We stayed over in that area last Feburary - in the Los Colorados area? It was just a short hike over to the beaches of Papagayo.
It was okay. We had a car anyway. But the walk along the seafront took maybe 30 minutes - all very scenic. There are a couple of shops and bars there, but not too much. Unless more has happened since Feb 2012. It was very quiet, and felt safe and secure.
We also hired a villa - which was very good value, and nice to be able to go and buy local foods to cook and try out. And for the peace and quiet of our own space.
If you really don't want to walk into the centre - there are buses, and once or twice we caught a taxi back after a meal, and drinks - it was only a few euros.