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.

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.

christmas in paris: a family weekend in the city of love

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 Paris based on our experience, scroll to the bottom of this post.

Since it's still the month of Valentine's (and I'm wayyy behind on documenting our travels), I figured what better time to share our December trip to the City of Love. Last fall, we decided that we'd only be going home for Miles's birthday and Thanksgiving, so we wanted to make Christmas extra special for just the three of us. Knowing that many things in Paris would still be open leading up to the holiday and seeing as it's less than three hours by rail, we booked our train tickets and started planning our stay in France's capital.

To be honest, Paris has never been way up there on my bucket list of places to travel - maybe it's the hype surrounding it or the stereotypes about the city and it's people or just the sheer size of the place. And Paris with a toddler? Let's just say my expectations were pretty low, BUT I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised. We decided to forgo our travel stroller in favor of toting Miles around all weekend in the Ergo carrier. He hadn't been in it for awhile, but I was pleased to find that it was actually more comfortable now (at 13 months) than when he was much smaller. He napped in it like a pro facing inward, and when he woke up, I turned him facing outward so that he could take in everything. Restaurants were shockingly "kid-friendly" in that people didn't turn their noses up at us entering their establishment with a small child and both servers and patrons were extremely welcoming to both us and Miles (but there were still no high chairs anywhere we went... luckily, we had this bad boy with us). As for the food, Miles isn't too picky these days, but he took in most of his calories via bread and took a particular liking to brioche (but seriously, who wouldn't).

Josh had accumulated some hotel points from various work trips, so we decided to stay in the Mercure - Paris Opera Louvre instead of our usual airbnb. I was slightly concerned about the size of a Paris hotel with the little guy, but we were greeted with an incredibly roomy two-story suite (so we were able to put Miles to bed upstairs in a travel crib and hang out downstairs in the living area eating late-night macarons without having to worry about waking him up). As a side note, these very entertaining paintings (plus about five more) were in the stairwell of our hotel...

day 1: champs elysees and all things parisian

Once we arrived at Gare du Nord, I made it very clear that mission number one was to find the nearest legit looking bakery to get the butteriest croissant we could find. We peeked in the window at this little patissier and stepped inside to what can only be described as a pastry-filled heaven. Turns out, this was far and away the absolute best croissant and pain au chocolat we had the entire trip, beating the other highly recommended bakeries I found on various websites by a long shot. If you find yourself in Paris - listen to me closely - MAKE THE TRIP TO MR. FERRAND'S.

Mr Ferrand Best Boulangerie Patisserie Croissant in Paris| ©2016 Elizabeth Glessner.jpg

Once we got settled in at our hotel, we headed over to the Galeries Lafayette to check out the Christmas decorations. The window displays and the tree inside were absolutely gorgeous, but it was completely packed with people, so we stayed just long enough to pick up some macarons at Pierre Hermé and take a few photos.

2016 Christmas Display inside Galeries Lafayette Paris | ©2016 Elizabeth Glessner

We ate a fine-but-nothing-to-write-home-about late lunch at a brasserie on the way to the Champs Élysées, where we strolled along window shopping, checking out expensive cars, and getting more macarons at the famous Laduree. Note: if you've been to Times Square in New York City, this is the same sort of vibe (in other words, completely not my speed - this was my least favorite way that we spent our time).

day 2: cathedrals and versailles

The next day, we were up and at 'em early and took a cab to Eric Kayser where Miles thoroughly enjoyed a sugar brioche. After a quick bite, we hit up Paris's most famous cathedrals, Notre-Dame and Sainte Chapelle. Both are beautiful churches, though the stained glass in the latter is absolutely magnificent. Photos just don't do it justice.

We had a coach to catch near the Eiffel Tower in the afternoon to take us to Versailles, so we scouted online the night before for a lunch spot near our departure point and found Le Petit Cler, where I savored the a delectable croque madame on fresh sourdough with copious amount of cheese and the most perfect sunny-side up egg. Y'all - French food is EVERYTHING.

We took the Versailles Express to the palace (much cleaner and easier than trying to take the train) and spent several hours wandering the sprawling estate and surrounding grounds. We topped it all off with the richest and most chocolatey hot chocolate ever of all time from Angelina

Once we got back to the city, we were starving. We took a moment to marvel at the Eiffel Tower at night and after walking up and down Rue de Cler, settled on Le Roussillon for a late dinner, which ended up being quite delicious.

day 3: christmas eve in paris

On our last full day in the city, we knew we had to go the Louvre. I'd already been advised that the best way to see it was to hit up the highlights, as this museum is enormous and to be frank, not that interesting to someone who favors impressionist and expressionist works (gimme Van Gogh and Monet all day!). We only had time for one museum, but I hear that the the Musee de l'Orangerie and Musee d'Orsay are wonderful.

Mona Lisa at the Louvre Paris | ©2016 Elizabeth Glessner.jpg
Venus de Milo at the Louvre Paris | ©2016 Elizabeth Glessner.jpg

I believe Josh's exact words when I told him we had to make the lengthy trek to Jacques Genin were, "is it really worth it for a caramel?," and let me assure you that the answer to that question is a resounding yes. Not just any caramel, but the most delightful little square of butter (so. much. butter) and sugar I've ever tasted. My only regret is that we didn't buy more of them, and they don't ship.

