It’s no secret why Puerto Rico is called the “Island of Enchantment.” If you’re looking for a place to both relax and adventure with beautiful sandy beaches, crystal clear water, authentic Caribbean food, and exciting nightlife, Puerto Rico is the place to find it. In this article, I share just a few of the best things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The capital of Puerto Rico is San Juan and where you’ll fly into when visiting the island (Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport). This city is bustling with life and activity. I had the opportunity to spend over two months traveling around San Juan where I worked remotely, enjoyed the beaches, drank a lot of amazing coffee, and basically fell in love with the island. I’ve put together a few of the best things to do when visiting San Juan in the list below.
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Best Things to Do in San Juan, Puerto Rico
There are countless things to do in Puerto Rico! The island has incredible beaches where you can relax and enjoy a few cervezas along with breathtaking views of the water and sunset. Here’s just a few of the best things you can do in San Juan:
- Visit the Beaches
- Eat Amazing Puerto Rican Food
- Drink Puerto Rican Coffee
- Walk the Streets of Old San Juan
- Shop on Ashford Avenue
- Party at La Placita & Calle Loiza
- Visit El Yunque Rainforest
- Listen to Bomba Music
If you like restaurants and nightlife, the Condado Area has some of the best top-notch restaurants in San Juan. The city’s culinary scene is booming, so bring your appetite! Check out Oceano which is a sleek restaurant right on the water with upscale Caribbean food, fancy cocktails, and multiple decks.
Vianda is located in the Santurce Area and is a small restaurant that serves an evolving, farm-to-table menu with plenty of local ingredients and products. If you’re still hungry, get a restaurant at Santaella where Chef Jose Santaella ties together comida criolla and local ingredients with a contemporary approach.
For a lighter Sunday lunch vibe, head to Lote 23 which is basically food truck heaven, a lot full of every food imaginable from poke bowls to tacos and fresh salads. On weekend nights, the stage is typically occupied with live music and attracts a big crowd.
Calle Loiza is an upcoming, trendy street in San Juan with incredible restaurants popping up right and left. The street comes alive at night with live music, late night bars, and plenty of places to dance the night away.
What Can You Do For Free in Puerto Rico?
If you’re on a budget, don’t worry because there are plenty of free things that you can do in Puerto Rico. First, head to the one of the hundreds of beaches in Puerto Rico which have free access, including Condado, Ocean Park, and Isla Verde beaches located in San Juan.
Walking around the Old San Juan District as a must-do and must-see. Get lost exploring the Spanish and French architecture buildings and cobble stone streets. Then head over to El Morro and relax on the giant lawn in front of the 16th century citadel with six levels of tunnels and barracks.
You can also visit the National Botanical Garden of Puerto Rico, a 75-acre urban garden affiliated with the University of Puerto Rico. It features a diverse range of tropical plants and flowers along with animals like ducks, egrets, iguanas, and turtles.
Best Things to Do in San Juan, Puerto Rico #1 – Enjoy Condado & Ocean Park Beaches
Condado Beach is by far the most popular beach in San Juan and gives a Miami Beach vibe. The beach is lined with plenty of beautiful hotels and popular restaurants. Nights here are spent strolling up and down Ashford Avenue with parks for stopping and enjoying the scenery.
Ocean Park is a little farther east of Condado and a bit more residential. This area is known as an upscale beachfront community with plenty of wind surfers on the water to watch. Both of these popular beaches are amazing spots to park a chair with a beer or a bottle of wine for the sunset or just people watch.
Best Things to Do in San Juan, Puerto Rico #2 – Visit Old San Juan
Old San Juan (aka Viejo San Juan) is the city’s historic area located at the northwest triangle of the islet of San Juan. This area is a popular cruise destination and one of the most frequently visited by tourists in Puerto Rico.
