Puerto Rico is a stunning island, and for American travelers it’s a no-passport-necessary paradise. Like much of the Caribbean, San Juan and its surrounding regions have beaches and waterfalls galore. The local cuisine is rooted in African, indigenous Taino, and European foodways and features plenty of fresh seafood, pork, plantains, rice, beans, and most importantly: Piña Coladas. But there’s so much that makes San Juan unique–rainforest trek, anyone? Pack your bags. These are 19 of the best things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
No visit to San Juan is complete without visiting El Yunque National Forest: the only tropical rainforest in the US Forest System. Book a guided tour to explore some of the island’s best natural wonders and indulge in locally-made eats afterwards. In El Yunque, you’ll hike bamboo-lined trails, rope swing and jump from cliffs, and enjoy earth-made waterslides. Not to mention, there’s a slew of fresh waterfalls to bask in following the trek up.
Puerto Rico is full of influence from countries across Latin America. For a sip of Cuba and salsa dancing, head to La Factoria. This locally-loved speakeasy sits unmarked on a colorful corner in Old San Juan. But don’t worry, the live music spilling into the cobblestone streets will call you in. Once inside, wander through a labyrinth of six intimate bars from Café Hijos de Borinquen, the original dive bar from 1958, to El Desvío, a candlelit corner perfect for date night.
There’s no better place to go dancing than La Placita de Santurce: an open-air plaza full of live music and bars. It’s the perfect place to experience a bit of Puerto Rican culture close up. Although many tourists visit La Placita, locals love it too and it’s not uncommon to see them salsa dancing into the night in the center of the plaza. Beyond the many dive bars, you’ll find some good eats–everything from American BBQ to authentic Puerto Rican mofongo–within walking distance to La Placita too.
For the perfect sunset sip, head to The Tryst: a boutique hotel perched on the shores of Condado beach. Pull up a chair here (I recommend booking ahead!), and you’ll be steps away from the ocean while enjoying their carefully crafted cocktails and experimental menu at their restaurant Wicked Lily. From pork belly bao buns to lobster guacamole, there’s a myriad of adventure awaiting your palette. Cocktail lover? Try the ‘Lily’s Colada’ for a roasted pineapple and nutmeg cream twist on a traditional Puerto Rican Pina Colada!
One of my favorite ways to explore a new culture is through its food. Everything from spices to presentation can teach you something about a culture and its people. And San Juan’s food halls are a one-stop shop for tasting your way into authentic Puerto Rican dishes. Start at Lote23 in Santurce for a gastronomic journey through 11 different small food stands, called chinchorros in Puerto Rico. You can even book a tasting tour to really dive into their offerings, from mofongo to poke. In the heart of Condado, eat your way through La Marqueta. With seaside views and top-notch dishes (think ocean-fresh ceviche), you can’t skip this food hall.
What’s a weekend without brunch? Eter Rooftop lounge is one of the city’s best brunch options. With 360-degree views of the San Juan skyline, brunch, and fantastic tapas, there’s no reason not to put Eter on your list. You can’t go wrong with the chicken and squid ink waffle, the avocado stuffed with ceviche, and a mimosa made with fresh passion fruit juice. To top it all off, they’ve got a small splash pool for your post-brunch wind-down.
Travel back in time with a visit to Old San Juan. The once-walled city is full of Puerto Rican culture and centuries of history, and the pastel buildings are dressed in colonial architecture. Old San Juan is the perfect place to explore for the day. Start with brunch at Chocobar Cortes, visit the forts, salsa dance at La Factoria, and end the night with rooftop drinks at Ripe Rooftop.
Despite their age, the Forts of Old San Juan stand as a tall reminder of the city’s past. Unlike our Spanish-colonized cities like Havana, San Juan’s fort remains largely intact. To learn more about the history of El Morro and Fuerte San Cristobal, hop on a guided tour led by the National Park Service. Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture the panoramic views overlooking San Juan Bay.
