Visiting Haro: Rioja’s Wine Capital

We clearly love wine so of course our northern Spain trip would have to include a stop in Rioja to do some wine tasting. We based ourselves in Haro since it is surrounded by many of the wineries.
We have done many wine and winery tours so this time we were looking for something different. We only booked one tour ahead of time; Bodegas Conde de los Andes. We chose this winery because the tour went through their wine caves. The rest of our time we planned to just find one or two more wineries where we could just taste or have a glass of wine and relax.
The tour at Bodegas Conde de los Andes was very different than most wine tours we have been on. Typically you go through the vineyard and the winery and are educated on the wine making process, then you end with your tasting. At Bodegas Conde de los Andes you immediately go down into their wine caves and actually spend most of your tour in the caves. You are given education about the history of the caves and the wine in them as well as some education about their more modern day wines. We were super excited that about half way through the tour we stopped at a beautiful cave and actually got to taste a bottle of their 2005 vintage that had been aging. Our small group was just us and one other couple along with our guide. The five of use shared this entire bottle and then the tour continued through the caves. We thought that was the tasting and we were really happy with the wine. But then the tour continued on through the caves and concluded in the modern part of their winery with a tasting of two newer bottles. This tasting was accompanied by snacks  (almonds, iberico ham, chocolate) to pair with the wines. Our guide explained a little about each wine we were tasting and then gave us time to enjoy the wine and the food on our own. We would highly recommend this tour to winos or anyone else visiting the area. The caves are a bit chilly so we would recommend bringing a light jacket or sweatshirt with you. If you don’t have a jacket or sweater the staff will offer you a vest to help you stay warm in the caves. There are some narrow hallways were only one person can walk through at a time but other than that none of the caves are super small or claustrophobic.

 

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We also stopped at Bodegas Muga which has a modern tasting room where you can taste their wines without having to do an entire tour. The tasting room was full of tourists from all over while we were there. Here they had a set flight so you tasted four of their reds and your fifth wine you could chose from two of their roses or a white. We really enjoyed all of the wines we tasted here.  Our last stop was CVNE, here we chose to taste two different reds which again we really enjoyed both.  They have multiple tasting options if you wanted to taste more than we did. For a quick lunch near the wineries we would recommend Asador Cerveceria Tirondoa. This place is nothing fancy but they had great fried chicken!
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Haro is a small city that is very walkable. There is a central square where you will find lots of places to sit and enjoy a glass of wine and a tapa or small snack. There are also several wine shops in the city where you can find a great variety of Spanish wines. Our last night in the city we had dinner at Restaurante Arrope and would highly recommend it.

 

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There are plenty of other wineries in Rioja to explore as well. We spent our time in Haro but have heard that Logrono is also a great place to base yourself for exploring Rioa. Either way you are sure to have some really wonderful wines!

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-TFWYs

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Visiting San Juan de Gatzelugatxe

San Juan de Gatzelugatxe for anyone who doesn’t know, is an island off of Spain’s northern coast. It’s in Basque country near Bilbao and San Sebastian. The island is connected to the mainland by a manmade bridge. On top of the island is a small church dedicated to John the Baptist.

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When we first saw pictures of San Juan de Gatzelugatxe we knew we had to visit while we were in Northern Spain! The place just looks incredible.  We later learned this place was also featured on Game of Thrones so it recently has been getting more tourists for that reason. We didn’t watch the show but we can certainly say that this place is beautiful! As long as you are up for a hike it is definitely worth a visit! We visited as a day trip from San Sebastian which was very doable. It was a little over an hour drive from the city. It is much closer to Bilbao so if you are planning to visit both of those cities it would be easier to get to San Juan de Gatzelugatxe from Bilbao.

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A more recent change to this place is that you now need a ticket to enter. The tickets were free of cost when we visited. You can book online ahead of time and then just scan your pass to enter. If you don’t book ahead of time you can get your tickets when you arrive but there will likely be a line you need to wait in to register for your tickets. We arrived just before 10 AM and then line was pretty small but having booked online we got to skip right through. Online it says this place opens to visitors at 10AM however there were people already at the top when we started our walk so they had to have let people in early. We would highly recommend getting there right when it opens so that you can be there before the crowds. Get your tickets here: http://web.bizkaia.eus/es/gaztelugatxe

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You will get great views of the church and the island as you walk the path down from the parking area to the start of the stairs. Then the real climb begins as you walk up the 231 steps up to the church. The staircase is pretty steep for much of the climb and fairly narrow. You will pretty much be walking single file. There are handrails the entire way but we would not recommend doing this walk if you do have mobility difficulties. The steps are cobblestone and uneven at times making it a bit challenging to navigate, wear good shoes for sure! The views of the surrounding coastline as you walk up are incredible, you will want to stop for pictures along the way! Once you are at the top you can see the church and if you would like ring the bell three times and make a wish. Total time it took us to walk from the entrance all the way up to the church and back down was about an hour and a half. We did see a small café and there was an ice cream truck setting up by the parking lot when we got back to our car. We didn’t eat at the café so cannot comment on the food or pricing but know that it is an option for after you hike.

