit the iconic National Theatre, marveling at its stunning neoclassical architecture and intricate interior décor.

San Jose Downtown Aerial View
San Jose Downtown Aerial View, Author: Bernal Saborio, Source: Flickr

Don’t miss the nearby Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, where you can admire an impressive collection of pre-Columbian artifacts crafted by ancient indigenous cultures.

Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, San Jose
Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, Author: Jan Helebrant, Source: Flickr

For the best breakfast and coffee experience in downtown San Jose, head to Café Miel. This charming café offers a cozy atmosphere, delicious breakfast options, and expertly brewed Costa Rican coffee, making it a favorite among locals and visitors alike.

Discover History at the National Museum

After coffee break, delve into Costa Rica’s rich history and heritage at the National Museum. Explore exhibits detailing the country’s indigenous cultures, colonial past, and modern development. Admire artifacts ranging from ancient pottery to colonial-era weaponry, gaining insight into the diverse cultural tapestry of Costa Rica.

San Jose National Museum 2
San Jose National Museum, Author: Marcelo Träsel, Source: Flickr

Wander Through the Bustling Central Market

Head to the bustling Central Market for a vibrant sensory experience. Stroll through the maze of stalls selling fresh produce, local handicrafts, and traditional Costa Rican delicacies. Take the opportunity to sample exotic fruits, savor aromatic coffee, and chat with friendly vendors, immersing yourself in the lively atmosphere of this cultural hub.

San Jose Central Market 2
Central Market, Author: Everjean, Source: Flickr

Indulge in Costa Rican Cuisine for Lunch

Satisfy your appetite with a delicious lunch featuring authentic Costa Rican cuisine. Choose from a variety of traditional dishes such as casado, gallo pinto, and ceviche at a local soda or restaurant. Sit back, relax, and savor the flavors of Costa Rica while enjoying a leisurely meal in the heart of San Jose.

Gallo Pinto, Monteverde
Gallo Pinto, Author: arvind grover, Source: Flickr

For a delightful lunch near the Central Market in San Jose, consider visiting Soda Tapia. This beloved eatery offers authentic Costa Rican cuisine, including flavorful casados and hearty soups, at affordable prices.

Stroll Through La Sabana Metropolitan Park

Escape the hustle and bustle of the city with a leisurely stroll through La Sabana Metropolitan Park. Enjoy the tranquil greenery, serene lakes, and scenic walking paths, offering a peaceful retreat amid the urban landscape.

La Sabana Metropolitan Park
La Sabana Metropolitan Park, Author: katiebordner, Source: Flickr

Unwind with a picnic in one of the designated areas, soaking in the serene atmosphere. Admire the park’s iconic landmarks, including the picturesque Lake, perfect for boating or simply enjoying the view. Take time to relax, unwind, and soak in the natural beauty of this expansive urban park.

Experience Local Art and Culture at Barrio Escalante

End your day with a visit to Barrio Escalante, San Jose’s vibrant arts and culinary district. Explore eclectic galleries, street art, and independent boutiques showcasing the creativity of local artisans. Treat yourself to dinner at one of the neighborhood’s trendy restaurants, where you can savor innovative cuisine and mingle with locals.

San Jose Downtown
San Jose, Author: Everjean, Source: Flickr

For a delightful dinner experience in Barrio Escalante consider visiting Olio. This upscale restaurant offers a sophisticated ambiance and a diverse menu of Mediterranean-inspired dishes, showcasing the best of local and imported ingredients.

Enjoy Nightlife in San Jose’s Entertainment Districts

As the sun sets, experience the lively nightlife of San Jose by exploring its entertainment districts. Whether you prefer jazz bars, live music venues, or trendy nightclubs, there’s something for everyone in San Jose.

San Jose at Night
San Jose at Night

In Barrio Escalante, beer enthusiasts can indulge in a paradise of craft brews at Beer Factory, boasting a diverse range of local and international selections within a cozy, inviting setting. For a taste of Irish charm, Craic Irish Pub serves up a lively experience with a variety of beers, whiskies, and pub fare while Café de los Deseos offers a laid-back setting for innovative cocktails or casual beers with friends. Stiefel Pub invites patrons to explore a vast array of craft beers guided by knowledgeable staff, and Apotecario promises a stylish atmosphere and expertly crafted cocktails for an unforgettable evening.

Where to stay in San Jose?

Grano de Oro Hotel

Hotel Grano de Oro

30 Steet, 2 and 4 Avenue, 11856 San José

Hotel Grano de Oro offers luxurious accommodations in a beautifully restored Victorian mansion. Rooms are elegantly appointed with upscale amenities, and the hotel features a gourmet restaurant, rooftop terrace, and spa. Its central location provides easy access to San Jose’s attractions.


Hotel Presidente

Hotel Presidente San Jose City Center

Avenida Central , 29221 San José

Hotel Presidente San Jose City Center offers comfortable and modern accommodations in the heart of downtown San Jose. Rooms are well-equipped with amenities, and the hotel features a restaurant, rooftop bar, and fitness center. Its convenient location is ideal for exploring the city’s cultural and historical sites.


