A wide swath of golden beach stretching no more than a mile along Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast, the once sleepy, dusty Tamarindo was discovered by Southern California ex-pat surfers in the early 1990s. One-half of the surfer duo starring in Bruce Brown’s groundbreaking 1966 The Endless Summer documentary, surf pioneer Robert August was tipped off to the untapped surfing paradise by a developer at 1989’s annual Surf Expo in Orlando. Along with the tourism board in San Jose, said developer then arranged for August and 20 of his surfing buddies to visit. With the help of local fishermen, they discovered legendary offshore breaks Ollie’s Point and Witch’s Rock.
Inspired by the untouched beaches and surf spots to discover, they decided to film parts of 1994’s The Endless Summer II in Tamarindo as August introduced a new duo of young surfers to the destination and its breaks. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Today, Tamarindo is a tiny, buzzing town, made of up of ex-pat and Tica (the term for native Costa Ricans) surfers in search of the perfect wave and tourists in search of paradise. Everything there is to do is either on the road along the beach or on the road up the hill, making it an easy city to navigate.
That being said, there are plenty of shops and sights to get lost in, so start with these.
1. Witch’s Rock Surf Camp
Without a doubt, an endless summer has been found in Tamarindo where, due to its northern location, it is minimally affected by the country’s rainy season (generally, May to October). Surfers have infinite opportunity to hit the waves, from the beginner beach breaks of Playa Tamarindo to intermediate and advanced offshore swells. That’s where Witch’s Rock Surf Camp comes into play. Whether looking for overnight accommodations, lessons, board rentals or tours, this is your one stop shop for all things surf.
Visit on-site Vaquero’s Beachfront Brewpub (where they brew their own craft beer) Saturday and Sunday for live music at sunset. August also has a board-shaping studio here where he acts as official “surf ambassador.” Weeklong overnight/surf packages start at $826 per person.
For fresh caught fish and a Tica-style meal, head to Nogui’s at the end of the beachfront road. Founded in 1974, this little bar and restaurant on the sand sources its fish from local fishermen and is well-known for their fresh ceviche and tuna poke. The lobster tacos sautéed with garlic and onions and topped with lettuce, carrot, red cabbage, avocado, olives and pico de gallo are also hard to beat. Or you can come for a traditional Tica breakfast of gallo pinto (rice and beans), tortilla, queso fresco, eggs and bacon.
3. Falafel Bar
You may not associate Costa Rica with pillowy soft pita, tangy tahini, creamy hummus and perfect crispy-on-the-outside, moist-on-the-inside falafel, but you’d be missing out if you skipped a trip to Falafel Bar. Located up the hill, it’s a haven of fresh, organic Middle Eastern fare. Don’t skip the bite-sized, chocolate coconut macaroons for a sweet treat at the end of the meal.
4. El Pescador
Looking to swing your hips to salsa and merengue with the locals? Follow the music just past the end of the cul-de-sac along the beachfront road. Walk your dancing feet into El Pescador Tuesday and Friday nights when an 11-piece band takes the stage at this open-air bar. Lit with green and red strung lights, you’ll find your way through the trees and over a small footbridge into this welcoming bar. The band starts around 10 p.m. and the place is practically dead before then, so prepare for a late night of dancing and fuel up with local Imperial beer.
5. Crazy Monkey Bar
In addition to surfing, Tamarindo is also known for its nightlife, since Ticas can party into the wee hours. The multilevel, open-air Crazy Monkey Bar, accessed by a long set of stairs perched on a cliff, is the place to be Friday nights where one dance floor is dedicated to house music and another to a live band for salsa. Multiple bars connect these areas for a festive late night where locals and tourists meld.
6. Buena Nena
For a one-of-a-kind souvenir, head to Buena Nena on the beachfront road. You’ll know you’ve arrived when the sidewalk changes to a pretty, circular mosaic pattern. Inside is a treasure trove of affordable boho-chic bikini cover-ups and fun beach-to-bar outfits. You’ll also find a selection of handmade cloth bags (made by the owner) in a variety of patterns (polka dots, chevron, tropical fish) and styles (backpacks, totes, cross body) with a tiny Costa Rica flag sewn into the seam.
7. Mermaids & Sailors Yoga Studio & Specialty Boutique
Yoga is perhaps the best way to soothe a surfer’s achy muscles and Mermaids & Sailors Yoga Studio offers a sun-filled, welcoming environment to do so in a nice, flowing vinyasa class. Owned by a New York woman who fell in love with a Tica man and never looked back, the instructors are well trained with bilingual classes on offer and a strong following in the ex-pat and native community.
is a Miami-based travel writer in search of adventure, luxury and her place in this wild world.