Major San Juan Neighborhoods
Many people think of San Juan as the old city but there is more to San Juan than just the historic quadrant and the popular resort areas of Condado and Isla Verde. San Juan encompasses a much bigger area and is part of one of the largest metropolis in the United States with a population of approximately 2.5 million inhabitants.
For the purpose of this travel guide, I have included a brief overview of major San Juan neighborhoods below.
The most important district in San Juan is Hato Rey, as it is the main business and financial district in the island. The downtown area of Hato Rey is home to major banks, government and federal buildings, the biggest indoor arena in Puerto Rico (Choliseo), and a variety of modern buildings that define San Juan’s cityscape.
A famous one mile stretch known as “La Milla de Oro” (The Golden Mile) is located in Hato Rey. It is called that way because it is along this stretch that headquarters of local and international banks and financial companies are located.
What to do in Hato Rey
Even though the downtown area of Hato Rey is the center of activity during the day, there is not much to do there at night other than dining in some of the nice restaurants that remain open once the regular working hours for businessmen that work there are over. However, on the days when there are special events at the Jose Miguel Agrelot Arena, best known as the Choliseo, you better ride the metro because you won’t find parking spaces anywhere.
One thing I can assure you, there will always be activity on Roosevelt Avenue. This avenue is said to be the busiest on the island. It hosts stores, restaurants, bars, and the biggest shopping mall in the Caribbean: Plaza Las Americas. If you are a shopping aficionado you may want to stop at this mall.
Roosevelt Avenue is famous for its nightlife. If you are adventurous enough to stand on the long lines of the stores and among a big crowd I recommend you give it a shot and visit the establishments on Roosevelt Avenue.
Puerta de Tierra
Puerta de Tierra is a neighborhood in the vicinity of Old San Juan worth mentioning in this guide because it is home to important governmental facilities, including the Capitol. It is located in the same 3 square mile island where Old San Juan is, specifically between the historic quadrant and the mainland of Puerto Rico.
What to do in Puerta de Tierra
The most common thing to do in Puerta de Tierra is to spend the day at El Escambrón Beach or at any of the two parks it has (Luis Muñoz Rivera Park and Tercer Milenio Park). Another interesting activity is to take a guided tour of the Capitol Building (by appointment only). Other than these, there is not much more to do in Puerta de Tierra during the day.
Nightlife in Puerta de Tierra is best spent enjoying the live music at the Caribe Hilton Hotel. This is the place to go if you want to stay in this area. If not, you can always head to Old San Juan.
Ocean Park is a small neighborhood between Condado and Isla Verde. It is mostly residential but there are several small inns, bed & breakfasts and restaurants. It is worth mentioning in this guide because it is home to the most famous and, alluded by many, best beach of San Juan: Ocean Park Beach.
What to do in Ocean Park
Spending a day or half a day at Ocean Park Beach is the number one and only thing to do in Ocean Park. Of course, that includes dining at the beachfront and nearby restaurants and relaxing under the stars at night (on a normal day/night).
Río Piedras is home to the main campus of the University of Puerto Rico. This is Puerto Rico’s most recognized and biggest university. It is also the oldest public university in the island. Its history can be appreciated in the buildings and in its distinctive clock tower that overlooks the San Juan Metro Area.
In addition to the university, Río Piedras has many other historic buildings and the biggest Plaza del Mercado (Marketplace) in the island. San Juan Botanical Gardens are also in Río Piedras. This could be a really great place to visit if you are a nature and flower lover.
What to do in Río Piedras
If you wish to see the non-touristic side of San Juan but at the same time filled with history and culture, you may want to visit Río Piedras. You could go shopping in the Plaza del Mercado and get some great deals, if that’s what you enjoy doing.
If you are interested in history I recommend visiting the university. Depending on when you go you may find yourself surrounded by a lot of students as this is the largest university with the highest enrollment. But don’t let this scare you away that you miss out on the adventure. If you do go, a classic thing to do is to take pictures at the clock tower. I recommend taking the Tren Urbano (Metro) to get there as there is a station conveniently located near the university.
Santurce is one of the biggest districts of San Juan along with Río Piedras. It is a business district with older buildings, some of which are abandoned. Nevertheless, some areas of Santurce are being revitalized to increase economic development in the area.
What to do in Santurce
Santurce has many restaurants, clubs, stores, etc. but the main attractions of this area are the Puerto Rico Museum of Arts and the Centro de Bellas Artes Luis A. Ferré, where many festivals, musicals, concerts, and other important events take place.
Miramar is a residential neighborhood in close proximity to Condado (south of Condado Lagoon) and Santurce. It is known to be a town where many upper class families live. The town has several historical residences and a few hotels suited for the business traveler. For the purpose of this guide, the most important thing about Miramar is that it houses the new state of the art Puerto Rico Convention Center, the Isla Grande Airport (for domestic flights) and the Pan-American Cruise Pier.
What to do in Miramar
Unless you are visiting the Convention Center or flying to the small islands of Culebra and Vieques from the Isla Grande Airport, there is not much that you can do in Miramar. The one good reason to go to Miramar would be to dine at one of the hotel restaurants. The one that many people really love and recommend is Augusto’s Cuisine, at the Courtyard by Marriot Hotel. In addition to dining, some people go to Miramar to drive or walk around the neighborhood streets to admire the upscale historical residences. But generally, most of Miramar visitors are there for business reasons.
If you arrive to San Juan on a cruise that docks in Miramar, just take a cab from there and head to Old San Juan or to the area you are interested in visiting.
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