San Juan is a very large metropolitan area. For the purposes of tourism, the only relevant sections of San Juan discussed in this article are Old San Juan, Puerto de Tierra, Condado, Ocean Park, and the adjoining neighborhood of Isla Verde in the City of Carolina.
The Rules for the Beaches
Tourists are often amazed at how alcohol friendly San Juan is. Alcohol (beer in particular) is sold at practically every beach. Beachgoers often bring beer, wine and cocktails to the beach. It is not only legal to drink on public beaches, but licensed by the City.
There is no nudity in Puerto Rico. There are no “private” or secluded areas to engage in such behavior in San Juan.
There are no rules regarding the volume of music or use of electronic equipment on the beach. The only limitations are those which are self-imposed by taste and politeness.
Old San Juan
Old San Juan sits on a cliff facing north, and is lined by a harbor on the south. The only public beach is at the foot of San Cristobal. This beach is rocky, uncomfortable, and not easy to access. Further, it is adjacent to two ghettos (La Perla and Puerto de Tierra). This beach should probably be avoided by non-residents unfamiliar with Puerto Rican culture.
Puerto de Tierra
Adjacent to the Caribe Hilton is a lagoon and beach front popular with locals. Since the area has bathroom facilities, ample parking, and ready access to the highway, this beach (Escambron) is extremely popular with locals. Tourists rarely venture to this beach, which is often rowdy and typically Puerto Rican. It is not dangerous during the day, but caution should be exercised at night owing to its remoteness and proximity to the Puerto de Tierra ghetto.
Condado has several noteworthy beaches. First is the Playita, an enclosed lagoon at the edge of the Condado bridge. The lagoon stretches around to the bay separating Miramar from Condado, and is noted for its kayaking, paddleboarding, and calm lake-like qualities. Playita is perfect for small children and is entirely safe, day or night.
The beach adjacent to La Concha is well-known for the boardwalk which partially encloses the beach front. There are chairs available, and on Sundays the adjoining Ventana del Mar festivals add excitement to the area. Caution: the tides between La Concha and the outcropping behind Presby Hospital have claimed lives in the past. This area is excellent for wading and swimming close to shore, but caution should be exercised due to the frequent riptides. This beach is also noted for its surfers and bodyboarders due to the higher than normal wave breaks.
The gay beach in front of Oceano and Atlantic Beach Hotel is just past La Concha. This section of the San Juan beachfront has been a gay favorite for decades. Riptides sometimes pose a problem here as well.
The final stretch of beach behind the Marriott is jutted with rocky outcroppings. There is a surfing area directly behind the Marriott, but surfers must navigate the rocks to enjoy the waves. Condado beaches are entirely safe by day, and ordinarily very safe at night.
Ocean Park’s Beaches are the finest in the City of San Juan. The beachfront starts at the outcropping behind Presby Hospital, and after a 100 feet of hidden rocky obstacles, smooths out to a tranquil and typically tropical beachfront. The mile long beach front has volleyball nets, palm trees, roving vendors (ice cream, beer, ‘alcapurrias’), and gentle waves. The area just to the east of Presby Hospital is another surfers’ favorite. Ocean Park beaches are entirely safe during the day, caution should be exercised at night due to the absence of lighting and foot traffic.
Situated between Isla Verde and Ocean Park is another local favorite. Named from its location as the last stop on San Juan’s now defunct trollley, Ultimo Trolley has ample parking and street vendors. The adjacent gazebo and sports arena play host to salsa bands, performers, athletes and other locals visiting the beach for the day. The area should be avoided at night.
Isla Verde is technically located in the City of Carolina. The crescent-shaped beach front is lined by luxury resorts and hotels. The area is known for its tranquil waves and safety. The mile-long beachfront ends at El Ambique, a local favorite with a couple of bars and restaurants bordering the beach area. Isla Verde has banana boat rentals, massage chairs, and a range of other amenities for the luxury-minded.
San Juan is special since it is one of only a handful of cosmopolitan cities in the world can boast tropical beachfront. San Juan has three miles of pristine tropical beaches that are entirely public. The variety of beaches provides opportunities for everyone from children to thrill-seekers.