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The capital city of Costa Rica, San Jose is also the cultural hub of the nation. Boasting a mix of lush parks, curated museums, historic architecture, and a booming coffee culture that has flourished since the 19th century, San Jose—or Chepe, as it's known locally—is also one of the safest cities in Latin America. Blessed with the temperate weather characteristic of the Central Valley, there are plenty of things to do and see in San Jose for the curious traveler.
As Costa Rica's largest city, San Jose has no shortage of distinct districts and barrios to explore. Landmark museums and parks are spread throughout the city's neighborhoods, making it worth your time to slow down and absorb each area's unique flavor before finding the next spot to visit.
Downtown San Jose is the cultural heartof the city, with the pedestrian-only Avenida Central acting as its backbone. Home to the Plaza de la Cultura, the downtown area is a popular starting point for tourists looking to explore San Jose's urban attractions. Nearby are sightseeing hotspots such as the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum and the National Theatre, as well as the Tourism Information Office where you can get pointers on where to go next.
The historic areas of Barrio Amon and Aranjuez are home to some of the city's oldest and most ornate buildings. Barrio Amon claims fame as San Jose's first modern neighborhood and is replete with restored colonial architecture, giving it a special charm.
This side of downtown opens up into green spaces and wide, tree-lined residential streets. Here you can find La Sabana Metropolitan Park—a sprawling urban green space also known as the "Lungs of San Jose"—in addition to museums of art and science and the elegant headstones of the General Cemetery, where families gather on All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day.
A relatively young capital—it wasn't officially named as such until 1823—San Jose is characterized by modern buildings mostly from the last century and a handful of elaborate, European-influenced structures that date to the coffee boom of the 19th and 20th centuries. Sites like the National Theatre of Costa Rica, with its elegant, Neoclassical designs, offer a visual break from the concrete complexes. The city's many scenic parks, such as the Japanese-style garden of Okayama Park, are also a natural getaway from the gridlock of downtown.
Get your fill of Costa Rican heritage and culture by visiting San Jose's museums and historic theaters. Walk back through time in the Jade Museum, whose extensive collection of artifacts features pieces from as early as 500 BC, or visit the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum to see the country's first coin. The National Museum of Costa Rica, housed in a retired military fortress, also showcases the geological, religious, colonial, and modern history of the country. Nearby parks, like the pristine Morazan Park, are dotted with gazebos, fountains, and sculptures and are ripe for hours of relaxed exploring. Costa Rica is also famous for its coffee, and it’s also well worth checking out the growing craft beer scene in Barrio Escalante.