The art of urban appreciation: a new San José

San José, Costa Rica's Atlantic Train Station in 1908

Downtown San José, Costa Rica, the city tourists love to hate, is on the upswing. Beautiful historic buildings like the Atlantic Train Station are being renovated, a new commuter train line is fully operational, art festivals abound, and even the graffiti seems to be improving in quality.

The city has brought back its Saturday “Love Your City,” a festival of  arts, music, and yoga in downtown parks. And February 8 kicked off the third season of Art City Tours; every few months, major museums and galleries offer free admission for the evening (the next Art Tour is April 18). You can take an electric bus (for free) to the various museums and galleries, bike it, or go a pie (on foot).

If you’re thinking umbrellas and wet sidewalks, remember, it’s summer right now in Costa Rica.

Stacey Auch, founder of Barrio Bird Walking Tours, San José, Costa Rica

And if you miss the Art City Tour, consider booking a private art walk with Stacey Auch, founder of Barrio Bird Tours. Originally from Indiana and now a San José resident, Stacey offers a variety of tours, emphasizing everything from food to photography to retiring in Costa Rica. I took her art tour and was amazed at how much I learned about a city I thought I already knew. From graffiti art to historic architecture, Stacey knows San José. She’ll make even long-time residents feel like they’re seeing the city for the first time.

San José, Costa Rica, by night; photo by Chepecletas

If you’re a night-loving speaker of Spanish, check out Chepecletas‘ nocturnal city walks. Chepecletas also runs the bike portion of the Art City Tours, and are big on promoting bike use in San José (“Chepe” is the nickname for San José; “cleta” refers to bike cleats).

Whether as part of a tour or on your own, art lovers will want to visit:

–the Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporáneo (MADC, or the Museum of Art and Contemporary Design, at 15th Street and 3rd Avenue)

Statue of John Lennon in San José's Arts Plaza

–the Centro Nacional de la Cultura (National Culture Center, on 15th Street between 3 and 7 avenue, with the entrance near Parque España), which was once a liquor factory and now houses MADC–see above–along with a sculpture by native son Francisco Zúñiga and the studios of the national dance company

–the Museo de Jade, INS (the Jade Museum, in the INS building, on 7th Ave near 9th St)

The new glass and steel entrance to Costa Rica's National Museum houses and echoes the pre-Columbian sphere inside.

–the Plaza de los Artes (Arts Plaza, across from Our Lady of Solitude Church on 9 St between 2 and 6 Avenues) to see the new statue of John Lennon

–the Museo de Oro, (Gold Museum, 5th Street at Central Avenue, under the Plaza de la Cultura, steps from the National Theater), to see their extensive collection of gold objects that date from 500 to 1500 a.d., from intricately worked breastplates to sacred objects used in shamanic rituals.

geodesic dome of oil can lids, fans, and CDs, outside San José's Ministry of Youth and Culture

–the Museo Nacional (National Museum, new entrance off of Plaza de la Democracia, 15th Street between Central and 2nd Avenues). They have an important new show of pre-Columbian artifacts spirited out of the country by railroad magnate Minor Keith, and now back home.

–the Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud (The Ministry of  Youth and Culture, 25th Street between 7th and 9th Avenues, near the east end of the Atlantic Train Station) to see the outdoor sculptures on the convention hall’s east side.

  • By Bob Raksnis, June 29, 2012 @ 5:43 am


    I have been interested in CR for about 2 years now, and still have it on my radar as a retirement home in the future. I’ve never visited, but am planning to do so in the next year. My question is, how much time do you think is a good amount of time, when it comes to deciding to retire there? I am looking at vacationing in Atenas, and exploring from there.
    My thoughts are retiring with about 3000 a month to spend. Is that reasonable?
    Thanks, I can not wait to visit.
    Bob Raksnis

  • By Erin Van Rheenen, September 6, 2012 @ 9:21 am

    that’s MORE than enough.

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