Welcome to Local Hype, a travel diary where we compile a curated list of our “Hometown Heroes” for you to enjoy. Featuring the buzziest hotels, restaurants and local treasures that we’ve experienced for ourselves — suggested by the city’s locals.
Next stop, Puerto Rico.
There’s nothing quite like the island of Puerto Rico. Packed with the best sights, eats and above all culture. Discover Puerto Rico invited us to experience Borikén the right way and with the music culture of the island, it’s safe to say it was a trip to remember.
Casita Miramar was by far the greatest experience we had on the island. Their Google and Yelp reviews alone tell you what you need to know: five star reviews that never stop praising their homey dishes and insanely kind staff. The location feels as if you are in a grandmother’s home in the best way, with old pictures of Puerto Rico scattered around and an incredibly friendly staff that immediately felt like family. Upon sitting, you are immediately met with Bacalaitos and Vianda Soup from the house which is such a special touch and makes you feel like a queen considering how good the sides are. The drunken chicken was the star of the show and made the entire table miss their abuelita. Another notable mention was the Tres Leches which was re-ordered a few times alongside a cafecito to end the perfect meal. Overall, Casita Miramar was 10/10 and felt like Christmas dinner!
It’s no shock that Chef Jose Santaella completely ate with his San Juan restaurant. The Puerto Rican chef opened Santaella by the iconic La Placita and created a moody and incredibly romantic staple. The dishes provide a tropical and elevated touch to Puerto Rican classics. Our favorite dishes were the Tacos de Tartar and the Crudo, not to mention the cocktails that we’re the talk of the town. The restaurant is perfect for a date night, before walking over to La Placita to dance the night away.
Located in the heart of Condado, Mario Pagán Restaurant is a perfect taste of the island with an innovative twist. Chef Mario Pagan is one of the top chefs on the island and is known to incorporate local ingredients and his diverse background into all of his restaurants. The restaurant offers the most delicious seafood bites, but the Angus Beef Tenderloin Filler was the standout, cooked perfectly and served with fried Apio Gnocchi, caramelized onions, brocollini and carrots. Another dish worth mentioning is their Chocolate Soufflé, perfectly moist and not too sweet with a beautiful presentation. This restaurant is another perfect option for a date night.
You’ve probably heard of La Factoria, and is it worth the hype? Absolutely! It’s voted number 24 on the Best Bars in North America list by AFAR and honestly it deserves a higher rating. The craft cocktails are delicious and it’s located in a great area for a stroll before or after. If you’re not an alcohol girly, they will make you a mocktail (all you have to do is ask).
Spiga is a must stop every time you’re in town, especially for breakfast. Known for their coffee and baked goods, do not miss the opportunity to try as many options as you can. The cafe is not a sit and be waited on kind of vibe, the shop is very small with only a few seats so, come with the intention to grab and go. Spiga is located in Old San Juan — a great area to shop and explore if you’re looking for somewhere to enjoy your coffee and bite afterwards.
A few steps from Spiga, is Hotel Palacio Provincial. If you want to feel like a princess then this is the hotel for you. Located in the heart of Old San Juan, the hotel is in an iconic early 19th century historic building with 12-foot wooden window doors overlooking the city. The hotel also boasts an outdoor restaurant, bar, pool and a gym on the rooftop. Additionally, the staff are insanely friendly and make sure to make you feel at home. Down the street is Marilyn’s Place which is an iconic Marilyn Monroe themed dive bar — it’s definitely worth checking out.
Inspired by the ’50s, the Don Rafael Hotel and Residences is an open homage to the late Don Rafa and his family. Throughout the hotel you will see art and design moments that beautifully tell his story. Located in Miramar, a neighborhood known for it’s diverse culinary and art scenes, the hotel brings a rich history to the mix. The rooms are cozy, but the common areas were our favorite spaces to hang out. The hotel has an indoor lobby with a bar and a terrace, each providing a completely different feel. In addition, the social club located on the second floor is the perfect area for reading or a game of chess and it has a smoke-friendly patio with a sundeck pool and cabanas. Safe to say, there’s endless possibilities for a good time when staying at Don Rafael Hotel.
One of our favorite discoveries during this trip was El Bastion, a self-managed cultural center dedicated to the advancement of the arts run by Asociación ACirc. The center is located in the Casa Blanca Museum with the support of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture. El Bastion offers artistic workshops for both adults and youth, while also having a library, cafe and many rooms available for community use. We had the pleasure of taking a Salsa Class at El Bastion when we visited, which was so easy and fun! We highly recommend checking out the center next time you’re on the island.
We had the pleasure of going on a Reggaeton & Bomba Tour with CL Tours. The afternoon consisted of a walk where reggaeton and bomba began. We went to various locations where our tour guide broke down reggaeton and bomba’s origins. One of our favorite stops was to Rafael Cepeda’s home. Rafael was recognized as “The Patriarch of the Bomba and Plena,” while his wife and kids are known as pillars in Afro-Puerto Rican folk music. We had the pleasure of meeting his sons who continue to keep his memory alive by continuing to play bomba and plena and allowing people to tour their home which is surrounded by instruments, pictures and awards. In their home, we listened to them play, laugh and we learned so about their family history. We also visited Daddy Yankees childhood home and La Perla, a historic neighborhood in Old San Juan, known for its historic footprint in music events, videos and culture.
We went on a tour of Ponce Downtown & Cayey with Isla Caribe to explore the spot known as “the most Puerto Rican city.” We wondered the streets and learned about the iconic events that made the city so special. We went to Centro Comunal y Cultural del Barrio San Antón de Ponce where we played the instruments that shaped Puerto Rican music and met Carlos Vélez, Otoniel Vélez Franceschi and Luis Antonio DeLeón Tricoche. Another memorable stop was the Casa de la Música en Cayey where we experienced vinyls, CDs and players from various decades and heard local musicians play together themselves.