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San Juan Neighborhoods: Guide to Old San Juan

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San Juan Neighborhoods: Guide to Old San Juan

The Garita, or sentry box, is one of Puerto Rico's most iconic symbols.

Photo © Zain Deane

Introduction:

Old San Juan is the soul of Puerto Rico. Along its cobblestone streets are ancient structures that precede anything you'll find in New England. Protected by its two proud forts, the walled city of San Juan recalls a past era, and yet dazzles with sophisticated restaurants, charming hotels, and a sizzling nightlife. No visit to the island would be complete without a trip to Viejo San Juan, as the locals call it.

Where to Stay:

There are many choices. High end options include: Among the mid-range hotels, check out:
  • Hotel Milano - You can't beat its location in the heart of the old city.
  • S.J. Suites is basic, but right in the middle of the action and spacious.
For budget travelers, these two should be at the top of your list:
  • Da House - A funky, bohemian place and a tremendous value.
  • La Caleta is a truly budget option that gives you more than you'd expect (787-725-5347).

Where to Eat:

Where not to eat would make a smaller list. The restaurants in Old San Juan are excellent. Among the crowd favorites are:
  • Dragonfly - An Asian-themed restaurant and lounge and one of the hottest destinations in San Juan.
  • Aguaviva.
  • Panza - Top-class innovative cuisine in a polished, elegant setting.
  • El Picoteo - For those who love traditional Spanish tapas.
  • 311 - Classic French cuisine in a beautiful restaurant on Fortaleza Street.
  • La Fonda del Jibarito - For hearty, rib-sticking Puerto Rican cooking.
  • Fratelli - A great spot for classic Italian fare and the late-night bar & lounge scene.

What to See and Do:

The best way to experience Old San Juan is by walking around. This Walking Tour hits all the major points of interest. If time is short, make sure you visit: While you're at it, try to make time for at least one of Old San Juan's "boutique" museums. You can also take a tour of the old city. Night Tales in San Juan, offered by Legends of Puerto Rico, Inc., is one of the most original ways to see the city. But most of all, take a stroll and lose yourself in the beauty and charm of Old San Juan.

Where to Shop:

Old San Juan is a shopaholic's dream, especially if said shopaholic is interested in souvenirs, clothes, or jewelry. For souvenirs, check out these stores all provide quality products at reasonable prices. For jewelry, check out this listing. And finally, for clothes, I'd recommend:
  • Cappalli for women's clothes.
  • Custo Barcelona for young, hip styles.
  • Punta Pie for high-quality mens and womens shoes.
  • Clubman for formal mens clothes and a decent selection of guayabera shirts, which are typical tropical island wear.

Where to Go Out at Night:

Where you end up at night will depend entirely on what you like to do.
  • Salsa dancers will want to hit Nuyorican Cafe, a tucked away gem of a place with excellent live music, or La Rumba on San Sebastián Street (787-725-4407).
  • Club-hoppers will head to Club Lazer, a multi-level nightclub that stays open past dawn.
  • Those who like lounges will prefer the cool calm of Dragonfly or Marmalade, both on Fortaleza Street.
  • Barflies will love Nono’s on San Sebastián Street (787-725-7819) and the grungy El Batey on Cristo Street (787-725-1787).
  • And finally, the Spring Break crowd will find a familiar home at Señor Frog’s.

Don't Forget About ...:

The art galleries of Old San Juan. Displaying a wide variety of local and regional art, these galleries are worth a visit, especially on Noche de Galerías, which takes place the first Tuesday of every month. On this nigh, the galleries throw open their doors late into the evening and serve wine as minstrels wonder the streets to entertain you.

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