If you are traveling to Costa Rica to just lounge on the beach or escape for some much-needed surfboard therapy, Playa Grande is calling you. This small, relaxed beach community in Guanacaste has a mellow, kicked-back vibe. Everything literally revolves around the rising and falling sun and surf. In this post, we’ll cover the peaceful destination of Playa Grande, including some local activities, accommodations, and restaurants.
Location and Layout
Playa Grande is in Costa Rica’s northwestern province in an area called Guanacaste. This region is known for being drier with less jungle than other parts of the country. But what makes Guanacaste special are the many beautiful beaches.
Playa Grande fits right in with a long stretch of golden sand along the sparkling Pacific Ocean. Sunsets are spectacular here and the waves are consistent.
While many towns in Guanacaste are more developed, Playa Grande has remained small. There is a large amount of conservation land that restricts growth. But the town is also set off, just far enough away to avoid the heavy tourist traffic.
For layout, Playa Grande is quite spread out. Vacation homes and villas are scattered in small neighborhoods separated by shrubby forest. Sprinkled around town are a dozen or so restaurants and a small grocery store.
Tip: It’s nice to have a rental car in Playa Grande since things are spread out. A car is also worth having so that you can explore nearby destinations and attractions. Check out our Rental Car Discount page to save on your rental and get free extras.
What most people come to Playa Grande for is the beach. While the main beach goes by the same name as the town, there are a couple of more options nearby. We’ll cover all three here.
The main beach in town is Playa Grande. It’s a long 4.5 km (2.8 mile) stretch of sand that faces almost true west. The northern end of the beach is marked by a giant boulder named Dante’s Rock.
The southern part of the beach ends at the Tamarindo Estuary. Here, a small river separates the two towns of Playa Grande and the much busier Tamarindo.
The middle section of Playa Grande has little development and feels quite barren, with picturesque grassy dunes as the backdrop.
Surfing, sunbathing, and lengthy beach walks are popular activities on Playa Grande. And at sunset (between 5:30-6:00 p.m.), people love to gather to watch the sky light up with orange and pink hues.
To access Playa Grande, most people take beach paths at either the northern or southern end.
At the northern end, there is a grassy parking lot where the road ends (near the ranger station). Near the RipJack Inn, you’ll find another well-trodden path. Usually, a parking attendant is around these spots to watch your car for a small fee.
At the southern part of the beach, there are a couple of beach paths that connect from the Palm Beach Estates neighborhood.
Just north of Playa Grande is a much smaller beach, Playa Ventanas (Windows Beach). This one-kilometer (0.6 mile) arc of sand is more secluded and usually doesn’t get as heavy surf.
Playa Ventanas is often confused with another beach by the same name in the southern part of the country, which has caves. While this Playa Ventanas doesn’t have caves, it is a wonderful beach to explore. Read our post, Playa Ventanas Guanacaste, for more information on visiting.
For a truly unique beach, a visit to Playa Carbon is a must when staying in Playa Grande. It is accessible from Playa Ventanas, either by walking around the point at low tide or trekking over the small hill.
On the other side, Playa Carbon has some of the darkest sand you will find in Costa Rica. In some areas, it is pure black. There is also decent snorkeling if the tide is right.
For more on finding Playa Carbon, read our post, Playa Carbon: Costa Rica’s Blackest Beach.
Playa Grande is an excellent surfing destination. The long stretch of beach has different areas for different level surfers. Those with more experience can catch consistent beach breaks, while novice beginners can hone their skills in the whitewater closer to shore.
Picking up a surfboard and giving it a go can be intimidating on a beach like Playa Grande. For this reason, we’d recommend a surf lesson through one of the local surf shops to get your bearings.
We have done a lesson, and Jenn and Sam (age 6) both got up on the board! Read about this fun experience in our post, Family-Friendly Surf Lessons in Playa Grande.
Las Baulas National Marine Park
One special feature of Playa Grande is the national park that is incorporated into the community.
Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas (Las Baulas National Marine Park) protects 171 square km (66 square miles) of marine zone in and around Tamarindo Bay. It also protects 7.7 square km (3 square miles) of land. The protected zones include the beaches of Playa Grande, Playa Ventanas, Playa Carbon, and Playa Langosta. Also included are mangroves and estuaries.
Wildlife within the park includes tropical fish, rays, corals, and much more. On land and in the estuaries, you can find lizards, snakes, tropical birds, crocodiles, and monkeys.
One thing that Las Baulas National Marine Park is specifically known for is turtle watching. In the past, the beach has been an important nesting ground for leatherback sea turtles. Tours were previously offered through the ranger station in town. However, because the number of turtles visiting the beach has diminished over the years, tours are no longer offered. The likelihood of encountering them is just too slim.
To give an example, in 2020, there were only four leatherbacks observed during the egg-laying season (October to March). This was followed by only two turtles in 2021.
The good news, though, is that when we talked to the rangers in early January 2022, six turtles had already been seen laying eggs. We can only hope that this trend continues and the number of leatherbacks visiting rebounds.
Turtle-watching tours are still possible in the area if you are set on it. Nearby beaches have other species of turtles that visit them. A list of official guides and their contact information is posted at the ranger station in Playa Grande.
