shopping

Sunshine & Salsa in San Juan

The tropical side of San Juan Puerto Rico

The tropical side of San Juan Puerto Rico

The capital city of Puerto Rico, San Juan, is more than just a port of call on your Caribbean cruise or a layover on your way to the BVIs. It is a fun place to experience some culture--a mix between European (from its history with Spain) and latin (from its location)--along with the usual sun and sea you get with a Caribbean vacation. And perhaps the best part is that it is a direct flight from several major cities on the east coast making it very convenient. In just about 4 hours you can be transported from the 30-degree snowy weather in Boston to the salsa club, mojito in hand. It is these two things--culture & convenience--that give San Juan an advantage in my book. Here are my reccos on what to see/do/eat/drink and where you should call home on this island.

 

WHERE TO STAY

San Juan has an old, historical center where most of the action (and culture) is however there are not many hotels to choose from in this area and it is sans sand. To hit the beach, you must venture outside of the old city walls to areas like Condado or Isla Verde. If you want the nicest beaches in the area, appreciate being close to the airport and don't plan on spending much time in Old San Juan then Isla Verde fits your bill. But if you want the best of both worlds--having a (small) beach AND being close to the cultural city center--then Condado is the better choice.

Condado is located about 10-15 min by car from Old San Juan and has a good selection of hotels and resorts to choose from. I had the pleasure of staying at the Condado Vanderbilt, a 5-star hotel that opened in a historical mansion in December 2014, and highly recommend this to anyone who can afford it. Rooms during high season can be pricey but sites like Expedia often offer discounts and recently I've seen rooms going for less than $300/nt (the Zika effect maybe?). This luxurious hotel boasts 3 pools with an oceanview (perfect for enjoying your piña colada), glasses of champagne upon check-in, one of the best spas on the island (Turkish hammam anyone?) and comfy rooms with gorgeous marble bathrooms. It is located on a small, rocky beach but guests have access to the public beach next door or can use the amenities at the La Concha hotel also located next door. (Condado Vanderbilt Hotel, 1055 Ashford Ave. San Juan)

Views from the lobby of the Condado Vanderbilt hotel 

Views from the lobby of the Condado Vanderbilt hotel 

View from our room overlooking the Condado coastline
View from our room overlooking the Condado coastline
The terrace at the Condado Vanderbilt hotel 

The terrace at the Condado Vanderbilt hotel 

My favorite of the 3 pools at the Condado Vanderbilt 

My favorite of the 3 pools at the Condado Vanderbilt 

WHAT TO DO

  1. Explore Old San Juan - The old city is a must-see with its cobblestone streets, colorful buildings and historical fortresses. Get as far away from the cruise ships as possible to truly experience the charm this place has to offer (the area around Calle Sol, Calle San Sebastián, Calle Luna, and Calle del Cristo is wonderful) and enjoy spectacular views from Castillo San Cristóbal. Oh and of course, no trip is complete without getting a custom-made Panama Hat from Ole Curiosidades! (105 Calle de La Fortaleza San Juan)
  2. Visit El Yunque Rainforest - For a little taste of nature, make the 45-minute trek out to the tropical rainforest, the only one of its kind in the U.S. There are many trails for hiking, waterfalls for swimming, or for a little adrenaline rush rent an ATV or zipline through the treetops. (El Yunque Portal Visitor Center, PR-191, Río Grande)
  3. Go Salsa Dancing - To really get a taste for some Puerto Rican spice, get those hips moving at Nuyorican Cafe in Old San Juan and experience some salsa music. Don't worry, a little liquid courage is acceptable. (312 Calle San Francisco, San Juan)
  4. Charter a boat - Whether you prefer hoisting the sails or living the lux life there are several ways to hit the high seas. Options include a private luxury yacht charter around San Juan Bay with Charters Puerto Rico and a group catamaran & snorkel tour aboard the Spread Eagle II to the picturesque islands off the shores of Fajardo in northeastern Puerto Rico.
  5. Experience a natural wonder - Take a kayak through the Laguna Grande bioluminescent bay located off the shores of Fajardo. The bright blue glow emanating from the water at night is worth the hour drive from San Juan.
Colorful buildings along Calle Luna in Old San Juan

Colorful buildings along Calle Luna in Old San Juan

Check out those terraces...so pretty! 

Check out those terraces...so pretty! 

Castillo San Cristóbal, one of many fortresses protecting Old San Juan 

Castillo San Cristóbal, one of many fortresses protecting Old San Juan 

Shopping for Panama hats at Ole Curiosidades. So many ribbon options! 

Shopping for Panama hats at Ole Curiosidades. So many ribbon options! 

