our first family beach vacation

This past weekend, we took our first real beach vacation as a family. We've been once to the beach on the coast of Holland when Miles was a baby and then to Charleston last year, but we barely did more than just see the ocean on either trip. Josh and I have never been huge beach-goers as a couple, but I managed to snag a condo for Memorial Day weekend and just knew that Miles would love it. On Friday, we packed the car to the gills and set off for the Carolina coast.

 Taken with nikon d700 and sigma 85 1.4. ©2018 elizabeth glessner.

Taken with nikon d700 and sigma 85 1.4. ©2018 elizabeth glessner.

The first morning went something like this:

3 AM - One certain toddler climbs out of his bed and walks to the door. Realizes that we're in the room with him when Josh tells him to get back in bed. Proclaims he is "all done with his nap" and wants to go the beach. 

After refusing to get back in his own bed, put him in our bed in an attempt to get him to go back to sleep. He lays on my pillow and proceeds to whisper in my ear about collecting shells and playing in the sand. Does NOT go back to sleep.

Turn on cartoons in an attempt to keep him still so that we can get more sleep. Lasts approximately 20 minutes before he climbs down and says he wants breakfast.

5 AM - Give up and get up with toddler. Make oatmeal. Brainstorm your sleep-deprived, uncaffeinated mind for solutions to the bright room that don't involve driving 20 minutes to the nearest Wal-Mart. Load child in car and drive to Food Lion. Buy the largest black garbage bags available. Go back and put those bad boys on the window with shipping tape. Problem solved, and we didn't have any more sleep issues for the remainder of the trip. Parenthood makes you industrious in all new ways.

The early wakeup call threw off our plans for the day, so we headed down to the infamous Britt's Donuts around 8 a.m. for our breakfast fix. The line was long, but boy is this place worth it. Truly, the best (and most unhealthy) donuts ever. After an early nap for me and the toddler and quick lunch at the condo, we headed to the beach in the afternoon.

 Taken with nikon d700 and sigma 85 1.4. ©2018 elizabeth glessner.

Taken with nikon d700 and sigma 85 1.4. ©2018 elizabeth glessner.

I had been once to Carolina Beach with friends in the off-season while I was pregnant, so going when all the businesses on the island were open was a completely different experience. We enjoyed the best seafood dinners at Surf House (where Miles tried and LOVED crab and oysters) and The Shuckin' Shack, awesome Irish ice cream from Celtic Creamery, and a great lunch at Hang Ten Grill on the way out of town after visiting the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher. Having visited beaches in the Outer Banks, Myrtle Beach, Emerald Isle, Charleston, and Beaufort, I can say that CB is probably my favorite family beach town in the Carolinas, if for nothing more than the ability to walk almost anywhere you want to go.

 Taken with nikon d700 and sigma 85 1.4. ©2018 elizabeth glessner.

Taken with nikon d700 and sigma 85 1.4. ©2018 elizabeth glessner.

I don't know if it's my newfound level of organization since having a kid, but I will say that this was the most seamless beach trip in terms of gear and preparedness that I've ever experienced. I like to travel fairly minimally but with things that are going to make my life easy. For example, we left the stroller at home knowing that Miles could always ride on Daddy's shoulders if he got tired of walking.

 Taken with nikon d700 and sigma 85 1.4. ©2018 elizabeth glessner.

Taken with nikon d700 and sigma 85 1.4. ©2018 elizabeth glessner.

These are my vacation necessities that made beachin' it with a toddler so much easier:

Travel bed- Miles just moved from a crib last week and did really well in this Intex inflatable bed. I liked it better than other options because it has the bumper on all sides. Bonus that a regular-size crib sheet fits perfectly.

Tent- I had being eyeing these pop-up tents on Amazon and happened to find this exact one for about half the price at TJ Maxx. It was the perfect size for the three of us plus all of our stuff, and the window in the back kept a breeze flowing through. Easy to set up, and we had absolutely no issues with it trying to blow away with the stakes in.

Beach toys - I got this simple set, and one of Miles's aunts had bought him this dump truck a few months back that we took along. He literally was entertained for hours!

Cooler- I have a tote like this one that I love for beach trips. It's small, but fit enough drinks and snacks for the three of us for a few hours.

Beach chairs- I replaced our old metal frame folding chairs with this pair of lounge chairs from Amazon. Since they sit flat on the ground, they easily fit in the tent, and it was easy to still play with Miles while sitting on them.

Collapsible wagon- You NEED something to haul all this beach crap without looking like a pack mule. Also doubles as a child hauler. I found a great one at Academy Sports that worked just fine. There are lots of similar ones on Amazon - this wagon looks most like the one we found

Good beach attire for kids - bright colored swimwear for easily spotting a toddler: orange sun hat and long-sleeved rash guard from Amazon, pineapple swim trunks from Target, and sand and water-friendly sandals from Plae

 Taken with nikon d700 and sigma 85 1.4. ©2018 elizabeth glessner.

Taken with nikon d700 and sigma 85 1.4. ©2018 elizabeth glessner.

