On a Dime Destinations: San Sebastian, Spain

San Sebastian is located in the northeast corner of Spain, just across the border from France. It’s known as a foodie mecca, and also for its beautiful beaches.

On my first trip to San Sebastian at the end of May in 2012 it rained for 4 straight days. It was cold – low 50s, and so windy that I was nearly blown over – more than once. I had a miserable trip.

 San Sebastian - May 2012

San Sebastian - May 2012

I was quite excited when I recently had the chance to meet up with a friend there. Hoping that the weather at the end of June would be better than last time. But, it would be hard for it to be any worse.

San Sebastian - June 2015

As soon as our meet-up was planned I got busy booking my train from Paris, and sending a reservation request Pension Itxasoa. Having a room with a sea view there helped to salvage my last trip. It was fun to watch the waves crash against the seawall outside. Sort of.  

I planned ahead for my train trip and picked up a half bottle of wine – with a screw cap, and stopped at my favorite boulangerie for a sandwich. I was on the metro headed to Gare Montparnasse when I decided to double-check my train ticket. Holy shit! Instead of having 15 minutes to spare, I was suddenly worried about missing my train. I kept checking my progress on the metro and checking my watch trying to figure out if I was going to make it. What a dumb shit.

Always bring a picnic for the train.

I did make my train, but it was too close for comfort for me. Note to self: Check departure time the night before, don’t rely on memory.

The train is non-stop until Bordeaux, about 3.5 hours. Then, it’s 2 more hours to Hendaye – where you connect to the local commuter train to San Sebastian.

I decided to wait and eat lunch after we left Bordeaux. I was sitting across from a nice woman from Spain. She spoke Spanish and French. I do not. But I can speak wine, and she accepted my offer to pour her a glass.

We chatted – by using Google translate when I had a good signal on my phone, while we finished the wine.  I learned that her name was Isabel and that she was from Pamplona. I think I might have gotten her a little bit drunk.

She invited me to come have a coffee with her in the bar car. And then when we returned to our seats she gave me a lovely painted Spanish fan.

This is why I travel.

Needless to say, the last 2 hours of the ride went by quickly. I did get Isabel’s address, and met her husband at the train station. This is why I travel.

I had a short wait for the Euskotren, and walked about 20 minutes to the Pension Itxasoa. The walk was easy and flat, with the only issue being the click-click of my suitcase wheels on the tiled sidewalks.

View from my room at Pension Itxasoa

My single room was perfect. I was facing the Monte Urgull this time and only had a partial ocean view – but for 51€ per night I had no complaints. And I was in San Sebastian and it was sunny and warm. It felt like heaven.

After a quick unpack – into the practical wardrobe, I was off for a wander through the Old Town and finally to La Concha beach.

Bar Txondorra

I ended up stopping for pintxos at Bar Txondorra, a place I had tried on my last trip. I had a tortilla patata and txokoli – the local sparkling wine. After a couple more Txakolis, I had a pintxo with jamon, goat cheese and a drizzle of honey and another Txakoli. My total bill was 14€. Time to see the beach now.

Perfect dinner. Tortilla patata and Txakoli.

The sun was setting as I approached the promenade along the beach. On my last trip I couldn’t even get this close because it was so windy. It was stunning.

And the people, the place was packed – but in a good way. With lots of locals. Kids were jumping off of the pier and just hanging out. Families were strolling through the square and along the promenade. And everyone was eating ice cream. What a beautiful evening.

Sunset on La Concha Beach

The sun was still setting when I got back to my room around 11:00 p.m., after stopping for an ice cream. The Old Town was still hopping but I was happy to watch the activity from my balcony before heading to bed.

I had a free day before I was meeting up with my friend. I started off with breakfast at Bar Azkena in the Bretxa Market. I ordered a mushroom omelet and a café con leche. The omelette was amazing. The mushrooms, tasted like mushrooms should. The grated cheese curl and jamon on top were just perfect. My bill came to 3.20€. How can they make any money?

Breakfast at Bar Azkena

My plans for the day were for some shopping and general wandering around. I wanted to get some of my favorite Magno shower gel, some Spanish Olive Oil and some Txakoli to take home. It would be a bonus if I could find some cute shoes and/or clothes. Perhaps a swimsuit since my friend wants to go to the La Perla Spa on Saturday.

It was fun wandering the pretty streets of Centro. At a variety store in the Plaza Gipuzkoa I found a swimsuit for 12€. Then I found my shower gel. And got my Arbequina olive oil and Txakoli at the Super Amara.

