Downtown San José is laid out on a grid. Avenidas (avenues) run east and west, while calles (streets) run north and south. The center of the city is at Avenida Central and Calle Central. To the north of Avenida Central, the avenidas have odd numbers beginning with Avenida 1; to the south, they have even numbers beginning with Avenida 2. Likewise, calles to the east of Calle Central have odd numbers, and those to the west have even numbers. The main downtown artery is Avenida 2, which merges with Avenida Central on either side of downtown. West of downtown, Avenida Central becomes Paseo Colón, which ends at Parque La Sabana and feeds into the highway to Alajuela, the airport, Guanacaste, and the Pacific coast. East of downtown, Avenida Central leads to San Pedro and then to Cartago and the Inter-American Highway heading south. Calle 3 takes you out of town to the north, onto the Guápiles Highway that leads to the Caribbean coast.
The Neighborhoods in Brief
Downtown:In San José’s busy downtown, you’ll find most of the city’s museums, a handful of urban parks and open-air plazas, and the city’s main cathedral. Many tour companies, restaurants, and hotels are located here. Unfortunately, traffic noise and exhaust fumes make this one of the least pleasant parts of the city. Streets and avenues are usually bustling and crowded with pedestrians and vehicular traffic, and street crime is most rampant here. Still, the sections of Avenida Central between calles 6 and 7, as well as Avenida 4 between calles 9 and 14, have been converted into pedestrian malls, greatly improving things on these stretches.
Barrio Amón/Barrio Otoya:These two picturesque neighborhoods, just north and east of downtown, are the site of the greatest concentration of historic buildings in San José. Some of these have been renovated and turned into boutique hotels and atmospheric restaurants. If you’re looking for character and don’t mind the noise and exhaust fumes from passing cars and buses, this neighborhood makes a good base for exploring the city.
Barrio Escalante:This former residential district to the northeast of downtown has quickly emerged as one of the city’s primary restaurant and nightlife zones. Many of the old mansions have been converted into craft beer bars and hipster coffeehouses, while others are being torn down to make way for modern apartment buildings.
La Sabana/Paseo Colón:Paseo Colón, a wide boulevard west of downtown, is an extension of Avenida Central and ends at Parque La Sabana. It has several good, small hotels and numerous restaurants. This is also where several of the city’s car-rental agencies have their in-town offices. Once the site of the city’s main airport, the Parque La Sabana (La Sabana Park) is San José’s largest public park, with ample green areas, sports and recreation facilities, the National Stadium, and the Museo de Arte Costarricense (Costa Rican Art Museum). The neighborhoods north and south of the park are known as Sabana Norte and Sabana Sur.
San Pedro/Los Yoses:Located east of downtown San José, Los Yoses is an upper-middle-class neighborhood that is home to many diplomatic missions and embassies. San Pedro is a little farther east and is the site of the University of Costa Rica. Numerous college-type bars and restaurants are all around the edge of the campus, while more upscale and refined restaurants and boutique hotels can be found in the residential sections of both neighborhoods.