Street art from many of the world’s top artists color Santurce’s buildings. (Photo: Luis Marin)
A 15-minute drive from Old San Juan lies the neighborhood of Santurce, reminiscent of New York City’s Greenwich Village in the 60s — a bubbling cauldron of creativity. But Santurce wasn’t always a hotbed for the arts. Much like the revitalizations of Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, downtown Los Angeles or Detroit’s North Corktown area, Santurce only recently began “fixing its broken windows.”
Roughly 15 years ago — attracted by low rents due to the area’s rundown buildings — artists started to move in to the neighborhood. Slowly, new businesses and museums followed. Today, the neighborhood is one of the largest arts districts in the Caribbean.
In the thick of Santurce’s resurgence you’ll find Calle Loiza, coined San Juan’s “Avenue of the Arts.” Lined with trendy cafés, galleries and restaurants, Loiza stretches between the tourist-filled neighborhoods of Condado and Isla Verde. In recent years, the street earned acclaim as one of North America’s hotbeds of street art — which you’ll see coloring buildings and storefronts.
Keep an eye out for the work of famous street artists, such as La Pandilla, Defy, Rey X and Pun18. The neighborhood’s annual three-day art festival, Santurce Es Ley (Santurce is Law), has played a crucial role in bridging the gap between emerging local artists and the international arts community. Held each March, the fair shines the spotlight on galleries, artist studio tours, pop-up galleries, live mural-painting demonstrations and music.
A visit to Santurce is a vibrant encounter unlike any other experience in San Juan.
Ready for the adventure? Let’s go:
A former hospital built in the 1920s, this sleek and sophisticated 130,000-square-foot space is more than a typical museum. In addition to exhibiting antiquities and international and Puerto Rican art, MAPR hosts concerts and workshops regularly. Don’t miss a stop at the museum’s garden, a peaceful respite dotted with intriguing sculptures. Before leaving pop into the museum’s gift shop to look for unique souvenirs.
Located on Ponce de Leon in Santurce, Luis A. Ferré Performing Arts Center is the island’s premier destination for performing art. There are four major theaters; you can attend ballets, plays, operas and concerts. Also home to the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra, CBA hosts the Festival Casals (classical music festival) annually in February.
Housed in a 1918 schoolhouse with Georgian-style architecture, this two-story museum is dedicated to championing Latin American and Caribbean artists. Each former classroom feature an exhibit based on a theme, from graffiti to graphics.
Contemporary Art Galleries
This gallery is a major player in Santurce’s Art District, representing the work of Puerto Rican artists in an array of mediums, from sculpture to graffiti.
Recognizable by its rainbow-colored garage doors, this gallery is a by-appointment exhibition space showcasing the private collection of Diana and Moisés Berezdivin. The Berezdivins, originally from Cuba, are avid art collectors and substantial supporters of the island’s visual arts.
This gallery, which moved from a lime-green historical mansion into a sleek 1930s warehouse space in 2015, has a strong presence in international art fairs and features an impressive roster of both international and local artists.
Founded by mixed-media artist Angel Alexis Bousquet, C787 has been a central force in fostering Santurce’s art resurgence. Since its opening in 2010 the gallery has showcased exhibitions of boundary-pushing art, both in the music and visual spectrums, featuring more than 200 artists.
Where to Eat
One of the first restaurants to open on the Loiza strip, this artsy café takes care of both your hunger and retail needs. Sit down at a repurposed antique sewing table and order up a curry bowl. After your meal, peruse two floors filled with artisan wares — from clothing to interior décor.
Owned by chef Mario Ormaza, who studied with acclaimed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, this casual eatery serves up quick and easy bites, such as tacos, empanadas and ceviche. For the best seats, try to grab a table outside on the wooden deck.
Tucked into a pink house near Plaza del Mercado (away from Calle Loiza), this restaurant from James Beard award–nominated celebrity chef Jose Enrique is a must-visit for foodies. Reservations are not accepted, so be prepared for a line. But it’s worth the wait. Expect an elevated take on Puerto Rican comfort food, like crab salad served in plantain fritter cups, traditional pork sausage with house-made hot sauce, and egg-topped steak.