Many believe San Juan is a small Spanish colonial town with but a few bustling avenues. However this impression does not aptly describe the breath and depth of this fine old-world city. Modern-day San Juan encompasses a vast metropolis that covers seven unique and distinct districts. This makes for an eclectic combination of sights and sounds that is essential to the wonder and joy of visiting San Juan.
Old San Juan/Puerta de Tierra
San Juan is a traditional, colonial city that is bordered by walls. As the seat of the island's bicameral government, it houses
El Condado, as the locals say, is the island's most glamorous district, featuring boutiques, a variety of restaurants, and some of the finest hotels on the island. Contrary to popular belief, many nationals do reside here in the exquisite turn-of-the-century mansions. You'll notice the populace on any given day to be a good balance between tourists and locals. If you are an avid jogger, you'll love the expanse of open area.
Isla Verde is home to high-rise apartment buildings, huge clubs and luxurious hotels. This area is actually part of the municipality of Carolina, connected to San Juan via several highways and streets. It spans from the Punta Las Marías area (adjacent to Ocean Park) to the land just beyond the International Airport. Its nightlife is exciting, and the enormous balneario, or public beach, is where locals and guests come to sunbathe and get their fill of people-watching.
Hato Rey is several miles from Old San Juan but is easily accessible. It is the island's central commercial district, where the local wheelers and dealers conduct their business. Thus, its restaurant scene caters to more business people than anywhere else on the island. Roosevelt, the district's residential area, can be found just off Highway 52. It is one of the most famous venues for nightlife in San Juan, and the
Both the Santurce and Miramar districts are located just off Condado and Old San Juan, but north of Hato Rey. Santurce was originally an upper-class neighborhood and entertainment. Today, there are office buildings and abandoned structures with a small but very good marketplace (Plaza del Mercado). A major campaign is under way by City Hall to restore the sector's vitality.
This district is known as University City because it houses the University of Puerto Rico. Visiting Río Piedras is enlightening for those who want to explore the real Puerto Rico first-hand. The district has a traditional Plaza del Mercado and a very hometown atmosphere.
San Juan is the capital of Puerto Rico's after hours nightlife. Most clubs, discotheques, and casinos are located in the Isla Verde, Old San Juan and El Condado areas. In Ponce and Mayaguez, you will find some additional excitement, albeit less intense as the big city. Tipping is a must. The laws for drinking alcoholic beverages are the same as the United States. Only adults over 21 are permitted.
While San Juan's entertainment options shouldn't be compared to Las Vegas or New York, there is still plenty to do here. Sanjuaneros, or the people of San Juan, are serious partygoers, and they know how to keep the party scene alive and well. Playing hard seems to be part of the island's culture.
Old San Juan is without a doubt the place for those who love classic and contemporary culture. The art, music, and fine dining are available at every turn in this historic pocket of the big city. San Juan is inviting to the night owls who want to groove in hot clubs such as Club Lazer, where you can party till dawn. Or, find fun at lively bars like Nono's and Don Pablo's. The best place to have a festive cocktail is along San Sebastián and Cristo Streets.
Condado attracts an upscale party crowd who flocks to its clubs and ubiquitous small cafés and bars. Stargate, with its wild bashes, is a prime choice for the party-hearty crowd. Among the pubs, Dunbar's in the Ocean Park sector stands out for its fun-loving people and tantalizing food. Take to the dance floor and learn the latest salsa moves at any of the hotel lobbies that provide this type of entertainment for visitors.
Isla Verde in recent years has been converted into a mega-party district, housing super clubs like Babylon and Area 51. There are plenty of cafés and street-side bars along this strip. The lobbies of the InterContinental San Juan and the Ritz-Carlton have excellent entertainment, but the ever popular El San Juan Hotel & Casino is, without question, the place to be.
During the day, the City Hall offers several free concerts on the many plazas such as de Armas and Colón. On the first Tuesday of the month there are Gallery Nights where you can exposed to cultural expositions.
If clubbing is not your thing, don't worry! There are plenty of museums and sights around the city to appeal to non-night owls. The Museo de Antropología, Historia y Arte and Museo de Arte e Historia are great places to catch up on local history and lore. For art lovers, there are the Museo de Arte de Ponce, Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico and Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico.
This district has limited upscale entertainment but is rather important because it houses the Luis A. Ferré Performing Arts Center. The center is considered the axis of the local theater scene with famous local and international performers visiting regularly. There are plenty of traditional bars lining Fernández Juncos Avenue for a pre-or post-theater treat.
You can always catch up with the latest flicks at one of San Juan's many movie theaters. Movies can be seen at the Cine Roosevelt, El Señorial Cinemas, Fine Arts Cinema or at the Metro. One of the most impressive venues is the megaplex, Rio Hondo 7-16.