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Fast Times At Ocean Park

By J.A. del Rosario

September 12, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

At 3 o’clock in the morning, as I sprinted the last 200 yards of a two- mile run in Barbosa Park, the question was still going around in my head. I could not understand why a local magazine had recently neglected San Juan’s Ocean Park beach in a list of Puerto Rico’s top ten beaches.

As an Ocean Park fanatic, the omission was flabbergasting. Late-night jogging is just one of the neighborhood’s fringe benefits. Other features include a beach overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, a score of eateries where you can eat well for a good price, San Juan’s best showcase of good looking people in swimsuits and an eclectic mix of tourists and locals who manage to look cool whether jet-skiing at the beach or washing their underwear at the local laundromat.

"Spending my vacation sequestered in a resort surrounded by several miles of golf greens isn’t my idea of fun," says Michael Weinberg, a 36-year-old graphic artist from New York who has spent the past two weeks sunbathing at Ocean Park during the day and hitting the clubs at night. "It's a laid back place to stay, you don't feel like an ugly tourist."

Ocean Park beach is a stretch of sand between the Condado and Isla Verde beaches, San Juan’s two traditional tourist hubs. But while Condado and Isla Verde have come to be defined by the large hotels that line their oceanfronts, Ocean Park remains the neighborhood beach of a residential community where small guesthouses blend in with the local homes.

If you are looking for a vacation where you do not feel like an outsider, Ocean Park is the place to do it, and here’s how.

A vacation in the Caribbean starts with a blast of salt-air and the lull of the ocean tide. And every guest house in Ocean Park offers just that for less than half the price of the major hotels. At Numero 1 Guest House at the Beach, visitors can sleep steps away from the ocean for as little as $80 a night. And the reduced price doesn’t mean there are no amenities. If you are not in the mood for salty waves, you can take a dip in the hotel pool and have dinner at Pamela’s Caribbean, the hotel restaurant. Pamela’s is pricier than Numero 1’s rates would suggest, but it is well worth it.

Another favorite spot is the Hosteria del Mar guesthouse. This guesthouse features a restaurant with a wooden deck overlooking the beach. In the middle of a hot day at the beach (between the casual drinks, the casual swims and the casual sunbathing) take a walk down the shore until you spot the restaurant’s wooden deck. An order of hummus and an ice cold Medalla (the local beer) should have you ready for a few more hours of fun.

But if you come to Ocean Park, you are coming for the beach. First piece of advice for first timers is to lighten up on the beer coolers and chairs. Unlike other beaches where drinks on the shore and beach chairs are a benefit reserved for hotel guests, in Ocean Park the fringe benefits are for the masses. On a regular weekend, you can rent a beach chair for $5 dollars a day. Likewise, you will not pass more than four minutes without a being offered a drink from one of the many vendors walking the beach throughout the day. From your comfortable chair, you can get a beer, a bottle of water, Gatorade, or even a Mike’s Hard Lemonade – sorry cocktail drinkers, I have not found anyone offering mixed drinks yet.

So there you are, getting a tan with an ice-cold beer in your hand watching two beautiful bronzed strangers playing paddle by the water, thinking how for one moment your life is resembling a beer-ad fantasy, when someone taps your shoulder to offer you a piece of paper with the name of a nightclub.

If you want to put your finger on the pulse of San Juan’s nightlife, put your Fodor’s guide away and spend a Sunday at Ocean Park. By the end of the day you will have more than five invitations to parties in the city’s hottest clubs. This is because the beach on Sunday has become the local nightclub’s favorite marketing ground. Some clubs have gone so far as to install a DJ booth to play dance music throughout the day, right on the beach!

When it comes to lunch, Ocean Park delivers, literally. Pinky’s, a restaurant specializing in sandwiches and wraps delivers right to the beach. You can pick up a menu at the restaurant on Mari Moczo Street , and call in your order. The rest is up to Pinky’s delivery staff, which will scour the beach wearing t-shirts that read " Eat Me!" until they find you. In Pinky’s it doesn’t matter what you order as long as you ask for the homemade vinaigrette dressing. They say it’s organic, I say it’s orgasmic.

If you feel like taking a break from the sun, you can also walk down to Kasalta, a Spanish bakery on McLeary Street, where the cooks serve up some mean, grilled trucker-sized sandwiches with enough meat to make a vegetarian faint.

At the end of the day, not everyone is in the mood to put on leather pants and barhop from club to club. For those who prefer a more down to earth ambiance, they don’t have to go further than Dunbar’s, Ocean Park’s hottest bar and restaurant. Featuring an old wooden shack feel, complete with creaking floor boards, Dunbar’s has become the favorite spot of San Juan’s young and single professionals. The trademark menu items are the hot wings, and the homemade burgers, but there is a lot more to bite into. The menu includes a dim-sum dish with fried sweet plantains and a seared tuna ahí steak with wassabi sauce.

The portions will leave you leaning back on your chair trying to find extra room in your pants. But don’t leave yet. Dunbar’s features live entertainment most nights of the week. The musical fare includes a Brazilian trio with a female vocalist that croons like Astrud Gilberto, and a rock band that performs bad-ass covers of the Rolling Stones, Sly and the Family Stone and other influential rock’n’roll derelicts.

Which brings me right back to late-night jogging on Barbosa Park. If you run, play tennis, racketball, basketball or are just looking for a neighborhood game of soccer, you can do your sweating at Barbosa Park, a public green area overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Unlike most sports parks in the city, which close at dusk, Barbosa remains open 24 hours a day thanks to a police station located adjacent to the track. So a three o'clock run is not only accessible, it is safe.

Let's face it, after the beers, the beach and the parties . . . a healthy sweat and a good run are the only ways to maintain the lifestyle.

J.A. del Rosario, a business reporter for The San Juan Star, is a remedial guitar player and an incorrigible nightcrawler. He can be contacted at: :

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