As you touch down in San Sebastián, you exit and take a deep breath. A cool breeze blows hints of brine, the floral scent of the tamarix, and a touch of garlic frying. You feel immediately refreshed, your curiosity, and your appetite, aroused. There is something special about the air here, you can tell.
Exploring the city reveals unseen borders, drawn like invisible curtains behind which lies new personalities and different characters. The northernmost point of the city is La Parte Vieja, where the streets are compact and crooked, and crammed with pintxo bars. The second you traverse the Boulevard, however, you’ll find yourself in the Centro, where buildings are newer, streets are wider and lined with trees, and shops abound.
Veer to the east, crossing the Urumea, and you’ll feel a different breeze as you enter Gros, a younger, vibrant neighborhood with a distinct surfer feel. Keep traveling south and cross to the other side of the tracks, into the neighborhood of Egia, with hidden corners full of authentic local grit and charm. Veer to the west, squeeze past the Miramar palace, and end up in Antiguo, a posh yet laid back neighborhood with a lively social life and a wonderfully local beach scene.
Whether it’s summer or winter, you can hear a multitude of sounds drifting through the air of the city. Fairs and festivals strike when least expected—the city’s biggest celebration, the tamborrada, is in the dead of winter, and it fills the air with the sound of drumming for 24 hours straight. The fireworks in August, the farm animals in December, the dancing at Easter—in San Sebastián, culture is always in the air.
You reach the end of the beach promenade, and the wind is buffeting you in gusts, cooling down a hot summer day. That same wind traces its way through the gnarled metal fingers of Eduardo Chillida’s masterpiece, El Peine del Viento. The Comb of the Wind, one of the Basque sculptor’s most famous works, hangs in a gravity-defying arrangement on a rocky outcropping. You watch as the sea water shoots up through holes in the ground, exhibiting the raw power of the wind.
Eduardo Chillida Pasealekua s/n, San Sebastian
There is nothing like feeling the sea breeze run through your hair on the back of a boat. You motor over, putt-putting through the bay until the boat pulls up to a drastically steep island, la Isla de Santa Clara. You hop off the boat and into the clear, glistening water for a bit of a swim, and then you hike up to a lookout to enjoy your picnic with the city of San Sebastián spread out in front of you, from a whole new vantage point.
You find that when the sun isn’t shining, a bit of drizzly rain seems to be falling—and rarely anything in between. Walking through the Old Town, you come across a quaint hat shop and flit in. Casa Ponsol, you realize, is Spain’s oldest hat shop and the temple of the boina, a beret that the Basques have adopted as their own personal symbol. You choose one in a beautiful green shade, pop it on your head, and head back out to the sirimiri.
Narrika Kalea 4, San Sebastian
943 32 00 68
The punchy, swerving notes of a trumpet float through the air. Jazz permeates the beach, floating in the salty wind. You pass the huge square blocks of the Kursaal, rounding the corner to see a crowd of concert-goers on the beach. You undo your sandals, let your toes dig into the sand, and start swaying to the music of Jazzaldia. An unforgettable night.
Your eye is drawn to the brightly lit, apparently empty storefront. Then you focus on a single object, on a pedestal in the center of the room. Looking up, you see you are at Cibrian Gallery, one of the city’s most daring contemporary art galleries. Pop in and take in art far from the standard Chillida-like fare.
Hernani Kalea 21, San Sebastian
943 43 51 86