When I first visited Puerto Rico, I stayed at a co-living space on San Sebastian street in Old San Juan and fell in love with the city. You can spend hours getting lost walking the streets with colorful houses and beautiful Spanish and French architecture. At night, Old San Juan comes to life with music, dancing, and drinks. Every January Old San Juan hosts the San Sebastian Festival attracting thousands of visitors and the largest festival in Puerto Rico.
Best Things to Do in San Juan, Puerto Rico #3 – El Morro & San Cristobal Forts
Old San Juan features two large forts along the water: El Morro and San Cristobal. According to Tour Old San Juan “Forts El Morro and San Cristóbal along with 2.5 miles of city wall complete a fortification system that protected Puerto Rico, San Juan harbor and much of Spain’s interests in the ‘New World’ from pirates and foreign invasion.”
Walk along Calle Norzagaray near sunset or sunrise from El Morro to San Cristobal to experience breathtaking views of the water. El Morro also provides a giant lawn in front of the fort where people come to picnic, fly kites, and even do yoga.
4 Dance Salsa at La Factoria
Tucked away in Old San Juan is La Factoria, known as one of the Top 50 Bars in the World. La Factoria is unlike any bar I’ve been to. Once you step into La Factoria’s front bar, keep walking through a small entrance to a second bar that looks like a cave and features unique craft cocktails.
Continue walking and the third bar opens into a big dance floor with live salsa music on special nights. The rooms continue as you walk further into the building to more bars and dance floors, and I’ve even heard rumors of a roof top bar available for parties.
Photo: On the Grid
5 Take a Cocktail Tour
Puerto Rico is best known for its rum, and of course there are plenty of traditional cocktails that go along with rum. I had a chance to take a Cocktail Tour around Old San Juan with Spoon Food Tours. The guide was a graduate history student who explained the cultural background of the architecture in Old San Juan along with other facts and tidbits on the city.
We made five stops during the cocktail tour to different well-known, hole-in-the-wall bars. At each stop along the way, the bartenders made us a specialty rum drink. We even got to make our own rum cocktail at one of the bars with a private bartending lesson.
6 Visit La Perla
La Perla is a shanty town located alongside Old San Juan’s historical wall and right on the water. Most tourists end up staying out of La Perla as it’s known to be a bit “rough” in certain areas. However, my experience visiting La Perla a few times couldn’t be farther from those rumors. It’s not the cleanest area, but it’s worth taking a visit if you want to step off the touristy streets for a bit.
Take one of the few staircases down into La Perla along Calle Norzagary, and you’ll find winding roads leading to rocky waters. Walk alongside street murals on the water with amazing views in the early morning or evening. There are also a few bars and restaurants popping back up in La Perla that are worth checking out, including La Gorita. This is a restaurant with 5-star views and amazing food for a really affordable price.
7 Eat Tapas at The Mezzanine at St. Germaine
The Mezzanine at St. Germaine is one of my absolute favorite places to eat and drink in Old San Juan. Walk through the café on the first floor, and you’ll discover a small spiral staircase. Take this staircase up to the second floor to find a unique space with delicious tapas and cocktails.
You feel like you’ve walked back a hundred years stepping into this place with a crystal chandelier, lived-in leather couches, and peeling wallpaper. Relax in one of the many couches or sit on a side balcony to people watch and enjoy the street sounds below. Side tip: Keep walking the staircase to the third floor to discover Al Fresco, a rooftop wine bar. You’re welcome!
8 Listen to Bomba Music
Bomba is some of the most interesting music I’ve ever heard, and watching Puerto Ricans dance to Bomba is a captivating experience. Bomba music is made for dance and believed to be unique to Puerto Rico. The music dates back to the 17th century and originated on the island in the areas of Loiza, Santurce, Mayagüez, and Ponce.
San Juan hosts plenty of live music across the city, including Bomba. You can find live Bomba music nights across the city, including El Boricua Rio Piedras (along with the cheapest drinks I’ve ever seen) and La Verguenza in Old San Juan.
