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San Jose Nightlife

San José is the heart of Costa Rica’s nightlife and cultural scene, with plenty to offer beyond the usual tourist-oriented party scenes that dominate popular beach towns.

El Pueblo, an outdoor commercial centre close to downtown (take a cab), has dozens of trendy bars and clubs. Calle Amargura near the University of Costa Rica in San Pedro, has cheap beer and a few artsier options while the wealthy suburb of Escazú offers more upscale watering holes. Centro Comercial El Pueblo’s ever-changing kaleidoscope of discos and bars is San José’s top clubbing destination.

For entertainment listings in English, check out the Tico Times (www.ticotimes.net).

Bars in San Jose

Bar Cuartel de la Boca del Monte

Anchoring the city's alternative entertainment district, which is recognisable thanks to all the wild graffiti just east of downtown, is this classic bar and club. The crowd is young and laid back, and here to enjoy live bands and a legendary beverage menu that lists more than 200 cocktails. The food's good, too.

Address: California, Avenida 1 & Calles 21/23, San Jose,
Telephone: +506 2221 0327.

Blue Marlin Bar

Prostitution is legal in Costa Rica, and the sex tourism scene is centred on San José's (in)famous, frosted pink Hotel Del Rey, home of the Blue Marlin Bar. While it's geared to single gentleman – as are several businesses in the surrounding blocks, collectively known as the Gringo Gulch – everyone is welcome to enjoy the small casino and expensive drinks. If you'd rather avoid that scene, now you know where it is.

Address: , Avenida 1 & Calle 9, San Jose,
Telephone: +506 2257 7800.
Website: http://www.delreyhotel.com

Cantina La Cava

If you're in the mood for a more elegant aperitif, take a cab into the mountains of Escazú to fabulous La Cava. The underground bar, with magnificent views over the starry Central Valley, is part of pricey Le Monastere Restaurant, one of the capital's long-time favourite splurges. The bar is a bit more relaxed, but offers truly inspired bocas and a very full bar, including an excellent wine list. Open from 1830-0200 on Fridays and Saturdays.

Address: , San Rafael de Escazú, San Jose, 10203
Telephone: +506 2228 8515.
Website: http://www.monastere-restaurant.com

Clubs in San Jose

Discoteque Castros

This San José institution has been the capital's hottest spot for Latin dance for years. Castros has three throbbing floors of DJs serving up spicy rumba, reggaeton, and of course salsa to a crowd that knows how to dance, and there's usually karaoke on as well. It's away from the city centre (take a taxi, as Barrio Mexico can be dodgy), but gets a fair number of tourists.

Address: Barrio Mexico, Avenida 13, San Jose,
Telephone: +506 2256 8789

La Avispa

One of San José's oldest gay and lesbian clubs, La Avispa remains the epicentre of the scene, with a huge dance floor, great music, and straight-friendly vibe that brings in a diverse, stylish crowd from across the country.

Address: , Calle 1, San Jose,
Telephone: +506 2223 5343.

Vertigo

Dress to impress at Costa Rica's top dance club, considered a destination by party people from all over Central America. Unless you're looking really good, you'll wait in line for a while before being admitted to the unremarkable-looking warehouse. It's worth this bit of Studio 54-style theatre to enjoy two huge dance floors, with live DJs, spinning electronica, trance, and more.

Address: , Edificio Centro Colón, San Jose,
Telephone: +506 2257 8424
Website: http://www.vertigocr.com

Live music in San Jose

El Observatorio

This relaxed venue, owned by a local film celebrity, is decorated with a cinema theme. Though it is perhaps best known for screening cool movies within the cavernous interior, El Observatorio is also a great place to see live music. The crowd is mixed, the food is good, and the entertainment schedule listed on its Facebook page.

Address: Barrio La California, Calle 23 and Avenida Central 1, San Jose,
Telephone: +506 2223 0725.
Website: http://www.elobservatorio.tv

Jazz Café

The polished, elegant Jazz Café is every capitaleño's favourite place to see live music, with a reliably good line-up of top regional and international talent. The crowd is older, the music better, and the drinks and food pricier than on nearby Calle Amargura. A newer Jazz Café has opened in Escazú on Próspero Fernández Highway; reservations are recommended.