While you’re in Old San Juan, visit Catedral San Juan Bautista, the oldest cathedral in San Juan. Still in use today, the cathedral dates back to 1521 and was operated by Europeans as they imposed Catholicism on Taíno (Puerto Rico’s indigenous community) and enslaved Africans. Today, part of the church–a former covenant–has been made into a boutique hotel and is home to the archbishop of San Juan, Roberto González Nieves.
San Juan is a cozy mix between city and beach town. You’ll find office buildings near hotels and restaurants. And here, the beach is never too far away. If you’re staying at one of the city’s many popular resorts, you may be near Condado beach. It’s a hotel-lined beach with endless restaurants within walking distance. For a bit of water sports or nightlife, head to Isla Verde in Carolina. The waters are calm and perfect for jet skiing or banana boat rides, and you’ll be sure to find food vendors selling empanadas or similar small bites along the water. At Ocean Park, you can retreat for serenity on its laid-back shores, perfecting for lazy waterfront days.
For the perfect day trip away from San Juan, go chase waterfalls in San Sebastian, Puerto Rico. Located on the west side of the island–about 1 hour and 40 minutes outside the city–these “secret” waterfalls are called Cascada Gozlandia. There are two falls (upper and lower) tucked away in the rainforest, with the tallest jump being 60+ feet, featuring a swing rope and a swimming area. Come here to switch up the scenery and tap into PR’s nature!
A small island off the coast of San Juan, Vieques is a short 25-minute plane ride away. Whether you’re going to kayak in the bioluminescent bay or go for a solo retreat at a boutique hotel, like Finca Victoria, Vieques is worth the journey. Full of wonder, the island’s Mosquito Bay is the brightest in the world. And a stay at Finca Victoria means ayurvedic dining, customized massage treatments, and sleeping in a treehouse.
For shoppers, Ashford Avenue is one of the best things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Often considered the “Fifth Avenue” of Puerto Rico, Ashford has everything from restaurants to boutique stores. A lot of high-end fashion brands call the street home, as do locally-loved designers too.
After spending so much time in San Juan, you have to get your hands on one of their beloved inventions: the Piña Colada. Legend has it that a Puerto Rico pirate offered his crew a fusion of coconuts, rum, and pineapple, but the drink wasn’t “officially” invented until 1945 by Ramón “Monchito” Marrero at the Caribe Hilton hotel. You can’t leave San Juan without a sip of this culture!
Often compared to Miami’s Wynwood District, Santurce is San Juan’s art hub. The streets are lined with murals created by local artists in a revival of a once forgotten neighborhood. There are art galleries and museums, such as the Museum of Contemporary Art, that make spending a day here seriously impressive. Each year along Calle Cerra, the street with the most murals, hosts its annual art festival Santurce es Ley .
A mashup of plantains, garlic, pork cracklings, and bacon shaped into a ball and topped with seafood, pork, chicken, or beef–that’s mofongo. It’s one of the island’s best dishes and can be found on many plates as a versatile base or a side dish for fish and other meat dishes. The possibilities of mofongo are endless. Try some at Barrachina or El Jibarito; they’re considered some of the best bites of mofongo.
Craft beer lovers should carve out time to take a brewery tour at Ocean Lab Brewing Co. They serve up award-winning brews and internationally-inspired bites, from Bratwurst to red snapper. If rum is more of your beverage of choice, head over to the Bacardi factory for a tour of their distillery. You’ll get to try some of Bacardi’s premium rum, along with a chocolate pairing. If you’re feeling adventurous, book a mixology class and learn how to shake the perfect Piña Colada and mojito.
In the heart of Santurce, Calle Loíza is a vibrant hub of creativity, music, and all things culture. The street is full of restaurants, bars, and nightlife spots. For excellent Mexican food, hit up Acapulco for some of the best tacos and elote in town. And for brunch, check out Sabrina Brunch for top-notch cocktails and fresh seafood.
Ready to take a dip in the Atlantic? San Juan is a beautiful city for snorkeling and other water activities. Head to the calm waters of the Condado Lagoon Natural Reserve. You’ll get up close and personal with coral reefs and other sea creatures that call the lagoon home. If snorkeling isn’t your thing, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, and more are available.