San José has been the capital of Costa Rica and the seat of its democratic government since 1823. Located high in the Central Valley (1,253 meters/3,770 feet), between green volcanic mountain ranges, the metropolitan city of about one million people is oriented east and west, surrounded by suburbs that cling to the gentle foothills. The nearby town of Escazú, southwest of the city off the autopista, is home to the largest population of North Americans living in Costa Rica. This makes this part of the city more upscale than San José’s downtown or other suburbs.
Something that might difference form other Central American capitals, it’s that this one is not a very colonial city. However, the heart of the historic center features several beautiful old buildings. Graceful porticos and wrap-around verandas distinguish these appealing homes (some converted to offices or small hotels) painted in soft pastels.
San José didn’t become a decent-sized city until relatively late in the 1800s, long past the colonial era, and had a modern building boom in the 1950s and 60s. Because of its economic success from coffee exports, San José became the second city in the Americas to install electricity (1884).
As the cultural heart of the nation, San José is home to several theater groups, excellent museums, parks, a national symphony, cinemas and universities. It is also host to nightclubs, casinos, discos and fine restaurants. Residents of San José are known as Josefinos. At its heart are the National Theater, Plaza de la Cultura, Parque Central, the Metropolitan Cathedral and Gold Museum, which are centered in a fourblock area with a long pedestrian-only shopping walkway that bisects the middle of downtown.
San José is a very cosmopolitan capital with many welcoming qualities. Near-perfect weather is a big attraction to visitors as well as expatriates who call the Central Valley home.