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For more recommendations on what to do in the surrounding cities of San Sebastian and Bilbo check out our other blog posts here:

San Sebastian

Bilbao

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-TFWYs

Asturias Spain

Asturias is in the central part of Spain’s northern coast. It is a less traveled area but has a lot to offer! We had initially planned to do a road trip across northern Spain. But then we were listening to a podcast about the Camino de Santiago and got inspired to look into that. In doing some research we quickly found the Camino del Norte path which happens to go along the coast just as we had already planned to do. We decided to take a few days in our trip and walk part of the Camino del Norte. We got a guide book which said the best views on the trail are in Asturias so that is where we chose to do our walk. From Bilbao we took the train to Colombres. From there it was a short 5-10 minute walk to La Franca. This is where we started our time in Asturias and from there we headed to Llanes, Nueva, La Isla, Villaviscosa, Gijon and Cudillero. Asturias is a beautiful area full of some awesome beaches and cute little towns, whether you are on the Camino del Norte or just travelling through the area by car or bus we would recommend stopping into some of these towns.

La Franca: This is a very, very small town. Not a ton to do here but if you are on the Camino it is a nice place to stop. There is a pilgrim restaurant with an open kitchen all day long. You don’t need to be a pilgrim on the Camino to eat here,  the big difference with this restaurant is that the kitchen doesn’t close for a long siesta. If you arrive late afternoon/evening you can get a meal without waiting until 8 or 9pm when most restaurants in the area open their kitchen. We ate at this restaurant for dinner. We ordered the menu de la noche and were surprised when they brought out two of the biggest steaks we have ever been served. The steak was a Austrias traditional dish called Cachopo. This dish consists of two thin steaks with ham and cheese in the center, covered with bread crumbs and fried up. It was delicious! You will see mostly locals in this town. We didn’t see any other tourists or pilgrims while we were here. We stayed at a traditional cidery which had rooms above; Sidreria La Casa Abajo. The rooms are nothing fancy but they were clean and if you are passing through for a day or two we felt it was a good option. The cider here was actually one of our favorites we had during our time in Asturias. The cidery did have a restaurant but the kitchen didn’t open until 9pm and we were starving when we arrived so we couldn’t wait. We did of course have a few glasses of cider there after dinner and the food looked really good. Cider is big in Asturias, you will see apple trees growing everywhere and every little town will have at least one sidreria/cidery. When you order cider in Asturias you just get a bottle or a glass of whatever they have, you don’t have a list of ciders as you would at a brewery or cidery in the U.S. A bottle is very cheap so if two of you are sharing it is definitely worth ordering a bottle, maybe even a second!

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Llanes: We stayed at a pilgrim albergue called Albergue La Casona del Peregrino. We had a private room with our own bathroom. There were also shared rooms for very cheap. We booked online ahead of time and didn’t have to show proof that we were on the Camino but definitely all the other people staying here were pilgrims doing the Camino. Llanes is a much bigger town than La Franca. There is more of a tourist, beachside town feel to it. There are plenty of shops and small cafés and restaurants. There is also a small beach in town and a port where you can walk along the waterfront. This would be a great town to base yourself in for a couple days. The town just has a great vibe! It is full of prilgrims, locals and other tourists from all over just there to enjoy a beach vacation.

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Nueva: Again a very small town. We stayed at Hotel La Casona de Nueva. There are a few options here for food but again kitchens don’t open until 8 or 9pm. You will be able to have a drink at most restaurants; they won’t fully close for siesta but limited food options until later on for dinner.

