San Juan Weekend-brief trip report

Jan 13th, 2016, 01:20 PM
  #1  
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San Juan Weekend-brief trip report

This was our third visit to San Juan. We try to have an annual long weekend away without the kids during the winter months and San Juan is always a good choice for us. Last year we were in St. Martin/Anguilla which was also wonderful but there is something about San Juan that really appeals to me for these long weekends. I like the convenience of not having to deal with customs and immigration, which maximizes precious vacation time during a long weekend. However, aside from that I love the great restaurants, cobblestone streets and history of Old San Juan, interesting beaches filled with locals and tourists and I find most people so friendly which just makes for a pleasant experience. San Juan obviously doesn't have the stunning white sand beaches of islands like Anguilla, but everything else it does offer more than makes up for that to me. We also also went to St. Bart's last year and while we enjoyed those trips very much, there was something very welcoming about returning to San Juan.

Our trip was sort of the same as previous trips which was a mixture of beach time, wandering around checking out the neighborhood and taking part in the fun nightlife including wonderful meals, cool bars and some exciting casino time. We stayed at the Marriott Stellaris in Condado, which is a pleasant place to stay. It doesn't have the hip vibe of La Concha and certainly not as luxurious as the Condado Vanderbilt but has the same great Condado location making it so convenient to walk to many restaurants and is a quick and easy trip into OSJ. We did enjoy the casino and some drinks at La Concha and visited the bar at the Vanderbilt. La Concha still has the fun vibe that it had during our stay there a few years ago. The Vanderbilt is very luxurious and while I can appreciate it's appeal, I think I would prefer La Concha and that is probably where we will stay again in the future.

Our first night we went straight to Old San Juan to meet friends for drinks at St. Germain Cafe. The setting was beautiful and we felt like we were in a small city in Spain as we sat in the mezzanine and sipped drinks while looking out of the big windows at the great architecture of OSJ. We had dinner at Parrot Club, which was good but not great. It's not surprising I guess given it's location right off of Plaza Colon but it was still a decent meal and we enjoyed the evening. We had some wonderful meals the following nights at Oceano, Budatai and Santaella. They are expensive but the quality was worth the price. The Oceano setting is great being right on the beach and the food was delicious. Santaella was also wonderful and it's location in La Placita is great for pre or post dinner drinks. Again, one of the great things for us about San Juan is to hang out in a place where locals and tourists mix so wonderfully. We were in La Placita on a Saturday night and it was busy and buzzing with activity but not as crowded as it was on a Friday night during a previous trip. For us, that was better as we are in our 40's and like some activity but don't need it to be so crowded as we might have preferred in our 20's. We enjoyed the live music, dancing in the streets (well observing the dancing is more like it) and very affordable drinks served at the local bars. The Puerto Rican mojito from El Coco de Luis is really good! We took a taxi both ways from the Stellaris which was about a 5 minute ride.

During an afternoon in Old San Juan, between visiting El Morro and wandering the streets, we stopped at Hecho en Casa for lunch. The mofongo was really good and as with most places in San Juan, the service was very friendly. The other days our lunches were either at the pool bar at the hotel or from a little local place next door (Piu Bello). We had mallorcas, cuban sandwiches and tostones which were all tasty and went well with some cold Medallas.

The four days went by quickly but we enjoyed the amazing weather. It was between 82-85 degrees every day and not a drop of rain. The evening temps were very comfortable in the low to mid 70's. The water in the Condado section is rough and there were some swells coming from the north which made the waves powerful. It was fun for jumping in the waves and the local teens loved surfing and boogie boarding. The water was a comfortable temp which is important to me when I am on my winter getaway from the cold in NYC. Once again, a pleasant time in San Juan!
genio67 is offline  
Jan 14th, 2016, 06:00 AM
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Thanks for the report. We too love Puerto Rico. Such lovely people and great food!
schmerl is offline  
Jan 14th, 2016, 09:33 AM
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Nice report. I enjoyed reading it and your perspective on San Juan. Thanks for posting.
mnag is offline  
Jan 14th, 2016, 11:03 AM
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Glad to hear you had a nice time. We've been going to San Juan every year for the past twenty. I see you visited the bar at the Vanderbilt. We did too the last time we were there (while staying at La Concha). We liked it so much, we went back the next night. I had a really good drink that I wish I remember the name of now. Guess I will have to go back and rediscover it. We also went to the restaurant at the Vanderbilt - 1919 - and had the four course dinner for $80 per person. The food was very good, although the third course (which was a delicious duck confit) was disappointingly small.
tom42 is online now  
Jan 14th, 2016, 04:58 PM
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Yes, the Vanderbilt bar is very nice but since we stopped by on Sunday, it was quiet. I also had a wonderful cocktail at St. Germain in Old San Juan. It was with a Barrilito rum and I think a splash of fresh coconut juice. I don't remember exactly but it was amazing. I normally drink the Barrilito straight up but this cocktail was great. On our next trip we will try 1919.
genio67 is offline  
Jan 15th, 2016, 05:44 PM
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Thank you for your trip report! We're headed to San Juan for a week early February. Have been there twice before, for shorter stays, so expect this amount of time will feel luxurious. We keep thinking we'll try somewhere different for our Feb. getaway but then decide to go back, so maybe we're headed to becoming like tom42!

