San Jose

In San José 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, a Taco Bell, 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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  • 1. 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 pieces...Read More

  • 2. 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 collection...Read More

  • 3. Teatro Nacional

    Arts/Performance Venue

    The National Theater is Costa Rica at its most enchanting. Chagrined that touring prima donna Adelina Patti bypassed San José in 1890 for lack...Read More

  • 4. 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 the...Read More

  • 5. 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 tin...Read More

  • 6. 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 Liquor...Read More

  • 7. 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 and...Read More

  • 8. 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 Villa's...Read More

  • 9. 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 value...Read More

  • 10. 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...Read More

  • 11. Museo Nacional

    Museum/Gallery

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

  • 12. Parque Central

    Plaza/Square/Piazza

    At the city's nucleus, the tree-shaded Central Park is more plaza than park. A life-size bronze statue of a street sweeper ( El Barrendero ...Read More

  • 13. Parque España

    Park/Playground

    This shady little park is a favorite spot. A bronze statue of Costa Rica's Spanish founder, Juan Vásquez de Coronado, overlooks an elevated...Read More

  • 14. Parque Morazán

    Park/Playground

    Anchored by the 1920 Templo de Música (Temple of Music), a neoclassical bandstand that has become the symbol of the city, downtown's largest...Read More

  • 15. Parque Nacional

    Memorial/Monument/Tomb

    A bronze monument commemorating Central America's battles against North American invader William Walker in 1856 forms the centerpiece of the...Read More

  • 16. Plaza de la Cultura

    Plaza/Square/Piazza

    The crowds of people, vendors, and street entertainers at the plaza—it's a favored spot for marimba bands, clowns, jugglers, and colorfully...Read More

  • 17. Plaza de la Democracia

    Plaza/Square/Piazza

    President Oscar Arias built this terraced space west of the Museo Nacional to mark 100 years of democracy and to receive dignitaries during...Read More

  • 18. Plaza del Banco Central

    Plaza/Square/Piazza

    A widening of Avenida Central, this plaza is popular with hawkers, money changers, and retired men, and can be a good place to get a shoe shine...Read More

  • 19. Teatro 1887

    Arts/Performance Venue

    The clay-brick theater is devoted to performances by the National Dance Company. What is now the theater's lobby was once a chemical testing lab. ...Read More

  • 20. Teatro FANAL

    Arts/Performance Venue

    The metal Teatro FANAL hosts frequent theater and music performances. ...Read More

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