Auditorio Nacional

Housed inside the Museo de Los Niños this is the city’s most modern performing arts theater, with the best seats and sound system. However, it gets much less use than the more classic Teatro Nacional and Teatro Melico Salazar.


This is a classic Costa Rican dance club. The music varies throughout the night, from salsa and merengue to reggaeton and occasionally electronic trance. The rooms and various types of environments include some intimate and quiet corners, spread over a couple of floors. It’s open daily from noon to anytime between 3 and 6am.

El 13

Having quickly outgrown their original location, this place continues to draw a wide ranging crowd of punks, bohos, artists, and assorted revelers. A simple cafe and sandwich shop during the day, it really gets going at night, with a steady lineup of DJs, special events, and the occasional live band. This place is proudly LGBT friendly. It’s open Tuesday to Saturday from 4pm to 1am.

El Cuartel de la Boca del Monte

This popular bar, one of San José’s best, began life as an artist-and-bohemian hangout, and has evolved into a massive melting pot, attracting everyone from the city’s young and well-heeled, to foreign exchange students and visitors. Artists still come, too. Live music is usually Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights, when the place is packed shoulder to shoulder. From Monday to Friday it’s open for lunch and again in the evenings; on weekends it opens at 6pm. On most nights it’s open till about 1am, although the revelry might continue till about 3am on Friday or Saturday.

El Observatorio

It’s easy to miss the narrow entrance to this hot spot across from the Cine Magaly. Owned by a local filmmaker, its decor includes a heavy dose of cinema motifs. The space is large, with high ceilings, and one of the best (perhaps only) smoke extraction systems of any popular bar, making the place bearable, even though most of the clientele are chain-smoking. Mondays tend to be for salsa dancing, while Wednesdays often feature stand-up comedy. There’s occasional live music and movie screenings and a decent menu of appetizers and main dishes drawn from various world cuisines. It’s open 10:30am to 2pm and 6pm to 2am daily.

El Steinvorth

This is one of San José’s trendiest clubs, and one of the only places you might find a line to get in, or be turned away because the doorman doesn’t like how you’re dressed or think you’re cool enough. Still, plenty of people like that sort of thing. Housed in an old brick building with a crumbling facade, inside you’ll find a large contemporary space with several rooms, art hanging on the walls and a second-floor balcony area that looks down on one of the main dance spaces. El Steinvorth is open Wednesday through Saturday from 9pm until at least 4am.

Jazz Café

The Jazz Café is one of the more happening spots in San Pedro, and consistently a great spot to find live music. It remains one of my favorites, although low ceilings and poor air circulation make it almost unbearably smoky most nights. Wrought iron chairs, sculpted busts of famous jazz artists, and creative lighting give the place its ambience. Most nights feature live music. It’s open daily till about 2am. Sister club Jazz Café Escazú ((tel) 2288-4740) is on the western end of town.

Key Largo

This meticulously restored downtown mansion is also one of San José’s top prostitute pickup bars. Housed in a beautiful old building just off Parque Morazán in the heart of downtown, Key Largo is worth a visit if only to take in the scene and admire the dark-stained carved wood ceilings. There are a couple of pool tables, usually a live band, and always working women—however, this is still an acceptable place for visiting couples and those not actively shopping the wares. It’s open 8pm to 2:30am daily.


Named after a classic Julio Cortazar novel, this small, dark, cozy bar oozes boho charm. Poets and folk singers often hold court, and a simple menu of drinks and light bites is offered. If this place is too mellow or artsy for you, its sister spot next door, El Lobo Estepario, is larger and has a livelier club feel, with dance music and regular concerts.

Salsa 54

This is the place to watch expert salsa dancers and to try some steps yourself. You can take Latin dance classes here, or you might learn something just by watching. This place is popular with Ticos, and tourists are a rare commodity here—tourists who can really dance salsa, even more so. It’s open on weekends ‘til 4am.

Terra U

Set on a busy corner in the heart of the university district, this two-story joint is one of the most popular bars in the area. Part of this is due to the inviting open-air street-front patio area, which provides a nice alternative to the all-too-common smoke-filled rooms found at most other trendy spots. It's open daily ‘til 2am.


Tucked inside a nondescript office building and commercial center on Paseo Colón, this club remains one of the more popular places for rave-style late-night dancing and partying. The dance floor is huge and the ceilings are high, and electronic music rules the roost. It’s open Friday and Saturday till 6am.