Puerto Rico makes a good midwinter break from Seattle’s grey and rain. And once you’ve settled in to your San Juan hotel, follow the city’s population to nearby Los Pinones where on weekends and holidays, the Sanjuaneros plant their beach umbrellas to enjoy the calm seas of a natural breakwater and the many kiosks serving up their favorite fried fingerfoods.
The village itself makes a stark contrast to the high-rises of San Juan, though it’s less than twenty minutes away. Outdoor restaurants scatter themselves between run-down one-story homes and the stalls of souvenir vendors. But the real treat begins with a boardwalk beside the sea that extends a curving three miles past quiet beaches and forests of low spindly trees with branches bearing long fringes of thin-needled pines, punctuated by brown termite nests and secretive birds. Over and over, you’ll hear the calls of the Puerto Rican tiny vireo; if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of its white breast and light yellow belly.
For those who don’t feel like walking, there are bicycles to rent where the boardwalk begins. For everyone, there are viewpoints where the blue of the sky seamlessly meets the horizontal line of green sea.
At the boardwalk’s halfway point, a natural breakwater turns the ocean into waters as calm as a swimming pool, where you can leisurely float or explore the tide pools that spring up on the eroded volcanic ridges. Colonies of black and white patterned snails sleep peacefully, and tiny fiddler crabs rush to steal the shells before you can pluck them. Sea urchin spines erupt from niches between the rocks where tiger-striped fish swarm.
At nearby kiosks, vendors offer local sinfully delicious snacks such as pionones, a plaintain stuffed with beef, then lightly coated with a sort of liquid dough and deep fried until crispy. There is also the flaky pastry of pastelillos or the dumpling-like alcapurrias, with fillings of shrimp, crab or meat.
By late afternoon, the winds that never truly die in San Juan begin to whirl again, and everybody packs up, folding beach chairs, replacing the lids on styrofoam ice chests. You can join them beside the road’s bus stop, a day’s escapee from the tourist beaches, just one of the locals heading home.
Getting there from San Juan: By car, take Avenida Isla Verde east to Los Pinones. By bus, take C43 just in front of the Hampton Court Inn on Avenida Isla Verde in the neighborhood called Isla Verde.
Seattle to San Juan: Fares, of course, vary radically. Right now, US Airways and American Airlines have the best prices, just under $500 roundtrip. Search your favorite sites for the best deals.