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 of the beaches
Tourists are often surprised at how alcohol-friendly San Juan is. Alcohol (beer in particular) is sold on practically all beaches. Bathers often bring beer, wine, and cocktails to the beach. Not only is it legal to drink on public beaches, it is also 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 about the volume of music or the use of electronic equipment on the beach. The only limitations 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 borders two ghettos (La Perla and Puerto de Tierra). This beach should probably be avoided by non-residents who are unfamiliar with Puerto Rican culture.
Next to the Caribe Hilton there is a lagoon and a beach very popular with the locals. Since the area has restrooms, ample parking, and easy road access, this beach (Escambrón) 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 remoteness and proximity to the Puerto de Tierra ghetto.
Condado has several noteworthy beaches. First 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 known for its kayaking, rowing and 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 boardwalk that partially surrounds the beach front. Chairs are available and on Sundays the adjacent Ventana del Mar festivals add excitement to the area. Caution: the 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 must be exercised due to the frequent swells. This beach is also noted for its surfers and bodyboarders due to the higher than normal waves.
The gay beach in front of Oceano and Atlantic Beach Hotel is just past 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 outcrops. There is a surf area directly behind the Marriott, but surfers must surf the rocks to enjoy the waves. Condado beaches are completely safe during the day and generally very safe at night.
The beaches of Ocean Park are the best in the city of San Juan. The beach begins at the outcrop behind Presby Hospital, and after 30 meters of hidden rocky obstacles, it softens to a calm and typically tropical beach. The mile-long beachfront has volleyball nets, palm trees, street vendors (ice cream, beer, ‘alcapurrias’), and gentle waves. The area east of Presby Hospital is a favorite with other surfers. The beaches of Ocean Park are completely safe during the day, caution should be exercised at night due to the lack of lighting and foot traffic.
Situated 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 streetcar, Ultimo Trolley has ample parking and street vendors. The adjacent gazebo and sports field host 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 beach front is lined with luxury resorts and hotels. The area is known for its calm waves and its 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 those who love luxury.
San Juan is special since it is one of the few cosmopolitan cities in the world that can boast of having a tropical beach. San Juan has three miles of pristine tropical beaches that are completely public. The variety of beaches provides opportunities for everyone from children to adrenaline lovers.