By now, we were in dire need of a caffeine boost, so we found Cuillier right around the corner where we had the most delightful cinnamon crumb cake and pour-over coffee while Miles played on the floor with his toy cars and enjoyed bites of our treat. 

For our one and only "fancy" meal while in Paris, we had made reservations at Kaitleen, which from the looks of it, seemed kid-friendly enough. Most of the restaurants, including this one, had a fixed menu for Christmas Eve. It was only a short walk from our hotel, and we stepped inside to the cutest, coziest little restaurant, decked with tinsel and lights and playing classic holiday tunes. We were greeted by the owners with champagne and went on to enjoy a lovely four course meal, while Miles sat in a chair fitted with his travel seat chowing down on bites of veggies and cheerios.

The next morning, Christmas Day, we boarded the train back to Aachen to finish off our celebration at home, where Miles's loot from Santa included a new child-sized Ikea chair, these awesome magnetic blocks, and Bubba the giant gator :) 

If you'd like to check out some of the places we enjoyed in Paris, here's a complete list with a few additional details included:

where to stay in paris

Mercure Paris Opera Louvre: Convenient location and lovely views (with an elevator, to boot). If you're traveling as a family or just want a little extra room, book the suite.

what to eat in paris

Mr. Ferrands (93 Rue La Lafayette, 75010 Paris): This place is truly a hidden gem, as there's no website or listing on any of the major websites, but trust me when I say that it is the best pastry you'll have in Paris. I recommend the pain au chocolat.

Macarons: Our favorites were Pierre Hermé's (try the rose one for a truly unique and delightful flavor). We weren't wild about Laduree. It's also worth noting that Paris has a Pierre Marcolini shop (which is actually a Brussels chocolatier) - having had these before, I'd say they're a top contender for best macaron.

Maoz: After reading this post by David Lebovitz hailing this as his favorite falafel in Paris, I was sold. This is a cheap eat, and the buffet of toppings and sauces was fresh and abundant. We went to the location in the heart of the vibrant Latin Quarter, which only has a couple of seats, so be prepared to eat on the street if it's busy.

Jacques Genin: You're going to look at a map and this place is going to seem out of the way, but boy is it worth the trip. Easily the best caramels I've ever had in my life - buttery melt-in-your-mouth goodness. Definitely try the mango-passion and the original. Oh, and absolutely get more than you think you need.

Le Petit Cler: A quaint and charming place near the Eiffel Tower without the tourist trap vibe. Everything on the menu looked great, but you only need to know about one thing - the croque madame. Ham, cheese, and a perfect sunny side up egg, on a thin slice of Paris's famous Poilane sourdough, you won't regret it.

Cuillier: Josh and I have pretty much made it our personal mission to find the best cup of coffee everywhere we go, and I'm pretty sure we succeeded with Cuillier. Excellent pour-over coffee (with multiple processes available), and as a bonus, the atmosphere was not at all pretentious.

Le Rousillon: This one's also near the Eiffel Tour, and although less quaint and a bit more touristy, we were delighted with both the food and service. I had the rich and savory beef bourguignon, and Josh had a perfectly cooked pork chop. Miles, of course, chowed down on bread.

Angelina: We stopped in here at Versailles, which I'm sure was not quite the same ambiance as the main location in Paris. Regardless, the hot chocolate (if you can even call it that) was still amazing - this is more like a little well of the thickest, darkest, richest molten chocolate meant to slowly sipped and savored. 

Kaitleen: A quaint and cozy place for an outstanding, but affordable dinner. I recommend the beef carpaccio and the foie gras burger. The owners/chefs were so incredibly friendly, and you could tell they really valued their work. This place is tiny, so I'd recommend reservations.

what to do in paris

Eat: See above :)

The Louvre: I stand by my friends' recommendations to have a game plan and mostly focus on the highlights. If you've never been before, definitely do - the sheer size of the museum is absolutely amazing - but unless you're super into Greek and Roman antiquities and renaissance paintings, it may not be your jam. Bonus: if you're traveling with a small child and didn't bring a stroller (like us), you can use one of the museum's for free.

Palace of Versailles: If you're making this little trek out of the city, I highly recommend using the Versailles Express. The bus leaves from the docks near the Eiffel Tower and is just altogether a much nicer experience than I imagine the train would be (especially for traveling with a kid). The palace itself is massive and a bit overwhelming, but we felt that a half day was more than enough time to spend there. However, if you want to see the other residences on the property or if it's a nice day (it was cold and rainy while we were there) and you want to enjoy the gardens, I'd imagine a full day would be a better option.

Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle: Notre Dame is free to go in, unless you want to go to the bell tower (we opted not to). You have to buy a ticket to go in Sainte Chapelle, but the stained glass inside is absolutely marvelous.

Explore the Latin Quarter: I wish we had had more time to spend in this area! It seemed like a neighborhood where I could just get lost perusing the chic little shops and sipping an afternoon drink at one of the cute cafes. There will definitely be a day dedicated to the Latin Quarter on my next trip to Paris.

So there you have it! If you're planning a trip, I hope this helps, and if you've been to Paris before, I'd love to know - what are your must dos/eats/sees?