Nightlife in San José, Costa Rica

San José’s bar scene offers different strokes for different folks. You’re guaranteed to find a place that fits your style, and several more that will introduce you to new sights, tastes, vibes, music, and dance moves. There are some sketchy dive bars that are unsafe to visit. To avoid these, stick to venues recommended in this guide.

blue sky with clouds over the city of San Jose in Costa Rica
San José city center. Photo © Elijah-Lovkoff/iStock.

If you prefer to barhop leisurely, the community of Barrio Escalante (a six-square-block area northeast of Avenida 3 and Calle 23), which draws a mature crowd, and the lively, student-filled University District (bordered by Hwy. 2, Calle 57, and Calle 61/Calle de la Amargura)—both in East San José—provide decent clusters of bars. Additional bars are scattered around Barrio La California (bordered by Hwy. 2, Calle 21, Avenida 3, and Calle 29), where Central San José fuses with East San José. In the north of the city, a group of about 20 bars forms the Centro Comercial El Pueblo (Calle 9, just north of Road 108), but this area can be dangerous. Don’t go unless you’re part of a group, ideally with a local who knows the place.

If you’d feel more comfortable hitting the town with a guide or if you’re simply looking to meet new people, hop on the double-decker VIP City Bus and take the VIP Night Tour. On this evening drive around the city, you’ll enjoy drinks on the bus, make stops to explore a few notable sights on foot, including Plaza de la Cultura and Monumento Nacional, and eat dinner at a local restaurant, where additional drinks and shots are served. Food and beverages are included in the cost of the tour, as is transportation from San José hotels.

The Tico Times, an online English-language newspaper geared toward expats, posts evening events in their Arts & Culture and Dining & Nightlife sections. Spanish-language resources for events happening around the city and around the country include local newspaper La Nación, the leading news station Teletica (channel 7 countrywide), and the Sistema de Información Cultural Costa Rica. Their websites are enabled to work with Google Translate, which can provide basic translations.

San José’s Pubs and Bars

The small and sometimes jam-packed El Social occupies a building that dates to the late 1800s and originally contained one of the city’s first cantinas (old-fashioned bars). It shows off a mix of old and new San José, with its handsome tattered brick walls and traditional patterned tile floor juxtaposed against colorful art, a sleek bar, and modern lighting. Top-shelf spirits draw a mature crowd.

The Craic Irish Pub captures the essence of a true Irish bar. It caters to local workers fresh off a shift, boasts an atmosphere of camaraderie, and proudly overuses shamrocks for its decor. It’s also the best place in the city to order a stout, with several varieties of this ale to choose from.

Just about every kind of beer imaginable can be had at the laid-back Costa Rica Beer Factory. It isn’t a pub per se but rather a casual, open-air spot where you can quench your thirst with international imports, Costa Rican domestic beers, and local microbrews. An IPA, Irish red ale, lager, sweet stout, and cider-like fruit beer are manufactured on-site at the factory’s award-winning brewery.

For drinks outdoors, don’t miss the beer garden at Mercado La California, nicknamed El Mercadito. Locals gather indoors and on the outdoor courtyard, tucked away from the street, under twinkling lights to enjoy the secluded hot spot’s assortment of beers and cocktails, DJs, and occasional concerts.

One block north of Mercado La California, Selvática is an open-air social club with a fabulous view of the city. It’s a great place to try creative drinks.

San José’s LGBTQ Clubs

La Avispa is the city’s top gay and lesbian bar. The large club has been around since the late 1970s, offers dance floors that pump to a mix of electronic and Latin music, and has a quieter upstairs area that mimics a sports bar. Guest DJs and performers put on wildly entertaining shows.

Live Music in San José

El Observatorio hosts all kinds of live music events in an art-filled venue with a distinguished vibe.

Overlooking the pedestrian boulevard on Avenida Central from the second floor of Hotel Balmoral, El Bar del Patio is a polished but casual bar that has live music on Wednesday and Friday- Saturday evenings.

evening view of the national theater of costa rica building
Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica in San José. Photo © Mihai-bodgan Lazar/Dreamstime.

The Arts in San José

San José is home to several small community theaters. However, top performances that catch the attention of most visitors are held at the Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica. The theater’s website displays updated events, including plays, cultural presentations, and performances by Costa Rica’s Latin Grammy-winning Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional.

Nikki Solano

About the Author

Nikki Solano is the CEO of Pura Vida! eh? Inc. and the author of the guidebooks Moon Costa Rica and Moon Best of Costa Rica. Together with her Costa Rican husband, Ricky, she operates the Costa Rica Travel Blog, created the online community DIY Costa Rica, built the Costa Rica Destination Tool, oversees the Costa Rica Travel Shop, and designed the Costa Rica Trip Planning 101 E-Course. Nikki also wrote the cover feature for Wanderlust Magazine's sustainability-focused Travel Green List issue, showcased the country’s destinations and experiences on Rick Steves' Monday Night Travel show and podcast/radio show, and served as the Costa Rica Destination Editor for Essentialist, a luxury travel brand.

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