Puerto Rico sits between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. After 522 years of colonization, this island has become an intriguing mix of African, Native, and European ancestry with a modern sprinkle of American influence. San Juan includes some of Puerto Rico’s oldest and most cherished neighborhoods (Condado, Isla Verde, Ocean Park, Old San Juan, and Santurce), where eco-friendly hotels, warm beaches, and a smorgasbord of options for the epicurious await!

A view of Old San Juan’s colonial architecture

HOTELS

Casablanca Hotel

The cobblestone streets and Spanish colonial architecture of Old San Juan are teeming with history. Casablanca Hotel (316 Calle Fortaleza) is an affordable option that embodies the area’s character and sits on the same street as the governor’s mansion, La Fortaleza. The eco-friendly Casa Sol B&B (316 Calle Sol) has delightful hosts and authentic Puerto Rican morning fare, like brioche French toast stuffed with baby bananas, scrambled eggs with longaniza (Spanish sausage), and the sweetest fruit around.

 

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COFFEE & FOOD

Latte at Café Cuatro Sombras

Casa Cortes ChocoBar

Café is the elixir of life on the island, and San Juan’s many artisanal coffee shops use locally grown beans. Try a cappuccino at the charming Café Cuatro Sombras (259 Calle Recinto Sur), then head to the bohemian-style Abracadabra (1661 Ave. Ponce de Leon) in Santurcean area with a booming arts scene and a growing surge of hipster hot spots—for local, organic brunch goodies. Start with an omelet of your choice and top it off with a mimosa infused with tamarind, passion fruit, or acerola (a local cherry). Casa Cortes ChocoBar (210 Calle San Francisco) blends art and fine chocolate, an ingredient in almost every menu item. Indulge in the Chocolicious French Toast Gratinado and (if you’re over 18) a Choco Martini. Then peep the Cortes family’s fine art collection upstairs. If Grandma isn’t cooking dinner, locals will head to Gallo Negro (1107 Ave Ponce de León) for their seasonal menu—rib-eye steak is a signature dish—and whiskey bar. Get shrimp or fish tacos and a cold, local Medalla beer at La Cueva del Mar (1857 Calle Loíza), on the trendy stretch of Calle Loíza in Condado. For some scenery, take a short road trip east to Loíza, just outside the San Juan area, where your off-roading will be rewarded with homemade traditional Puerto Rican fare at El Buren de Lula (Road #187 K8 H8 Mediania Baja; open Saturdays and Sundays for lunch only). 

 

 ARTS

Museo de Arte e Historia de San Juan

Creative expression is everywhere in San Juan, from the murals of Santurce to the art scene of Old San Juan. For a traditional experience, spend $6 on admission to the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico (299 Ave. de Diego), which features Puerto Rican art dating back to the 17th century. In Old San Juan, make a stop at the Museo de Arte e Historia de San Juan (150 Calle Norzagaray); the museum gives wonderful insight into the once busy ports of the town’s Spanish colonial era. 

 

BEACHES

Piñones Beach

San Juan’s northern shore is home to many great (free!) beaches. Ocean Park, slightlyeast of Condado, and Pine Grove in Isla Verde are always packed with locals and tourists alike. Follow route 187 east toward Loíza for an array of ocean-side spots (the further east you go, the less touristy it gets). Drive through an area called Piñones and stop at the many kiosks for some delightful local fried food—alcapurrias (ground beef-filled fritters), bacalaitos (salt cod pancake-like fritters), empanadas (meat-stuffed pastries), pinchos (kebabs)—and cold beers, piña coladas, agua de coco (coconut water), and fruit smoothies. Get your surf on at Tocones and Aviones (ask around for specific spots as there are no signs) and dive in at Vacia Talega where the water is calm and perfect for swimming.

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NIGHTLIFE

La Placita de Santurce

There’s something happening every night of the week here and people gather all over the city to chat, drink, and have a good time. Start your night with a laugh at Teatro Breve (Teatro Shorty Castro 607, Calle del Parque), where a live, SNL-like sketch showpokes fun (in Spanish) at controversial topics. Music lovers should head to La Respuesta (1600 Ave. Fernandez Juncos) to catch local underground artists playing everything from electro-pop and rock to reggae and salsa. In Old San Juan, hit up El Batey (101 Calle del Cristo), a dive bar with a pool table, graffiti-covered walls, and a laid-back atmosphere. On nearby Calle San Sebastián you’ll find a great selection of bars including La Taberna de Lúpulo (151 Calle San Sebastián), which serves 50 types of affordable craft beer on tap. Want options? Head to La Placita de Santurce (Parada 19 Ave. Ponce de Léon), an outdoor plaza packed with food, drinks, music, and ambiance. Go to Jose Enrique for upscale Caribbean fusion, nosh seafood at El Pescador, and hit Asere for their magnificent wine selection. Whether you start or end the night here, La Placita is always the place to be.

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Around The World In 80 Girls: #77 By Lourdes Rodriguez

Photographed by Manuel Gatell

This originally appeared in the December/January print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today

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