La Isla: We spent a bit more this night and stayed right on the water at Hotel Bahia. The room here was very nice and we had a great view of the beach! There is a restaurant at the hotel but it was closed for dinner the night we stayed. They did have a breakfast buffet available in the morning which had a lot of options. Food options for dinner in this town are limited. There are several small cafés along the water but several of them just offer drinks and small snacks. Again we were starving after a long day of walking so we had limited patience during our search for food. We ended up eating at the hostel that was right next to our hotel called Hostel El Furacu. They have a small bar where you can order drinks and food which they will bring out to you at outdoor tables by the water. The food was nothing special but we were starving so it did the trick! We were supposed to go on from here and walk the following day but we decided we had gotten a good feel for the Camino. We honestly packed way too much and were also tired of carrying our way to heavy backpacks all day. So we decided to take the bus the next day after relaxing on the beach here in La Isla for the afternoon. The beach here is quite long, great for a beach walk. There is also a small rocky outcropping which is an island at high tide but you can walk right now to it and climb all over the rocks at low tide. This town also doesn’t see many tourists so we were some of the only people on the beach that afternoon which was nice. From here you can take a bus onward as we did. The bus company doesn’t have a website so we actually found the bus schedule on google and used google maps to also find the bus stop. There is a stop right outside of one of the pilgrim hotels: Hotel Monte Y Mar. There is a small sign that says Bus. That is your only indication that there is actually a bus stop here.

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Villaviscosa: This is the only town where we booked our accommodations through Air B and B. The rest of these towns we booked our rooms through booking.com. Here we stayed in a small apartment just a 5-10 minute walk from the center of town. There was a festival going on while we were here so we wandered around that for a bit and then had dinner at Sideria LENA. This place was amazing! The food was great and the staff are great. It’s important to know that cider in this part of Spain is meant to be drunk quickly. They pour you a small amount and if you don’t drink it quickly they may dump out what is left in your glass when they come back around to pour you more. The waiters and waitresses here are very skilled at pouring the cider from very high up which helps it get fizzy. We did not know the proper way to drink the cider until our dinner here when our waitress made sure she explained the rules to us. We would highly recommend eating here if you are in the area. Again from here we took the bus to Gijon and then from there we rented a car for the rest of our trip around northern Spain.

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 Gijon: Gijon is a large city with plenty to do. We stayed right in the city center at Hostel Gijon. Our host was amazing! He gave us a map and a ton of recommendations for places to see and places to eat. He was super helpful and made sure we had a great time even though we were only there one night. We would highly recommend this hostel. Do be warned it is right in the city center so it was a bit noisy at night. We ate dinner at Ciudadela and would highly recommend it, the food was absolutely amazing! We spend our afternoon walking around the city and relaxing on the beach. The beach here is huge at low tide but at high tide it comes all the way up to the city wall leaving no beach at all. Gijon is a very walkable city. From the city center where we stayed it was easy to walk around and find all the major attractions.

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Cudillero: This is such cute little seaside town! We drove here from Gijon for a few hours in the late morning. It is a place that you will see a lot of other tourists but for good reason. The town is built up into the hillside. There are plenty of small, windy stairs up the hills. You can easily get away from the crowds by going up. We wandered by a local lady out in her yard who very kindly pointed us in the direction of a specific staircase leading to an amazing look out point with great views of the city. There are also plenty of small shops and cafes in town.

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Asturias is full of some really amazing beaches to check out along the way. Check out our list of top 10 beaches in Northern Spain for some of our highlights. Also we recommend downloading the asturplaya App to help you find even more beaches then what we have listed.

Top 10 Beaches in Northern Spain

The picos de Europa are also in this area, We admired them as we walked the Camino but didn’t get a chance to head up into the mountains. We have heard that there are plenty of great little mountain towns to check as well if you have more time in this area.

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-TFWYs

 

