Superyachts, Supercars, and sunburns. Marbella is without a doubt the prime destination in Spain’s Costa del Sol for the jet setting lifestyle and soaking up copious amounts of sun, drinks, and seafood. For two days in Marbella, we enjoyed the lifestyle and hustle and bustle of the town and beaches while later enjoying some more relaxed family time together at our resort. Even though the most high profile tourists may stay in their yacht cabins and hit the beach from a Ferrari, Marbella can actually be an affordable and family friendly destination.
We almost didn’t end up visiting Marbella because its reputation really didn’t fit our style. Maybe in our younger days the beach and bar hopping scene might have some appeal to us, but with two three year olds, we knew we wouldn’t be exploring the cocktail bars or clubs. Quieter relaxed beaches are where we like to go these days. However, we figured since we’d be passing by, we just had to experience the jewel of the coast even if it wasn’t quite for us. It ended up surprising us with some of the best highlights from our whole two week trip across the south of Spain.
We had been to the beach and to pools before with our boys, but their first few visits were tepid at most. In Spain and in particular in Marbella, they discovered a love of swimming and playing on the beach and in the sea that meant we had to negotiate leaving for meals and to see other parts of the town. The boys even started jumping into the pool and swimming by themselves, aided by floaties of course. Marbella ended up being the perfect place to stoke this love in them.
Marbella, like so much of the coast of Spain is reachable from the other major cities via Spain’s excellent National rail system. While we did use the train to get around parts of Spain, we ended up driving into Marbella instead. The coastal highway makes it an easy and quick drive from elsewhere along the water. We decided to detour through the Sierra National Park, coming down over beautiful if a little harrowing mountain roads before arriving at the coast. There’s also always arriving by yacht.
Where to stay
We stayed at Vasari Resort, a large property with a massive pool perfect for kids and spacious suites where we could stretch out with our own bedroom while the boys slept on the fold out couch. The highlight was absolutely the pool since we spent hours there with the boys each day. The location was also a benefit. While not right at the beach or downtown, it was a short walk through less scenic parts of town past the highway off ramp, to the beach in about 15 minutes.
What to do
There aren’t many tourist locations in Marbella other than the beach, but that’s what anyone really comes to the town for. There are actually two towns next to each other, Marbella proper and Puerto Banus, the newer area with the yacht marina and more posh stores and clientelle. The beaches are both excellent though Puerto Banus is a tad quieter while Marbella, thanks to the promenade of stores along it is a bit more lively, especially at night. Both get pretty crowded just about every day though, so it’s important to get there early to grab a spot. The boys loved the clean and powdery sand and relatively calm water to play in.
In Puerto Banus, the marina is also worth a quick detour to see the boats, cars, and the promenade stores. Numerous high end fashion brands are featured there and the street is pretty much supercar after supercar. The yachts are incredibly ridiculous but it’s possible to get pretty close up.
In Marbella, thr Avenida del Mar, the main avenue along the beach is about as close as Europe gets to the boardwalks of the Jersey Shore. Tons of cafes, bar, restaurants, beach shops, and ice cream spots line the street and several are actually right on the sand of the beach. We really liked grabbing some ice cream and letting the boys run around the playground on the beach as well as the little rides and games at one of the arcades along the road.
Where to eat
There aren’t many economical options right near the beach, even for drinks. However at least at Astral Cocteleria, you get some decent value for the money with massive drinks. You know it will be an interesting experience when the place is shaped like a pirate ship complete with pirate at the entrance and an outside area that involved crossing a plank over little aquariums with some goldfish. I ordered a colada type drink and was rewarded with a fishbowl sized glass of potent cocktail including fresh fruit that was exquisitely refreshing after a long morning in the heat of the sun on the nearby beach. While the boys remained occupied watching the fish and the beach, I sipped the drink down to the last piece of fruit.
Our first night in town, we didn’t feel like venturing back out from the resort after a tiring day on the beach and at the pool. I usually wouldn’t want to stay put in a hotel, instead preferring to get out and experience the town and sights, but we’ve recently discovered the joy of an evening as a family in the hotel enjoying some delivery food when possible. We still get to try something local and new, but can enjoy a relaxed meal together without the stress of tired toddlers in public in a restaurant. We ordered from Curry Leaves, a highly reviewed Indian restaurant nearby and the whole family enjoyed the variety of food. We were even pleasantly surprised that they actually provided a decent spice level when requested since Europe tends to downplay spice typically. Ordering out also gave us some additional time for the boys to play at the pool before we had to call them in.
Not exactly the local fare, but the South American fare at Hacienda Patagonica was a perfect change from seafood. Located right in the popular area near the beach promenade, it’s both easy to get to and offers a different and excellent type of food option. Focused mostly on cuts of beef, there are also a variety of small empanada like pastries with a range of filling offerings. We liked them so much we ended up ordering a second round of them. The meat was impeccably aged, seasoned, cooked, and served. The sliced portion of sirloin was perfect for us all to share and absolutely succulent. Everything also paired nicely with a glass of flavorful Malbec from Patagonia as well.
A trip to the beach at Marbella wouldn’t be complete without a stop at an ice cream shop for a refreshing cold treat. We stopped in at Jijoneca for a few scoops and loved both the refreshing fruit flavors and richer dessert options like chocolate, nutella, or candy bar flavors. I always go for a Kinder chocolate flavored ice cream in Europe, so I gave that a try along with a berry scoop that we all enjoyed while walking along the beach.
Marbella definitely deserves the reputation as the destination for Europe’s elite and well to do, but there’s plenty to keep normal people occupied as well. From the great beaches to the bars and restaurants right next to the water, there’s a fantastic wealth of options for everyone to enjoy a great beach day. Families will love soaking up the sun and enjoying a relaxed beach vacation day taking it slow and easy whether it’s around town or just back at the resort. There’s a lot more to Marbella than the yachts and sports cars.