San Juan Neighborhoods: Guide to Santurce

••• Beach-side in the Condado neighborhood of the Santurce district in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Keith Getter/Getty Images

Santurce is an interesting neighborhood, a mix of blue-collar residential pockets, excellent local hangouts and restaurants, and some of the island's best cultural centers. No one is exactly sure where Condado stops and Santurce begins, and some say Condado is part of Santurce; at any rate, the two neighborhoods deserve to be covered separately because they are so very distinct. We like Santurce for its down-home feel, its unpretentious charm, and its hidden (and not so hidden) treasures.

Where to Stay

Truth be told, there's no strong reason to stay in Santurce instead of the more accessible and neighboring Condado. However, if you insist on getting a room in this area, your best bet is the Best Western Hotel Pierre, a moderately priced, recently renovated property. It's not close to the beach and you'll need a car or taxis to get pretty much anywhere, but the hotel itself is good value for your money.

Where to Eat

Santurce is the place to come for local cooking. Whether you're looking for inventive food, artistic fusion or traditional classics, you'll find excellent Puerto Rican restaurants:

Budget

  • La Casita Blanca offers an unbeatable combination of price, flavor, and heritage.
  • La Tasca de Yiyo on central Loíza Street, offers hearty Puerto Rican and Cuban fare.
  • Bebo's Cafe, also on Loíza Street, combines Dominican and 'Rican flavors.

Expensive

  • Pikayo, in the museum of art, is a culinary experience, a feast for all the senses.
  • La Casona is an elegant throwback to Spanish cuisine.

What to See and Do

Santurce offers three fantastic cultural meccas dedicated to the arts:

  • The Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, or Puerto Rican Museum of Art, is a must-visit destination for art-lovers. The building is beautiful, the collection of local, regional and international artists is excellent, and the sculpture gardens outside are worth a stroll.

Where to Shop

To shop in Santurce, you have to know where to go. There are no large shopping centers, but the neighborhood is home to some of Puerto Rico's leading designers:

  • Lisa Cappalli is a designer of a full range of women's clothes.
  • Harry Robles, considered one of the preeminent voices in women's fashion in Puerto Rico, has his boutique on Loíza Street, but is open by appointment only.
  • Carlota Alfaro, also on Loíza Street, has an elegant women's collection.
  • Gustavo Arango, another established name locally and in New York, has his flagship boutique here.

Where to Go Out at Night

Not all parts of Santurce are safe at night, and tourists who come here should know where they're going. Having said that, there are nightlife destinations worth visiting:

  • Plaza del Mercado, or La Placita is an open-air plaza that transforms on weekends with bars, late-night eateries, and friendly crowds of Sanjuaneros. It's a staple of the San Juan bar scene.
  • El Bar Rubí on Canals Street is a weekend-only, decent-sized space with a varied cocktail menu and great music.
  • Krash – the most popular gay club in Puerto Rico, Krash, which used to be called Eros, is still the place to go to for gay locals and tourists.