For an activity off the beach, get out on the local hardcourts and play some tennis. Community Tennis is right off the main road in Playa Grande. They rent courts and rackets by the hour. They also offer lessons with a certified tennis pro.
Restaurants in Playa Grande
Even though Playa Grande is a small town, it still has a nice selection of restaurants.
Pots and Bowls
This patio-style restaurant offers a laid-back atmosphere and healthy, refreshing food. Cold-pressed juices, smoothies, and coffees are served alongside a bowl menu with many vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. Breakfast is served all day, including waffles and pancakes, which our kids loved. Pots and Bowls is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can find their menu here.
Upstairs at the RipJack Inn
The RipJack has been a mainstay in Playa Grande for years, established in 2004. Named for the owner’s two dogs, Ripley and Jack, this hotel also has a restaurant that is a popular place to meet up for sunset drinks or dinner. Breakfast and lunch are also served. The varied menu offers everything from burgers, salads, and fish dishes to ribs, pasta, and poke bowls. Kid options like mac and cheese are also available.
This small Peruvian restaurant offers a handful of flavorful dishes. The menu changes weekly and can be found on Instagram. Our family of four shared five dishes and absolutely loved the variety. The favorites were the shrimp with citrus and yucca, and the red snapper stew with lentils and corn.
El Huerto is another landmark in Playa Grande. This busy restaurant has been around since 1998. They serve up steaks, pastas, and some fish options. Honestly, we have never tried that part of the menu because we’ve always been drawn in by the pizzas. They are cooked in a special woodfired oven, crispy and full of flavor. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Here is a link to their website with the menu.
Las Olas Brewery
For local craft beer, the place to go in Playa Grande is Las Olas. Las Olas has been offering their beers in the area for years and has a sister restaurant and brewpub in nearby Brasilito.
Recently, they have built an outdoor facility right on the main road into Playa Grande. You can literally see their beer brewing over your shoulder while enjoying a drink. The restaurant was still in the works during our last visit, but we hope to make it back soon.
Also check out the Playa Grande Community Night Market, with live music and local vendors, held every Monday from 5 to 9 p.m. at Las Olas Brewery.
Playa Grande Hotels and Accommodations
When it comes to accommodations in Playa Grande, Airbnb, VRBO, and other sites have a lot of options.
Many are larger homes with multiple bedrooms, full kitchens, pools, and some are even a short walk to the beach. These vacation rentals are great for groups and bigger families traveling together. Smaller homes and villas are also available on these platforms. We have stayed in a couple of different locations that provided our own private space but shared a common pool and gardens.
For tips on renting a vacation rental in Costa Rica, check out our post, Vacation Rentals in Costa Rica: Safety and What to Look for.
The RipJack Inn
If you’d rather have the conveniences of a hotel, the RipJack Inn is a solid option in a great location. The RipJack has standard and deluxe rooms, family suites, and even a more private bungalow option for some seclusion. The hotel has two onsite yoga studios and two pools but is still small with just 21 rooms. It’s less than a one-minute walk to the beach. $105-300/night. Check Rates and Availability Here.
The Grateful Hotel
If you are into the Grateful Dead, you are obligated to visit the Grateful Hotel and its onsite restaurant named Sugaree’s Bar and Grill. Staff with tie-dye shirts, colorful murals with dancing bears and skeletons, and live music almost daily make this place fun. The rooms are basic but clean. This hotel is located on the edge of the estuary, and you can catch a boat nearby to/from Tamarindo. Around $130/night. Check Rates and Availability Here.
This five-room hotel and restaurant is in a great location inside Palm Beach Estates. The rooms are nicely appointed, and guests really like the staff. Cantarana has a pool and is right across the street from the beach. This hotel is a good quiet option since it is smaller. $80-130/night. Check Rates and Availability Here.
ONDA is a new boutique hotel/hostel in town. It’s motto is surf, sleep, and work. ONDA is indeed a great place to set up shop, with comfortable rooms, an onsite restaurant and bar, pool, and coworking space (coming soon) with 200 Mbps. It’s in the main area of town, about a five-minute walk to the beach. ONDA is adults-only. $30-40 for shared dorm, $80-140 for a private room. Check Rates and Availability Here.
Playa Grande, while geographically close to some larger towns like Tamarindo and Flamingo, continues to feel far from it all. The serene beaches, rhythmic waves, and feeling of community make it the perfect place to unwind and reset.
Have a question about visiting Playa Grande? Are you a repeat visitor? Leave a comment below.
Looking for more information to help you plan your trip. Check out these articles:
The Playa Avellanas Area: Going Off-the-Beaten Path in Guanacaste – If you like the sound of Playa Grande, you might also enjoy this more secluded destination.
Tamarindo: Where Paradise Meets Convenience – If you’re looking for more going on, Tamarindo has a busy downtown, with lots of hotels, restaurants, and bars.
Rincon de la Vieja National Park: Volcanic Vents and Tropical Forest – This is a popular day trip from Guanacaste’s beaches.
Palo Verde National Park: A Wildlife Tour Through Guanacaste’s Wetlands – Another fun activity from the area to see wildlife like monkeys, tropical birds, and crocodiles.