Streets (calles) run north to south; avenues (avenidas) run east to west. Downtown San José is centered on Calle Central and Avenida Central (which is closed to traffic between Calles 14 and 7). To the north of Avenida Central, avenidas ascend in odd numbers (Avenida 1, Avenida 3, and so on); to the south they descend in even numbers (Avenida 2, Avenida 4, etc.). West of Calle Central, calles ascend in even numbers (Calle 2, Calle 4, etc.); to the east they ascend in odd numbers (Calle 1, Calle 3, and so on).
West of downtown, Paseo Colón runs 2.5 kilometers to Parque Sabana (Paseo Colón is closed to traffic on Sunday). East of downtown, Avenida 2 merges into Avenida Central, which runs through the Los Yoses and San Pedro districts en route to Cartago.
Josefinos (as San José residents are called) rarely refer to street addresses by avenida and calle. Very few streets have street numbers, there are no post codes, and an amazing number of Josefinos have no idea what street they live on! Costa Ricans use landmarks, not street addresses, to find their way around. They usually refer to a distance in meters (metros) from a particular landmark. Cien metros (100 meters) usually refers to one block; cinquenta metros (50 meters) is used to mean half a block. A typical address might be “200 meters east and 425 meters south of the gas station, near the church in San Pedro.”
These landmarks have passed into local parlance, so that Josefinos will immediately know where is meant by “100 meters north and 300 meters west of Auto Mercado,” for example, although many reference landmarks disappeared years ago. For example, the Coca-Cola factory near Avenida Central and Calle 14 long ago disappeared, but the reference is still to “Coca-Cola.”
The initial phase of a plan to introduce regular street numbers, begun in spring 2000, has made little progress. Addresses are still given by the nearest street junction. Thus, Restaurante Tin Jo, on Calle 11 midway between Avenidas 6 and 8, gives its address as “Calle 11, Avenidas 6/8.” In telephone directories and advertisements, calle may be abbreviated as “c,” and avenida as “a.”
Many streets have no signs. Although officially buildings have numbers, they’re rarely posted and almost never used. Thus, there’s no telling which side of the street the building you’re seeking is on.