Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to 24 hours in San Juan. Puerto Rico was in the news for all the wrong reasons when it was devastated by Hurricane Maria in the fall of 2017. Thousands of people died because of this hurricane, and there was untold property damage
You might read this and think, “Then why on earth are you encouraging me to spend 24 hours in San Juan with Ocean Park? Why don’t I go someplace more relaxing like Antarctica or Cleveland?”
Well, one of the reasons I’m writing this article is because I visited San Juan as a tourist just a few months after Hurricane Maria, and I had an amazing time! Yes, there were some buildings that were closed, but my hotels were in excellent condition. Of course, the food was amazing and so were the beaches and historical sights. I’ve been back more recently and had just as amazing a time.
The number one thing Puerto Ricans asked me to do was tell people that San Juan is open for business and everyone should come visit! Will do, San Juan! Tourism is one of Puerto Rico’s biggest industries, so the island will have a hard time recovering if travelers stay away. We can have a delicious and relaxing 24 hours in San Juan and do good at the same time! It’s win/win!
24 Hours in San Juan
How To Get There
Now, I wish I knew where you lived, Internet Stranger, because I could send you a box of the finest rum. But sadly, I do not, and so I can’t tell you exactly how to get from your home to the Caribbean.
But I can tell you that I used a lovely airplane to get from my hometown NYC to London, and then I took a shorter flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico. I recommend Expedia for the best way to find the cheapest flight to the Caribbean at the best time of day.
You can even use Expedia to rent a car so you’ll be all set when you arrive at your destination. (I can’t drive, but if you can, this must be helpful.)
Just click here to start looking for the best possible deals on your flight, so you can head out on your 24 hours in San Juan ASAP.
24 Hours in San Juan: Ocean Park
Where to Stay?
Ordinarily I have one hotel per city that I recommend to my Very Loyal Internet Strangers! But in San Juan, I have several favorites for your 24 hours in San Juan, depending on where you want to stay.
If you want to stay in the tranquil Ocean Park neighborhood, I love the Andalucia House. It’s a beautiful, restored beach house, and the owner Robert is extremely helpful. Or you could try the Dream Inn PR, which has a lovely little relaxation area with amazing views and offers free breakfast at the famous Kasalta Bakery every morning.
If you’d rather stay in the historic Old Town, the Decanter Hotel also has a great location, a beautiful building, and helpful staff. Or if you want to glam it up, try the historic El Convento, which is one of the most luxurious hotels in the city. It all depends on which neighborhood you prefer. And we’ll have a chance to check out both neighborhoods in this 24 hours in San Juan!
24 Hours in San Juan: Ocean Park
What to Pack?
- Cute sandals because it’s certain to be sunny sandal weather at some point during your 24 hours in San Juan
- An umbrella because it still might rain during your 24 hours in San Juan
- A cell charger so you can have enough power to keep taking pictures of San Juan’s beautiful beaches all day.
- A fabulous vintage swimsuit so you can relax in style on the lovely Ocean Park Beach
- A great spray sunscreen that even a solo traveler can apply alone because no one wants to end their 24 hours in San Juan with a vicious sunburn
- My favorite guidebook to Puerto Rico
- If you want to get to know some great Puerto Rican authors, start with the memoir When I Was Puerto Rican, about a young woman who grew up in rural Puerto Rico and ends up attending Harvard University.
- I always travel with travel insurance from World Nomads. You never know when something might go wrong, especially in this day and age, and you don’t want to get stranded in a foreign country without help. You never know when extreme weather will strike or some other emergency. But with travel insurance, you’re protected even if you’re attacked by deranged sentient coconuts on your 24 hours in San Juan.
24 Hours in San Juan: Ocean Park
Morning: Ocean Park
Ahh, here we have my favorite place to start any 24 hours in San Juan: Ocean Park. The beach is so soothing, and even though I always go in high season (usually February), the beach is never that crowded.
Maybe that’s because there are only a couple of streets that lead into Ocean Park. So you kind of have to know where it is to get there. It’s like a secret society except it’s fun and relaxing instead of super-scary and homoerotic.
I’m not sure how much guidance you need to enjoy a beautiful morning on the Ocean Park beach. It’s a beach! But I’m happy to get you started with…
Three Fun Facts: Ocean Park
1) Where Do I Get Breakfast?
Ahh, there’s only one place to get breakfast in Ocean Park! That’s the famous Kasalta Bakery. At the Dream Inn PR, they told me this was a great place to go. When I mentioned that President Obama had dined there, the concierge said he didn’t tell guests about that because he didn’t know what their politics were. I think that’s sad! Surely all Americans can want to eat breakfast where our president ate, regardless of politics.