Chillout Hostel Barrio Escalante

Chillout Hostel Barrio Escalante

Calle 37 75m south of Sapporro Restaurant San Jose Barrio Escalante, 11501 San José

Chillout Hostel Barrio Escalante, located in lively Barrio Escalante neighborhood, offers cozy dormitory and private rooms amidst a vibrant culinary scene. With a communal kitchen, lounge area, and friendly staff, it fosters a sociable atmosphere for travelers. Its on-site bar and restaurant serve up delicious meals and drinks, perfect for mingling with fellow guests.


A few facts about San Jose

  • As the primary urban hub of Costa Rica, San Jose is home to approximately one-third of the country’s population and is characterized by its bustling streets, vibrant markets, and diverse neighborhoods.
  • San Jose boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous museums, theaters, and historic landmarks. Notable attractions include the National Theatre of Costa Rica, the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, and the Jade Museum.
  • Despite its urban setting, San Jose is surrounded by lush greenery and verdant hillsides. The city’s parks, such as La Sabana Metropolitan Park and Parque Nacional, provide residents and visitors with opportunities for outdoor recreation and relaxation.
  • San Jose is deeply ingrained in Costa Rica’s coffee culture, with many local cafes and coffeehouses serving freshly brewed Costa Rican coffee. The city’s bustling coffee scene reflects the country’s status as a leading producer of high-quality Arabica coffee beans.
Streets of San Jose
Streets of San Jose, Author: Domenico Convertini, Source: Flickr

What’s the best time to visit San Jose?

The best time to visit San Jose, Costa Rica, largely depends on your preferences and interests. However, the dry season, which typically spans from December to April, is generally considered the best time to visit. During this period, you can expect sunny weather, minimal rainfall, and comfortable temperatures, making it ideal for exploring the city’s cultural attractions and nearby natural wonders.

Downtown San Jose
Downtown San Jose, Author: Nicolas Vigier, Source: Flickr

Additionally, the dry season coincides with Costa Rica’s peak tourist season, offering a lively atmosphere and plenty of events and activities to enjoy. However, it’s essential to book accommodations and activities in advance, as this is also the busiest time for tourism.

If you prefer to avoid crowds and don’t mind occasional rain showers, the shoulder seasons of May to June and September to November can also be good times to visit. During these times, you may benefit from lower prices on accommodations and fewer tourists, allowing for a more tranquil experience in San Jose.

Day Trips from San Jose

Poás Volcano National Park

A stunning day trip destination, where you can visit one of the world’s largest accessible active craters. The park offers easy hikes and breathtaking scenery, including a view of the bright turquoise acid lake inside the crater. Remember to check the park’s accessibility status before you go, as it can close during periods of volcanic activity.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Just over an hour from San Jose, this privately-owned ecological attraction offers hiking trails, an animal sanctuary, and five beautiful waterfalls. It’s perfect for families and nature enthusiasts wanting to explore Costa Rica’s lush cloud forest and wildlife.

Manuel Antonio National Park

A bit further afield, about a 3-hour drive from San Jose, lies one of Costa Rica’s most famous national parks. Manuel Antonio offers stunning beaches, rich biodiversity, and the chance to spot sloths, monkeys, and hundreds of bird species amidst breathtaking coastal views.


For those craving beach time, Jaco is a vibrant town known for its surfing, nightlife, and beaches. Just under two hours from San Jose, it’s also a great base for nearby attractions, including rainforest adventures and wildlife watching.

Extra tips for visiting San Jose

  • Stay Central: Opt for accommodations in or near downtown San Jose to have easy access to the city’s main attractions, restaurants, and transportation hubs.
  • Use Public Transportation: San Jose has an extensive bus network that is affordable and efficient for getting around the city. Taxis are also readily available, but be sure to use licensed taxis with meters.
  • Safety Awareness: While San Jose is generally safe for tourists, exercise caution in crowded areas and be mindful of your belongings to avoid petty theft. Stick to well-lit and populated areas, especially at night.
  • Learn Some Spanish: While many locals in San Jose speak English, knowing some basic Spanish phrases can go a long way in enhancing your travel experience and communicating with residents.
  • Try Local Cuisine: Don’t miss out on the opportunity to sample authentic Costa Rican cuisine. Visit local sodas (small eateries) to try traditional dishes like gallo pinto, casado, and ceviche.
  • Explore Surrounding Attractions: Use San Jose as a base to explore nearby attractions such as volcanoes, rainforests, and coffee plantations. Many tour operators offer day trips from the city.
  • Embrace the Pura Vida Lifestyle: Costa Ricans embrace the “Pura Vida” lifestyle, which emphasizes living life to the fullest and appreciating nature and simple pleasures. Embrace this mindset during your visit to San Jose and beyond.
  • Pack Accordingly: San Jose’s weather can be unpredictable, so pack layers and be prepared for both sunshine and rain. Comfortable walking shoes are essential for exploring the city’s streets and attractions.

Make sure you have everything you need

What to pack for your next trip?

Make your next trip as simple and as enjoyable as possible by packing smart. It’s amazing how much stress top travel items can save you, so choose carefully.
Things like lightweight travel backpacks, for example, are ideal for short trips and allow you to move around with ease, and a passport holder will make sure you keep your documents safe at all times.
Check our travel checklist guide for 2021 to make sure you haven’t missed anything, and travel to your next destination in style and with maximum comfort.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.