San Juan is a very large metropolitan area. For tourism purposes, the only relevant sections of San Juan discussed in this article are Old San Juan, Puerto de Tierra, Condado, Ocean Park, and the adjoining Isla Verde neighborhood in Carolina City.
The rules for the beaches
Tourists are often surprised at how alcohol-friendly San Juan is. Alcohol (beer in particular) is sold on virtually every beach. Sunbathers often bring beer, wine, and cocktails to the beach. Not only is it legal to drink on public beaches, it is 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 the use of electronic equipment on the beach. The only limitations are those that are self-imposed by taste and courtesy.
Old San Juan
Old San Juan sits on a cliff facing north and is bordered by a harbor to the south. The only public beach is at the foot of San Cristóbal. This beach is rocky, uncomfortable and difficult to access. In addition, it adjoins two ghettos (La Perla and Puerto de Tierra). This beach should probably be avoided by non-residents unfamiliar with Puerto Rican culture.
Adjacent to the Caribe Hilton is a lagoon and beach popular with locals. Since the area has restrooms, ample parking, and easy highway access, this beach (Escambron) is extremely popular with locals. Tourists rarely venture to this beach, which is often noisy and typically Puerto Rican. It is not dangerous during the day, but caution should be exercised at night due to its distance and proximity to the Puerto de Tierra ghetto.
Condado has several noteworthy beaches. First there is the Playita, a closed lagoon on the edge of the Condado bridge. The lagoon stretches around the bay that separates Miramar from Condado, and is noted for its kayaking, paddling, and calm lake-like qualities. Playita is perfect for young children and is totally safe, day or night.
The beach adjacent to La Concha is known for the promenade that partially encloses the beachfront. There are chairs available, and on Sundays the adjoining Ventana del Mar festivals add excitement to the area. Caution: Tides between La Concha and the outcrop 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 frequent rip currents. This beach is also noted for its surfers and bodyboarders due to the waves higher than normal.
The gay beach in front of Oceano and Atlantic Beach Hotel is just after La Concha. This section of San Juan beach has been a gay favorite for decades. Rip currents sometimes pose a problem here as well.
The final stretch of beach behind the Marriott is dotted with rocky outcroppings. There is a surf break right behind the Marriott, but surfers must navigate the rocks to enjoy the waves. Condado beaches are completely safe during the day and generally very safe at night.
The Ocean Park Beaches are the best in the City of San Juan. The beach begins on the outcropping behind Presby Hospital and after 100 feet of hidden rock obstacles, it smooths out to a calm, typically tropical beach. The mile-long beachfront has volleyball nets, palm trees, street vendors (ice cream, beer, ‘alcapurrias’), and gentle waves. The area just east of Presby Hospital is another favorite with surfers. Ocean Park beaches are totally safe during the day, caution should be exercised at night due to the absence of lighting and foot traffic.
Located between Isla Verde and Ocean Park it is another local favorite. Named for its location as the last stop on the now-defunct San Juan trolleybus, Ultimo Trolley has ample parking and street vendors. The adjoining gazebo and sports stadium are home to salsa bands, artists, athletes, and other locals who visit the beach during the day. The area should be avoided at night.
Isla Verde is technically located in the City of Carolina. The crescent-shaped beachfront is lined with luxury resorts and hotels. The area is known for its calm waves and safety. The mile-long beach ends at El Ambique, a local favorite with a couple of bars and restaurants lining the beach area. Isla Verde has banana boat rentals, massage chairs, and a variety of other amenities for lovers of luxury.
San Juan is special as it is one of the few cosmopolitan cities in the world that can boast a tropical beach. 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.