Top 10 Beaches in Northern Spain

We love the beach! We always seen to plan our trips along some coastline somewhere. We spent two and half weeks making our way across Spain’s northern coast which just may be the most beautiful place we have been yet! Here is our list of the top 10 beaches we visited:
1. Playa de Torimbia: This beach is incredible. It is quite a hike down so do be prepared for that. Once you are on the beach you feel like your on another plant which such tall rock walls all around you. There is a small restaurant, more of a beach shack offering small plates, snacks and drinks. The hike down and back up does take some time but you will get amazing views along the way!
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2. Zumaia beach: This beach was featured on Game of Thrones. The rock formations that come right up to the water are like nothing we have ever seen. There is a restaurant overlooking the beach where you can grab lunch or a few drinks. This is also a great beach for surfing!
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3. Cathedral beach: The rock arches at Cathedral beach do not disappoint! You do need to plan your trip ahead of time as the number of people they let visit each day is limited. check out our blog post here for more details on this incredible place: Cathedral Beach: everything you need to know before you visit
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4. Gulpiyuri beach: This is a small, “hidden” beach off the coast. The waves crash through the rocks creating a small, shallow pool of water surrounded by a small sand beach. There are signs leading you down a dirt path to the beach.
5. Zurriola: This is the surfing beach in the city of San Sebastian. Great for surfing with tons of places nearby to rent board at. The beach is full of surfers all day long. This was our favorite beach in San Sebastian. It is bigger so it’s easier to feel like you are not right in the city while you are here.
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6. La Concha: This is the main beach in the city of San Sebastian. Here is where you go for swimming and other water activities. The beach overlooks La Isla de Santa Clara and you can see Mont Urgull and Mont Igueldo on either side
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7. Zarautz: This is another great surfing beach! The beach is huge offering lots of space for everyone. Also a great place for a beach walk. The small town of Zarautz has a great beach town feel but do pay attention to where you are parking. We unknowingly parked in a residential zone and ended up with a 20 euro parking ticket.
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8. Playa de Ballota: We passed this beach along the Camino del Norte, it is just before you reach the town of Llanes. It is another beach with quite a hike down but worth it for sure! There we alot of surfers there when we passed by. There is a campground nearby as well.
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9. La Isla: La Isla is a small beach town along the Camino del Norte route. This rock formation you can access at low tide but as the tide comes up it becomes a small island out in the water. there are a few small hotels, hostels and restaurants/cafes right along the beach so you can sit back and watch as the tides change.
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10. Playa de Vidiago: This was one of the first beaches we passed on our three days on the Camino del Norte. We were super impressed with this place! We kept walking and found the beaches only get better as we went!
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There are so many beaches along this coast, we definitely didn’t hit them all! If you are going through Asturias we would also recommend the AsturPlaya app to help you find all the best beaches!
-TFWYs

Why You Shouldn’t Skip Bilbao in Northern Spain

Bilbao was our first stop in our northern Spain trip. We only gave ourselves two days in the city before heading off to our next stop. The city is fairly small and very walkable. Two full days is enough time to see the major highlights and have time to wander the city without feeling rushed. That being said we really enjoyed Bilbao and would recommend giving yourself more time if you can. The city is beautiful and there are plenty of areas nearby that make great day trips.

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Getting around: From the airport there is a bus that will take you directly into the city. The Bilbao airport is quite small which makes finding the bus very easy. When you leave baggage claim there is literally just a door that says bus, you walk through and will immediately see the ticket counter and the bus stop. Don’t waste your money on a taxi, the city is just a short bus ride away, approx. 20 minutes.

As we said, the city itself is very walkable and the best way to see it is on foot. There is also a subway/metro which is easy to use. This will take you around the city and out of the city for a low cost. You will see most locals using a card/pass to pay for their routes (barik card). If you happen to get one of these cards it will cost you less for each route. We were lucky enough to have a wonderful Airbnb host who left us her extra card so we could load money on it and then travel on the metro for cheaper. We took the metro from the city center to the Las Arenas area which is on the bay of Biscay. This was approx. 20-30 minute ride and only cost us less than one Euro per person with the barik card. You can load money onto the card using an machine similar to an ATM at any metro station.

What to See and Do:

Old town (Casco Viejo): This is a beautiful part of the city and it is where you will get the best pintxos. This area is full of cobblestone streets, old churches and other beautiful buildings. We recommend you wander around and eat at any pintxo bar you pass that is full of people; the best pintxo bars are the crowded ones! For more information on how to order pintxos check out our blog post here: Ordering Pintxos in Basque Country  

 

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Guggenheim Museum: We stayed near the museum and we really liked that area. It was not a far walk to any of the areas of the city listed in this post. Staying in this area  or staying in old town would both be great options. We are not big museum people and we were only in the city for two days so we did not go into the museum. We had read that the entrance fee is a bit expensive. The big draw to the museum is the building itself. The architecture is very cool and surrounding the museum there are several sculptures which are worth seeing.

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Funicular up Mount Artxanda:  If you are staying in old town or near the Guggenheim you will need to cross the river to get to the funicular. From the top of Mount Artxanda you have the best views of the city. There is a look out point great for taking pictures, a small park area and several restaurants. We highly recommend doing this during your stay! The funicular leaves every 15 minutes during the day.

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Zubizuri Bridge: beautiful white foot-bridge over the river. If you walk along the river you can’t miss it! This is the bridge you will take to get across the river if you are heading to the funicular.