WHERE TO EAT

  1. Marmalade - The best of the best that Old San Juan has to offer so don't expect to have a cheap meal here but do expect it to be life-changing. Mediterranean meets Caribbean cuisine using the freshest ingredients. Chef's tasting menus available for a really special occasion. Reservations are a must. (317 Calle Fortaleza, San Juan)
  2. Santaella - One of the most-sought after tables on the island is at this hip, chill restaurant located in the lively Santurce neighborhood. Cuisine is Puerto rican using fresh, local ingredients and the craft cocktails are creative and fun. Reservations are a must. (219 Calle Canals, San Juan)
  3. Aguaviva - Cute little place in Old San Juan with yummy seafood. Order the ceviche sampler with tostones (fried green plantains) and some pineapple mojitos. Que delicioso! Reservations recommended. (364 Calle Fortaleza, San Juan)
  4. Pirilo - Great for a casual night of pizza and beer. Fun atmosphere. Also in Old San Juan. Does not accept reservations. (207 Calle Tanca, San Juan)
  5. Oceano - This is the place for upscale Caribbean dining in a modern, beachfront mansion located in Condado. Snag a table outside for lunch with a view or head indoors for dinner in a trendy, sleek atmosphere. Reservations recommended. (2 Calle Vendig, Condado)

 

WHERE TO DRINK

  1. La Factoria - Delicious craft cocktails in a hip, rustic speakeasy (yes, there are hidden bars in the back!) with great music in Old San Juan. Ambiance gets A++. Order the Lavender Mule and if you're lucky it will be served in a stainless steel mug with a lavender sprig. Best drink all week. (148 Calle San Sebastián, San Juan)
  2. The Mezzanine at St. Germain - Another great craft cocktail bar in Old San Juan that has a more vintage, lounge-like, living room feel to it. This is the place to go if you want a little history with your mojito. Turns out, this place used to be the headquarters for the Puerto Rican nationalist party. (156 Calle Sol, 2nd Floor, San Juan)
  3. La Taberna Lupulo - If you need a rest from all the rum, head to this bar in Old San Juan for a lengthy craft beer list served with some proper 80s tunes to delight the ears. (151 Calle San Sebastián, San Juan)
  4. La Barrachina - The piña colada originates from Puerto Rico and this place in Old San Juan is where it all started. There is a nice outdoor patio to enjoy your creamy coconut and pineapple creation. (104 Calle Fortaleza, San Juan)
  5. Caribar - Located at the waterfront Caribe Hilton hotel in Condado, this place also claims to be where the piña colada was invented. Give both places a try and see for yourself which one does it best. (1 Calle San Gerónimo, San Juan)

 

So the next time you're looking to plan a trip to the Caribbean, consider San Juan. The quick, direct flights make it a great destination for a long weekend or you have more time, spend half of your week in San Juan and the other visiting Puerto Rico's gorgeous islands of Vieques and Culebra. Buen viaje!

Hola from Old San Juan! 

Hola from Old San Juan! 

An old lookout point at the fortress in Old San Juan 

An old lookout point at the fortress in Old San Juan 

View from the infinity pool at the Condado Vanderbilt hotel 

View from the infinity pool at the Condado Vanderbilt hotel 

Cocktails poolside. Cheers! 

Cocktails poolside. Cheers! 

Ireland Day 2: Cork & Kinsale

River Lee, Cork City Ireland
River Lee, Cork City Ireland

I feel like Rick Steves saying this, but thanks for joining! For day 2 of the Ireland adventure, we're headed south to County Cork. Cork city is just shy of about 3 hours from Galway (which, incase you missed it, I covered with County Clare in my last post). It was definitely the largest distance we had to cover on our trip so we did it as efficiently as possible and took the major highways. We chose to see the city of Cork and the little seaside town of Kinsale, which I HIGHLY recommend. Here are the highlights:

CORK

Located on an island in the River Lee, the city of Cork is a lively college town with a youthful vibe. Strolling the major roads I could have sworn I was in an English city by glancing at the shops and buildings (a mini London perhaps), but once I tucked away down some smaller streets and alleys I felt back in Ireland again. The city was decorated for Christmas which made for a festive vibe. It was fun to explore and was a nice city but was not my favorite stop just because the culture didn't feel as rich as other places we visited and I tend to enjoy the smaller towns more than the bigger cities. But to be fair, we did not spend a lot of time here.

SEE/DO

English Market - A large, enclosed market loaded with stalls selling everything from the local catch of the day to fresh produce to baked goods. I'm a sucker for a good food market because you get a taste for local culture so naturally I loved strolling this place. (Princes St)

Fish at English Market Cork
Fish at English Market Cork

Stretch Your Legs - Cork is a wonderful city for walking whether it's along the river banks or down the pedestrian-only streets. In particular, the Paul Street/Emmett Place area, Oliver Plunkett Street and surrounding side streets give you a good feel for the city and are loaded with pubs, shops and restaurants.

