Indeed, San José transitions from a commercial block of department stores, chic cafés, and fast-food establishments to the haphazard residential areas characteristic of Latin America in an instant. While the city is not by any means an ideal place to vacation, San José posses a certain charm, the result of being the nation’s cultural hub. The capital is home to numerous restaurants, museums, parks, and many other forms of diversion that are typical of large population centers. Another attractive characteristic of San José is its temperate weather, which can be quite a relief, particularly during the summer months. Because of its relatively high elevation—3,839 feet (1,170 m)—the city, like the rest of the Central Valley, is always a pleasant temperature year-round, with very limited showers.
Population in San José exploded during the latter half of the twentieth century, following the Second World War. Today 309,672 people—2000 estimate—call the San José canton home and a million more live in surrounding suburbs, comprising about 40% of the nation’s total population. Historically San José was only a small village that came to prominence because its fertile soil made for excellent farming. Two years following independence from colonial Spain (1821), the joint Republican strongholds of San José and Alajuela defeated the pro-Mexican Democrats of Heredia and Cartago—the previous capital—in a brief civil war that established San José as the capital of the burgeoning nation.
The introduction of coffee to the Central Valley in the early nineteenth century fueled San José’s prosperity as the city embraced capitalism. An urban merchant class rose as the result of coffee trade, who looked to Europe as an architectural muse.
Because of its relatively late start in terms of development, San José is mostly devoid of antique colonial architecture and the typical stand-out monuments found in other Latin American cities. Rarely is a building more than 100 years old. Instead plentiful circa World War II era buildings fill the city’s skyline, eliciting a feeling that San José is still in its infancy—a growing municipal center, that largely retains a small town vibe.