A Local’s Guide to San Juan, Puerto Rico!

Luis Herrero is an AAPC member who lives in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Luis has been involved in planning for Pollies 22, and has been kind enough to share his local recommendations so that all attendees may make the most of their time in San Juan! Check out his recommendations below:

There are many activities for you to enjoy in San Juan before, during or after the conference.

The conference hotel, Caribe Hilton, was built in the 1940’s and was the first hotel managed by Conrad Hilton outside the continental US. The hotel also claims to be the birthplace of the iconic piña colada cocktail, though a Barrachina restaurant in Old San Juan claims the same (my recommendation, try both!). The hotel also boasts Puerto Rico’s only private beach and a Morton’s steakhouse. From the conference, you are a quick uber/taxi ride away from the capital’s main attractions. You can also walk to the Condado tourist area (approx. 15 minute walk) or to Old San Juan (approx. 30 minute walk) if you want. If you wanna venture into more local areas, I recommend Miramar sector, about 10 minutes walking across the bridge. With cinemas, theaters and a vibrant restaurant and bar scene open until late. Recommended: Ariel (high end cuisine, one of my favorites. Reservations are a must), Pizza e Birra, Los Pinos café (dominican food, open 24/7), Casita Miramar (high puerto rican cuisine. highly recommended), and Rare 125 (steakhouse).

Also, about a 30 minute walk or 5 minutes uber ride, you will find La Placita de Santurce, an open air market that turns into a party zone with bars, pubs and restaurants at night full of locals. La placita has two of San Juan’s best restaurants, Santaella (asks for the watermelon mojito) and José Enrique (no reservations, only walk-ins). A new entertainment district called District Live! has sprung up near the Puerto Rico convention center (15 minute walk), with bars, restaurants, outdoor music and a zip line.

I recommend spending a whole day exploring Old San Juan. Our historic city is truly a treasure that just turned 500 years old. The old city is the axis of nightlife in San Juan]. La Factoría, in San Sebastian street, is consistently chosen as one of the best 50 bars in the world (there is a secret entrance behind the bar to a salsa nightclub. The “Despacito” vide was filmed here). My favorite restaurant in Puerto Rico, Marmalade, is located on Fortaleza street, about three blocks from the Governor’s mansion. If you love cats, my wife can personally give you a tour of Save a Gato, an organization that we volunteer with to maintain a healthy and thriving cat colony in Old San Juan.

San Juan also has great beaches, even if the best ones are on the southwest part of the Island. There are some small but tranquil beaches near our hotel, at Escambron public beach, right next to our hotel, or in Condado (laguna del Condado, pocita del Condado), but be careful with some that have strong currents, so watch out for the signs saying where it’s safe to swim. A very popular beach with locals is Ocean Park (approx. 10 min ride) where you can find great places to eat nearby on Calle Loíza.

If you’re up for a very cultural experience, you may head to Piñones (approx. 30 min ride + traffic on the weekends) a small coastal town where the municipalities of Carolina (where the airport is) and Loíza meet. Here you can experience a completely different PR from what you’ll see in SJ. The food here is great! You’ll probably find many of the local dishes (probably fried). There are also very good beaches and a mostly local crowd.

If you wish to explore or do outdoor activities, there are a number of attractions less than an hour away from your hotel. You can go to a more secluded beach, hike through the rain forest (only one in the US), kayak at night and explore a bioluminescent bay, or just visit charming towns near the coast. If this is something you are interested in I can give you more details.

Feel free to email or ask me or my partners, Pedro Valle & Marilyn Báez, for tips or recommendations about things to do in San Juan. We are so happy to have you here!