We've stayed both times in Isla Verde and probably will again as we like the calmer surf. And both times, although we said we'd rent a car and go to El Yunque, instead we ended up just hanging out on the beach and one day going into Old San Juan. Last time we went one way by bus, which was kind of fun.

Since this time we'll have a little more time, and we're curious about both El Yunque and also the mountain area mid-island and a couple of the other towns, we're planning to explore a bit more...but we'll see!
go_laura is offline  
Jan 16th, 2016, 06:17 AM
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go_laura, have fun in Feb. I know we will be back because there are still so many places in PR we want to visit and hopefully one day we will make it a family trip with the kids and stay for a week or longer. The surf on Condado beach is definitely more rough than Isla Verde but we still enjoyed it. We stayed at El San Juan in 2014 and really liked it there as well. I do like the Isla Verde beach and we were considering staying in Isla Verde for this trip as well but then decided we wanted the Condado location because we like restaurant choices better and like being to walk to more places. Although there were a few places for breakfast and lunch in Isla Verde that I missed on this trip, specifically El Alambique for lunch and breakfast from Las Canaries. However, I know I can be happy in either location. Enjoy your trip!
genio67 is offline  
Jan 16th, 2016, 06:32 AM
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go_laura,
If you like calm water, spend a day at Luquillo Beach. There is a reef off shore so there are very few waves. Beautiful water and interesting local vendors with great local food as well.
schmerl is offline  
Jan 16th, 2016, 08:08 AM
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Thanks to both of you. Genio67 I appreciate the restaurant suggestions for lunch and breakfast in Isla Verde. I don't even remember where we've gone in past; there's one place we love to go for mufongo and we know it when we're there but I never wrote the name down. This time I will. It's funny, I've done a number of other trip reports (some as go_laura and older ones as lauracohenromano), but it just never occurred to me to do one for San Juan, I guess because it was mostly a beach vacation.

We did go to Condado for lunch one day and a farmer's market, and walked around a bit, and might do that again, so good to have suggestions for there even if we don't stay there. And pardon my ignorance, but what's La Placita (I'll look it up, too)?

Schmerl, I'll add Luquillo Beach to our list of possibilities!

I plan to get us lodging this weekend, we only have the flight so far. One thing we're not sure of yet, is whether to rent a condo in San Juan and do everything from there as our base, or whether this time to break it up between a hotel in San Juan and staying elsewhere for some of the time. Any thoughts about that are welcome!

Also, if anyone else loves to dance somewhere with people not just in their 20's (we're in our 50's), would love ideas!
go_laura is offline  
Jan 16th, 2016, 02:06 PM
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Laura, if you haven't been to El San Juan lobby bar on a weekend night you should definitely go there. They have live music and lots of dancing for everyone from 18-80. At least it was that way in 2014 when we were there. The Red Coral Lounge at the Marriott Stellaris also had a wide age range probably leaning more toward 40+ actually. I think the under 30 crowd goes to the club at El San Juan.

La Placita is Plaza del Mercado in Santurce. By day a vegetable market but on Thurs, Fri and Sat nights there are a bunch of little bars and restaurants around the plaza and there is live music, dancing in the street and just a fun vibe. Mostly locals but certainly tourist friendly and a wide range of ages as most San Juan nightlife provides. I found Saturday night more enjoyable as the Friday we went was very crowded. Jose Enrique and Santaella are two high end restaurants nearby but there are also cheaper and more local places in the area as well. Santaella was wonderful but pricey. El Sabor de Reina, where we ate in 2014, was a much more local experience and we really enjoyed that as well.
genio67 is offline  
Jan 16th, 2016, 09:25 PM
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We did go once to the El San Juan lobby bar and had a great time both dancing and watching. Didn't know about the Red Coral so that's great to know, thanks!

And now I remember reading about La Placita last year. We were going to try to go to Jose Enrique's but the night we were going to go, they were closed, I forget why. I just read that they closed for good a few weeks ago - sad, as it sure got rave reviews! La Placita sounds like a lot of fun to experience, tho'. Not sure we'll be up for it on our first night, which will be our only Saturday, but who knows!

I'm curious, have you ever been to other parts of the island, the mountains or caves or other beaches?
go_laura is offline  
Jan 29th, 2016, 11:04 AM
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So excited to find a recent post about San Juan! I am planning my company's incentive trip there this year April 7 - 10 and we are staying at the El San Juan. Since my only experience visiting San Juan is in 2012 on a 4 hour layover where I had breakfast in Old San Juan, I am in desperate need of some help!

I have 44 total guests to entertain. I'm looking for guidance with must see/do attractions/excursions, and a restaurant for an offsite dinner on Saturday night. Typically I like to plan an experience along with dinner. For example, last year we went to the Graycliff in the Bahamas which is a hotel, chocolate factory, holds the third oldest private wine collection in the world, has a cigar factory all while being a very well known and excellent restaurant. We had cocktails in the terrace and had free reign to peruse the property. In small groups we were taken on wine cellar tours and given a history lesson until we were seated for dinner. After a wonderful 3 course pre-fixed meal, everyone was offered after dinner drinks and hand rolled cigars. While I'm not looking for the exact same itinerary, I'd like to find something that would offer a similar experience.

Any suggestions/recommendations on a location for a 44 person dinner location with Puerto Rican influence and a wonderful experience, I'm all ears!
shimsham is offline  
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