San Juan Overview
San Juan is a mix of ancient history and modern luxury, catering equally to history buffs, adventure-lovers and shopaholics. Old San Juan’s forts and colonial architecture give this part of the city a distinct European flair. The narrow streets and city squares peppered with museums and statues are also home to excellent cafes and boutiques. The modern side of San Juan is trendy and chic, offering fine dining, casinos and shopping. Stay at a stylish resort near downtown, then check out the red-hot nightclubs and bars. For those who want a more laid-back experience, San Juan offers several public beaches that are carefully managed by the local government. That means you’ll always be able to find a clean, great stretch of sand. Rich with history and full of culture, San Juan makes for a great vacation you can’t quite get anywhere else.
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Mapping Out Puerto Rico
With a lively night life, an array of cuisines, public beaches, and cultural offerings, San Juan offers all the strappings of a metropolitan center with the distinctly Puerto Rican flair and flavor. Chic, urban hotels make this an ideal destination for the bohemians. On the other hand, old San Juan displays the city’s long European history with castles and museums. Explore narrow streets, plazas and buildings, built in the colonial style and home to top notch cafes and boutiques. The east side of the island, dominated by El Yunque National Forest, is great for eco-lovers. There are also the out islands of Vieques and Culebra. Culebra offers the famous Playa Flamenco, considered one of the best beaches in the world. In the south, the museums and architecture showcase a more distinctly Puerto Rican design, such as the fire station museum in Ponce. Finally, turn west for bodacious surfing at Rincon. Whether you want chic and trendy, calm and relaxing or pure and natural, you’ll find something to love in Puerto Rico.
Walking Tour of Old San Juan
There’s a lot to see and do in this old town, so follow our tips to make sure you hit the highlights. Start at the visitor’s center and Castillo San Cristobal. Then head west along Calle Norzagaray for gorgeous ocean views. There you can visit the Museo de San Juan. Continue west on Calle Norzagaray until you reach Calle del Morro. From there, take a right to head northwest to see Campo del Morro and the Castillo San Felipe del Morro.
After that, double back along Calle del Morro and take a left back onto Calle Norzagaray to cut across to Calle de Cristo. Hang a right (heading south) to see colonial-era mansions, new boutiques, hotels and cafes along San Sebastian and Calle de Cristo. There's even a Ben & Jerry's ice cream parlor at Calle de Cristo and Calle Sol.
Finish off by taking Calle Sol to Las Monjas, where you’ll find Puerta de San Juan, built in 1520. Make sure to wear comfy shoes!
Cafes and Bistros in Old San Juan
Boutiques and delicious restaurants are sprouting up in the Old San Juan area, taking advantage of the colonial-era architecture that creates a quaint ambiance.
For example, Cuatro Sombras Torrefaccion y Café opened in 2011. The beans come straight from the mountains of Yauco. This café is the place to find a seat on a beautiful, sunny day and sip crop-to-cup, Puerto Rican coffee.
Another café scene is La Fonda del Jibarito. This easy-going eatery offers traditional Puerto Rican dishes and a cozy atmosphere. Enjoy the low-key atmosphere, authentic dishes and the reasonable price tag. But if you're searching for a more hip scene, check out Marmalade. Known for its trendy bar and lounge, Marmalade is as fashionable as it is delicious.
Sure Bets for Beach Lovers
Las Vegas, Atlantic City…and San Juan. Puerto Rico is the casino destination for beach lovers. And the island’s capital, San Juan, hosts several awesome resorts that pair casino fun with golden beaches and metropolitan excitement. Sashay to the timeless Sheraton Old San Juan Hotel & Casino. With a classy appearance and an enviable location, a day at the Sheraton Old San Juan includes lounging at the roof-top pool, easy access to boutique shopping and world class restaurants and – of course – courting Lady Luck at the casino.
If you’d prefer a little more nature in between hands of Texas Hold ‘em, Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa is located about an hour and a half east of San Juan, near El Yunque rainforest and on a gorgeous stretch of golden beach. This more remote resort removes you from the metropolitan rush that others prefer and gives you access to Puerto Rico’s natural splendor.
So when you want to go all in, forget the mainland. Puerto Rico is the place to be.
A Lush Bar Scene
San Juan’s nightlife is often compared to Miami’s, and rightfully so. Club and bar options abound in Puerto Rico's capital. The Nuyorican Café pulses with heart-thumping salsa music and dancing. Nestled into Old San Juan, locals and visitors shake and spin late into the night, while professional dancers and great musicians keep the beat hot. Nuyorican also offers more eclectic features such as plays, poetry readings and talent shows. This hip establishment attracts a diverse, energetic and creative crowd.
The local hotels host some of San Juan's favorite clubs. For a posh bar scene, head to the roof of San Juan Water & Beach Club Hotel, where Mist offers excellent ocean views, leather couches and a DJ on the weekends. Or if you seek a hotspot to dance, boogie down to Club Brava at El San Juan Resort & Casino. This two-story dancing mecca bumps Top 40 hits and house music all night and attracts locals and tourists alike. The club enforces an upscale dress code, so everyone is dressed to impress. If you're not staying at El San Juan Resort, you'll pay a cover, but for a guaranteed night of throw-off-your-shoes dancing, Brava's got you covered.
Four for the Foodies in San Juan
Here are four of the best restaurants in San Juan, ranging from elegant to handwritten-menu quaint. Il Mulino New York offers delicious staple Italian dishes. A team of attentive waiters in tuxedos help make your meal at Il Mulino a sublime and luxurious dining experience.
For an inspired meal by the sea, eat dinner on the beach at Pamela’s. This relaxed, upscale eaterie The inventive Caribbean dishes make this the perfect island experience. Or take your ocean inspiration inside to Miro. This trendy establishment offers fresh seafood that incorporates flavors from the Catalan region of Spain.
Puerto Rico produces excellent coffee, so keep it local when you seek out your morning cup of joe. Kasalta is just the ticket. The café’s special is the super strong java, but it also serves pastries and sandwiches. The homegrown coffee and intimate venue make this a memorable cultural experience.
San Juan Quick Facts
Spanish and English (primarily Spanish)
110 V, like American outlets
All U.S. citizens must have a valid passport when traveling to and from San Juan.
Water is safe to drink
Eastern Standard Time (UTC/GMT -4 hours)
mid-December – mid-April