Condado chic at San Juan Marriott

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An aerial view of the 525-room San Juan Marriott and Stellaris Casino, located in the city’s Condado district.
An aerial view of the 525-room San Juan Marriott and Stellaris Casino, located in the city’s Condado district.

Anyone fortunate enough to live on the beach knows that it's all about the ocean, which is one reason why Condado in San Juan became the home of numerous wealthy families during the early 20th century. Built as a fashionable streetcar suburb of Old San Juan, the isthmus of Condado attracted Vanderbilts and Roosevelts and high-end hoteliers who hosted luminaries such as Charles Lindbergh, Errol Flynn and the Rat Pack.

Seated on an oceanfront balcony at the San Juan Marriott and Stellaris Casino during my recent visit sponsored by the hotel, it was easy to understand Condado's appeal as the waves crashed onto the shore: no sound but the roar of the ocean and an endless vista of sea-bottle green and cerulean blue merging into the horizon.

The neighborhood's high-rise hotels and residential towers, as well as its reputation as a culinary and nightlife destination, provoke comparisons to South Beach, and yet Condado's chill vibe has a specific Caribbean cool quotient.

A sleek crowd of well-heeled locals and global hipsters fuels the buoyant atmosphere at Cocina Abierta, whose contemporary interior design and a menu of small plates and innovative tapas have made it immensely popular since its 2014 opening. The vibrant food complements the restaurant's spirited ambience, which is heightened by artisanal classic cocktails with a Caribbean twist, such as a beet margarita that was smoky and smooth.

At the San Juan Marriott Resort, guests choose from six dining venues, including the oceanfront La Vista Latin Grill, where the fresh catch includes sea bass, mahi mahi and swordfish, and views take in the beach and the resort's expansive pools, fountains, hot tub and waterslide.

At the hotel's Ocean Club Wellness Center, personal trainer Daisy Alemany will whip you into shape, and perhaps even teach you to dance like Ricky Martin, whom she performed with worldwide as one of the singer's backup dancers.

A junior suite, one of 14 suites at the property.
A junior suite, one of 14 suites at the property.

Those in search of more strenuous activities might consider a Toro Negro rain forest adventure. The full-day odyssey encompasses hiking, waterfall climbs, rappelling and ziplining. Not for the acrophobic or the faint of heart, Toro Negro rewards participants with panoramic vistas, pristine waters, indigenous flora and fauna and enough adrenaline to jump-start your night in Condado.

Various luxury boutiques are clustered along Ashford Avenue, Condado's central boulevard, including Cartier, Gucci and Ferragamo, though the side streets hold equally fascinating finds such as Sage, the steakhouse helmed by Mario Pagan, a contestant on the TV show "Next Iron Chef." Located at the Olive Boutique Hotel, Pagan's elegantly rustic restaurant is a carnivore's dream with a menu that features marrow on the bone as well as a wagyu tomahawk for two and a tropical twist on a classic: coconut baked Alaska.

Back at the San Juan Marriott, where the lobby decor features coral designs and artworks by local artists and sculptors, the hotel's Red Coral Lounge becomes the center of Condado nightlife with a nine-piece salsa band and a friendly crowd more than happy to offer instruction on the intricacies of Puerto Rican dance.

When the rosy-fingered dawn beckons, consider a bike ride into Old San Juan, just a couple of miles away. Rent the Bicycle offers guided tours that include the Capitol, Castillo San Cristobal, Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Raices Fountain.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972, Old San Juan is a pastel-colored enclave of cobblestone streets and historical buildings that has been newly energized with coffee shops, rum bars and fashionable boutiques. The neighborhood abounds with charming restaurants, one of the best of which is Verde Mesa, which serves delicious organic cuisine in a dining room as lovely as a private home.

Once you're sated and happy, cruise back along the water and park yourself on the San Juan Marriott's beach, where you'll recognize anew the simple beauties of a Condado life.

Rates begin at $189 per night, double. Visit www.marriott.com.

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