“Am I brave, or just insane?” I thought to myself as I hauled my 20-month-old son up the side of a cliff in Tarifa at midnight. We were walking back to our amazing rental and the “10 minute walk to the center” advertised on the website seemed to be more of a hike than I’d anticipated. That being said, I’d do it all again. 😆
This spring break I decided to plan a staycation right here in Cadizfornia, and visit some of the most popular destinations near our home in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. We stayed 2 nights in Sotogrande and 2 nights in Tarifa, with quick stops in Castellar de la Frontera and El Palmar. Note, you will need a car to visit these places—there is public transport but instead of a 1.5 hour drive you’d be dealing with several hours by bus.
Continue reading to see where we stayed, what we liked, and other tips for getting the most out of your trip with kids.
The farthest destination was just a 1.5 hour drive from Sanlúcar
From what I’d heard, Sotogrande is one of the most ‘pijo’ destinations for Spaniards, and once you arrive there’s no doubt the vibe is very “keeping up with the Joneses”. The prices of food and lodging here are high compared to other places in Cádiz; be prepared to pay at least €30 per person per meal, and the fact that a caña (small beer) cost €4.50 hurt my heart a little to be honest.
We rented a comfortable apartment in the marina with plenty of space for me, Javi, my mom and the twins. I’d chosen this rental because I thought it would be within walking distance of the restaurants and shops of the marina, however that was not the case; the marina community is huge, so if you book in this area make sure your rental is close to the commercial area or you’ll have to drive around and search for parking.
Snack time at Gigi’s Beach
We spent all our time at the marina and surrounding chiringuitos; we enjoyed walking around with the twins, looking at the boats, eating meals at the various outdoor restaurants and browsing the cute shops that line the water. There were kids and families everywhere we went, so if you’re traveling with little ones this is a family-friendly destination for sure.
We enjoyed our time here, but I’m not sure I’ll be back for another visit unless we’re sailing along the coast; I have a problem paying inflated costs for things I know I can get cheaper elsewhere. However, I think these prices are probably quite reasonable to foreigners who are accustomed to higher costs of living, so you might not blink an eye at a €4 beer like me.
Enjoying lunch at the marina
Fantastic lunch @ Chiringuito Eulogia
If you plan to visit this area check out these establishments:
- Gigi’s beach: Chiringuito located on the outskirts of the marina community. We went here both days for drinks and to let the kids play on the beach.
- Tracadero: Javi and I escaped to this beach club for some drinks and a romantic kid-free dinner. It’s hella expensive IMO, but the venue is cool and it’s worth a visit if you can swing it. You may need to make a reservation to eat here as it was packed for dinner.
- Chiringuito Eulogia: This was my favorite meal—the venue is just outside the marina, reasonably priced and full of locals. You can eat fresh seafood with your feet in the sand, and there’s a public playground right next door for the kids.
- Sotogrande Marina: The marina has lots of cute shops and restaurants along the water with plenty of outdoor seating. It’s a great place to enjoy a good meal and views of the water.
Castellar de la Frontera
We decided to stop in Castellar de la Frontera on our way from Sotogrande to Tarifa. The word ‘Castellar’ translates to ‘site of the castle’…a fitting name as the old town is enclosed within the fortresses’ walls. In 2020 Castellar was named “one of the most beautiful towns in Spain” and it lives up to its accolade in every way.
The history of the village dates back to prehistoric times and the Bronze Age, you can even find original cave drawings in the surrounding area. Later, the village became a strategic stronghold in the battles between the Spanish and the Moors. Eventually, people moved to the ‘New Castellar’ just down the road (with wider streets and easier access)—the hilltop village was abandoned, fell into ruins and became a hippy colony. Present day, the town has been restored and functions as a destination for tourists.
Visiting the zoo in Castellar
We stopped by the zoo first, then drove to the old village and parked outside the fortress walls. We ate tapas in a small plaza (located just through the entrance) and spent a few hours walking around and exploring. The babies loved running up and down the cobbled streets while we enjoyed the views. A few hours here was the perfect amount of time for us; apart from exploring the village, the main activity to do is hiking in Los Alcornocales Natural Park, which is not something I’m trying to do with two toddlers. 😜
Exploring the old town
Outside the fortress
Tarifa is a special place. Not only is it the southernmost point of continental Europe (you can see the lights of Morocco just across the Strait of Gibraltar), it’s where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean Sea, and it’s one of the world’s top destinations for windsports.
Playa de Los Lances in Tarifa
Javi and I have been coming to Tarifa for years, and use it as our launchpad into Morocco. This town is chock-full of fantastic restaurants, great shopping, and beautiful beaches. You’ll definitely want to try Almadraba Tuna, or atún rojo as it’s known here. This top-quality, blue-fin tuna is caught in Tarifa as well as several coastal towns in Cadiz. 80% of this tuna is exported to Japan to make sushi and sashimi. Take advantage of this local delicacy and enjoy it while you’re in the area.
- Where to stay: Tarifa is very small, and once parked you can walk everywhere. I’d recommend trying to find a place in the city center, or along the beaches mentioned below. Note, finding parking in spring and summer is nearly impossible so try to book a place that includes parking.
- Nearby beaches: You can walk to Playa Chica, Playa Santa Catalina, and Playa de Los Lances but you’ll need a car to get to other beaches farther down the shore.
- Where to eat: There are so many good restaurants in town, I’d recommend walking around the center and making a reservation at different ones if possible. A few of my favorites include Bar Los Melli and El Otro Melli; we also liked Taberna La Morena this last trip and there were several other new restaurants in the same plaza that looked delicious. We always make it a point to stop by Demente beach bar for a tapa of tuna and waffles (don’t knock it till you try it).
- Playgrounds: We spent a lot of time at two playgrounds in particular; one is conveniently located on the Paseo de la Alameda (right in front of the port) and the other is located along the paseo maritimo (near Demente).
Enjoying breakfast views at our rental, very cool but not kid-friendly
There are several playgrounds located around Tarifa
We stopped in El Palmar for lunch on our way from Tarifa to Sanlúcar. This tiny seaside community is perfect for an afternoon with its beautiful beaches and ideal surfing conditions. There are tons of chiringuitos (beach bars) and surf shops along the shoreline to enjoy. We ate a fantastic lunch at Papaya Playa—I’d definitely recommend making a reservation (all the restaurants were completo so we were lucky we were able to get a table). I’ve never rented a place in El Palmar because it’s so close to Sanlúcar, but I’ve stayed in Conil and Vejer de la Frontera nearby. It would be a fun family destination for a week, especially with bigger kids who can take surf lessons.
Enjoying Palmar’s beautiful beaches
Lunch entertainment with Grandma