San Jose is small and cozy. Although its style and architecture are contemporary, some buildings of strong European influence, mainly British and French, can still be found as a heritage of the economic coffee prosperity from the turn of the century. Towards north and west of the city, we can still appreciate some old adobe structures with tile roofs that have been preserved with care, which evoke past remembrances of the large coffee plantations and farms. Although district areas do exist, these are small quadrants for property census and electoral organization mainly. The administrative division of the country was defined by regions or cantons which have their own municipalities, and can be considered as small urban zones and towns, with their own unique personality and characteristics. Thanks to the topography, there is a great diversity of micro-climates that determine in many cases the type of production on the region. Distances are easily covered by car or public transportation.
San Jose Downtown
Very early, within the drowsiness of the dawn and the growing murmur of the first by-passers, this small city awakens indulged in laziness after a night of great food, drinking, and fun. The exquisite smell of fresh bread and recently brewed coffee from the highlands fills the air that surrounds the coffee and soda shops, meanwhile the rustling of fast-paced steps, car motors and horns increases even more.
Due to its small size, friendly and charming San Jose, or Chepe as known affectionately by the ticos is worth to be checked by foot. Not so long ago, the Central Avenue was closed to vehicle traffic and embellished with stone paving and gardens, so the tourists and locals as well could walk by in comfort or just sit down to enjoy the passing-by of the very beautiful Costarrican women!
Just ask anyone on the street: 'How are you?' The answer invariably will be: Pura Vida!(Pure Life!)
This expression explains in two words the charm, positivism, and friendliness of the local people towards a newcomer. Oh! If you do not speak Spanish, there is a very good chance you will get an answer in English!
It is important to note; that San Jose's Municipality has made great efforts to protect the security of is inhabitants and visitors as well, but some areas in downtown may be considered dangerous. However, as in any city, prevention is always a good measure.
The district of the witches! If you ever need a magic potion for luck or love, or want to cast a spell on someone, you will have to look around Escazú. This is more of a legend than a reality. Actually, Escazú has become a major commerce and entertaining area, with beautiful hotels and fabulous restaurants. Its residential zones are ample and highly priced. Located in the foothills of the mountain, you just need to go up a few meters to enjoy a breathtaking view of the whole city.
Heading West from Escazú a few kilometers on the same road, you will find the very impressive Santa Ana Valley. Its marvelous weather has helped to turn this zone into in a highly developed area in very short time. Many residents from the more dense areas, tired of the noise and turmoil have moved over to Santa Ana in a quest for tranquility and warmth.
The main produce of this region are onions that are planted in the area with great pride. Other vegetables are also produced and there is a flourishing pottery industry as well.
Montes de Oca
The district of the youth and the culture! The University City Rodrigo Facio, the Universidad de Costa Rica is located in the main urban zone, San Pedro. This area has become the preferred place for students and intellectuals. There are moderately priced small cafes and bars around the University and student boarding houses. Bed and Breakfast and apartment hotels are nearby to house the tourists. This is a very traditional commerce area of Malls, restaurants, and entertaining as well.
There are other more rural areas, farther from the city environment within San Jose. Puriscal, Tarrazú and Aserrí, as well as Acosta, Dota and Perez Zeledón standout for the beauty of their scenery, with small markets of local products and artisan stores. The travel agencies have tours to drive you over, and there is always a public transportation service and car rentals for the adventurous one. No doubt, San Jose is in all of its urban and rural expressions, a glamorous and modern great city with beautiful and wonderful towns to discover.
With all the coming and going, the morning stroll and the shopping spree downtown, it seems like your stomach has forgotten that just a few hours ago it enjoyed breakfast at the hotel veranda. You note that the Oeufs à la Benedictine, the gallo pinto with sour cream and the pancakes with bacon Texas fashion, all washed down with coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice, really made for a super international and sumptuous breakfast! Enough to forget about lunch! No way! Your stomach demands with an awful and loud growl as a reminder that is time to indulge again.
Since you are close to the hotel, you decide to go back, change, and drop your shopping bags. On the way out, you almost sit back down again on the same veranda where you had breakfast this morning, but your instinct reminds you that hotel restaurants (with clear exceptions, that is) are good for breakfast, and breakfast only. Therefore, you go out in quest for good food at other times.
Finding a good restaurant is not a problem. In the gastronomic arena, San Jose puts on airs of a big city and savoir faire, rubbing shoulders and rivaling with more cosmopolitan towns. With the development of a solid and always growing tourism industry, restaurants specializing in dishes from all over the world are common including fast food chains, small cozy restaurants, and five star rooms. Since the coastlines are so close together, seafood is known for its freshness, as they are brought in daily refrigerated, but not frozen. At Tin Jo Corvina, shrimp from the Pacific and lobster from the Caribbean are served Chinese style, although the marisquerías offer the widest variety, the freshest product and the best prices.
Concerning the indigenous gastronomy, the corn kitchen stands out. As a heritage from the indigenous tradition all the way from Northern Mexico to South America, the tortillas, tamales, corn biscuits, and a wide array of dishes made out of corn are part of the daily diet. This are combined with beans and picadillos, meats and all sort of vegetables. There are some specialized quality restaurants developing a new Costa Rican cuisine like Casa de Doña Lela which mixes genuinely local ingredients with others of higher lineage in the preparation of truly original and exclusive dishes. For italian food, try Cerutti and Alfredo , both are well recommended by the locals. French cuisine at Le Monastere is always a wonderful option for dining in Escazú and for Pervian fusion try La Divina Comida .
Montes de Oca
Montes de Oca and the university area is a very busy district, with lots of hungry students at lunchtime. To fulfill this need, besides the fast food chains and the picturesque Chinese restaurants, economical refreshment room outlets and sodas are found all over. The bar La Castilla serves great drinks and snacks. Every establishment makes it differently but there is no doubt they carry the home made seal. If you are on a tight budget or otherwise want to try something really local, go to La Isabela Tapas & Wine Cellar for some spanish tapas and for coffee lovers, try Casa del Cafe and choose among a huge variety of flavors.
Outside of the City
San Jose, all the way down from Central Avenue to Sabana Oeste, Escazú, and San Pedro is the mecca for culinary arts. Nevertheless, you will find good typical restaurants and outlets practically in every corner of this little piece of land. Outside of the city, for a real Argentine experience, go to El Novillo Alegre for Argentinian steak. Pan e Vino offers traditional Costa Rican cuisine and Ichiban provides diners with Japanese dishes. Another choose is Antigua which serves international cuisine.
So now that you made up your mind with a firm decision and a demanding stomach, there is only one thing left to say, Bon Appetite!