The Murals of Santurce
On a recent trip to San Juan, the Santurce murals were on my must-see list, and they didn’t disappoint! The murals are extensive, and wandering the neighborhood is the perfect way to spend an afternoon (see the bottom of this post for a couple food recommendations in the area).
How to Visit the Santurce Murals
First off, yes, Santurce is safe, and no, you don’t need to book a tour to find the murals. Ubers in San Juan are surprisingly cheap, and there’s plenty of street parking available if you’ve rented a car.
The murals are concentrated around Calle Cerra in Santurce. This is the street that both of my nearby food recommendations (at the bottom of this post) are on as well, so you could easily start at one of those to orient yourself and explore from there.
We found the Uber drivers in San Juan to be incredibly friendly and helpful. If you’re taking an Uber to Santurce, don’t be afraid to ask your driver questions about what not to miss in the area. San Juan is incredibly photogenic, colorful Cuba vibes abound, and this is a fantastic place to practice your travel photography.
Google Maps street view is also useful to get a sense of the neighborhood or explore without leaving home. I browsed a bit and found this capture of artists painting the fallen angel a couple photos down!
Santurce es Ley and How the Murals Came to Be
Santurce es Ley (Santurce is law) started as a yearly summer art and music festival in 2010. The intent was to revitalize the abandoned and rundown area with the murals.
While not exactly gentrified at this point (and no doubt suffering setbacks from Hurricane Maria), the neighborhood has made great strides. The presence of a mural often increases the desirability –and Instagrammability!– of a building. So businesses generally avoid altering the murals as they know it’s part of the appeal.
Santurce es Ley became so popular that it spread beyond Santurce, jumping across the island to Ponce for the yearly festival as well as a stint in Chicago, before making its way back to Santurce most recently in December of 2018. The photo above shows the aftermath of the most recent festival, during which participants built a functioning mini roller coaster! This spot is at the corner of Calle Cera and Calle Elisa Cerra.
While many murals are painted on abandoned buildings, there is a structure to the project. Murals can only be painted during the official events (and you’ll occasionally see unfinished murals that weren’t completed in the timeframe). During that time, some of the older murals are painted over, creating a constantly changing urban landscape.
I loved the story behind these two murals: the artist researches and paints the house (or houses) that originally stood on that lot.
Where to Eat in Santurce
Santurce is a diverse neighborhood! Despite the rundown appearances and some still-abandoned buildings, you’ll find quite a range of restaurants and cafes.
Within walking distance of the murals, there are two spots I’d recommend eating at:
El Patio De Solé is a family restaurant (literally in the owner’s family home) with tons of character and fantastic food. We loved eating on the beautiful patio, and couldn’t stop snapping photos of all the cool details.
Kudough’s Donuts has the coolest donut display I’ve ever seen, and their donuts are amazing. Make sure to try the vegan passionfruit donut! I admit I tend to avoid vegan foods, but it was possibly the best of all the donuts we tried.
A little further away from the murals, but still a short drive, there’s a couple more spots we enjoyed:
Lote 23 (on the left), the famous food truck court, is a fun experience and worth a stop. You’ll find everything from Puerto Rican food to poke bowls and fried chicken, with a very relaxed vibe. They sometimes have live music in the evenings, so if you don’t make it there during the day it’s worth checking out scheduled events on their social media.
La Casita Blanca is so cute and kitschy it feels like it could be just another tourist trap. But it was full of locals when we visited and the home-style Puerto Rican food was delicious, with generous portions and friendly service.