Jessica's shop Cork City Ireland
Jessica's shop Cork City Ireland
Alley in Cork City Ireland
Alley in Cork City Ireland

Jameson Distillery - Technically in nearby Midleton, this is mecca for whiskey fans. Take a tour with a tasting at the end or skip the tour altogether and opt for the premium whiskey tasting in which you get to sample some rare reserves. (Old Distillery Walk, Midleton)

Blarney Castle - Located about 15 minutes outside of Cork city, this is the home of the famous Blarney Stone. We decided to skip this because Ireland is full of castles that we were going to see and I really didn't care to kiss a stone that thousands of others laid their lips on! (Blarney)

EAT/DRINK

Farmgate Cafe - Located upstairs in the English Market, this delightful eatery serves up fresh, local food sourced from the market below. Choose a seat along the balcony counter for great people watching. (The English Market, Princes St)

Franciscan Well Brewery & Brewpub - A craft beer delight, this place brews its own beer and has a beer garden for when the weather is nice. (14 North Mall)

STAY

Hayfield Manor - Located about a mile from the city center and tucked away down a residential street, this lovely 5-star boutique hotel is worth staying slightly outside the city for. It was like we were pulling up to an old mansion in the country. The Christmas decorations and fireplace in the lobby were lovely. Rates from 150eur/nt. (Perrott Ave)

Hayfield Manor Cork City Ireland
Hayfield Manor Cork City Ireland

Imperial Hotel - This 4-star hotel is a good option if you prefer to stay in the city center. Rates from 100eur/nt. (South Mall)

KINSALE

Located on the coast about 30 minutes south of Cork, is the adorable, charming, little seaside town of Kinsale. The buildings are so colorful and the streets super quaint. We enjoyed how quiet it was when we were there but in the summer it can get pretty packed with tourists, but I don't blame everyone because this town is not to be missed.

SEE/DO

Main Street - The entire town is walkable in 15 minutes or less but be sure to stroll this narrow street which is loaded with cute shops, pubs, and restaurants.

Kinsale Ireland Main Street
Kinsale Ireland Main Street
Kinsale Pub Ireland
Kinsale Pub Ireland
Colorful Kinsale Ireland
Colorful Kinsale Ireland

Market Square - Marked by a museum with an anchor leaning up against its building is this tiny little square full of charm, color and cuteness.

The Kinsale Courthouse and Museum
The Kinsale Courthouse and Museum

EAT/DRINK

Fishy Fishy - Quality seafood restaurant serving up delicious local fare in an upscale setting by the waterfront. The oysters from nearby Oysterhaven were some of the best we've ever tasted and perhaps the oyster world's best kept secret. This is one of the most well-known and highest-regarded restaurants in all of Ireland. Reservations required. (Crowley's Quay)

The Folk House Bar - Perhaps one of my favorite watering holes we visited on the entire trip, this pub had an impressive list of whiskey and craft brews and had a comfy leather couch by the cozy, warm fire. It was more than easy to pass the time here! Also a good spot for live music. Tip: Try anything by Blacks of Kinsale for a taste of what's local. And delicious.(Guardwell)

Folk House Bar Kinsale Ireland
Folk House Bar Kinsale Ireland

So, to summarize. Kinsale-- get there, you'll love it. It's hard not to. Next time I'd like to stay overnight there. Cork-- a college town but good to experience if you're in this part of Ireland. Next up: day 3 in County Kerry, including some beautiful landscapes in the Beara Peninsula, loads of nature in the Killarney National Park & pub crawling the town of Killarney. Stay tuned and in the words of Rick Steves, "keep on traveling."

10 Gifts for the Jetsetter

So, it's that time of year again and you have someone on your holiday shopping list that fancies a trip here and there. You're wondering what to get them because socks or perfume just won't cut it again this year. Well, here are some solid gift ideas for the travel lover in your life that they will be sure to thank you for. (Ahem, husband take note...)

 

For the Accessorizer

Leather Passport Case - There's nothing like traveling in style and a passport case adds just the right bit of flair. Plus, ones like these from Mark & Graham can hold your boarding pass, come in all sorts of colors, and are monogrammable. Not looking to splurge? J Crew Factory has some cute ones that are budget-friendly and get the job done all the same.

 

For the Coffee or Tea Drinker

City Vignette Mug - These mugs from Anthropologie have the cutest little details and come in various cities like Rome, Paris, London and more. Gift just one, their favorite city of course, or gift the entire set. The choice is yours and either way you can't go wrong.

