Effortless relaxation at La Concha resort in San Juan

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The beachfront at La Concha, a Renaissance Resort in San Juan.
The beachfront at La Concha, a Renaissance Resort in San Juan.

If you went by the press materials, you'd expect the sloping, clamshell-shaped Perla restaurant to be the soul of La Concha, a Renaissance Resort.

Indeed, architect Mario Salvatori's eatery, fixed between the San Juan resort's 232 rooms and suites and the ocean, is a natural head turner, with its unique design. But as impressive as Perla is, La Concha offers the rare instance of a hotel's lobby bar offering the perfect encapsulation of why visitors should keep this resort among their first choices in San Juan. 

By day, the airy lobby bar is a comfortable break no matter what your business. Holding a business meeting over drinks? A pair of business suits at the high-top tables sparring over interest rates and returns would barely draw a second glance. A bachelorette party? Right at home for mojitos. Did you underestimate the power of the Caribbean waters, which sucked your bathing suit — and room key — out to unknowable adventures while you're left with nothing but a fluffy beach towel? If you're anything like the dripping guest trying to explain this situation while keeping himself covered the day I checked in, you'll be welcome to a Corona until management can get you access to your clothes. 

As the day wanes and the lights lower, the scene transforms into a posh nightclub so gradually you'd never notice. Not that they want you to notice. 

The resort’s clamshell-shaped Perla restaurant sits on a reflecting pool.
The resort’s clamshell-shaped Perla restaurant sits on a reflecting pool.

It's that sense not simply of relaxation but of pure ease that's emblematic of the entire La Concha experience. Nothing feels forced. There are plenty of resorts that try to keep guests on the grounds with impromptu poolside singalongs and other "spontaneous" group activities, but the staff of La Concha doesn't give the impression they hope for anything deeper than that guests have a good time. 

Not that there aren't ways to keep you occupied. With seven restaurants, two outdoor pools, an adults-only infinity pool and a fitness center, you could easily pass a vacation on the beach, only returning to the confines of La Concha for fresh towels, suntan lotion and rum.

If you associate that tropical liquor with sugary drinks and college-era hangovers, swing by the resort's Delicias Restaurant and ask for a Ron Con Estilo, a house-special cocktail of rum, honey syrup and dashes of smoked chocolate bitters. 

A poolside cabana guestroom at the resort in the Condado neighborhood.
A poolside cabana guestroom at the resort in the Condado neighborhood.

Designed by local architects Osvaldo Toro and Miguel Ferrer, the duo responsible for Puerto Rico's Supreme Court building, the resort design is similarly unaffected and unintrusive, with hand-blown lamps being the most ostentatious part of an understated marble wall design that remains tasteful but not stuffy. It's easy to see the style fitting into public tastes as easily in 2018 as it did when it opened in 1958.

Located in San Juan's Condado neighborhood, the hotel had one of the quicker recoveries in the wake of Hurricane Maria. 

In fact, the neighborhood has been such a reliable draw that partners Vittorio Assaf and Fabio Granato's Serafina Restaurant Group, which runs Serafina restaurant in La Concha, followed up this May with the 96-room Serafina Beach Hotel, the first new resort to open in Puerto Rico since last year's hurricanes. At both resorts, rooms can be upgraded to include beachfront views and patios.

Exploring San Juan

Rums at the ready at the Bacardi distillery, a popular destination for tours near San Juan.
Rums at the ready at the Bacardi distillery, a popular destination for tours near San Juan.

Puerto Rico is home not only to Bacardi's massive rum distillery, now releasing top-shelf versions of the old standard (the 4- and 8-year blends could convert anyone who balks at the idea of sipping the liquor neat), but also local favorites such as Ron del Barrilito, the smoky "Cognac of the Caribbean."

Just beyond La Concha's doors is a small but vibrant shopping area with cocktail bars and clubs around most corners. It's barely a mile to the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico and under three miles to the 14th-century Castillo San Cristobal. 

But if you're in the mood for livelier nightlife, it's a short drive to Old San Juan, a neighborhood of cobblestone streets that remain suspiciously walkable no matter how many cocktails you've had, which is a plus for a bar scene that feels as if it has more mixologists than New York has Duane Reades. 

Try and end up at La Factoria on San Sebastian Street, but don't stop at the front bar. Head to the rear of the pub where locals dance salsa and do your best to cut in. Remember, there's no shame in failing to keep time with the dance floor pros stalking the boards, and you can always get one of the bar's sense-shattering takes on traditional rum cocktails and just enjoy the show. 

Starting rate at La Concha is $219 per night for a king room and $359 per night for a suite. 

For more information, visit www.laconcharesort.com.

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