36 Hours in San Juan, Puerto Rico: Things to Do and See

36 Hours in San Juan, Puerto Rico: Things to Do and See

8:30 a.m. Stroll on the avenue by the sea

Enjoy an espresso ($1.50) with a fresh mallorca pastry (a spiral sweet bun; $3.50) at Sobao, an indoor-outdoor cafe at the AC Hotel by Marriott, then walk along Avenida Ashford until you reach a small park called Ventanas al Mar (Windows to the Sea), which has a path that leads to the beach. It is packed, mainly with hotel guests, but anyone may rent a chair for $5 and an umbrella for $10. (All beaches in Puerto Rico are public, even those claimed by hotels.) In the lobby of the Condado Vanderbilt hotel next door check out Wild Side, a boutique that carries fine beachwear and sculptural jewelry in gold and silver by the Puerto Rican artist María Blondet.

11 a.m. Immerse yourself in the great art of Puerto Rico

The Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, in a neo-Classical building in Santurce, a center of the arts and nightlife, exhibits the major works of artists from different generations, periods and media (entry, $12). Absorb the haunting self-portrait “Azabache,” by the Puerto Rican painter Arnaldo Roche Rabell. Walk to another hall to find “No Crying in the Barber Shop,” a room-size installation depicting a Bronx barbershop, by the Puerto Rican artist Pepon Osorio, exploring the Latino culture’s machismo. Before leaving the museum, visit the quiet sculpture garden and stop by La Tienda, the museum shop, which stocks locally made works like the brightly colored tiles depicting a still life of red flowers, by Susana López Castells ($40).

1:30 p.m. Enjoy an expansive Castilian comida

Bodegas Compostela, in the Condado neighborhood, is a fixture among San Juan’s high-end restaurants, with a classic, understated dining room favored for family gatherings, birthdays and business lunches. Start with the Galician-style octopus, cooked with olive oil, paprika and potatoes ($23.95), and follow it with the roast suckling pig, with crackling skin and juicy meat ($74.95), and a rich chocolate soufflé ($15.95) for dessert. If all that seems too much, order the fresh and light lobster salad ($42.95). Compostela is also known for its fine wines. Try Attis, an albariño from Spain, $51.95 a bottle. Reservations recommended.

3:30 p.m. Look up at a street splashed with color

Calle Cerra, not long ago a street of rundown buildings and abandoned shops, is now a hotbed of nightlife and the center of the island’s urban art movement. Stroll to take in the street art, much of it exploring political and social issues. An imposing mural painted on a water tower shows a boy carrying a glacier on his back while the ice melts around him. A building-wide mural of three skeletons sinking in the sea symbolizes colonialism and slavery. At the end of one block, a pinkish high-rise, covered from ground to roof with graffiti, murals, swirls and scrawls, looks abandoned. People live in it. At the top of the strip, take a break at Café con Cé with an iced latte ($4.50) and a vegan pastry ($4).

7 p.m. Taste the roots of Puerto Rican cuisine

Dine in the open patio at Cocina al Fondo, a restaurant in Santurce, whose chef, Natalia Vallejo, last year became the first Puerto Rican to win a 2023 James Beard Award for Best Chef: South. Try traditional favorites like pastelillos de calabaza (pumpkin fritters, $15) and jarrete de cerdo al caldero (ham hock with rice and beans and ripe plantain; $42), familiar dishes made with a local, farm-to-table ethos. Reservations recommended.

9:30 p.m. Embrace the chinchorreo

After dinner at Cocina al Fondo, wander back to Calle Cerra, which draws bar-hoppers to its cocktail clubs and salons until the wee hours. Young crowds gather at Botánico, where a giant mural of a face overlooks an open-air dance floor. Farther down the street, where chickens roam free and an old church stands on a corner, are several more bars, including Machete, Graziani and Galeria, and the crazy chinchorreo — what locals call the street dancing-and-drinking scene — is often centered on Esquina Watusi, an iconic dive bar. After the hubbub of Cerra, walk or take a taxi to the secluded tapas bar Primitivo, in the Miramar neighborhood nearby. Sample the nigiri, a slice of tuna set over a tiny alcapurria fritter, a Puerto Rican favorite ($14), and sip a silky Negroni ($15).

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