This is what it looks like at night in San Sebastian. The sun was nearly set, and it was about 10:15 pm. The lights along the boardwalk shimmer and the tide is low, so the sand goes on and on into the Bay of Biscay.
It's no wonder that most nightclubs don't open until 3 am and close at 7 am. I've noticed that the beach has its own rhythm, according to the age of its visitors: early morning is when you'll see runners, walkers, ocean swimmers, kayakers and people biking to work on the path; later morning is when families arrive, with young children toting their pails and shovels; midday is when the elderly, middle-aged and families with older kids arrive -- these groups tend to stay on the beach for several hours, either renting a canopy or just doing it Cali-style, with beach towels and sandy bags; later afternoon (4 pm and onward) is when teenagers and young adults arrive via scooter and bus in packs of 5 or more kids, play soccer on the beach and dive under the waves and body surf; around 6 pm, the families and elderly pack up while ocean swimmers and kayakers arrive to complete their daily dose of exercise; after 8 pm, some young people are still milling around the sand and a few people take walks at the shore, but it really clears out because everyone is getting dressed for dinner and starting to get to their meeting places. By 10 pm, most people are eating pintxos at bars or ordering helados from ice cream joints or joining in the evening paseo (stroll) through the Parte Vieja, people-watching and enjoying the night air.
One thing I've loved is the relative quiet and lack of chaos in this little beach city. There's a sophistication here that I don't think I've seen in our own California beach towns. Teenagers aren't annoying, for example. Even large groups of kids don't seem to want to mess with the older generation or be pains in the arse; frankly, they seem too interested in having fun together and flirting to even notice other people -- and that's sort of nice. Children aren't crazy, spoiled fools, even though they are clearly doted-on (I've noticed so many well-turned-out babies and toddlers in pique shirts and sweet hair bows -- it's like a baby fashion show when you see a pram approaching; I've also seen MANY siblings dressed identically, both twins and not... although I'm not sure if I like that as much 'coz it's a little too matchy for my taste. What do I know, though? My kids have wild hair and are wearing Target shorts.).
Anyway, there is an expectation of decorum that kids -- and adults -- seem to understand and adhere to, a basic human politeness that supercedes the "Look at me! No, look at me now!" quality that pervades many American tourist spots and beach towns. I haven't seen any Botox-ed faces or fake boobs, for example, and very few tattooed/pierced faces. Many of the people I've seen are naturally beautiful, all ages, and confidence seems to override self-consciousness. The girls stand up straight, a revelation to an American mom of three girls who are used to seeing Miley Cyrus slouch.
It's no wonder that rich people used to send their children on "The Grand Tour" of Europe during the 1800s (as in A Room with a View). There's just something about Europe... it's intangible, but cultured, something that you have to experience to understand. This is why I wanted my kids to come here, to see what I mean about the night sky being different, to understand why I'm so drawn to return. It's like finishing school. As if we could ever be "finished"... but it's a great start.