I also love these water safety tips from Miles's swim teacher, and we definitely put them to use while at the beach: http://triadmomsonmain.com/my-blog/water-safety-summer/

Needless to say (the pictures say it all) - Miles is a total beach bum. We're always looking for new adventures... Where is your favorite beach (or other destination) to vacation with young kids? Comment below!

This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission on anything purchased through those links at no extra cost to you. For more info, see my complete disclosure.

looking back at 2017

Wow. You guys. I can't believe it's been over six months since I filled this space with fresh words. Getting back to writing is at the top of my goals for 2018, so watch out.

In the spirit of the new year, I really just wanted to recap 2017 because IT WAS SUCH A CRAZY YEAR. In some ways, it seems like it didn't even happen or like I've been in a time warp. We started the year in Europe and ended it back in our North Carolina home just as we'd left it.


Here goes...

My mom visited, and I turned 30 in Italy cooking and drinking Chianti in a Tuscan villa.

Celebrated German Carnival with crazy parades right outside our door and a costume party.

Fell in love with San Sebastian on a Spanish adventure with our friends from London.

Twirled through Mirabell Gardens reenacting The Sound of Music with a lifelong best friend.

Returned permanently to our home in North Carolina, where we discovered our new rhythm that involved having to get in a car to go everywhere, American playgrounds, and shopping carts in grocery stores.

After sicknesses and adjusting to living in a new place, FINALLY got Miles back to sleeping through the night in his own crib in his own room. All the thanks to the Sleep Lady and her amazing book for this precious miracle.

Traveled to Charleston for a sweet little family vacay where Miles fell in love with the aquarium.

Had our first adults-only weekend away as we celebrated our friends' wedding in Maryland.

Surprised one of my best friends by showing up at her house for the weekend in Cleveland.

Our baby boy turned TWO. Just HOW?!?!

Read a total of 15+ books for the year, which is no small feat with a toddler!

Celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas with our families, saw dear friends (and got to meet their sweet new babies), laughed, loved, cried, and just overall lived the hell out of 2017. There'll certainly never be another year like it.

2017YearInReview-Elizabeth Glessner

This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission on anything purchased through those links at no extra cost to you. For more info, see my complete disclosure.

spring in san sebastian

This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission on anything purchased through those links at no extra cost to you. For more info, see my complete disclosure.

For a full list of what to eat, where to stay, and things to do in San Sebastian based on our experience, scroll to the bottom of this post.

When our friends from London, Jas and Jennie, asked us if we wanted to meet up one last time before we head back to the U.S., we were absolutely game. But where to go?! They'd already visited us here in Aachen last summer, and we stayed with them in London for a weekend not long after we moved to Germany. We threw out the idea of San Sebastian, and our friends were all in.

San Sebastian, or Donostia as the locals know it, is a place we've had on our bucket list for many years because of its amazing food (we love to eat - in case you hadn't gathered - and we've watched A LOT of Anthony Bourdain), but we honestly didn't think we'd make it there during our time living in Europe - both because of time constraints (we move back to the U.S. THIS MONTH!) and because we thought it wouldn't be great with a toddler.

Boy, were we wrong.

Though I think we could have enjoyed it in different ways adults-only, this was a shockingly kid-friendly place. The Spanish are a very family oriented culture - something I wasn't really paying much attention to when I spent a summer in Seville in college - and we never felt out of place with a 15 month old in tow. Between our travel stroller and the Ergo carrier, we had no problem navigating small restaurants and allowing Miles to nap on the go.

On a Thursday at the end of March, we flew into Bilbao airport via Eurowings. Super small, the airport was very easy to get out of, and we didn't have to wait long for our luggage. We rented a car, picked up Jas and Jennie who had arrived on an earlier flight, and set off on the hour long drive to San Sebastian.

Per our usual preference, we booked an airbnb in the city. Our host, Andrea, was absolutely lovely, greeting us with fresh fruit and baked bread, providing a well stocked kitchen, and even making sure we had a high chair and a travel crib. Not only was she amazingly accommodating, but the location and views from the apartment were absolutely stunning. It was definitely one of my best airbnb experiences to date, and I highly recommend her city center home!

 View from Andrea's apartment in the center of San Sebastian

View from Andrea's apartment in the center of San Sebastian

Food being priority number one, we sought out the best pintxos bars and aimed to fill our bellies with as many delightful small dishes as they could hold. In this particular region, pintxos are the name for small plates consisting of one or two bites of a food - what is more commonly known as tapas in other parts of Spain. One of our favorites was this Michelin star gem, A Fuego Negro. A little bit funky and super delicious, it was a win all around. I had the razor clams accompanied by a glass of the local Txakoli - a crisp, dry wine poured high above the glass to provide it almost a sparkling quality. It should be noted that I proceeded to enjoy at every restaurant thereafter, and you should, too.

We began Friday with pastries on-the-go, sightseeing, and, in true Glessner fashion, locally roasted coffee from Sakona.

