Trying the Same City Twice: San Juan Edition
After weeks of trying to decide which city we would visit for our annual family vacation this year, the matriarch decided on San Juan, Puerto Rico, again. Although I adore this charming American island, I was hoping to place my feet on unfamiliar soil (well, in this case, sand).
“Surely we can pick a city that we haven’t traveled to three times in the last four years,” I argued. “Let’s go somewhere new, please.”
Nothing brings a family closer than exploring a new city together, right? Wrong! According to my parents, familiarity is vital when it comes to spending a week with the ones you love, because you can leave the pack at any time, for relief, and not get “taken.” Once I realized that I had lost the battle of an alternative destination, I made a conscious decision to approach the adventure with a fresh outlook.
To my surprise, I had yet to experience the best of Puerto Rico.
I stumbled upon this charming café while wandering the cobble stone streets of Old San Juan. A sign that read, Open Mic Night Every Tuesday at 7pm, allured me. This shop offers so much more than the adrenaline rush that espresso has to offer. It serves up inspiration from the moment you step through the oversized arched entryway. The atmosphere is overcome with poems, paintings, photography, and affirming energy. The owner and other local Puerto Rican artists create all of the artwork displayed along the walls. Even the coffee menu is themed, with “Metaphor” referring to a Café Latte and an “Oxymoron” to a white chocolate. Restored typewriters and blank college ruled paper along with no. 2 pencils linger on the vintage tabletops to encourage you to create in the moment. There was a young guitarist singing softly in the back while a young girl sat beside me and recited her poetry aloud. I sat and absorbed with all of my senses.
Culebra island- Flamenco beach
Culebra possesses one of the most pristine beaches in all of the Caribbean. The pale sand feels like cotton beneath your feet, the same feet that you can see clearly beneath the ocean water. This beach is an untouched jewel that is often overlooked. It takes a bit of work to get to the Fajardo ferry that transports you to this rich land, but it is worth the journey. The island is small and is often referred to as “Isla Chiquita” (little island) spanning only 7 miles in length. The waters surrounding the tiny land mass is filled with tropical marine life and exotic coral, the ideal location for snorkeling. There is an army tank on the shoreline that washed up many years ago that is now a breeding place for the mama turtles that populate the sand. Whether you are looking to hike, fish, bike, swim or simply bake beneath the sun, Culebra is a must see. The ferry fare is only $4.50 and it runs numerous times during the day, but beware, it fills up quick!
islaculebra.com (follow the link for more info on how to get to Culebra)
I found this brunch-lovers-paradise while walking along the sand of Condado beach in San Juan. Many of the locals had mentioned this place to me as an entertainment lounge for late night dancing al fresco, but they had excluded the best part, food. I went on a Sunday afternoon and left full, tipsy and barefoot. The brunch was set up buffet style offering everything from made to order omelets, French toast made with French bread, fresh fish, lamb and many flaky layered pastries. The open patio concept overlooking the ocean worked in cooperation with the live jazz band and numerous pitchers of sangria to make for an enchanting afternoon experience.
Café Puerto Rico
This is my favorite restaurant to visit when I want to indulge in traditional Puerto Rican cuisine. This bistro is a popular among the locals, and can get pretty crowded during lunchtime. They offer fast friendly service and the best stuffed Mofongo on the entire island, for ridiculously cheap prices. You cannot depart without sharing an overwhelmingly large portion of their paella and a side of plantain, with the ones you love.
I went to Blonda twice in two days. The first time I stopped in, it was for a light dinner. I was strolling around Condado and the contemporary exterior attracted me. Everything I ordered was fresh, simple and divine. My salad was crisp and my white wine mussels were seasoned with fresh aromatic herbs that penetrated to the depths of my taste buds. After indulging in many elaborate Puerto Rican meals, it was refreshing to enjoy something that encompassed simple perfection. I returned the following morning for brunch. The French toast topped with strawberries and a vanilla caramel sauce was life altering. The thickly cut loaf was delicately crisp on the shell and filled with a soft moist goodness that is unforgettable. You will never be able to look at any other French toast the same.
Moral of the story is, you can find new adventures in your backyard if you open your eyes to the possibilities.
This story was curated by Sasha Bonet.