How to live like a Local in San José

One walk down its quaint streets, one sip of its celebrated coffee and Costa Rica was home for Lonely Planet Local Maria Esther Abissi. Seven years in and the city of San José is only getting better. Whether it’s a night of dancing at one of the bars on Barrio Escalante, dining at the trendiest restaurants or a lazy afternoon spent at a city museum, Pura Vida (the simple life) is always within reach.

View of the central valley in Costa Rica © Dudarev Mikhail/ShutterstockThe mountains with their breathtaking views are just a 30-minute drive from downtown San Jose © Dudarev Mikhail/Shutterstock

I like to start the day… with a tortilla con queso (tortilla with cheese) for breakfast – my guilty pleasure. My favorite ones are from Iküa, a restaurant near my house. The tortillas are prepared with corn flour and lots and lots of traditional Costa Rican cheese. I like to eat my tortilla with sour cream with a glass of Cas juice on the side. Cas is a fruit that can only be found in Costa Rica. It’s sweet and sour at the same time and something everyone should try at least once. Luckily most of the restaurants and bars offer it.

When I have friends in town… I like to take them for a good cup of Costa Rican coffee, one of the best traditions I’ve adopted from the city. My favorite place is Café del Barista. The cozy spot in Barrio Aranjuez not only offers different kinds of coffee beans, but will also brew it any way you like. Most of the time, I get a regular black coffee (the only way you can enjoy the real taste of a coffee bean) made in a french press.

If I want to chill out… Manqala is a good choice. The place is the perfect spot to grab a local beer and play one of the 300 board games they have. It’s an especially great option after a busy work week when I just want to relax and have a drink.

The sun sets on Jaco beach in Costa Rica © Wolfgang Kaehler/ Getty ImagesFor Maria, San José is the best place in the world to watch the sun set © Wolfgang Kaehler/ Getty Images

Something I love about the city… are the sunsets. I’ve experienced some of the best sunsets of my life in San José. I like to travel to big cities, but something I can’t find in most of them is a beautiful sunset. Since San José doesn’t have many high buildings, you can enjoy the twilight hours literally everywhere. And, depending on where you are, the sunsets can be completely different. On the Pacific side, sunsets tend to have shades of yellow and orange – really vibrant. But if you happen to be on the Caribbean side, they are red, pink, violet and tend to look warmer.

When I need to relax… I go to the woods. El Bosque de la Hoja and La Ventolera are the places I visit the most. There’s nothing like stealing a few silent moments among the trees.

People walk along the central avenue in downtown San Jose Luis Alvarado / ShutterstockA slew of restaurants and trendy bars make for a thriving downtown scene © Luis Alvarado / Shutterstock

For a night out… I like to start in Barrio Escalante for dinner and drinks with friends at Un Lugar, one of my favorite places to warm up for the night. After that, I head over to Barrio La California (which is next to Escalante) for a little dancing at one of the many bars that line the street. I recommend: La Concha de La Lora, El Mercadito, El Gaff, El Cuartel and The Craic Irish Pub.

One thing I hate about San José… is the traffic. Traffic jams can spring up any hour, any day of the week or location. If you’ve got a specific time and place you need to be in the city, my personal advice is to leave 30 minutes to an hour in advance.

A typical weekend involves… breakfast at my favorite place – PicNic Deli&Café. Then I head to the nearest farmers market to get some fresh and organic fruits and vegetables. I also enjoy visiting interesting art exhibitions at local museums like Museo del Jade – my all-time favorite. Most of the exhibitions are free so I like to hop from museum to museum looking for new displays.

To get away from the hustle and bustle of downtown San José, Maria heads to Playa Escondida to relax © Maria Esther Abissi / Lonely Planet

When I want to escape for a while… I go to Playa Escondida, which is an hour away from San José. I grew up in Maracaibo, Venezuela where any decent beach was at least four hours away. But here, the ocean is literally across the mountains, so I just get in my car and be on my favorite place on earth in no time.

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