- San José: If you're spending any time in San José, you'll probably want to be outside the rough-and-tumble downtown area. The best place to experience Costa Rica's capital city (and still get a decent night's sleep) is the Doubletree Cariari By Hilton (www.cariarisanjose.doubletree.com; tel. 800/222-8733 in the U.S. and Canada). With facilities that include several large pools, a gym, a casino, and a game room (not to mention a babysitting service), there's something here for everyone. If you're traveling with teens, they'll feel right at home at the nearby Mall Cariari, which has a multiplex theater, an indoor skating rink, and, of course, a food court. Just 15 minutes from downtown, it's well situated for exploring all of the city's sights and attractions.
- La Paz Waterfall Gardens (tel. 2482-2100; www.waterfallgardens.com): This multifaceted attraction features paths and suspended walkways alongside a series of impressive jungle waterfalls. Kids love the variety and vibrancy of the various attractions, from the buzzing hummingbirds to the impressive power of the waterfalls. The rooms at the Peace Lodge here are some of the best in the country.
- Playa Hermosa: The protected waters of this Pacific beach make it a family favorite. However, just because the waters are calm doesn't mean it's boring. I recommend staying at the beachfront Hotel Playa Hermosa Bosque del Mar (www.hotelplayahermosa.com; tel. 2672-0046) and checking in at Aqua Sport (tel. 2672-0050), where you can rent sea kayaks, sailboards, paddleboats, beach umbrellas, and bicycles.
- Playa Tamarindo: This lively surf town has a bit of something for everyone. This is a great spot for teens to learn how to surf or boogie-board, and there are a host of tours and activities to please the entire family. Hotel Capitán Suizo (www.hotelcapitansuizo.com; tel. 2653-0075) has an excellent location on a calm section of beach, spacious rooms, and a great pool for kids and adults alike.
- Monteverde: Located about 160km (99 miles) northwest of San José, this area not only boasts the country's most famous cloud forest, but also sports a wide variety of related attractions and activities. After hiking through the reserve, you should be able to keep most kids happy and occupied riding horses; squirming at the local serpentarium; or visiting the butterfly farm, frog pond, bat jungle, and hummingbird gallery. More adventurous families can take a horseback ride or one of the local zip-line canopy tours.
- Playa de Jacó: On the central Pacific coast, this is Costa Rica's liveliest and most developed beach town. The streets are lined with souvenir shops, ice-cream stands, and inexpensive eateries. Older kids can rent a surf- or boogie board, although everyone should be careful with the rough surf. The Club del Mar Condominiums & Resort (www.clubdelmarcostarica.com; tel. 866/978-5669 in the U.S. and Canada) is situated at the calm southern end of the beach and is accommodating to families with small children.
- Manuel Antonio: Manuel Antonio has a little bit of everything: miles of gorgeous beaches, tons of wildlife (with almost guaranteed monkey sightings), and plenty of active-tour options. Of the load of lodging options, Hotel Sí Como No (www.sicomono.com; tel. 2777-0777), with its large suites, two pools, water slide, and nightly movies, is probably your best bet.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.