Exploring the family friendly side of San Juan

Mar 22, 22
Exploring the family friendly side of San Juan

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Year-round sunshine, scenic beaches and an array of outdoor activities make San Juan an ideal locale for a family vacation.

The city's myriad entertainment options can quickly fill up a family's agenda, and modernized infrastructure and facilities have simplified moving about with children. For parents contemplating a family vacation, consider these family-friendly activities in San Juan.

A group of children play on the grounds of Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a 16th-century fortress located in San Juan, Puerto Rico © T Photography / Shutterstock
Castillo San Felipe del Morro's ample space makes it an ideal location to spend an afternoon with children © T Photography / Shutterstock

Exploring Old San Juan

The first stop should be colonial Old San Juan, where there’s plenty to explore. The maze of cobblestoned streets are best navigated on foot. Join a walking tour at the visitor’s center at Para La Naturaleza and discover how mother nature influenced the construction of the fortified city.

The two imposing castle-like forts – Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Fuerte San Cristobal – provide the perfect backdrop to play Pirates of the Caribbean among the tunnels, dungeons and cannons. Kids 15 and under enter for free.

Outside the forts, on the sprawling El Morro Castle lawns, visitors of all ages can channel their inner Mary Poppins and go fly a kite. Chiringas (kites) are available for purchase from a local vendor, as are piraguas, the local version of shaved ice which come in a variety of tropical flavors like coconut, guava, pineapple or soursop.

In the southwestern section of the islet, nestled atop the ancient city walls, is a place where, so the joke goes, Puerto Rican parents build up their children’s immune system — the aptly named Parque de las Palomas (Pigeon Park). It’s a space where children can run amok as they chase after the many pigeons that call the park their home. Choose to feed the pigeons with bird seed sold at the park entrance or take a break on a park bench and admire the spectacular view of San Juan Bay as cruise ships and other vessels navigate its waters.  

Children run a race at Luis Muñoz Rivera Park in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico © Al Bello/Getty Images for Lumix
Luis Muñoz Rivera Park provides wide-open green spaces for families to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city © Al Bello/Getty Images for Lumix

Parks Galore

Often overlooked in favor of the beaches, San Juan’s parks provide a natural oasis, as well as a sand-free option for families. Admission to the parks is free.  

Luis Muñoz Marín Park is a modern-day recreational complex, complete with an aquatic park, amphitheater, dog park and play areas divided by age. One is specifically designed for children with special needs. There’s plenty of shade and grassy areas perfect for a family picnic. With a similar name but a very distinct style, the romantic Luis Muñoz Rivera Park’s 27 acres feature a traditional playground, food vendors, meandering gardens, decorative fountains, gazebos, climbing ivy, trellises and picnic areas dispersed among the shrubs and trees.

Group of people are canoeing at sunset at Condado Lagoon in San Juan © Dennis van de Water / Shutterstock
Condado Lagoon offers families a chance to kayak, paddleboard or simply enjoy the surf © Dennis van de Water / Shutterstock

Sand and Surf

San Juan’s numerous beaches afford ample opportunity to build sandcastles, walk along the shore or rent boogie boards to splash around in the surf. A favorite for families is Balneario Escambrón Beach, whose clean restrooms, outdoor showers, calm waters and lifeguards (a rarity in Puerto Rico) make a family day at the beach a breeze. The waves breakers provide a protected "kiddie" pool perfect for safe swimming and exploring.

Another popular option is the Condado Lagoon, located just west of the Dos Hermanos bridge at the end of the trendy Ashford Avenue. Here families can spend a morning or afternoon jumping on inflatable water slides at the Aquaglide Park or rent a stand-up paddleboard and explore further into the lagoon. While you're “walking on water” on a paddleboard, if you’re lucky, you may even see a spotted stingray, turtle or manatee swim by.

Just outside San Juan

Although technically located outside of San Juan, these options are tons of fun and only a 15-minute car ride from the capital city.

The oceanfront Aquasol Water Park in Isla Verde has a pirate ship complete with water cannons and towers. There are also slides and pools, characteristic of most water parks. Unlike other water parks however, families can enjoy spectacular views of the Balneario de Carolina Beach.

Not far from Aquasol is the Museo del Niño de Carolina (Children’s Museum in Carolina). The interactive museum has over 100 bilingual exhibits where visitors of all ages can play, explore and learn.  There is a special play area for babies and toddlers, a massive volcano at the museum’s core that periodically "erupts," an explorable real-life airplane, and go-karts.  

The Parque Forestal La Marquesa is one of the city’s green lungs. With over 600 acres, the eco-park offers safe and fun adventures. You can ride the trolley, soar above the canopy on a funicular, climb observation towers, zipline, hike or stroll through the butterfly exhibit and the exotic bird aviary.

Image of a mango paleta (popsicle) © Mikol Hoffman / Lonely Planet
A freshly made mango paleta (popsicle) from Señor Paleta is a refreshing treat © Mikol Hoffman / Lonely Planet

Time to eat

From brunch to bistros, pizza to Mexican, fine dining to diners, San Juan offers a variety of options for everyone’s palate. And for those picky eaters, there’s always a San Juan staple — arroz con habichuelas (rice and beans).

For a unique lunch, stop at the brightly colored Casa Cortés Chocobar, where everything is made with chocolate. Their traditional hot chocolate, served with cheddar cheese, has reached iconic status across the island and is not to be missed. And don’t forget the chocolate grilled cheese which will melt any heart, young or old.

And if that’s not enough to satisfy your sweet tooth, head over to any of Señor Paleta’s many locations for an artisanal paleta, or popsicle, made fresh from fresh fruits, nuts and other more indulgent flavors. At the original Old San Juan location, there’s usually quite a line but the refreshing treat is worth it.

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