Kasalta Bakery offers both sweet and savory breakfasts, so you can get anything from an empanada filled with chorizo (YUM!) to a mallorca, which is a sweet bun cut in half, covered with melted cheese, and topped with sugar. (EVEN MORE YUM!)
On the other hand, if you want some amazing coffee, head to La Coffeetera just a short walk away where they have exquisite Puerto Rican beans. PR is famous for its delicious coffee, so you don’t want to pass up this chance.
2) What Do I Do On the Beach?
It seems kind of strange and counterproductive to tell you things you have to do on the beach or teach you fun facts about the beach. Instead, why don’t I just show you my prettiest photos and help you relax?
There’s no one around for miles! Don’t you feel relaxed now? ARE YOU RELAXED YET?
RELAX! Don’t do it! When you want to go to it!
I DID IT! I GOT YOU TO RELAX! WELL PLAYED ME! (Commence playing “We Are the Champions!”)
3) What About Lunch?
Do you really want to have to waste some of your precious 24 hours in San Juan wandering away from the beach just to find a bite to eat? Of course not!
Fortunately, there’s the restaurant at the Numero Uno Guest House, which is right on the beach. So you can just sit outside and enjoy the blissful views of the water while you sip on a tropical cherry mimosa…
Or a pina colada! Why not both in the same lunch? I won’t tell on you!
Then you can feast on one of their refreshing fish dishes like some ceviche with jalapeno…
Or a mango-full poke bowl! Either way, take your sweet time enjoying your lunch! We want to spend as much time relaxing on the beach as possible during our 24 hours in San Juan.
24 Hours in San Juan: Ocean Park
Afternoon: Museo de las Americas
We’re going to be dining in Old San Juan during the evening of our 24 hours in San Juan, so before then we want to spend the afternoon in Old San Juan. Traffic getting to Old San Juan from Ocean Park can be tough, so we want to leave ourselves plenty of time.
That’s why I suggest spending the afternoon at the Museo de las Americas. You’ll learn a ton about the history of Puerto Rico, and frankly the museum itself is basically a work of art. I can’t share everything they have to offer with you, but I can share with you…
Approximately Top 5: Museo de las Americas
1) Special Exhibitions
One of the best things about the Museo de las Americas is that they feature interesting Latin American artists. For example, these pieces are by artist Fernando Varela. He’s from Uruguay, but currently lives in the Dominican Republic. As you can see from my photo, his work is abstract, but I find all the swirly shapes soothing instead of confusing.
It would be interesting to visit a psychiatrist’s office entirely decorated with Varela’s work. I imagine a pointy-bearded Central European saying, “Yes, yes, but WHY do the round shapes make you think of your mother.” We’d probably have tons of psychiatric breakthroughs this way.
2) Surprising Art
And here we have a Puerto Rican artist named Annelisse Molini. (She’s actually from San Juan itself.) Her work is also abstract, but in a different way from Varela’s work. In fact, if you looked at some of her pieces, you might not be sure they were actually meant to be art, like those piles of ladders above.
She says she takes inspiration from the idea of “travel”, and I think you can see this in her work. A lot of her pieces seem to have ladders going to nowhere. Maybe they’re climbing into the world of the imagination! Or maybe they’re climbing to get that last box of Christmas ornaments on the top shelf. Up to you to decide!
3) African Heritage
The African heritage room is dedicated to one of the most important influences on Puerto Rican art and music. Africans first came to Puerto Rico when they were enslaved to work on the plantations, so this can be a difficult topic to discuss. But it’s important to know how many Puerto Rican arts, like mask making and drums, began in Africa. Look around as you explore San Juan and see if you can find any Puerto Rican masks that resemble the ones above.
The African heritage room also tells the story of those who fought for the abolition of slavery on the island. This medallion above was made to honor the 100th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in 1873. (At least, that’s what the words around the edge translate to; the meaning of the image is self-explanatory.)
4) Country Chapel
Many visitors to Puerto Rico just stay in San Juan, but this is a pity. After all, rural communities are such an important part of Puerto Rico’s heritage. That’s why I suggest stopping to look at the country chapel. You would find these chapels in communities that were far removed from their local priest. That way they could come here to pray, and the priest would stop by when he was able to and hold a Catholic service.
The saint carvings and the devotional paintings are all made by local artists. Even if they didn’t go to art school, these works belong in a museum just as much as more chic abstract pieces.
5) Yup, it’s a doll house
You know what else belongs in a museum? Creepy dolls. That’s why my favorite piece in the Museo de las Americas is this giant miniature doll house. (Oxymoron alert!)
