We Agree With National Geographic's Top Surf Towns

I recently came across a National Geographic article that listed the top 20 surf towns according to National Geographic. Realizing we had been to many of the locations, it as fun to compare notes. Our two favorites, Nosara, Costa Rica and San Sebastian, Spain both made the list as we would expect. What is great about surf locations, is that they all have a distinct "vibe," or culture, and no two are the same. Therefore, what we would recommend to one person versus another could vary greatly depending upon their needs and tastes. In a similar format to how National Geographic outlines these places, we will share our comparison of Nosara and San Sebastian, both top 20 surf towns.
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Nosara, Costa Rica

Best For

Everyone! From families with young children to the professional surfing crowd, the enjoyable waves at Playa Guiones are sure to please everyone.

A day in Nosara

During the day, almost everyone staying in Nosara is likely to be found at the beach or in a yoga class. The community is built around passion for nature, the outdoors, surfing and yoga and most people visiting share something of this in common. The beach, protected from development onshore so beautifully natural and rugged, serves as the town meeting point. You are sure to find others like yourself visiting simply by catching a sunset down at the beach. Once the sun goes down in Nosara it gets very dark, primarily due to the fact that they have kept out big development projects. This means other than hearing some live music and grabbing a beer at the bar, most head to bed early preferring to stick to the natural sun cycle reinforcing the healthy lifestyle in Nosara.

Nosara Costa Rica

Food and drink

We think the food and bar at the Harmony hotel are excellent. Fortunately, we work with the Harmony hotel and this is where most of our clients stay. It is located just off the beach and has a lounge area reminiscent of Havana, Cuba with great music, a bit of a retro vibe, and top-notch cocktails with excellent fresh seafood. The harmony hotel juice bar is a great place to grab a healthy salad or fresh mixed juice by day.

Best time of year

Costa Rica has two seasons, the wet and dry. The wet runs from May-Nov, and the dry from Dec-Apr. The name of these seasons characterize the typically weather, but remember, for all the rain you may have to put up with during the wet season, it is great to have fewer crowds. In the wet season you do see daily rain, though it typically is only for a short period of time. As far as surf, Playa Guiones is excellent all year.
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San Sebastián, Spain

costa rica spanish school

Best for

Couples looking for outdoor adventure with the romantic charm, culture, and vibrancy of a small European city.

A day in San Sebastián (Donostia)

Surfing in San Sebastian offers quite a unique experience. The primary surf beach is just steps off of the main boardwalk, 5 minutes from the gothic old-town, and set against a majestic backdrop of rolling green hills and quaint European architecture. Since the beach is right where the town meets the ocean, it makes for a protected feeling, "cozy," surf spot. This does not mean the waves are always "cozy," the entire Basque Coast is known for world-class surfing. After a day in the waves, or instead of a day in the waves, there is plenty going on in town. Just walking the length of town gives one plenty to see, with San Sebastian being a center for music, cinema, and the arts in general. If you want to get a great view and exercise, hike up Mount Urgull for a great view of the Bahia de la Concha. As a mecca famous for its gastronomy, the night is when things really get going as the whole town seems to gather in the cozy pintxos (similar to tapas) bars to share stories of their day (and surfing!) over anchovies and red wine. Bilbao, home to Frank Gehry's Guggenheim museum is only an hour away and the closest international airport to fly into.

Learn Spanish and Surf San Sebastian Spain

Food and Drink

San Sebastian is famous for its molecular gastronomy. You really cannot go wrong in town, and will find a plethora of open-door pinxto bars all opening up around 5pm staying open late where you walk in, grab prepared small plates, and pay based upon the number of plates you choose. Most eat around 10pm though and the bars stay open late. The most famous restaurant, Michelin-rated Arzak, from chef Juan Mari Arzak, should not be missed by serious foodies. Make sure you make reservations far in advance.

Best time of year

If you look at a map of Spain that shows the varying climate zones, you will see that the Northern area does not have the same Mediterranean climate that is characteristic of Spain. The north is much cooler, mountainous, with an oceanic climate. Therefore, you will likely be wearing a wetsuit while surfing most of the year. The summer is really the best time to be there, from June to November, though you certainly have the benefit of less crowds if you go in the off-season.

Surf and Spanish Spain