Address: San Pedro, Pan American Highway, San Jose,
Telephone: +506 2253 8933.
Website: http://www.jazzcafecostarica.com

Vyrus

This Los Yoses institution may not be pretty, but the classic dive bar often has lines out the door for its popular live shows. The dance floor is huge and sound system loud, the better to broadcast cover bands playing rock and heavy metal from the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. On off nights, a huge video screen keeps kids in black t-shirts entertained.

Address: Los Yoses, Avenue 8, San Jose,
Telephone: +506 2280 5890.

Classical music in San Jose

Teatro Nacional

San José's graceful National Theatre is considered the city's most beautiful building; guides will tell you that Costa Ricans criminalized war rather than risk hurting it again. Designed during the 1890s and fuelled by full-bodied coffee profits, the city's main stage is wrapped in French sophistication, with a soaring façade and classical art. The theatre hosts performers from all over the nation and world, and is home to the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional (National Symphony Orchestra).

Address: , Avenida 2 & Calle 5, San Jose,
Telephone: +506 2207 7561.
Website: http://www.teatronacional.go.cr

Dance in San Jose

Theatres in San Jose

Music and Dance in San Jose

Culture in San Jose

Teatro Eugene O'Neill

Inside the enormous red, white, and blue Centro Cultural Costarricense y Norteamericano (Costa Rican and North American Cultural Center), the Eugene O'Neill Theatre stages all sorts of plays, musicians, movies, and many other events, most with a North American flavour. It also offers plays, puppet shows, activities for children, as well as various workshops and classes.

Address: , Calle 37, Avenida 1-3, Barrio Dent, ,
Telephone: +506 2207 7567.
Website: http://www.centrocultural.cr

Featured Hotels

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Hotel 1492

This 10-room gem among boutique hotels is about ten minutes east of downtown, on a pleasant residential side street. The original home was handcrafted over four decades by its artistic original owner, Amalia Jimenez Volio. Her eye-catching Portuguese tiles, original mosaics, murals, and sculptures decorate the living areas and soothing interior gardens, a nice compliment to the hotel's rather retro furnishings. Amenities include Wi-Fi.

Hotel Milvia

About 3km (1.8 miles) east of downtown San José, but connected by convenient bus service, is the university town of San Pedro. Tucked away on a quiet side street, you’ll find this sunny, immaculate B&B, with lovely gardens, big balconies, and cheerful common areas decorated in outstanding paintings and sculptures. Sleek lines and bright colours give the 90-year-old former plantation house a clean European feel, and breakfast is outstanding.

Hotel Aranjuez

Hidden away in Barrio Aranjuez, a historic residential neighbourhood about 15 minutes from downtown on foot (take taxis at night) is San José’s best bargain. The rambling, old structure has relaxed sitting areas, polished wooden rooms ranging from basic to almost palatial, and wonderful, shady gardens you could easily get lost in. Make reservations in advance, particularly for the cheaper rooms, as the hotel is popular with Costa Ricans.

Hostel Bekuo

This festive, mosaic-tiled hostel is in Barrio Los Yoses, located about halfway between downtown San José and San Pedro’s student nightlife district, Calle de la Amargura. A dozen other great bars, clubs, and restaurants are within stumbling distance. The simple spot has lots of tourist information, Wi-Fi, movies, open kitchen, a game room, and nice gardens out back, making it a fine place to enjoy San José.

Hotel Grano de Oro

The luxurious grand dame of San José’s hotel scene is named for the “Grain of Gold,” an old Tico (Costa Rican) nickname for coffee. Though this world-class boutique hotel offers every modern comfort, the style is that of Costa Rica’s caffeinated heyday, the boom years between the 19th and 20th centuries. The Victorian exterior’s soaring lobby, with a renowned restaurant, serves 34 excellent rooms, each beautifully designed and decorated.

Hotel Posada del Museo

Rising from the hustle and bustle of San José’s political district, this rambling, antique-filled 1928 mansion is a treasure. Accommodations are simple but well decorated, and more expensive rooms are considerably larger, with better views. The polished tropical hardwood construction lends a warm glow to the hotel, but also squeaks a bit at night. Attached Café de la Posada is outstanding, the perfect place for quiche, coffee, and the best people-watching in town.