9 Take a Boat Ride Around Old San Juan
Image sailing around historic Old San Juan on a sunset cruise taking advantage of a picture-perfect moment. Or being the Captain of your own mini boat exploring the sights of San Juan from the water. East Island Excursions offers specialty tours, including San Juan Mini Boats and the Old San Juan Harbor Tours. Some tours provide food aboard with a sunset tour option available.
Hop on the mini boats and cruise around towards the Old San Juan Historic District. Feel the warm Caribbean breeze on your face whie you snap pictures of Fort San Cristobal and historic buildings along the way. You’ll also learn about The San Juan Wall, Governor’s Mansion, and the most famous fort in Puerto Rico, Fort San Felipe Del Morro.
10 Visit the Bacardi Rum Factory
The Bacardi Rum Distillery is a major tourist attraction in San Juan. The Distillery is across the bay from Old San Juan and offers tours most days of the week. You can taste the different varieties of Bacardi Rum and even make your own bottle.
11 Dance the Night Away at La Placita
If you’re looking for local nightlife that includes salsa music, dancing in the streets, delicious street food, and specialty cocktails, La Placita is the place to be. La Placita is an outdoor square complex in the Santurce Area with plenty of restaurants and bars, especially busy on Thursday and Friday nights.
You can also find a perfect Instagram moment posing in front of the famous canopy of umbrellas. During the day, the center building in La Placita turns into a farmer’s market with an array of local fruits, vegetables, and specialty items.
12 Paddle Board in Laguna del Condado
Laguna del Condado is a body of water that sits between the Condado and Miramar neighborhoods. With a paved trail that stretches around the lagoon, it’s a great place to take an evening walk or run. There are also several companies that will take you on Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) tours around the lagoon. On Airbnb Experiences, I found Julio (and his wife Laura) who offer SUP tours and lessons on the lagoon. You might even see some wildlife and iguanas on your tour. They have tons of great reviews and offer a unique experience most would never think to do when visiting San Juan.
13 Take a Street Art Walking Tour
The Santurce Area of San Juan has some interesting street art with murals stretching across entire building sides. You don’t need to book a tour for this experience, just head to Calle Cerra in Santurce and begin walking down from one end of the street to the next.
The area gives a Cuba / Miami Little Havana vibe with plenty of excellent places to eat as well. This is a great place to grab your camera and practice some travel photography.
Santurce is experiencing a revival, and the murals came to be from a yearly summer art festival called Santurce es Ley (Santurce is Law). The festival’s purpose is to help revitalize the abandoned areas and bring new life to the neighborhood.
14 Visit El Yunque Rainforest
One of the most unique aspects of Puerto Rico is that you can be on a sandy beach one minute and an hour later head into the mountains to a tropical rainforest. Puerto Rico is so diverse, and you’ll never get bored exploring its landscapes.
According to Discover Puerto Rico, El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest Service. The rainforest receives an average of 120 inches of rainfall per year with hundreds of unique plant and animal species. El Yunque is also home to the island’s famous coqui frog. If you’ve never heard these frogs before, they sound like birds and make a chirping “coqui! coqui!” sound at all hours of the night.
There are tons of things to do in El Yunque Rainforest, including a vast system of hiking trails and observation towers to enjoy the views. Nearby the Rainforest are restaurants featuring locale fare, including the well-known Don Pepe Restaurant.
15 Eat Puerto Rican Street Food at Piñones
If you’re looking to hang out with some locals and try out Puerto Rican street food, head just a bit east of San Juan following Route 187. The route parallels the ocean heading toward Punta Cangrejos over a small bridge marked by a sign that reads “Bienvenidos a Boca de Cangrejos” (aka: Welcome to Crabmouth Point). After the sign, veer to the left to the top of the cliff overlooking the ocean.
This is a spot where the locals go, so expect it to be very busy on the weekends with lots of dancing and loud music. What’s better than popping open a few Medallas and Salsa dancing the night away with the locals,right?
