Spain. Are you thinking about visiting there? Have you been already? My family just returned from our trip. I have some great secrets to help you plan for San Sebastian, a beautiful coastal town 12 miles from France which should not be missed.
1. The Best Mode of Transportation is Electric Scooters
The city is 23 square miles with wide sidewalks and bike lanes throughout. You’ll likely spend most of your time along the coastline and in the Old Town area. End to end of the three beaches in this city runs only about 2 miles, and Old town is adjacent to the beach.
What does all this mean? You can cover most of the ground you need with an electric scooter! It is perfectly safe for the whole family. Rule of thumb – if the kids can ride electric scooters at home, they will be fine navigating the streets in San Sebastian.
We rented scooters for 24 hrs which cost 50 euro/person at La Bicicleta. These were high quality, high powered, and efficient scooters with long battery life. We were able to cruise from the point to point along the coast of the town.
In fact, instead of taking the tourist monorail up to Monte Igueldo, a popular place to see views of the city, we rode our scooters up to the top of the mountain with ease. There are only a few cars that drive up to the hotel that sits at the top, so we found the winding road to be safe and enjoyable. We took in the gorgeous views of the ocean from different points of our ascent, each giving a new perspective of the city and views.
The only drawback of the scooters was not having a lock. We had to keep the scooters with us at all times which limited our dining options a bit. We were able to collapse the scooters, but they were still cumbersome. I’m thinking soon enough, the rental stores will come up with a locking system for their rentals.
2. No Need to Overpay for Accommodations
I’m all about efficiency when my family travels. Location is usually my number one priority when booking a hotel or rental property. But since the town of San Sebastian is so small, we found that staying .7 miles away from the heart of Old town and the beach was just as lovely as staying oceanside.
We stayed at Hotel Astoria7 which was affordable at about $200/night including all taxes and fees. There was a bus that picked up right in front of the hotel every 5-10 minutes. It was one straight line to the beach/Old town and took only a few minutes each way.
All the streets of San Sebastian are lined with fruit/veggie stores, coffee shops, and restaurants. We found it easy to get fresh fruit, coffee, and drinks whenever we wanted.
When we rented scooters, we were able to ride through the whole city, bring the scooters back to our hotel overnight to charge in our rooms, and ride to breakfast in the morning.
Finally, our rooms were new, spacious and beautifully decorated. It exceeded our expectations relative to its price, which rarely happens!
3. Dine at a 3 Michelin Star Restaurant for Lunch, Not Dinner
While my husband and I appreciate good food, we are far from foodies. But finding ourselves in a city with the highest number of Michelin Star restaurants per square meter than any other city in the world, we had to see what the food at these restaurants was like!
First, we tried a 1 Michelin star restaurant named Bodegon Alejandro after stumbling upon it as we looked for a place to have lunch in Old town. It was reasonably priced about 70 euro per person for their tasting menu. However, the food presented much more beautifully than it tasted. It left us confused about how restaurants receive their Michelin ratings.
There are three Michelin restaurants with 3-star ratings in and around San Sebastian as follows:
We wanted to dine at Arzak due to the volume of outstanding reviews it had compared to the other two restaurants but found out they are booked up to a year in advance.
We lucked out by finding an opening for lunch at Akelare on the same day of the height of the city’s heat wave. Perched on top of a hill with a panoramic view of the ocean, the setting was absolutely gorgeous.
We appreciated their 3 different tasting menus to choose from, their use of classic ingredients, and their flexibility to accommodate our 13-year-old son with kid-friendly food he would enjoy.
The meal lasted 4 hours and was an experience we felt was worth the investment. I can’t get myself to type out the cost of the meal! Let’s just say it was the most expensive meal we’ve ever had and has 4 digits – eeek!
Until this dining experience, neither my husband nor I truly understood the value of good wine pairing with food. We had 8 different pairings (1 for each course) and the way the flavors were amplified in each was surprising and delightful.
If your budget allows, skip the 1-2 Michelin star restaurants and try one with a 3 Michelin star rating. We were hesitant at first, but were grateful afterward that we went for it! Life is about experiences, right? Our son loved it too.
I’d highly recommend dining here. But have lunch as opposed to dinner so you can fully appreciate the setting in all its glory. Dinner service doesn’t start until 7:30 – Lunch is the way to go!
4. The Pinxos May Gross You Out
People kept talking about their love for the Catalana version of tapas – called “pintxos,” which are various cheeses, meat, veggies, and fish piled on top of slices of baguette. Old town has bar after bar featuring pintxos and San Sebastian’s famous alcoholic cider. It is customary to visit one bar, have 1 or 2 pintxos with a beer or glass of cider and then move on to the next bar.
I have to admit, when I saw all the food laid out on the bar with fish, lots of mayo and heavy cream looking ingredients, I didn’t get the draw of this tapas bar crawl activity. They didn’t look appetizing to me and I wondered, is it sanitary to have all that food out in the open air for hours? And isn’t it perishable?
But the locals know what they’re doing. On our last day, we visited a couple of bars to taste their pintxos and cider. It was delicious!
So, don’t skip the pintxos while in San Sebastian. If you love seafood, this may be one of your favorite activities during your visit!
5. Don’t Skip the Surf Beach
Since we live by the beach in Southern California and my kids surf all the time, we saved this activity for last but then ran out of time to do it. I wish we had one more day in San Sebastian to spend lounging at this beach because they had beautiful long waves even beginners could master. When we visited with our scooters to watch the beach scene from the sidewalk, we saw tons of kids and adults gliding over the waves on their longboards.
One note – it is topless-friendly! My husband wasn’t complaining! My son wasn’t phased by it either. My friends make fun of me because I don’t like places with naked people (like the Korean spa) so it might have taken me a bit of time to get comfortable at this beach haha!
6. Live Like the Locals and Jump off the Pier
As we were exploring on our scooters at La Concha beach, we came upon a large group of local teenagers jumping off the end of the pier. After watching the boys for a while having so much fun, my husband and son decided to join in!
It was a great hour spent, and we were the only tourists in the group. Funny, we thought they didn’t notice us but of course, they did! Sometime within that hour, I was pickpocketed. They are quick and sneaky, so be very careful wherever you are. I had on a messenger bag and still can’t figure out how they did it.
Wow, I didn’t realize this post would be so long. There is so much to write about this beautiful city, I could go on and on. If you make a trip there, I hope you make use of some of these tips I shared. Good luck as you plan for San Sebastian!
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