This Street Is the Perfect Place to Soak Up the Spirit of San Juan

Calle Loiza is undergoing a resurgence, post-Hurricane Maria.
July 20, 2019, 12:00 PM UTC
Puerto Rico Nightlife
Santurce Es Ley at night. Courtesy of Discover Puerto Rico
Courtesy of Discover Puerto Rico

On Puerto Rico’s north shore, Old San Juan is known for its romantic charm, with historic cobblestoned streets, sorbet-colored buildings, and an ever-present easygoing vibe. But it’s also the most popular destination for cruise ships to disembark.

To dive a little deeper into the island’s art and culture, head east to Santurce. The slightly less glossy barrio has gone through a revitalization in the past few years—one that can be experienced firsthand on Calle Loiza.

On this stretch of road between the more polished Condado and Isla Verde neighborhoods, find a former fashion editor selling colorful straw bags, espresso con leche made with locally grown beans, tropical fruit juice cocktails, fried local plantains, and a vibrant scene that’s unlike anything else on you’ll find on the Caribbean island.

Condado Lagoon in San Juan.
Courtesy of Discover Puerto Rico

A Shopper’s Paradise

Len.T.Juela has been a Loiza Street mainstay since 2012 for good reason. The mix of vintage and new clothing includes plenty of inclusive sizes, while bright hair accessories, bags, and shades will add an extra dose of cool to whatever you’re wearing.

Sisters Monica and Nicole own Moni & Coli, which offers a well-curated collection of clothing and accessories—jumpsuits, sundresses, and standout statement jewelry—all priced for stocking up. Former Allure fashion editor Tanamá Besosa Castillo moved back home to Puerto Rico after stints in New York and Paris to open T Playa, inspired by her love of the ocean. Perusing the narrow shop feels like a romp through your chicest friend’s walk-in closet—walls are lined with racks of gauzy caftans, chunky charm necklaces dangling with seashells, and an unparalleled collection of new and vintage straw bags and hats. Complete your beach look with a new swimsuit from Nude, where you’ll find racks of on-trend one-pieces and bikinis.

Just off Loiza, Luca on Calle Taft is known for cool, minimalistic jewelry, sandals, and wardrobe staples, while Love Is You and Me on Calle del Parque stocks delicate lingerie and responsibly made beauty products.

A Foodie’s Paradise

Start your day with brunch at Sabrina, run by chef Mario Ormaza, who was trained by Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Inspired by the Audrey Hepburn film, the sunny see-and-be-seen bistro is decked out in fern-patterned banquets, vivid tropical wall coverings, and a pink neon sign—the perfect ambiance to snack on a plate of fried local plantains and sip colorful cocktails like the Painkiller, mixed with rum and house-made coconut cream, or a mimosa, with a choice of tamarind or passion fruit juice. Also owned by Ormaza, who grew up in the neighborhood and is credited with contributing to its transformation, Café Tresbé serves burgers and fish tacos out of a bright yellow shipping container.

Sabrina Restaurant-San Juan Puerto Rico
Sabrina Restaurant in San Juan.
Courtesy of Discover Puerto Rico

There’s plenty of al fresco seating on the leafy patio, and before leaving, stop into Café Con Ce. Order a café con leche, and pick up a bag of local beans at a fraction of the cost of the same bag at the airport gift shop. (Ask the friendly staff to grind them for you.)

Herbivores will love Tostado for the cafe’s local-veggie salads, vegan coconut pumpkin pancakes, made-from-scratch bread, and seasonal, fresh-squeezed juices like mango kale orange and passion fruit.

At Acapulco, margaritas and Mexican street tacos are the draw, with made-from-scratch corn tortillas and meat cut to order from the trompo, or vertical skewer of pork topped with pineapple. Nearby Bocca Osteria is run by the same family and gives the same level of care to classic Roman dishes like Amatriciana and carbonara, using homemade pasta.

Newly relocated ice cream shop Funkyberry is known for flavors—see: guava cookie crunch, watermelon, and traditional Rocky Road—all made in small batches using tropical fruit and homemade mix-ins like marshmallows and peanut butter cups. If baked goods are more your speed, stop into Double Cake bakery for coconut cupcakes, guava brioche, and sweet pan de Mallorca. 

A Night Owl’s Paradise

During the day, it’s a classic barbershop, but at night El Bar Bero transforms into one of the area’s most creative bars, with old-school barbershop chairs and playfully named cocktails like the Lavender Fade or El Mullet.

Head to Piso Viejo for the lively entertainment, which varies depending on the night, but might feature live hip-hop, salsa dancing, or comedy.

El Tap has 46 taps of beer and wine, with nearly half dedicated to showcasing the newly expanded local craft beer scene. Order a flight and ask the knowledgeable staff for recommendations.

An Artist’s Paradise

Public art thrives in Santurce. Stroll down Calle Loiza for a self-guided tour of works by local artists, including vivid murals and mosaics that wrap around buildings, mailboxes, and water towers. The yearly Santurce Es Ley festival—held in the fall—features live music, cultural programming, and a walking tour that more formally spotlights the neighborhood’s street art.

Santurce Es Ley in Puerto Rico.
Courtesy of Discover Puerto

Before leaving the neighborhood, check out Libros Libres on nearby Avenida Juan Ponce de León to peruse the stacks of free books at this outdoor library run by volunteers. Leave your beach read and grab something new for the flight home. 

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