I had high hopes for San Sebastián. Many travelers I met while backpacking around Europe raved about it.
San Sebastián is a small beach town in northern Spain just over the border from Hendaye, France. It is fairly expensive and a pretty popular destination for the French and the Spanish.
After spending four incredibly hot days in the cities of Granada and Seville, I was pretty excited to get to San Sebastián and lay on a beach for two days in August 2014.
When we arrived, it was freezing! I was in a cotton tank dress and was pretty cold walking to our hostel (if you can call it that…you can read about our accommodations in San Sebastián here).
It was around 68 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit the entire time we were in San Sebastián. There was no beaching for us unfortunately. It felt like fall! The air was crisp, leaves were beginning to fall off the trees and everyone was in jeans, jackets and scarves.
Once we finally got into our accommodations, we went for a walk to explore the area. We were about three blocks from the beach and right in the heart of the popular pintxos area.
Our first meal stop was Atari which ended up being one of the best meals we had in Spain! We ate there all of the three nights we were in San Sebastián They had delicious beef cheeks with mashed potatoes and gravy that were just to die for.
Pintxos are like tapas. Except instead of ordering off of a menu, you just choose the food off of the bar. Once you’ve filled your plate with however many you want, the waiters count them and charge you.
It was almost impossible to get to the bar! Atari was packed with people and was quite small. Most of the pintxos were seafood. San Sebastián is right on the ocean so it makes sense that they would have the freshest fish. I grabbed a shrimp salad type pintxo and Mel chose a pepper stuffed with tuna salad.
We ate our pintxos and sangria on the steps of the Santa Maria church.
There were tons of tourists and locals sitting on the steps. The wine and sangria were flowing, street performers played music and conversation was bustling. It was one of my favorite things we did in Spain, sitting on those steps. It was a great place to people watch!
Three jugs of sangria later, we were dying of laughter and having a great time. Around 1:30 a.m., Mel and I decided to check out the San Sebastián nightlife.
We stepped into a bar just around the corner from where we were staying. There was a large mix of locals and tourists inside.
As we started dancing and being silly, a blonde girl from Baltimore came up to talk to me. She was 24-years-old (like me!) and was in San Sebastián on her honeymoon. She asked how Mel and I knew each other and when I told her I was from New York and Mel is an Aussie and we met in London, she was blown away.
“Oh my gosh, you girls are just living the life here! You’re so cute!” she kept saying.
She asked me what I did for work and when I told her I quit my job at ABC News in New York City to backpack Europe, her mouth dropped.
“You are the most inspiring person I’ve ever met!” she exclaimed.
Hey, at least there’s one person in this world who thinks I have my shit together!
After more dancing, the next thing you know, it’s 5:30 a.m. and Mel and I are just getting home! I haven’t stayed out until 5:30 a.m. in years. But I guess when in Spain, the party doesn’t really start until after midnight so it’s easy to lose track of time.
But unfortunately, getting home at 5:30 a.m. made our next day a total bust. We had lunch and walked along the beach before retreating back to our room for a siesta. Sometimes when you just want to eat but siesta is going on, it can be a real pain to find somewhere that’s open. But when all you desperately need is a siesta, it’s the best thing ever!
After our siesta, we tried to do a little pintxos tour of our own but sort of failed. Neither of us are huge seafood fans and that’s pretty much all that San Sebastián has to offer. Mel doesn’t know any Spanish and I really only know a little so we were basically just guessing what each of the pintxos were by looking at them. We started at Atari since we knew we loved the beef cheeks there but the second restaurant we disliked pretty much all of the pintxos we chose.
At the third pintxo bar we vowed to be better about our decisions. We stuck with croquettes with ham, stuffed peppers and chicken wings. We agreed that these were good but nowhere near as fresh or delicious as the food at Atari!
On our last full day in San Sebastián, we promised to be better and not siesta. Of course, it was raining but we weren’t going to let that stop us. We rented bikes for 10 Euros for four hours and biked around the town.
We were pelted with down pouring rain as we rode the bikes to the base of a castle. It took us about an hour to get up and down and felt really good to get a little bit of exercise.
The view was great from the top even if it was raining!
We then biked along the beach, stopping for a coffee at the other end of the bay. The rain finally stopped as we continued our ride around the city.
Some other shots from our bike tour:
We had an early flight the next day so we ended our day at Atari was usual. The food was just too good!
I really enjoyed the cobblestone streets, beach atmosphere and pintxos of San Sebastián. I would definitely recommend this town but make sure you go when the weather is nice! But I think I would have loved it even more if we had nice weather and could have enjoyed the beach.
One of the things I really liked about Spain was it didn’t feel too touristy. I felt like we became a part of the culture by just walking around, watching people and enjoying the cuisine. This is definitely a much better way to experience a country! Italy still has my heart but Spain is a very close second.