San Jose Sights

The Irish band U2 could have written their song "Where the Streets Have No Name" about San José. Admittedly, some streets have names, but no one seems to know or use them. Streets in the center of the capital are laid out in a grid, with avenidas (avenues) running east and west, and calles (streets) north and south. Odd-number avenues increase in number north of Avenida Central; even-number

avenues, south. Streets east of Calle Central have odd numbers; those to the west are even. Locals rarely use the numbers, however.

Costa Ricans rely instead on a charming and exasperating system of designating addresses by the distance from landmarks, as in "100 meters north and 50 meters west of the school." Another quirk: "100 meters" always refers to one city block, regardless of how long it actually is. Likewise, "200 meters" is two blocks, and so on. (As you can imagine, getting a pizza delivered here is quite a challenge.)

Historically, the reference point was the church, but these days it might be a bar, Burger King, or even a quirky landmark: the eastern suburb of San Pedro uses the higuerón, a prominent fig tree. The city has embarked on an ambitious project to name all its streets once and for all. Even after it’s completed, it's improbable that anybody will know or use the names. Your best bet is to follow the time-honored practice of ir y preguntar (keep walking and keep asking).

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San Jose Sights

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Barrio Chino

  • Neighborhood/Street

We should get one thing straight about the capital's Chinatown: San José is not San Francisco. But the Chinese government has financed...

Catedral Metropolitana

  • Religious Building/Site/Shrine

Built in 1871 and completely refurbished in the late 1990s to repair earthquake damage, the neoclassical cathedral, topped by a corrugated...

Centro Nacional de la Cultura

  • Arts/Performance Venue

Rather than tear it down, the Ministry of Culture converted the sloped-surface, double-block 1853 Fábrica Nacional de Licores (National...

Correos de Costa Rica

  • Government Building

The handsome, carved exterior of the post office, dating from 1917, is hard to miss among the bland buildings surrounding it. The lobby...

Estatua de John Lennon

  • Memorial/Monument/Tomb

A whimsical statue of John Lennon sits on a small, slightly out-of-the-way plaza across from La Soledad church. Sculptor José Ramón...

Mercado Central

  • Market/Bazaar

This block-long melting pot is a warren of dark, narrow passages flanked by stalls packed with spices (some purported to have medicinal...

Museo Nacional

  • Military Site

In the mango-color Bellavista Fortress, which dates from 1870, the museum gives you a quick and insightful lesson in English and Spanish...

Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporáneo

  • Museum/Gallery

This wonderfully minimalist space is perfect as the country's premier modern-art venue. The MADC, as it's known around town, hosts changing...

Museo del Jade

  • Museum/Gallery

San José's starkly modern Jade Museum displays the world's largest collection of the green gemstone. The holdings log in at 5,000-plus...

Museo del Oro Precolombino

  • Museum/Gallery

This dazzling, modern museum in a three-story underground structure beneath the Plaza de la Cultura contains Central America's largest...

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