 

For the Home Decorator

London Embroidered Pillow Cover - This pillow cover from Pottery Barn brings all the symbolic icons of old Londontown to your living room. If London is not the city you're looking for there's also Paris and San Fran to choose from. Pillow insert sold separately.

Travel-themed Ornament - Because it's always fun to add a new ornament to the tree.

 

For the Bartender

City Map Glasses - What better way to enjoy a cocktail than in a glass with your city etched into it! These make both a useful AND a thoughtful gift.

Carry-on Cocktail Kit - We all know those flights that require a strong cocktail. And with this old fashioned kit you don't have to settle for whiskey and ginger. Makes a cute stocking stuffer too!

 

For the Gadget Holder

Roll-up Travel Charger - Charge multiple devices on the go and minimize clutter with this guy from surprisingly Restoration Hardware. Who knew they sold anything but gorgeous furniture?

Global Universal Charger Kit - With 6 interchangeable tips, there isn't a country you won't be able to plug into.

 

For the Special Mister

Custom Map Cufflinks - Add a memorable or favorite location to your man's outfit. Wedding or honeymoon location perhaps? The location of your first home together? Here's your chance to get creative and thoughtful!

 

For the Special Lady

Custom Map Pendant - I love these pieces by A.Jaffe. What a great way to cherish a favorite destination and a diamond marks the spot of a special memory. So cute!

 

Finally, you could always opt instead for a blanket scarf, a new bag or piece of luggage, some noise-canceling headphones, or a toiletry case filled with travel-size goodies. Those always make great gifts but aren't these way more fun?! Happy shopping ;)

Essential Carry-On Items

We all know how uncomfortable flying can be, especially on a long flight. Well, unless you are one of the lucky few sitting in first/business class which I think everyone should try once in their life. On an international flight with flatbeds. It will spoil you forever though. ANYWAY, here's what I like to pack in my carry-on to make flying a little bit more tolerable and to increase my chances of arriving feeling refreshed instead of like death. I encourage you to try any/all of these to enhance your travel experience.

Kiehl's In-flight Refreshing Facial Mist - This stuff is a god-send and perfect for when you're feeling moisture-deprived. The essential oils smell lovely and help soothe the skin in a seriously dehydrating cabin. Comes in a travel size bottle too, which is TSA-compliant, perfect.

L'Occitane Shea Butter Hand Cream - Another saving grace to combat the dryness in the cabin, this amazing hand cream has a very gentle scent so you don't annoy your neighbors, is extremely moisturizing and doesn't leave your hands feeling greasy. It's also my go-to for the winter.

Clorox Disinfecting Wipes To-Go - I'm a bit of a germophobe and planes are pretty disgusting. Having a travel pack of these wipes comes in handy for wiping down the tray table, armrests, seatbelt, window shade, touchscreens, you name it. I might look a little crazy wiping everything down but who likes to be sick on vacation?

Emergen-C Super Orange Packets - On a red-eye flight when everyone is drinking their orange juice with breakfast I opt for this instead. You'll need the extra vitamins after being on a long plane ride with little or no sleep and your coughing neighbor next to you.

Beats Noise-Canceling Headphones - Trust me, these make all the difference and you can hear your TV or music selections without having to crank the volume as high as it will go. Plus, they have the amazing ability to make screaming children become silent. Wow!

Inflatable Neck Pillow - The inflatable feature is key for taking up minimal space in your carry-on. A pillow like this one will protect your head no matter the position, even those forward head bobs we all know too well.

Fuzzy Slipper Socks - Our feet tend to swell on flights due to sitting for long periods of time leading us to feel constricted in shoes. These socks are soft and keep your feet warm so you can take off your shoes and be comfortable.

Slip-On Shoes - These get a double shout-out this week because not only are they great for walking around your destination as I mentioned in my last post, but they make it easy to take off/put on for TSA purposes as well as on your flight.

Blanket Scarf - I love that oversized scarves like this one from Nordstrom are so in right now because they are perfect for traveling. Use one as a scarf to dress up your outfit (or cover your nose/mouth incase of any weird smells) or over your body for extra warmth in a cold cabin.

Lastly, I just want to mention this Self-Inflating Seat Cushion. It's popped up lately in a few travel blogs that I read and I'm dying to try it. My hips/butt have been getting angry lately on long flights and I find myself doing laps around the cabin and stretches in the bathroom. It's not fun getting old! This seems like a great solution without breaking the bank to fly business and it doesn't take up too much room in a carry-on.

Do you have anything to add to this list? If so, I'd love to hear it!