San Jose is the capital of Costa Rica, and it’s a vibrant city. It’s not as hot as the other cities, it has all the amenities and craziness every big city offers, and yet, it’s incredibly calm and quiet. We visited it with our kids in August 2017.
I’m here to share with you all the great stuff we did there!
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Best places to eat with kids in San Jose
Of course, we’d start with the food. San Jose surprised us with the huge option of American food – all the big stuff we loved was there. We had a problem with lack of time and money while there because there was a lot we’d love to have eaten again, from Hard Rock Café to TGI Friday’s and Johnny Rockets.
I actually saw it when we were going from Manuel Antonio to Punta Uva. We passed it and it was my birthday, so I decided to ask for it as lunch! It’s in Plaza Itskatzú (Mall Plaza Escazú) and it was the same thing as every other Outback in the whole world. It was great to have it. It’s expensive, but it was cheaper than any meal we had in Manuel Antonio.
We first visited this delicious restaurant in Cusco, and now, every time we find it, we go grab a bite. It isn’t the same menu, but it was close enough. It’s a lot alike Outback, Fridays, or any of those restaurants. This one is in Multi Plaza Escazú – not the same one from Outback, but close enough.
OK, I know. But they had this cute pink soft serve cones that were kind of irresistible. Plus, where else can we find pineapple and coconut smoothie? It’s everywhere, so easy enough to have one wherever you are in San Jose. We didn’t see any neither in Manuel Antonio nor in Punta Uva.
Juan Valdez Café
We found this café close to the Stadium and it was a good feeling of finding Colombia there, so we had no doubts. Plus, it was raining a lot and we needed a shelter. We had buñuelos with coffee and it was so good. The brownies, though, no. Yuck.
Best places to visit in San José, Costa Rica, with kids
We less than a week in San Jose and, unfortunately, it was a super rainy season. We didn’t manage to do much, but what we did, we really enjoyed.
It’s also called Central Park. It’s full of people walking and selling stuff. There isn’t much there actually, it’s a square rather than a park. It’s not even beautiful, to be really honest. We took our first ‘SJO vive’ photo there. We always love those signs.
If you want to see more locals doing their things, this is one good place for it. But it’s really just that.
It’s close to Plaza Central (around 2 blocks away), so we decided to go see it. It’s prettier, there’s the National Theater there, and it was still very crowded.
There is a museum (or a lot of museums in one space) there. We didn’t visit it because we didn’t want to, though. It was also a bit late (4 pm) and they all closed at around 4:30.
It’s just a toy store, but it was fun – we rarely enter toy stores anymore, so when we do, they have fun. We don’t buy anything usually, and it’s fine the way it is.
Multi Plaza Escazú
It’s a big mall. There’s a cinema, though there were no movies in English, so no use for us. Parking there was a nightmare. It was super full all around, even the valet had a huge line. We were there just to eat, though, so we didn’t really explore it. We did, however, find so many stores selling the Funko POP key chains that we couldn’t resist. We love them, and they are keychains, so don’t occupy the precious inside space of the bags.
It was our first time in a butterfly vivarium and we loved it. It’s rather small but very interesting and fun. There were lots of butterflies, and we saw one of them coming out of the chrysalis, a bunch laying eggs, lots of incredibly beautiful chrysalis, and colorful caterpillars. The best was that they’d come to us. Quite a few of them stopped on us and it was a great moment for everyone.
It’s not cheap, and even enjoying a lot, we spent around 2 hours there, so go if you have the time or if it’s raining – it’s mostly sheltered!
Estadio Nacional (National Stadium)
We were passing there on the way to the post office (we were posting the subscribers’ postcards – go ahead and subscribe too!) and Angelo decided to go and ask if we could visit it. They said yes and there we went. It isn’t anything usual, apparently. One guard came to us all the time, answering our questions and never letting us out of sight. The kids ran around the stadium, played a bit, and that was it. It’s a beautiful stadium, big, well cared for. It’s also very new. We only feel the magnitude of it when we’re in the middle of it. Pretty cool, even for people who don’t like sports much – like me. The best part: it took around 20 minutes and it was free. Choose a day when there’s no game going on and try your chances!
It’s just there by the Estadio Nacional and it’s huge! A beautiful park in the middle of the city, with plenty of space for kids to run around and play, exercise, and just be. If it wasn’t raining, we’d have spent a lot more time there.
It was a different experience than the other central markets in South America, but it was still full of locals doing their things, and a few tourists enjoying the scenery. There were many souvenir shops, lots of cheese stalls, food stalls, toys, clothes, and just everything! Cool stuff!
Family friendly place to stay in San José, Costa Rica
We rented this Airbnb apartment. It’s brand new and it was a lovely change to have perfect mattresses and pillows. Everything looked new and clean and it was great to be able to do our own laundry – seriously – and having the privacy to walk around in underwear and cook whatever we want. It also had a gym and a jacuzzi though we never really got near them.
We definitely like renting apartments/houses, that’s how we feel more comfortable, though we’re trying to mix things up a bit and do a bit of everything.
(If you’re new to Airbnb, click here to receive a discount on your first booking – and we receive one too, without any additional cost to you!)
Driving in Costa Rica is pretty chaotic, but Angelo already wrote about it. Meanwhile, I’ll say that even though people there are warm and welcoming, the same is not true when they’re driving. They get crazy and they were just as impatient as the Peruvians. It was scary at times and we missed quite a few turns because they wouldn’t let us cross no matter what.
It’s also not the best place to walk. Drivers are crazy, they rarely stop for pedestrians, and there are very few crossing lanes. It didn’t feel good nor safe crossing the roads there.
This is a long story. We’d rented it with Fox. When we arrived, they said there was no car for us as it hadn’t been returned. The person at the airport (who had our names and passport copies, by the way) from Fox then started introducing us to other rental companies so we could make other arrangements. Angelo spent literally over 2 hours haggling to try to get a price similar to what we’d agreed on with Fox. We ended up paying over US$ 500 over what we’d wanted to, but we left with a car from another company.
After all that fight, Fox told us that we didn’t wait for the car (we waited for over 2 hours, seriously) and that that person greeting us wasn’t their staff – it just means they hand out our passport copies to everyone. This issue is still unresolved so far. We give them one concrete info and they return with a ridiculous excuse. I recommend you rent your car from elsewhere, really. They’re not worth the trouble.
We didn’t use any kind of public transport, but we considered while we were waiting for the ghost car.
There were taxis, shuttles, buses, and all kinds of transports from the airport to the big touristic spots and cities.
What we loved about San José
Well, the cooler weather was great, though sometimes I did miss the heat, the rest of the family felt just fine.
Then the house with the comforts of the city (cable TV, high-speed internet, pizza delivery, air conditioning, hot shower, the lack of insects inside the house) after a long break at the beach/forest was soothing.
Choosing the restaurants we actually like instead of trying out everywhere was also a bonus – since we had very little time, it was great that way.
Plus, having big supermarkets carrying all we could want was also great – we didn’t have to spend our time looking for something in all the small markets around.
San José is actually full of locals instead of tourists, and it’s a great place to see locals doing their stuff instead of the crowd of tourists and expats.
If you’re ever in Costa Rica, keep a couple of days to spend in San Jose. It’s worth your time. We weren’t planning on spending these many days there, but we’re glad we ended up having them!
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