Many people (especially foodies) have heard of San Sebastián but for those of you who haven’t, it is a beautiful city on the Northern coast of Spain famous for its food, wine and beaches. Obviously we love to eat, so this stop was a no brainer. The best part was that without realizing it, we booked our stay in the middle of their “Great Week” aka a week celebrating all things the city has to offer. Also, the city was awarded Europe’s “Capital of Culture” for 2016 (think city with the most amazing culture). So they threw out all the stops to ensure one hell of a spectacle.
Our couple of days included:
- Fireworks every night
- Free live music on multiple stages day and night (bands, singers, opera, symphonies, etc.)
- Beer gardens (one with a pirate theme)
- All types of marching bands constantly playing in the streets
- Street performances
- Food trucks (unfortunately most were crappy wannabe American food knock-offs including an Alaska Salmon one LOL)
There weren’t too many lodging choices so we ended up at the Aussie Pension (“pension” is just another way of saying private room hostel). The place was fine but minimal with the room consisting of just two twin beds and a shared bathroom down the hall. The true benefit was the location as it was in the heart of the old town above a busy restaurant and bar area.
Funny thing about the bar/restaurant scene is it made us look geriatric when it came to our routine. You see, Katie and I like to get up early then go to bed around 10pm. The hard thing about San Sebastián is that you can’t really find a breakfast or coffee place open before 9/10am, the city doesn’t feel alive until 11am/noon and then the bars stay open until 7am. So in other words, we might has well been watching Golden Girls compared to everyone else. I first learned this when I got up at 7:30am to go for a run and walked out of the door to be greeted by a couple dozen bar goers who were still working on their last drinks. Cue awkward stare down as they looked at me like I was an ex-girlfriend showing up to the party uninvited! And I looked at them like they were the modern Breakfast Club. As I continued my run through the streets I passed another couple hundred people all looking at me like I was offending them with my effort. It did make for great people watching though as I managed to see post bar courting, dry humping on public beaches and the always impressive guys with their head between their knees walking the fine line of not puking and trying to sleep.
The other shocking part about my early morning is what a disaster the city is! By day the city is immaculate; the type of place you take pictures of every corner. But what I saw at 7:30am before the cleaners did their thing was unlike any I have witnessed before. For background, I was in a fraternity and have seen the aftermath of hundreds of college parties. I thought I had seen it all, but the streets of San Sebastián in the morning might have topped the list. The air was a solid blend of piss and beer and the streets had a healthy layer of cans, plates, cups, bottles and shattered glass just about everywhere. You could literally feel the burn in your noise from the stale, musty air. But then magic happens every morning. Enter the street cleaners aka the brave and skilled souls who in two hours each morning turn that hellhole into a postcard. Here’s a breakdown of their playbook. First, they go down all streets and knock cans, glasses and bottles from the windows and ledges to the ground (cue shattered glass and clanking cans ALL morning). Then they grab big stuff and throw it in recycle bins. Afterwards, they bring through the street zambonis to suck up all the trash and debris. Once all the crap is gone they bring through sprayers to house down, disinfect and clean the stone streets. I even witnessed a worker painting the side of a building to cover up graffiti from the night prior. Two hours later, it was perfect. Seriously, it’s an art.
Okay, back to the city. Coming off of a month stretch of beaches, we didn’t spend much time on the sand but instead would wander around taking in the sights of Great Week and eating as much as we could. The main food to eat in San Sebastián is pintxos. Think finger food typically served on giant platters sitting on the bar tops in restaurants. You go into the bar/restaurant and find a couple dozen options laying in front of you and you just grab the ones you wanted. The better places would take anything you chose then heat it up before you ate it to ensure a better taste and that it won’t get you sick since many contained seafood, meats or cheeses. Most pintxos ran around $2.50-$3.50 each. The trap of pintxos though is that people often try to find cheaper ones ($1-$2 each) but they are not heated before eating so you never know how long it has been sitting out on the counter. Some are freshly made but some could have been sitting out for multiple hours. Food safety concerns aside, if you find good ones they bring an explosion of deliciousness to your taste buds. Our favorite spot was Bar Zeruko – it had a great selection. In addition to pintxos you can also find a large assortment of seafood and my favorite, paella, at local restaurants. So you really can’t go wrong with whatever you choose!
To help offset all the eating, we also rented bikes and cruised around the city. San Sebastián is probably the most bikeable city we have seen. There are wide bike lanes on almost all main roads here which made cruising around a breeze and helped us to work off all the pinxtos we devoured. Also, it’s a cheap activity as renting a bike only cost $10-$15.
If you are ever in Spain, this is a must-see city for the food and wine alone but as you can see by the pics below, the beaches, views and city are almost as impressive. Just a few pieces of advice. 1) Sleep in and stay out late. Don’t fight it like us. 2) Make sure you heat your pintxos. 3) If you drink Spanish cider be sure you realize it is SOUR cider and not sweet so try not to throw up. You’re welcome 🙂