San Jose

The metro area's hottest nightlife has migrated to the Central Valley suburbs of Escazú and Heredia these days. Both are about 20- to 30-minute taxi rides from downtown San José. The capital isn't devoid of places to go in the evening, however. There are still plenty of bars, dance clubs, and restaurants and cafés where you can spend the evening. Take taxis to and from when you go; it’s the safest option if you’re out after dark. Most places will be happy to call you a cab—or, if there's a guard, he can hail you one—when it's time to call it a night. Remember that all venues are nonsmoking.

No one could accuse San José of having too few watering holes, but aside from the hotels there aren't many places to have a quiet drink, especially downtown. Barrios Amón and Otoya have little in the way of nightlife outside the occasional hotel bar.

The young and the restless hang out in the student-oriented places around the University of Costa Rica in the eastern suburb of San Pedro. The Calle de la Amargura (Street of Bitterness), named for the route Jesus took to the crucifixion, is much more secular than its name suggests and rocks loudly each night. (Nighttime robberies have occurred on "The Calle," so be wary.)

Don't write off every place around the university as rowdy. There are a few quiet bars and cafés where you can carry on a real conversation. Barrios La California and Escalante, an area anchored by the Santa Teresita church, connect central San José with San Pedro, and house some of the city's trendiest nightspots.

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  • 1. Azotea Calle 7

    Barrio La Soledad

    Downtown’s most elegant nightspot perches in a garden on the rooftop of the Hotel Presidente and offers terrific views and inventive cocktails....Read More

  • 2. Café del Barista

    Barrio Aranjuez

    The rain does get a bit loud on the metal roof, but the wide selection of coffee drinks here is worth the occasional racket....Read More

  • 3. Café Miel Garage

    Barrio Otoya | Cafés

    A scant two tables and a small counter are the only seating at this tiny place, a converted garage, which serves coffee from its own finca...Read More

  • 4. Café Mundo

    Barrio Otoya

    The highly recommended restaurant Café Mundo is a quiet spot for a drink or bite to eat and is frequented by LGBTQ and bohemian crowds....Read More

  • 5. Cafeoteca

    Barrio Escalante

    This café sits at the entrance to the trendy Kalú restaurant and blends and roasts its own coffee on-site....Read More

  • 6. Club Teatro

    Barrio El Pacífico | Cabaret

    RuPaul has nothing on the performers at San José’s largest LGBTQ+ venue. The drag shows here aren't just any drag shows; they include gymnastics...Read More

  • 7. Club Unión

    Barrio La Merced

    The elevated, glassed-in café here lets you survey the ongoing hive of activity on the small, shaded plaza in front of the post office....Read More

  • 8. Costa Rica Beer Factory

    Barrio Escalante | Brewpubs/Beer Gardens

    One of Costa Rica’s budding brewpubs serves up four of its own craft beers and one seasonally rotating one, as well as possibly the country...Read More

  • 9. El Observatorio

    Barrio La California

    El Observatorio strikes an unusual balance between casual and formal: it's the kind of place where an over-30 crowd in ties goes to watch a...Read More

  • 10. Franco

    Barrio Escalante | Cafés

    Fashionable Franco serves gourmet beverages made from the country’s premium coffees. Your inner amateur barista may want to check into the slate...Read More

  • 11. La Avispa

    An LGBTQ+ crowd frequents La Avispa, which has two dance floors with videos and karaoke, as well as a quieter upstairs bar with pool tables....Read More

  • 12. La Bodeguita del Medio

    Paseo Colón

    The mojitos flow and the chips and guacamole keep coming at this west-side restaurant that showcases live (usually Cuban) music most evenings after 9....Read More

  • 13. Mercado La California

    Barrio La California

    You find food stands (tacos, pizzas, and sandwiches) and a bar kiosk (beer, wine, or mixed drinks) all to your liking at this sprawling place—part...Read More

  • 14. Merecumbé

    Many Costa Ricans learn to merengue, rumba, mambo, cha-cha, and swing (called cumbia elsewhere) at a young age. Play catch-up at dance school Merecumbé, which...Read More

  • 15. Mil948

    Barrio Escalante | Bars/Pubs

    At this cozy cocktail lounge, once the house of iconic president José María Figueres, the mixologists will whip up any of your favorite drinks...Read More

  • 16. Ram Luna

    Aserrí

    In the far, far southern suburbs, 14 km (9 miles) south of downtown San José, Ram Luna is most famous for the views—the lights of...Read More

  • 17. Stiefel Pub

    Barrio Amón

    Craft beer is taking hold in Costa Rica, and Stiefel has 10 microbrews on tap to the accompaniment of a lively pub atmosphere....Read More

  • 18. Underground Brew Café

    Barrio Escalante | Cafés

    Behind the yellow gate here—there’s no sign, so just ring the bell to be buzzed in—are some of Barrio Escalante’s best-crafted coffee drinks...Read More

  • 19. Café 1930

    Barrio La Soledad

    The café under the arcades at the entrance to the Grand Hotel Costa Rica pulls duty as a pleasant place for a drink or coffee....Read More

  • 20. El Bochinche

    Barrio La Soledad

    This gay bar and dance club gets packed on weekends. It attracts a young crowd and keeps very late hours....Read More

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