A friend kept telling me about how we needed to visit Piñones before I left the island, and I had no idea what he was talking about. Once I finally made the short trip, I was greeted with a stretch of restaurants and street carts featuring local food, including arepas, plenty of seafood, and of course mofongo (friend plantains).
After finishing off a quick meal, head to the Piñones Beach to cool off. Piñones Beach is not a swimming beach, but it has some great views at night looking back at San Juan and Isla Verde areas.
16 Drink Puerto Rican Coffee
Puerto Rico is known for its robust coffee based on its ideal location for growing coffee beans. One of the best-known Puerto Rican coffee brands is Café Bustelo which you can find in basically every grocery store on the island.
Alongside rich coffee culture in Puerto Rico are plenty of fantastic coffee shops all over the city. One of my favorite coffee shops is located in Old San Juan: Cuatros Sombras. Their coffee is “100% Arabica, selected when it’s ripe and processed the very same day. Then it is sun-dried and stored un our climate-controlled bodegas.” The café is even a perfect place to chill for awhile and get some work done.
Another famous coffee shop located in Old San Juan is Café Don Ruiz near the El Morro fort. The café was named after Don Ruiz who started cultivating coffee based on his grandfather’s passion for the Puerto Rican coffee heritage. Today, the specialty coffee is processed by his sons where they use eco-friendly equipment and a special drying process.
I have to mention one more coffee shop because I enjoyed the coffee that much, and I also loved this space. After my initial 3 weeks staying in Old San Juan, I came back and stayed 6 more weeks in the Santurce Area of San Juan. I ventured to Café Comunion and spent plenty of afternoons sipping their cappuccinos and ordering tostada de aguacate (avocado toast). I even tried practicing a bit of Spanish on the baristas, and they didn’t mind me butchering the language.
17 Watch Breathtaking Sunsets
Puerto Rican sunsets will take your breath away. Period.
One perfect spot to catch a sunset is down at El Morro fort in Old San Juan. Take a blanket with a bottle of wine and sit on the lawn. You won’t be alone as there will be plenty of others flying kites, taking a run, doing yoga, and sitting alongside watching the sunset too.
Head down to Ocean Park, and you can find the crashing waves of the ocean on your right and the sun setting over the city to your left. Or, if you’re adventurous, hop in a car and head to the west side of the island. You can basically pick any spot on the coast, and your eyes will be in for a treat.
18 Take a Boat Ride to Culebra or Vieques
Culebra and Vieques are both islands off the east side of Puerto Rico. I have to admit I’ve never been to Vieques (yet!), but everyone says it’s a magical experience. Vieques is an island with wild horses on the beaches and a plethora of unique wildlife. One of the more enchanting aspects of Vieques is its bio luminescence bay which lights up at night with what looks like magic crystals in the sand.
Culebra is another island which I took a day boat tour for snorkeling and beach bumming. I’ve heard the island is an incredible spot to spend the night camping as well. If you head there, you’ll want to visit Flamenco Beach. This beach is located on a horseshoe-shaped bay and is known for its turquoise waters, white sand, and diving sites.
19 Rent a Car and Beach Hop Around the Island
If you’re looking for an adventure, rent a car and beach hop around the island. Puerto Rico is only roughly 35 miles north to south and 100 miles east to west (it’s small!). You can get anywhere on the island in just a few hours.
Head to the east to Fajardo where you can find plenty of areas for water sports, diving, and sailing. Or drive west to visit laid back beach vibe towns and world class surfing in towns like Rincon.
Ready to Visit San Juan, Puerto Rico?
With a captivating culture, endless sandy beaches, and countless things to do, San Juan is a perfect destination for a vacation or digital nomad.
Have you been to San Juan? What was your favorite place to visit? Are you planning a trip and have questions? I’d love to hear about your trip to San Juan in the comments below!