Plaza Gipuzkoa

I walked back to my Pension to drop off my heavy bags and decided to head to Ondarreta Beach to see the Wind Combs. I figured out my bus route and headed there. I hadn’t had any lunch yet so I stopped for an ice cream on my walk from the bus. Ends up that I found my new favorite flavor – Mandarina. OMG!

Wind Combs 

It was a pretty long walk to the wind combs, but so worth it. The beach was packed on a Thursday afternoon. And the Wind Combs were stunning.

Ondarreta Beach

After that I wandered through the Old Town and did some more shopping. I had more Mandarina ice cream for dinner. I had an early night because I needed to take an early bus in the morning to meet my friend in Getaria.

I had already scoped out my bus stop for the Lurraldebus to Getaria the day before, but just in case, I arrived early anyway not feeling entirely confident of the bus schedule.

Getaria, Spain

I ended up on an earlier bus than planned and in about 30 minutes I was in the cute seaside town of Getaria. This gave me time for a quick breakfast before I needed to meet my friend.

Our plans for the day were to head to Zumaia to take a boat ride along the coast to see the Flysches – rock formations along the coast. Then lunch at the Michelin 1-star Restaurant Elkano, known for their whole grilled turbot, and a quick look at the Balenciaga Museum before heading back to San Sebastian.

Breakfast in Getaria

My breakfast at what appeared to be the only bakery in town was excellent, especially the fresh-squeezed orange juice. After a small miscommunication I met up with my friend. We had originally met on Trip Advisor 4 years ago when I was planning a trip to Barcelona – this was our first meeting in person. But I felt like I was meeting an old friend.

Breakfast, Round 2

It was a quick drive to Zumaia, and not too bad finding a parking place and figuring out where the boat departed.

The boat ride was fantastic, the guide was enthusiastic and the audio guides in English helped us follow along.

Flysches

I realize that a lunch in a Michelin starred restaurant might not be considered an “On a Dime” experience. But I was with a friend who travels to eat in the best restaurants and I decided that it was worth the splurge. 

Restaurant Elkano

If Restaurant Elkano is not in your budget,  you can stop at the original Bar Elkano and enjoy some cheap pintxos and Txakoli – that’s what my friend did the evening before.  The great thing about Elkano is that it’s quite laid-back for a Michelin restaurant. People were dining in shorts and no one batted an eye. The food and service were outstanding and I ate things that I never imagined that I would. And my friend treated me to lunch. I was speechless and appreciative.

Yes. I ate some Barnacles.

Whole grilled turbot

 

After lunch we walked up the hill to the Balenciaga Musuem. While neither of us are fashionistas we both enjoyed this museum.

Balenciaga Museum

Time to head back to San Sebastian.

We made plans to meet up later for a dinner of Pintxos in the Old Town. By the time we meet up I’m not even hungry, but there’s always room for a glass or two of Txakoli.

Then we made plans to meet up at Bar Azkena for breakfast in the morning.

At Bar Azkena I was both excited and disappointed to see that they had fresh-squeezed orange juice. Excited because I wanted some, and disappointed because I had completely missed it the day before.

Jamon on toast at Bar Azkena

Next on our agenda was a visit to the La Perla Spa. I was very reluctant to do this because I didn’t want to appear in public in a swimsuit and a bathing cap. Guess what? No one cares. And it was so much fun playing around in the saltwater pools trying out the various therapeutic water jets in each pool, well worth 26.50€ for a 2 hour visit.  

Then it was lunchtime and time to try out some more pintxo bars in the old town. Our first stop was Bar Zeruko for some “designer” tapas. The place was packed, but we managed to snag a table. Who knew how good a fresh fig stuffed with foie gras would taste? We also made a stop at Bar Txondorra – the same place I went to on my arrival night.

Pintxos at Bar Zeruko

Time for a siesta. We made plans to meet up later to try out a couple of places in the more local Gros area for dinner.

It was nice to explore another area on San Sebastian, but it was still easy to do on foot. My friend was a bit disappointed that Bar Bergara had updated their décor since she last visited. I grabbed a seat at an open table while my friend ordered and I studied the menu. I ended up ordering the fideua and it was the hit of the evening, and maybe the best of all the pintxos that we had.

Fideua at Bar Bergara

Leaving Bar Bergara we noticed the sun setting and made a detour to the beach to watch it before heading to our next destination. Our next stop was disappointing, I don’t even remember the name. They had a bit of a ‘tude. But it did look like they had some amazing steaks. The pintxos were “meh” though. 

Sunset on Gros Beach

I had so much fun on this trip and I complained to my friend as we walked back to our hotels “I have to back to Parissss…” But I look forward to a return trip to San Sebastian.  

 

Click here for a trip summary