spring in san sebastian

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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.