San Jose Nightlife

San José is the heart of Costa Rica’s nightlife and cultural scene, with plenty to offer beyond the usual tourist-oriented party scenes that dominate popular beach towns.

El Pueblo, an outdoor commercial centre close to downtown (take a cab), has dozens of trendy bars and clubs. Calle Amargura near the University of Costa Rica in San Pedro, has cheap beer and a few artsier options while the wealthy suburb of Escazú offers more upscale watering holes. Centro Comercial El Pueblo’s ever-changing kaleidoscope of discos and bars is San José’s top clubbing destination.

For entertainment listings in English, check out the Tico Times (

Bars in San Jose

Bar Cuartel de la Boca del Monte

Anchoring the city’s alternative entertainment district, which is recognisable thanks to all the wild graffiti just east of downtown, is this classic bar and club. The crowd is young and laid back, and here to enjoy live bands and a legendary beverage menu that lists more than 200 cocktails. The food’s good, too.

Avenida 1 & Calles 21/23, California, San Jose, Costa Rica
Telephone: +506 2221 0327.
Blue Marlin Bar

Prostitution is legal in Costa Rica, and the sex tourism scene is centred on San José’s (in)famous, frosted pink Hotel Del Rey, home of the Blue Marlin Bar. While it’s geared to single gentleman – as are several businesses in the surrounding blocks, collectively known as the Gringo Gulch – everyone is welcome to enjoy the small casino and expensive drinks. If you’d rather avoid that scene, now you know where it is.

Avenida 1 & Calle 9, San Jose, Costa Rica
Telephone: +506 2257 7800.
Cantina La Cava

If you’re in the mood for a more elegant aperitif, take a cab into the mountains of Escazú to fabulous La Cava. The underground bar, with magnificent views over the starry Central Valley, is part of pricey Le Monastere Restaurant, one of the capital’s long-time favourite splurges. The bar is a bit more relaxed, but offers truly inspired bocas and a very full bar, including an excellent wine list. Open from 1830-0200 on Fridays and Saturdays.

San Rafael de Escazú, San Jose, 10203, Costa Rica
Telephone: +506 2228 8515.

Clubs in San Jose

Discoteque Castros

This San José institution has been the capital’s hottest spot for Latin dance for years. Castros has three throbbing floors of DJs serving up spicy rumba, reggaeton, and of course salsa to a crowd that knows how to dance, and there’s usually karaoke on as well. It’s away from the city centre (take a taxi, as Barrio Mexico can be dodgy), but gets a fair number of tourists.

Avenida 13, Barrio Mexico, San Jose, Costa Rica
Telephone: +506 2256 8789
La Avispa

One of San José’s oldest gay and lesbian clubs, La Avispa remains the epicentre of the scene, with a huge dance floor, great music, and straight-friendly vibe that brings in a diverse, stylish crowd from across the country.

Calle 1, San Jose, Costa Rica
Telephone: +506 2223 5343.

Dress to impress at Costa Rica’s top dance club, considered a destination by party people from all over Central America. Unless you’re looking really good, you’ll wait in line for a while before being admitted to the unremarkable-looking warehouse. It’s worth this bit of Studio 54-style theatre to enjoy two huge dance floors, with live DJs, spinning electronica, trance, and more.

Edificio Centro Colón, San Jose, Costa Rica
Telephone: +506 2257 8424

Live Music in San Jose

El Observatorio

This relaxed venue, owned by a local film celebrity, is decorated with a cinema theme. Though it is perhaps best known for screening cool movies within the cavernous interior, El Observatorio is also a great place to see live music. The crowd is mixed, the food is good, and the entertainment schedule listed on its Facebook page.

Calle 23 and Avenida Central 1, Barrio La California, San Jose, Costa Rica
Telephone: +506 2223 0725.
Jazz Café

The polished, elegant Jazz Café is every capitaleño’s favourite place to see live music, with a reliably good line-up of top regional and international talent. The crowd is older, the music better, and the drinks and food pricier than on nearby Calle Amargura. A newer Jazz Café has opened in Escazú on Próspero Fernández Highway; reservations are recommended.

Pan American Highway, San Pedro, San Jose, Costa Rica
Telephone: +506 2253 8933.

This Los Yoses institution may not be pretty, but the classic dive bar often has lines out the door for its popular live shows. The dance floor is huge and sound system loud, the better to broadcast cover bands playing rock and heavy metal from the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. On off nights, a huge video screen keeps kids in black t-shirts entertained.

Avenue 8, Los Yoses, San Jose, Costa Rica
Telephone: +506 2280 5890.

Classical Music in San Jose

Teatro Nacional

San José’s graceful National Theatre is considered the city’s most beautiful building; guides will tell you that Costa Ricans criminalized war rather than risk hurting it again. Designed during the 1890s and fuelled by full-bodied coffee profits, the city’s main stage is wrapped in French sophistication, with a soaring façade and classical art. The theatre hosts performers from all over the nation and world, and is home to the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional (National Symphony Orchestra).

Avenida 2 & Calle 5, San Jose, Costa Rica
Telephone: +506 2207 7561.

Opera in San Jose

Teatro Melico Salazar

Built in the late 1920s, at the dizzying crest of the global coffee boom, San José’s second stage is one of the capital’s most photographed buildings. The French baroque beauty forms one side of San José’s original Central Park, along with the cathedral. The theatre was named for Costa Rica’s most famous opera singer, Melico Salazar, and quite fittingly it is home to the National Theatre Company and National Dance Company.

Calle Central Alfredo Volio, San Jose, Costa Rica
Telephone: +506 2233 5172.

Culture in San Jose

Teatro Eugene O'Neill

Inside the enormous red, white, and blue Centro Cultural Costarricense y Norteamericano (Costa Rican and North American Cultural Center), the Eugene O’Neill Theatre stages all sorts of plays, musicians, movies, and many other events, most with a North American flavour. It also offers plays, puppet shows, activities for children, as well as various workshops and classes.

Calle 37, Avenida 1-3, Barrio Dent, Costa Rica
Telephone: +506 2207 7567.
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