San Jose Local Neighborhoods
San Jose is not just Costa Rica’s political capital, but also a social and cultural center. The city is divided into many neighborhoods called barrios, and each offers a variety of amenities and a personality all its own.
Downtown San Jose, known as “el centro” or “Chepe,” is reserved mostly for business and politics. A pedestrian mall occupies Avenida Central, where retail stores, hotels and political offices fan out into the city. The downtown area is also the city’s cultural center: the Gold, Jade and National Museums as well as the performing arts are headquartered here. Accommodations are limited, although a few chic hotels frame the Democracy Square. Avoid lodging near the Coca-Cola bus stop; though convenient, the neighborhood is not recommended for overnights. Due to a lack of housing, very few people live in San Jose’s downtown, but the coveted residential neighborhoods of La Sabana, Barrio Amon and Barrio Aranjuez are very central, located just half a mile outside of downtown.
Barrio Amon & Aranjuez
Located north of downtown, the upscale sections of Barrio Amon and Aranjuez are home to some of Costa Rica’s most historic buildings. The area’s grand, colonial architecture features hand-carved woodwork, wraparound porches, ornate roof eaves and other quaint details of a bygone era. Capitalizing on the neighborhood’s charm, several restored hotels and fine dining restaurants have cropped up in both Amon and Aranjuez, adding to the area’s appeal. Hotel options range from budget-friendly hostels to B&B’s in restored colonial mansions that feature elegant rooms. Tourists and house hunters should note that only certain areas of both neighborhoods are desirable; some sections are more rundown and may be frequented by streetwalkers.
San Pedro, Los Yoses & Barrio Escalante
San Jose’s eastern suburbs are upper middle-class residential neighborhoods, favored by students, professionals, and young families. Los Yoses and Barrio Escalante are more reserved, with older, larger homes and a casual grace. San Pedro, home to the University of Costa Rica, exudes a young, hip vibe. The San Pedro Mall, Outlet Mall and Multiplaza del Este are all convenient to the area, which also boasts one of San Jose’s largest selections of restaurants and nightlife. From hole-in-the-wall diners and college dive bars to fine dining and live music venues, these three suburbs are a favorite for active city dwellers and tourists. San Pedro is home to every type of lodging, from one of Costa Rica’s chicest hostels, to a stylish, French colonial boutique hotel furnished in antiques and accented with top-notch service.
At the western end of Paseo Colon, beautiful La Sabana Park offers wide, open spaces, towering eucalyptus trees, a small lake, an art museum and Costa Rica’s new soccer stadium – the perfect respite from the busy city. The neighborhoods of Sabana Norte and Sabana Sur surround the park, and are favorites among young professionals, students and residents that prefer the hustle and bustle of the capital city. Residents and tourists alike appreciate the wealth of urban conveniences; the neighborhood is a mile from downtown theaters, opera and other nightlife, and just a short ride away from gourmet restaurants. La Sabana is a prime destination for overnight guests in San Jose; choose from budget hostels to the most luxurious boutique hotel in the city. In 2009, the city’s most fashionable condo towers were built in La Sabana. The modern buildings feature incredible views and amenities, and were designed to spark interest in upscale urban development, a newer concept in San Jose.
A few minutes west of La Sabana, Rohrmoser was San Jose’s first suburb for the upwardly mobile. Tree-lined boulevards and playgrounds accent residential neighborhoods, which are home to the highest concentration of foreign embassies in Costa Rica – including the U.S. Embassy. Many professionals and expats prefer Rohrmoser for its city conveniences and established neighborhoods known for their safety and tranquility. Tourists can expect the same relaxed ambiance: local B&B’s and inns cater to families and older travelers in search of convenience and hospitality.
Escazu is often referred to as “Little America,” thanks to its huge population of English-speaking expats, abundance of American chain restaurants, and luxury condominiums. The sophisticated suburb enjoys beautiful weather as well as some of Costa Rica’s finest restaurants, most prestigious private schools, and distinguished country clubs. Escazu is also very convenient to downtown – only 10 or 15 minutes by car to San Jose. Both family-run inns and deluxe chain hotels are prevelant. Opt for a room with a view – nighttime vistas of San Jose paint the valley with twinkling city lights.
Noted for its verdant mountains and constant breezes, Santa Ana offers the perfect blend of city and nature. Less than 15 minutes from San Jose, it is an established suburb of stately neighborhoods, gated communities and traditional homes – and a favorite among upper middle-class professionals. Known for its ideal weather, Santa Ana offers an abundance of outdoor activities, from horseback riding classes to golfing on championship courses. Enjoy the sun and outdoors at one of the suburb’s small inns or B&B’s, which promise relaxed evenings and personalized service.