At the persistent urging of my brother, I worked in a visit to San Sebastiàn during my trip to Spain (post-Italy). I had heard all good things about this city, especially pertaining to the food; in particular the pintxos. The Basque region is known for it’s pintxos, a particular kind of tapa that is a piece of seafood or meat on a slice of bread, similar to Catalan Montaditos. San Sebastian locals like to go from bar to bar, snacking on a pintxos with a beer or glass of wine, then moving onto the next bar to do the same. This way, you get to try everything! We should really adopt this method of dining in the US.
I was fortunate enough to be staying with some very friendly locals in San Sebastiàn, and on my first night they gave me the true pintxos experience (motorbike ride to Old Town included!). We met up with some of their friends, and another American couple celebrating their 30th anniversary, and let the locals do the picking. All the best pintxos places are in Old Town, along 31 de Agosto Kalea. Our first stop was Taberna Gandarías, where we shared a plate of fried calamari and grilled octopus with spices and lemon – and of course glasses of wine! Next we moved on down to Atari Gastroteka, another famous pintxos places. We sat on the steps of the Cathedral and ordered plates of tuna, anchovies and olives with bread, as well as some delicious risotto with beans and mushrooms. Everything was delicious, and the company was even better! It was such a pleasure hanging out with locals, and experiencing the dining the way that they do it.
On my second night I stopped by Bar Zabaleta in Gros before grabbing Gin & Tonics at Dickens with my new American friends (there are better and cheaper places to get a G&T in San Seb, but this place has won some awards in the past so they think they can charge 20 euros for a drink). Bar Zabaleta is known for making the “best spanish tortilla in the world” so I had to try it for myself. I ordered a slice of tortilla with a glass of Verdejo, and it was so damn good that I ordered a second slice. It was gooey, flavorful, and the perfect combination of potatoes and eggs. And only a euro per slice! Not to be missed if you’re wandering through the Gros district.
On my last day in San Sebastiàn, I finally stumbled upon the mussels bar that everyone told me to go to, La Mejillonera. I went at about 2pm, right before all the bars close for siesta. This is a great time to go because the crowds are fewer and the food is still fresh. I ordered a plate of mussels cooked in oli and butter, served with bread (of course), and another plate of fried calamari with peppers. And of course, a small beer. It was possibly the best, most simple meal I had while I was in Spain. I HIGHLY recommend seeking this place out if you’re a fan of seafood. In fact, the seafood in San Sebastiàn is very high quality as it is a sea town. Not to mention, beautiful beaches!
Here are some other places that my friend recommended, though I did not make it to all of them:
- Bar Nestor in Old Town for more traditional plates.
- Borda Berri and La Cuchara de San Telmo in Old Town for upscale pintxos.
- A Fuego Negro for more modernist pintxos.
- Pasteleria Argitan for baked goods and homemade ice cream, just near the first bridge closest to the beach.
Some other things to do:
- Lay on the beach from 4pm-7pm like the locals do, topless if you wish.
- Ride the funicular on the far west end of the city to the top of the mountain for great views and photos.
- Visit the little market in Old Town. They hold it every morning and you can see fresh seafood and meat.
- For night life, there are bars along Calle Fermin Calbeton open until 4-5, then people head to the clubs on the beach until morning!
- Order a Gin & Tonic from Atari, or any other bar in Old Town. San Sebastian (and Spain in general) is known for this cocktail, and it is fantastic!
San Sebastian is a magical city and not to be missed by anyone visiting Northern Spain. In fact, you should make it a destination. The people, the food, and the culture are so unique. It’s a small town so it’s easy to get around by foot or bus or bike. It reminded me of San Francisco in some ways, but much smaller. It’s my new favorite city by the sea, and I can’t wait to go back.