Exploring San Jose, Costa Rica

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Exploring San Jose, Costa Rica

How to make the most of your stay in San Jose, Costa Rica

It would be a mistake to miss San José during your visit to Costa Rica, as it is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Latin America.

Hotel Grano de Oro (Golden Grain) is just off Paseo Colon, San Jose’s main drag and within easy walking distance of the cozy downtown district that is home to some vibrant shops, restaurants, parks and cultural attractions. Formerly a tropical Victorian mansion and named in honor of Costa Rica’s true grano de oro—coffee—the hotel is an oasis in the heart of San José, with all the comforts of home.

From the hotel, you can explore the city’s museums, markets, restaurants and shops to get a true feeling for the district. The hotel offers a choice of privately guided walking tours to fill you in on the culture, history and architecture of San José. The Bird’s Nest tour, two hours and more than 40 points of interest, will highlight galleries, historical sites, parks and public art. If you’re a shutterbug, try the hotel’s customized photography tour. If you want to dive into the art and local cuisine, Hotel Grano de Oro also has tours to introduce you to the best of the best.

If you prefer to explore on your own, wander through the Central Market, on Avenida Central, a busy market that sells nearly everything: crafts, flowers, spices, and candles, for a real dip into Costa Rica's cultural heritage. The Artisan Market, on Avenida Segunda to the west of the National Museum, sits in a narrow alleyway crowded with stalls that sell handcrafted souvenirs, especially woodwork. Be sure to brush up on your Spanish if you want to bargain for a deal.

Just a few blocks from the hotel, La Sabana Park is the city’s main park. The grounds include a lake, the National Stadium, the Museo de Arte Costaricense (formerly the Costa Rica International Airport) and the National Gym. It’s a great place to take advantage of a beautiful day and relax. Other parks, including Parque Beneméritos, Parque Merced, are also close to the hotel.

The Plaza de la Cultura’s designers wanted a new public space where people could gather and they wanted to honor the legacy of Costa Rica’s pre-Colombian indigenous culture. Bounding the plaza, The National Theater, inspired by the Paris Opera, is a neo-baroque jewel and built to impress. The Gold Museum, under the plaza, includes archaeological, numismatic and pre-Columbian art collections. A short, 5-minute walk down Avenida Central, you’ll find the National Museum, which showcases Costa Rican history; the National Center for Culture that includes the Museum of Art and Contemporary Design, the Center for Cultural Heritage Research and theatres. Here is where you’ll find the performing arts: plays, music, dance and poetry. The Jade Museum exhibits pre-Columbian history, culture, beliefs as they apply to jade and other semiprecious stones.

Restaurante Grano de Oro has become one of San Jose’s finest dining restaurants, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner daily in the charming ambiance of the elegant inner courtyard. Menus are a fusion of tropical and European delights that feature some of the best Costa Rica has to offer: Corvina a la Macadamia, sea bass filet breaded with toasted macadamia nuts and served with a light orange herb sauce, is a signature entrée. The wine list includes carefully selected wines from around the world to complement your meal.

San José is a lively, colorful and busy capital city. It makes a great home base for day trips to nearby La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Poas Volcano, Doka Coffee Plantation and any one of several national parks. Because of its central location, both coasts are in easy driving distance for a day out. Grano de Oro, 20 minutes’ drive from Juan Santamaría and just 10 minutes from Tobias Bolanos, San José’s domestic airport, is the perfect spot to call home in Costa Rica.