This beauty was made by Don Salvador Casellas, who was Puerto Rico’s first interior decorator. Like, I’m sure he was very impressive, but how do they know he was the first? Was he the first licensed decorator? How can they be sure no one else in the history of Puerto Rico had advised someone on how to decorate their home for a cash fee?
In any case, it’s most impressive that Don Casellas built this dollhouse and all the furniture by hand. And it only took him three years! I think it’s amazing he did not become a serial killer because I definitely would if I spent three years making doll house furniture. After Don Casellas died, his son donated this dollhouse to the museum to make sure his father’s legacy would live on. How sweet, and I’m very sorry I made a serial joke about your dad if you’re reading this blog, Mr. Casellas Jr.
24 Hours in San Juan: Ocean Park
Puerto Rico has some of the yummiest food in the world, but there’s only one problem. How can we fit it all into our stomachs in just 24 hours in San Juan? That’s why I recommend the Sunset Food Tour. Our guide will take us to several different stops where appropriate portions will already be prepared for us. That way we can eat as many delights as our stomachs will allow.
Sadly I cannot literally feed you through the computer screen. But I can give you an idea of what to expect on the food tour with…
Approximately Top 5: 24 Hours in San Juan Food Tour
1) Chocolate chocolate chocolate ack!
Some say to save dessert for last, but I definitely fall into the eat dessert first category. That’s why it’s so exciting that our first stop will be at the Chocobar Cortes. This chocolate-forward restaurant is run by the Cortes family, who are famous for their artisanal chocolate bars, art collection, and literacy work. (After all, it’s mostly kids who need to learn to read, and who loves chocolate more than kids?)
The main attraction here was a chocolate martini made with Puerto Rican Don Q rum, so it would be more local. This is a dangerous, dangerous drink because it’s so yummy you could probably drink about five without realizing you’d had any alcohol and then promptly pass out.
We also snacked on some chocolate-cheese treats, which are popular in Puerto Rico. It’s traditional to put melted cheese in the bottom of hot chocolate, which might sound a little odd at first, but it’s just as delicious as that cheddar-caramel popcorn mix.
Fun Fact! It’s actually illegal to spend 24 hours in San Juan and not eat a mofongo. Fortunately Hecho en Casa serves a delicious one, so I won’t have to sic the Puerto Rican authorities at you. Mofongo is usually made by mashing plantains with a lot of garlic and oil, but you can also make them with a different place like yucca instead.
Ours was made more filling because it was topped with a light chicken stew. (Mofongo is often filled with meat of some sort.) But the fun part is that we got to mash it up ourselves and get all that garlicky oil goodness! So it’s like an upper body workout and a food tour all at once.
3) Local Bar
We got an even more local experience at the next stop by trying a traditional Puerto Rican cocktail. Our guide said that in the days before craft cocktails in San Juan, if you wanted a cocktail, your main choice was rum mixed with fruit juice. At this bar we had several choices of fruit juice, but I opted for guanabana, aka soursop, because it’s a hard juice for me to find back home. And what’s the point of traveling or going on a food tour if you only eat what you get at home?
We paired this simple drink with some simple food: rice and beans and roast pork. Our guide told us that roast pork is a very important part of Puerto Rican cuisine because it’s traditionally eaten every Christmas. So you can consider this stop like a mini-Christmas dinner. Ho ho ho!
4) Beer cocktails and beer sandwiches
Well, after trying an old school cocktail, we get to move into the now and stop at a craft beer bar with a cute garden called La Taberna Lupulo. Here we snacked on a cocktail made with beer (a first for me!), and a Cubano made with pork, ham, melted cheese, pickle, and of course beer. As Homer Simpson would say, “Ah, beer! The cause of and solution to all of life’s problems.”
Finally, no 24 hours in San Juan is complete without the icy pop treat known as paletas. And the most famous place in San Juan to get your paleta is at Senor Paleta. There can sometimes be extremely long lines, but you won’t have to wait on line on this food tour. Just pick any flavor your little heart desires.
I chose tamarind because it’s a very popular flavor in Puerto Rico, but they had all kinds of funkier flavors like Nutella and red velvet. Just get whichever flavor seems yummiest to you, and don’t worry about if it’s “authentic”. This blog is a judgement-free zone.
That’s 24 Hours in San Juan: Ocean Park
What would you do with 24 hours in San Juan? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in San Juan right now? Could you mash up some fries, fill them with cheese and gravy, and call them Canadian mofongos? DID YOU RELAX YET? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in San Juan. If you have another 24 hours in San Juan, add this itinerary.