Like many other Chilean coastal towns and cities, Viña del Mar consists of two areas: one of winding streets and houses clinging precariously to the hills, while the other, lying between the hills and the sea, is built along the strict formality of the colonial era grid plan. Viña, often called the tourism capital of Chile, has an area of 172 square kilometers and just over 300 thousand inhabitants.
Cerro Castillo (Castle Hill)
The Cerro Castillo (Castle Hill) of Viña del Mar has been the home of the Presidential summer residence since 1931. Today, in this area, you can find the dramatic, seaside Castillo Wulff , now the Museum of Maritime Culture. Cerro Castillo is also where you can find the headquarters of the Chilean uniformed police. Also in the area is one of the city's main beaches, Playa Caleta Abarca .
Quinta Vergara is where the city's main square, Plaza Vergara , is located, and where you will find the Teatro Municipal (Municipal Theater) and the quaint Victorias , or horse drawn carriages, that await tourists who are interested in a different way of touring the city. Also in the Quinta Vergara area is the Vergara Amphitheater, home of the Viña del Mar International Song Festival, and the Palacio Vergara, the former home of the founder of Viña del Mar. Also here is the Parque Quinta Vergara (Quinta Vergara Park) and the Acapulco , Mirasol and Los Marineros beaches, among others.
There are two kilometers of beaches in the Reñaca district, which has recently become the new focus of holiday activities, with a wide selection of hotels, shopping centers, restaurants and discotheques. Only thirty years ago all this land was sand dune and forest, but today it is an important tourist and residential area with new neighborhoods, such as El Jardín del Mar, Las Golondrinas and Los Pinos, sprouting up almost overnight.
To the north of the city is this gastronomic district with restaurants that range from the unassuming Don Chicho to the tres chic seafood eatery Stella Maris. Also in the north of the city, facing the mighty Pacific Ocean that rages against the coastal rocks are the popular Cochoa and Lilenes beaches, part of the newly-created Concón district. Between these two beaches, a visitor to the city will find many places of interest, such as Mirador Cochoa, la Roca de Lobos Marinos with sea lions basking in the mid-afternoon sun and a spectacular rock outcrop called the Oceanic rock . This coastal stretch finishes in Higuerillas Cove where the exclusive Yacht Club has its home, and the popular Playa Negra and Playa Amarilla are to be found. Narrow strips of the original dunes still remain, down which local children slide on makeshift sand-toboggans.
The center is formed in the shape of a rectangle, and bounded by the railway line in the south and the Marga Marga Estuary in the north. Towards the east the Plaza Jose Francisco Vergara can be found, and to the west the wooded, gently rolling Castle Hill . These are the limits of the main financial and shopping area in the city, whose main street is the Avenida Valparaíso.
The city is built on the grid system—locally called "de los nortes"—typical of colonial towns, with Avenida Libertad as its main axis. On the left of the Avenue six streets head off to the west, on the right seven head east. From north to south there are another fifteen streets. This is one of the most sought after residential neighborhoods, with houses that have the spirit of the past stamped firmly in their architecture. Today, many of what used to be private dwellings are now restaurants and pubs.
Viña del Mar has the slow pace of a provincial town. It is not uncommon to see the inhabitants stop whatever it is they are doing at around midday to have a cup of coffee in one of the many traditional cafeterias to be found here. At two in the afternoon, all of the local banks close for the day, and many stores shut for a siesta that lasts until 4:30. When they reopen, however, they serve customers late into the evening.
Most of the best restaurants in Viña del Mar can be found in three neighborhoods:
The Quinta Vergara and Avenida San Martín is the most important area in the city for fine dining. All along the street visitors will find restaurants featuring a diversity of menus and ambience. Because of fierce competition, restaurants have sought to attract the choosy diner with well-planned decor and original cuisine emphasizing creative house specialties. Most of these establishments feature domestic wines made from grapes produced in the rich volcanic soils of Chile.
Avowed carnivores might opt for meats on a skewer in Guris Brasileiros and Spanish food lovers for Basko Delicias del Mar . If in need of a pizza, go to Diego's . Fish and shellfish are elegantly served in Fornoni , while Tex-Mex cuisine can be had at Santa Fe . Nearby you will find the recently inaugurated Rincón Austriaco . Pastas and all things Italian can be had in Don Giovanni and grilled and skewered meats in La Parrilla El Gaucho . Sub Terras is an interesting pub in the area.
Running along the coast, Avenida Borgoño joins Reñaca with Concón. Dedicated mainly to fish and shellfish, it has recently become the second gastronomic center of the city. Here there are many local specialties, served in the traditional Chilean way, including the famous pescado frito (fish fried in batter), machas a la parmesana (shellfish topped with melted cheese) and caldillos (fish soups). You will also find more elaborate fish and shellfish dishes that give local ingredients a more international touch.
Within the group of restaurants serving mainly Chilean dishes are Don Chicho and El Albatros . In Higuerillas, more to the north, there are Don Enrique and La Perla del Pacífico .
One advantage of this area is the spectacular view offered from every restaurant of the untamed and sometimes raging ocean. Many of the restaurants, especially the more elegant ones, sit precariously right on the rocks and are constantly splashed by the foaming waves. A great part of the more rustic establishments can be found in the Higuerillas Cove area.
This area has been gradually becoming a very good alternative for lunch or dinner. To keep up with the competition, these restaurants are price conscious, and you will often get a cheaper meal here than elsewhere. The establishments themselves are often smaller, creating a more intimate and less formal atmosphere.
If in need of Chinese, try Pau-San . For a taste of the British Empire, Cafe Big Ben is a tea room, restaurant and pub. For traditional Viña seafood, there is Cafetería Samoiedo .