Strolling San Jose's Ten Best Shopping Spots and Walk Streets

Walking through San José, Costa Rica is a great way to experience the culture of the capital city. While shopping, you can visit several enchantingly green public parks, see an astounding amount of street art, and get a taste of life as a Josefino. The best souvenir shopping can be found in several open-air markets such as the vintage original Mercado Central, bursting at the seams with emblazoned gear and all sorts of kitsch, but also a trove of unusual finds like herbs from a Chinese apothecary and a colorful selection of chorreadors, traditional Costa Rican coffee makers. Just outside the Mercado is the pedestrian only Avenida Central, which stretches for several blocks and is home to multiple modern clothing stores, an array of eating establishments, and so many public art displays along the way, from wall murals to bronze statues. If it's original Costa Rican art you're shopping for, find Galeria Namu near the Jade Museum for its collection of pre-Colombian pottery, colorful Boruca masks, intricate woven baskets, and carved tagua figurines, sourced directly from the Costa Rican artists and artisans. The Souvenir Museum makes sustainable shopping fun and educational with its evolving assortment of local handmade goods. 


Located just a short distance from San Jos� proper in San Pedro, this large shopping mall offers four stories of shopping diversions. A wide variety of boutiques, specialty shops, gift shops, clothing stores and department stores sell everything you'd hope to find in a mall, and then some. Additionally, a large movie theater, gaming arcades and two discos add to the fun of this lively establishment. A food court offers a number of different dining options, from International eats to fast food. This mall is popular with students from the nearby colleges, who flock to the arcades and food court after class.

Recommended for San José's Best Shopping because: This mall has a good collection of shops a classic feel that sparks nostalgia.

Sophia's expert tip: Fuel up at the upstairs food court before tackling this mega mall.

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Multiplaza Mall
Photo courtesy of Sophia LaMonica

Multiplaza Mall is located in Escaz� along the Santa Ana Highway, and it's a expansive, recently renovated mall with a large number of shops catering to a well-heeled set of Costa Ricans and tourists, who will find designer favorite storefronts such as Kenneth Cole, Lacoste, Diesel, and even Oscar de la Renta, plus a surprisingly modern selection of up-and-coming but still upscale shops. Mall lovers can easily spend a leisurely morning perusing the goods of local department stores as well as international chain stores, and if that's not enough, there are two movie theaters, several nice restaurants and a large supermarket also contained within this sprawling complex.

Recommended for San José's Best Shopping because: It's where to find multiple upscale designer shops under one roof.

Sophia's expert tip: Movie theaters at this upmarket mall show movies in English.

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The Mercado Nacional de Artesania is an outlet specifically designed for Costa Rican artisans with a big collection of shops that carry a lion's share of quality products all handcrafted within the country. Visitors to this shopping destination can expect to find an array of paintings, sculptures, ceramics, textiles, leather-work, wood-work, bead-work, jewelry and more, all made in Costa Rica. Imported items are also available in the store, but proceeds support the work of national artists. This place makes the perfect one-stop souvenir shopping experience, and you may even find a miniature handpainted ox-cart that you just can't live without.

Recommended for San José's Best Shopping because: This is the place to find original made in Costa Rica souvenirs for the whole family.

Sophia's expert tip: Meet some of the artists and artisans in person at some storefronts where handpainted woodwork, jewelry, and ceramics are among the arts and crafts.

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J. Lang Atelier & Showroom in Escazu is a dream come true for handbag lovers in Costa Rica. Each piece is designed by Jennifer Lang, who draws her inspiration from the natural beauty of her new home. There are a variety of styles to choose from, including popular clutches and her MIO roll bag, with new designs in the works every season. Key elements of J. Lang's purses and accessories are bright colors and textured leather, and many come with a signature gold leaf zipper pull. These designer purses have been bought by celebrities, and they have been featured in fashion magazines such as In Style and Vogue.

Recommended for San José's Best Shopping because: These colorful keepsake handbags allow you to carry a piece of Costa Rica with you wherever you go.

Sophia's expert tip: J. Lang carries some accessories for men, too; check out the leather belt collection.

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Airport - Sjo

The Souvenir Museum is a unique experience that lets visitors learn about sustainability while browsing and shopping a colorful, fairly-traded collection- all of which is hand made in Costa Rica. The Souvenir Museum is part of the emrging tourism sector that hopes to effect change through sustainable values and by raising awareness of environmental impact. During a free tour, visitors to the Souvenir Museum hear about the development of communities and the stories of local artists and artisans, and how the shop promotes research and strengthening of the sustainable lifestyle of its suppliers, considering the development of quality products from raw materials through packaging and shipping. Casual and conversational, the tour is family-friendly idea that aims to engage young travelers as well as their parents. Souvenir Museum Hours are 9am to 5pm, Monday through Saturday. Sunday 9am to 5pm (November and December only).

