San Jose City Layout
At first glance, navigating downtown San Jose is a breeze. The city is laid out in a perfect grid, with avenues (avenidas) running east-west, and streets (calles) traveling north-south. Calle Central (Central Street) and Avenida Central (Central Avenue) are the center of San Jose's grid system. To the west of Calle Central, all calles ascend in even numbers (Calle 2, Calle 4, etc.), and to the east, in odd numbers. Similarly, to the north of Avenida Central, avenidas ascend in odd numbers, and travel south in even numbers.
West of Calle 14, Avenida Central becomes Paseo Colon, a major motor thoroughfare extending 2.5 kilometers from downtown to La Sabana park and neighborhood. To the east, Avenida Central joins with Avenida Segunda around Calle 29, traveling into the Los Yoses/San Pedro neighborhoods.
For those on foot, Avenida Central is the heart of San Jose, with a pedestrian mall that extends from Calle 6 to Calle 9 (8 blocks). This San Jose section is known as the financial district, the city's most thriving area. Street vendors line the pedestrian section of Avenida Central, peddling all kinds of wares, from t-shirts to lottery tickets. Around Plaza de la Cultura, where you'll find the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum and National Theatre, the boulevard is lined with flower shops and cafes, perfect for an outdoor lunch or coffee break. Please note that, though you will find people walking these streets 24 hours a day, if you're unfamiliar with downtown, you should avoid walking after 10 p.m.
Finding Your Way in San Jose:
Once you've got the city’s basic layout under your belt, navigating San Jose will be easier, though not without its challenges. It is uncommon for Josefinos, San Jose residents, to give directions using calles and avenidas. In fact, mail is rarely delivered to street addresses because most roads are unmarked, and very few people know what street they live on. Some roads, however, do have street name signs hung on corners, about sixteen feet off of the ground, though they are not used to indicate addresses or give directions. [Note: A recent campaign to create street and mailing addresses began in 2000, but the process is slow, and has not yet had any effect on San Jose direction-giving.]
To give directions, Costa Ricans begin by referencing a landmark, such as a government building or big supermarket. As a tourist, landmarks can be tricky, especially since several are long gone, remaining landmarks in memory only (the Coca-Cola bus station is a famous example of this). Don't worry though, Ticos (Costa Ricans) are notoriously friendly, and many will help you find any landmark you're looking for. Just smile, ask again, and point liberally.
Directions or a typical address might look like "300 meters north of Central Park, 200 meters east, and 50 meters north." To decipher these directions, start first at Central Park, and orient yourself to north, south, east, and west – it helps to remember that churches in Costa Rica always face west. In addition, keep in mind that "cien metros" (100 meters) is always equal to one city block. So, for the above directions, head north for three blocks (300 meters), then turn east for another 2 blocks (200 meters). Then, head north for just half a block (50 meters), and start looking around – your destination should be somewhere nearby.