The history of the island of Puerto Rico involves several centuries of Spanish rule, at which time it became an important place for growing cash crops including coffee, tobacco, and sugar cane. It was made a territory of the United States in 1898 as a result of the Spanish-American War, and in 1917 Puerto Ricans were granted US citizenship. Despite being a territory of the United States, Puerto Rico maintains a culture that is unlike anywhere on the mainland. The capital of San Juan, which is home to roughly 355,000 people, is loved for its colorful buildings, rich history, and a vibrant culinary scene.
If you’re an American citizen looking for an easy tropical escape that doesn’t involve a passport, San Juan will remind you that you’re far from home. You can fill your day sightseeing around Old San Juan, visiting museums to learn about its history, relaxing on the beach, or perhaps giving-a-go at surfing. Dedicate your nights to indulging in San Juan’s culinary scene, learning how to salsa dance, and casting your vote on the best mofongo in town.
The Dreamcatcher is an urban oasis nestled in San Juan’s surfer neighborhood of Ocean Park. Each room is unique, filled with vintage and second-hand furniture, and each with a character of its own.
The Dreamcatcher has everything you need for a conscious stay in San Juan, with outdoor showers, daily yoga, a communal kitchen, and even an on-site boutique selling locally-made and eco-friendly goods. Nestling spots are tucked into each and every corner; hammocks and vintage chairs are placed in the company of hundreds of tropical plants, so you will never be hard-pressed to find a great reading nook.
Upon arrival, you will receive a hand-drawn map of owner Sylvia’s favorite shops and restaurants around San Juan. Many of them have a conscious focus, whether it is a vegan menu, locally-made goods, or a farm-to-table ethos.
Eat & Drink
Incredible plant-based takes on traditional Puerto Rican foods in a modern, rustic space. Their menu changes daily and includes choices like vegan burgers, stuffed avocado, tacos, and bowls.
For high-quality coffee in a beautiful setting, visit this Old San Juan outpost. It’s right in the heart of Old San Juan, so it’s the perfect spot to start before a day of shopping and sightseeing.
Come here for the ambiance, beautiful outdoor dining, and a menu of inventive, seasonal dishes. Vegetarians should have no trouble finding something delicious on the menu, and they also have some amazing cocktails.
Cocobana is a casual vegetarian restaurant in Ocean Park serving veggie burgers, wraps, smoothies, and juices. Their lunch buffet features a variety of Puerto Rican inspired, plant-based dishes. They always have daily specials for lunch, which are served buffet style.
This family-run coffee company sources its beans straight from its own farm in Jayuya, Puerto Rico. Their cafe in the Santurce neighborhood serves specialty coffee drinks and light bites in a welcoming atmosphere.
This dining establishment in the Santurce neighborhood is owned by American-born chef Peter Schintler. The restaurant pursues small, local producers with an organic and sustainable approach to living and eating. Their vegetarian tasting menu and abundance of vegan options sets them apart from other farm-to-table restaurants in the city.
“Each ingredient is a part of a process and search to bring forth health, community, and earth-friendly ideology.” Schintler’s dedication to both sustainability and creative gastronomy make Marmalade an experience you don’t want to miss.
For some of the best mofongo in San Juan, head to Orozco’s in the up-and-coming Condado neighborhood. Their “trifongo” is made with a combination of plantains, cassava, and sweet potato, and you can get it with a choice of seafood, meat, or vegetables. For an authentic Puerto Rican meal at a reasonable price, this is a great option.
Santaella offers an authentic and elegant dining experience in the heart of San Juan’s culinary scene, the Santurce district. Ingredients are sourced just steps away from the farmers market, La Plaza del Mercado Santurce. The atmosphere is reminiscent of a tropical jungle, while the indoor fixtures tell a story of modern sophistication. Chef Jose Santaella is an acclaimed chef with over 20 years of experience in the restaurant industry, and a cookbook called Cocina Tropical: The Classic and Contemporary Flavors of Puerto Rico. Book reservations in advance for a dining experience you won’t regret.
The Dreamcatcher does a daily breakfast/ brunch using organic, locally sourced produce, and always has a selection of vegan and gluten free items. They occasionally host a 4-course vegan dinner in collaboration with local chefs. Check out their Instagram for announcements on upcoming dinner events.
Concalma is known for their reusable totes and handbags which are made in a women-owned factory in Utuado, Puerto Rico. Their brick-and-mortar store in Old San Juan also sells hand-made products from other local designers. The company contributes 1% of proceeds from online sales to an organic farm in Aibonito, Puerto Rico called Siembra Tres Vidas, as part of a seed project.
If you’re looking to bring a little piece of Puerto Rico back home with you, this is a great place to look. This souvenir shop has a mix of locally-made Puerto Rican food items, coffee, rum, artwork, and other handmade goods.
This women’s clothing boutique in the heart of Old San Juan is a linen-lover’s dream, with a curated assortment of casual apparel, globally-inspired jewelry, and bags made from natural materials.
Pure Soul Living
The sister store to Pure Soul, Pure Soul Living has a curious assortment of things to make your home beautiful. Located just steps from Pure Soul Boutique, come here to pick up a gift from a local artist or maker.
Things to Do
Ashtanga Yoga PR
There’s no better way to start the day than with an invigorating yoga class in a beautiful studio, windows cracked open to feel the gentle ocean breeze.
Take a Tour with The Dreamcatcher
The Dreamcatcher boutique hotel offers a variety of local tours and experiences, including a trip to El Yunque National Rainforest, a waterfalls tour, salsa dancing classes, and more. Upon arrival, check to see what tours are currently available and sign up for an unforgettable, authentic Puerto Rican experience.
One of the main cultural hubs of San Juan, La Placita is home to the most important farmers market in town, and when the sun goes down it becomes the place to be for nightlife. Practice your new salsa dancing skills in between mojitos, or simply stroll the streets, which are closed off to traffic.
Visits the Forts of Old San Juan
Old San Juan’s centuries-old forts of El Morro and Castillo de San Cristobal are true architectural masterpieces. They effectively display the sophistication of Spain’s military defense strategy throughout the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Up until the US Navy’s bombardment of El Morro in 1898, the forts of Old San Juan were effective in resisting numerous attacks from the British, the Dutch, and other foreign powers. In 1983, the United Nations declared El Morro and San Cristobal World Heritage Sites. An afternoon spent exploring the forts is well worth the $7 admission fee.