Recommended for San José's Best Shopping because: Handmade gifts and sustainable souvenirs designed by Costa Rican artisans.

Sophia's expert tip: The Souvenir Museum makes an educational kid-friendly stop en route to the airport.

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Mercado Central
Photo courtesy of Sophia LaMonica

Since 1880, the Central Market has been a staple shopping hub in San Jose, providing for a unique shopping experience in the country's capital city. Prices are relatively reasonable, and the goods are varied, with everything from fresh flowers and produce to clothing and smoke shops. Knick-knacks, souvenirs and t-shirts are also in-stock aplenty. The Mercado Central of San Jose is not just a commercial place but a part of the country's culture and history, people meet at the market to catch up and discuss current affairs, not only to shop. Look for one of the many entrances from the street into this labyrinth-structure, where one can easily spend hours browsing.

Recommended for San José's Best Shopping because: This is the essential souvenir shopping destination in downtown San Jose.

Sophia's expert tip: Avoid the banned turtle eggs that still appear behind glass cases here, their sale is illegal.

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For all you cowboys and cowgirls in Costa Rica, Caballo Loco Boutique in San Jose, has everything you need except the horses- and those are just around the way. Started by a Canadian horse lover who discovered a need for equestrian gear in her new home, Caballo Loco is filled to the brim with cowboys hats, chaps, bolo-ties, horse-printed clothing and gifts, plus so much more. In the air-conditioned boutique near Ciudad Colon in the west part of the city, stop by for your fix of all things equestrian, and you'll probably come out looking like a true sabonera (that's Costa Rican for cowgirl).

Recommended for San José's Best Shopping because: Because sometimes you or somebody you know just needs a good cowboy hat.

Sophia's expert tip: Caballo Loco Boutique can outfit little kids in cowboy duds, too.

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Boutique Annemarie

Located in the Hotel Don Carlos, this old-fashioned specialty shop has earned a reputation for carrying select handmade in Costa Rica goods that can't be found elsewhere, including jewelry, gifts, specialty clothes, paintings, books, figurines, leather goods, crafts and souvenirs. There are hundreds of items on display in the store here, with a nice variety to choose from., and once could spend plenty of time getting lost browsing the aisles. The hotel's lobby d�cor is a homage to old Costa Rica, complete with an antique phonograph, a carved wooden statue of an old coffee rancher, and artwork depicting the beautiful countryside.

Recommended for San José's Best Shopping because: Here's where you may stumble on that special something you didn't know you wanted.

Sophia's expert tip: This souvenir collection is hidden within a lovely old-fashioned hotel.

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Airport - Sjo

Tucked into a small storefront on a side street in downtown San Jose is Galer�a Namu, where all items in the shop are handmade by talented artists and fairly traded, which means that each purchase directly supports indigenous artists and encourages them to continue creating. Within a cozy space a stone's throw from the Jade Musuem, the gallery offers a wide variety of tribal art collectibles and hand- crafted items such as masks, tagua, (intricately carved vegetable ivory) and pre-Columbian pottery, woven baskets, and paintings. Museum quality goods are available at affordable prices, making Galer�a Namu an ideal site for souvenir shopping, home decor, and special occasion gifts.

Recommended for San José's Best Shopping because: It's stocked with the best collection of Boruca masks and tagua figurines.

Sophia's expert tip: Galer�a Namu will arrange tours to visit indigenous groups of artisans.

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Airport - Sjo

A bustling pedestrian walk street, the city's Avenida Central is the ideal place for strolling, whether you're there to shop or not. Small cafes and a few fast food chains help keep your stomach from growling as you browse, while a newer two-story food court on one end of the Avenue can be a good place to rest your feet,refuel and people watch. Several department stores are located along this local favorite shopping strip, including the La Gloria and Universal stores. There are several permanent art installments throughout the Avenida, in addition to the murals that decorate many side streets.

Recommended for San José's Best Shopping because: So much street art and plentiful trees along the way.

Sophia's expert tip: Look for the life size statues sprinkled across the Avenida.

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Meet Sophia LaMonica

On Sophia's first trip to Costa Rica, she came face to face with white-faced monkeys, gasped at the sight of giant purple crabs, and rode horseback through plunging waterfalls. Costa Rica...  More About Sophia