 Sakona Coffee Roasters, San Sebastian/Donostia

Sakona Coffee Roasters, San Sebastian/Donostia

San Sebastian is seriously one of the most beautiful places I've had the pleasure of visiting. The mountains at the edge of the sea give it a feeling reminiscent of the California coastline, another of my favorite places on earth, so it's no surprise that I'd fall in love.

We were extremely grateful to one of Josh's co-workers, who hails from Spain, who advised us to visit a local sidreria for dinner and even made the reservation for us! It was a brief drive from the city center to the cider house, and this is a unique experience I am so glad we didn't miss. The local Basque cider is only made during a brief part of late winter to early spring season during which cider houses host these amazing multi-course meals complete with the free-flowing, straight from the barrel, minimally sweet beverage unique to the area.

At Sidreria Mina, our meal began with a great big baguette (which Miles ate the majority of... this kid and bread) and a cod omelette, followed by cod two ways - with peppers and in a cream sauce. We then indulged in the best beef I've ever had in all my days - a two-inch thick, bone-in steak seasoned only with coarse, delicious salt and cooked over charcoal to a perfect rare doneness. I'm pretty solidly a medium steak kinda gal (so as not to have my meal moo at me), but this - this was absolute culinary heaven.

We lucked out with sunshine and lovely weather our first full day, but the second day, the weather wasn't so much in our favor. Even in the pouring rain, this city is absolutely beautiful. San Sebastian, you can do no wrong!

Despite getting caught in an intense shower and almost turning back, we made our way to the Monte Igueldo Funicular, a historic incline, which took us to this incredible view of the city. At the top is an old amusement park and a cafe where we escaped the weather and enjoyed some warm drinks.

Feeling that our increasingly mobile boy was due for some time to run around, we parted ways with our friends for the afternoon to enjoy the aquarium. It was a great size for little ones, and Miles thoroughly enjoyed meeting his friends from Finding Nemo and The Pout Pout Fish in person. The biggest hits were the jellyfish and the tiny little shrimp which had this kid cracking up.

For our last dinner in Donostia, we knew we had to have more pintxos. One of Jennie's friends had recommended La Cuchara de San Telmo - a little hidden gem with standing room only and made-to-order small plates. I can honestly say that this was some of the best food to ever grace my tastebuds. We happened to get there early, right as they were opening, and asked the fella behind the counter to recommend a few of his favorite dishes. Soon after, this tiny place was packed with people while we enjoyed beef cheeks (my personal favorite), bacon wrapped cod, and the richest caramelized foie gras. Forget chicken and dumplings - this stuff is the epitome of comfort food. 

We ventured in the rain to one more pintxos bar on the other side of the river before making our way back to the apartment, but honestly, nothing could have topped this place. Next time we go back, you'll find me camped out here at San Telmo :)

If you're planning a visit to San Sebastian (and I truly hope you are), here are some tips:

the logistics for your san sebastian trip

The nearest airport to San Sebastian/Donostia is Bilbao. There are buses and a train line available, but we decided to take our carseat with us and just rent a car. The drive is a little over an hour, and with four adults, it was actually just as inexpensive to rent. Honestly, you don't need a vehicle at all in San Sebastian, as it's so very walkable, but it was nice for getting to the sidreria we visited on night two.

We always love airbnb for traveling as a family. There's usually more room for a travel crib, a kitchen to fix breakfast for tiny hungry people, and best of all, a living area for the adults to escape to for some wine and charcuterie after the little ones go to sleep. I highly recommend Andrea's place in San Sebastian - one of the best apartments we've every stayed in!

what to eat in san sebastian

There is great food on literally every corner. There are plenty of restaurants where you could sit down and have a meal, but why would you do that when you could just bar hop your way through so many delicious pintxos?! We dined at many places, but the ones I most highly recommend are...

La Cuchara de San Telmo, which has probably the best food I've ever eaten. It's definitely top three. My absolute must-get dish is the stewed beef cheeks. Get there early (as in, before they open) to grab a spot at the bar before the big rush.

A Fuego Negro has a completely different vibe than San Telmo, but the food is also incredible. My only regret is that I only had one dish here. 

Sidreria Mina, or any cider house, is something you absolutely must experience in Donostia. From what I understand, the menu is pretty standard across all of them, but we thoroughly enjoyed our meal at Mina. For those traveling with small children, a word of warning that there were no chairs here - standing tables only - which made things a little more difficult with a toddler. Other than that, I would consider it kid-friendly enough.

Sakona Coffee Roasters is, from what we found, the only local roastery in San Sebastian. The coffee was excellent, and though we didn't try them, their breakfast/pastry selection seemed tasty as well.

things to do in san sebastian

I honestly loved just wandering the streets, taking in the culture, and marveling at the architecture. If the weather's nice, the beaches here are beautiful. There's also some good hiking. Sit on a patio and enjoy a glass (or three) of the local txakoli. We (and Miles) enjoyed the aquarium - it's not too large or overwhelming for small children and a great place to stretch their legs after being strapped in a stroller all day. I highly recommend taking the Monte Igueldo Funicular up for the absolute best view of the city. The streets are lined with cute little boutiques and higher end department stores, if you find yourself needing a little retail therapy.