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San Juan See And Do

Beaches in and Around San Juan

If you're staying in one of San Juan's most popular oceanfront areas—Condado, Ocean Park, or Isla Verde—the beach outside your hotel will probably be all you need. The strips of sugary sand here are all wide and lined with swaying palms. The undertow can be strong in a few places, especially along the western edge of Condado, so be cautious when taking a dip; many beaches have no lifeguards.

There are also two gorgeous balnearios, or public beaches, just outside the famous resort areas. West of Condado is Balneario de Escambrón, with honey-colored sand and facilities including changing rooms and eateries. East of Isla Verde is Balneario de Carolina, a beach shaded by almond trees where you'll find restrooms, picnic tables, and barbecue grills. Just don't expect to have the beach all to yourself, especially if you're visiting between December and April.

About a 30-minute drive east of San Juan on Route 3, Balneario de Luquillo is perhaps the prettiest beach in all of Puerto Rico, with amenities that include restaurants and even bars. Just before you reach Luquillo you'll see a strip of kiosks selling freshly caught fish and all sorts of snacks. Stop and order an alcapurria (plantain fritter) stuffed with just about any kind of seafood you can imagine.

Catedral de San Juan Bautista
151 Calle Cristo
Old San Juan
San Juan
Puerto Rico 00901
Tel: 787 722 0861
www.catedralsanjuan.com

The trompe l'oeil painting lining the inside of the dome makes the Catedral de San Juan Bautista worth a peek: Clever use of perspective makes the roof look twice as big as it really is. The cathedral is also home to the tomb of the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León. There's been a church on this site since 1520, but one of the region's savage storms blew away the original thatch-roofed building. It was replaced in 1540 by this sturdier structure, one of the prettiest houses of worship on the island—and one of the oldest churches in the Western Hemisphere.

El Morro
Calle Norzagaray
Old San Juan
San Juan
Puerto Rico 00901
Tel: 787 729 6960
www.nps.gov/saju

Its real name is Fuerte San Felipe del Morro, but locals just call this massive fortress El Morro. The name means "the promontory," and refers to its location on a rocky peninsula extending into the Atlantic. The breathtaking setting makes it the city's most popular attraction, so things can get crowded when cruise-ship passengers pack into its towers, tunnels, and turrets. (Getting here early in the day is a good idea—as well as escaping the crowds, you'll avoid the worst of the heat.) Every bit as interesting is the city's other fort, Fuerte San Cristóbal (Calle Norzagaray; 787-729-6960). The only thing it doesn't have is the crowds. Consider visiting this one, located on the eastern end of Calle Norzagaray, if you're here in high season.

Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico
299 Avenida de Diego
Santurce
San Juan
Puerto Rico 00909
Tel: 787 977 6277
www.mapr.org

Until recently, most locals had little hope for San Juan's former general hospital. The historic 1920s landmark stood empty for years—until, in 2000, a $55 million head-to-toe renovation transformed the building into the Puerto Rican Art Museum. Preservationists insisted that the structure's original facade and shell remain in place, but behind it, architect Otto Reyes added an elegant, modern glass-and-steel annex with a whopping 130,000 square feet of display space. There's an impressive permanent collection of local and Latin American artists, as well as a 400-seat theater named after the actor Raúl Julia, the island's native son. Be sure to make time for a stroll through the complex's five-acre tropical gardens.

Open Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays 10 am to 5 pm, Wednesdays 10 am to 8 pm, and Sundays 11 am to 6 pm.

Museo de Casa Blanca
1 Calle San Sebastián
Old San Juan
San Juan
Puerto Rico 00901
Tel: 787 725 1454

Juan Ponce de León—who took a break from his search for the fountain of youth to found San Juan—had a house built for himself in what's now Old San Juan in 1521. He died before he could move in, but his descendants lived in what was the city's first residence for the next 250 years. Now a museum, the Casa Blanca may be the city's best-preserved colonial-era dwelling, with a string of small rooms with eye-popping views of the harbor (a necessity, as the house also served as the city's first fortification). A cleverly concealed stairway below one of the bedrooms leads to an underground room whose original purpose is a mystery. The gregarious guides here are full of gossip and will tell you their theories about subterranean tunnels and hidden dungeons. The shady gardens, open to the public, are a great place to escape the tropical heat.

Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 8:30 am to 4:20 pm.

Salsa Congress
San Juan
Puerto Rico
Tel: 787 274 1601
www.puertoricosalsacongress.com

For locals, salsa is more than a dance—it's a way of life. Which is why the annual Congreso de la Salsa is so eagerly anticipated. Held at the Caribe Hilton every July, it lures thousands of participants and spectators every year for endless dance competitions, demos, and performances by salsa music orchestras from across the globe. Look for additional events at hotels and venues throughout the city.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.