Mercado de la Ribera: This is the largest covered market in Europe. Here you will find venders selling local fruits and vegetables, meats, fresh seafood and local cheeses. We wandered through and were not hassled or pressured at all to buy anything. On the other half of the building there is a large sitting area with venders selling pintxos, coffee and drinks. You will find a good variety of pintxos here. Different from the pintxos bars in old town here you can order you pintxos and then go sit down at a table to enjoy them. Although normally pintxos are eaten standing up, in a crowded bar this setting can be more comfortable if traveling from somewhere where you are used to sitting down for all your meals. You will see a mix of locals and tourists eating here.

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Las Arenas: This area was recommended to us by our air b and b host. It was about 20-30 minutes ride out of town on the metro. There is a small beach area as well as a beautiful walkway along the port. You can also see the Vizcaya bridge which was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 2006. For a small fee you can take the bridge across the river to the other side of the city. The bridge hangs over the water, unlike anything we had seen before. We spent an afternoon in this area, first wandering the city and then heading to the beach. It’s a great place to visit, especially if you aren’t planning on spending a lot of time on your trip along the coast. This area will give you the coastal city feel and some beach time without having to travel too far outside the city.

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Bilbao really took us by surprise! We expected to like it but it wasn’t the place we were most excited about on our trip. We found it to be an absolutely beautiful city which we would love to get back to. The people are kind and helpful and the city is not overrun by tourists yet so go soon!

-TFWY’s

Cathedral Beach: Everything you need to know before you visit

Somewhere along the way during our research into Northern Spain we saw a picture of Cathedral beach and decided we had to go! We added it to our list of places to see and left it at that. As our trip grew closer we happened to read somewhere that you need tickets to visit the beach since Galicia, Spain does monitor and limit the number of people who can visit each day. This led to much more research to make sure we had everything figured out before we left. This post will outline what you need to know to make sure you make the most of your visit to this amazing beach!
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First of all it is worth it! The beach really is incredible and if you are in the area we would highly recommend a visit. Plan to spend at least an hour down on the beach itself. It is much larger with more rock formations, arches and caves to explore than we realized.
Booking Tickets: 
During the spring through fall months you need to have tickets to visit the beach. You cannot book your tickets until 15 days prior to your visit. You will need to enter names and passport information for each person visiting. Then you will get an email with a barcode which they will scan when you enter the beach (so make sure to print it or save it on your phone).
Use this website to book your tickets:
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When to visit the beach:
Cathedral beach is different than most beaches in that the time of day and time of month really matter for your visit. The beach is only accessible at low tide. At high tide the water is too high to walk around the rocks. Low tide happens twice a day. The tides will be predicted on tide tables about two weeks ahead of time on the website listed below.
It’s good to know a little bit about the tides when you’re visiting this area. The tides have different heights based on the lunar phase. The best time to visit the beach is at the full moon or the week after. This is the time of the month when the difference between high and low tide is the greatest. Generally speaking that means low tide is lower and high tide is higher. That means there will be more beach to walk on during low tide at this time of the month. The week before the full moon is the worst time to visit the beach as this week the difference between high and low tide is at it’s lowest. During this week you won’t be able to walk on the beach without getting wet, even at low tide.
The tide table on this website is in Spanish. The bajamar column is low tide and the pleamar column is high tide. The altura or height column shows the height the sea will reach. It varys each day based on the lunar phase. The closer that number is to zero, the lower the tide/the better the day is to visit.

Use this website for tide tables and general info: http://ascatedrais.gal/ascatedrais/portada.php?idioma=en

 

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During your Visit:

Once you scan your ticket and head down to the beach you won’t be allowed to go back down a second time, so take your time! Even though the number of visitors is limited each day it will be crowded. The beach is large with lots to explore but do be aware it can be difficult to get a picture of the rock formations without anybody in them. Most of the large arches you will have seen pictures of before you go are to the right of the stairs down to the beach. But trust us walking the entire length of the beach in both directions is worth it. We recommend wearing shorts or pants that can easily be rolled up and wear shoes you can easily kick off. We visited the week after the full moon at low tide (the best week to visit) and while the beach was mostly dry there are rock formations closer to the water so if you want to see it all you may have to walk through some shallow water.

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There is a restaurant at the top of the stairs to the beach if you want lunch after you explore. We didn’t eat there so cannot recommend it. There are also picnic tables with better views of the beach so we would recommend taking a picnic lunch or some snacks to enjoy there before or after your beach walk. There are bathrooms you can use while your there but do be prepared, you will have to pay a small amount so do bring some small change.

We hope this helps! Go and explore this incredibly beautiful beach!

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-TFWYs