This post has been weeks (and I mean WEEKS) in the making. It took me a little while to get adjusted to reality after vacation, and then I suffered an extreme laser tag injury that resulted in sporting a black eye for weeks, and then work…blah blah blah…and so I’m finally getting around to finishing this post up!
So now to the good stuff…need a beach getaway that’s easily accessible and relatively affordable? I’ve got you covered. Every summer I unwind, relax, and disconnect from reality during my annual pilgrimage to Puerto Rico. It’s seriously my happy place.
Typically, I primarily spend time in two cities – San Juan and Rincon. Both cities are vastly different and can offer you a completely different vacation. So sit back, relax, and start dreaming about your next beach vacay in San Juan…and stay tuned for Part 2 on Rincon!
If you are looking for cultural, nightlife, and great culinary eats, San Juan is your city. With plenty to do and see, you could seriously spend an entire weekend without getting to everything.
Where to Stay?
You’ll be hard pressed to find a more centrally located hotel with a local feel. La Concha is located in the Condado Beach area, minutes from Old San Juan. It’s a beach front property with an awesome pool. During the weekends, they often have a band playing in the lobby, where locals and tourists congregate to dance and drink the night away. The hotel has a great modern Carribbean feel that’s airy with bright colors. If you can splurge, get an oceanfront suite with your own private jacuzzi and balcony.
San Juan Marriott
Also located in Condado Beach is the San Juan Marriott. This hotel is also centrally located, minutes from the San Juan airport and Old San Juan. The hotel is a beachfront property and has a casino on property. The hotel has a traditional Marriott feel, with traditional furnishings and warm colors. The Marriott is also smack dab in the middle of the bustling Ashford Avenue shopping and restaurant district.
What’s not to love about a Ritz?! This property is absolutely breathtaking. It’s conveniently located in the Carolina / Isla Verde area on the east side of San Juan. This property also has a casino, beautiful pool, and two miles of the most beautiful beach.
And if you haven’t noticed the trend…all of these recommendations are Marriott properties. Usually when I travel, I stay in a Marriott. I’ve also used VRBO, AirBnB, etc. to find condos to rent for a couple of days. I think the choice between a hotel and using a vacation rental service is just a matter of preference.
What to Do?
Where do I even start?! There is so much to do and see in San Juan so I’ll just try to hit the must dos!
This is a 400 year old fort located in Old San Juan that stands guard at the entrance of the San Jan harbor. It’s A LOT of walking and steps, but I promise you the views are completely worth it. Check out the numerous garitas (or sentry boxes) located around the outer walls of the fort. They make for a great photo op!
Old San Juan
Walking the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan is a must do! There are a lot of unique shops that you can buy traditional type Puerto Rican art, clothing, jewelry, or trinkets. The past few years, my favorite part of walking the streets is finding lots of great bars. If you want to make your own “pub crawl,” I’d suggest hitting up these favorites:
- El Batey – an old dive bar in the heart of Old San Juan. The walls are covered in graffiti and business cards hang from lamp shades. You can play pool or tunes on the jukebox while you have a few beverages.
- La Taberna Lupulo – if you a craft beer lover, this is the place for you. The bar carries a lot of local beers, as well as lots of U.S. favorites too. It’s a great place to spend some time during the day just hanging out!
- La Factoria – a craft cocktail bar that has something on the menu for everyone. This place gets packed at night, but if you can, try to snag one of the couches. Beware, there is no sign on the outside of the door. The first time we went, we walked past it quite a few times!
Puerta de San Juan
For centuries, this gate served to keep invaders out. The walkway outside of the gate offers some great views.
El Yunque Rainforest
El Yunque is located outside of San Juan, but if you can make time, it’s worth it. It’s the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. Hike down to the beautiful waterfalls, where you can cool off and swim for a bit before hiking back up.
Where to eat?
I can talk for DAYS (and I mean days) about the food in Puerto Rico. If I could eat all day long, and still look halfway decent in a bathing suit…that would be glorious! Seriously though, Puerto Rico’s food scene is on point!
I could go on and on about this restaurant. Jose is a James Beard nominee for a couple of years. He has a knack of elevating traditional Puerto Rican and Carribbean flavors. I usually get one of the fish dishes (and if it’s served with the batata (white sweet potato) even better) and avocado salad. On our last trip I fell in love with a Jose creation – an avocado dessert. He sliced up avocado and placed it on top of condensed milk and then served it with pistachios and blood oranges. Delicious!
Want the best tacos in San Juan? Then you need to check out this food truck in the Condado area. They also have some pretty darn good cafe con leche.
I fell in love with the fried rice and bean balls served at Pirilo. Think mac and cheese balls but Puerto Rican style. They have a lot of great appetizers such as the fried rice and bean balls, cassava chips, hummus, etc. that’s good for sharing with friends. They also make some great pizzas and have a pretty good craft beer list.
This local spot is tucked into the residential area by La Concha and is a great place to get your day started. Their quesitos, cafe con leche, and breakfast sandwiches are fantastic.
Want some sweets? Or a sandwich? Or a hot meal? Or a drink? Well Panaderia Espana has you covered. If you are in the mood for something sweet, try their tembleque, a creamy coconut pudding full of goodness.
If this place is good enough for President Obama, then by golly, it’s good enough for you too! This is another great place for grabbing a good breakfast or some pastries. Be prepared to wait in line to order food if you come for breakfast – this place is popular! The tembleque, flan, and quesitos are the bomb!
If you end up having a little too much fun on your self-created pub crawl, and need a little late night snack, stop by El Churry, a permanent food truck in Isla Verde. The sandwiches hit the spot after a little too much drinking!
For some great traditional Puerto Rican BBQ check out Bebo’s by the airport. It’s a no frills type of place – think outside picnic tables, order at the counter, and paper plates and plastic ware. Try some pork, rice, beans, and plantains for a real Puerto Rican meal!
And that’s it for San Juan. If you have any questions or need more information, let me know! I’ll try my best to answer! And keep an eye out for Part 2 of this post for all the must sees in Rincon!