Estepona is adorable. It’s a sleepy, whitewashed fishing town (ok a small city) with plenty of Spanish charm. Just 89 kilometers west of Málaga on the Costa del Sol, Estepona feels a bit more authentic than the larger ports of Marbella or Fuengirola. If you’re planning a holiday in southern Spain, this small coastal city should be on your list.
I was lucky enough to be a pseudo-local here for 9 months while working as an auxiliar de conversación in a Spanish high school.
And now I’m going to share all my insights with you in this ultimate travel guide.
Travel Tips for Your Spain Holidays in Estepona
Picture a long coastline with a mountain backdrop, unobscured views of Gibraltar and on clear days, Morocco. Estepona awakens with (primarily European) tourists during the summer months, but it’s charming all year long.
It’s definitely worth a day trip from Málaga Benalmadena, or as a lunch stop on your way to Gibraltar. Of course, you could just spend a few days here relaxing.
Explore Old Town
The old town of Estepona is the perfect place to begin exploring. Stroll down flowerpot-lined streets sprinkled with sculptures, fountains, and the cutest little plazas. Calle Terraza and the smaller side streets around it are filled with boutiques. Calle Real is bustling with shops and restaurants too.
Guide yourself to the Plaza del Reloj (clock tower), Our Lady of San Remedios Church, and the impossibly cute City Hall. Stop for a drink or a snack in Plazoleta Ortiz, where you’ll have a great view of the Mediterranean.
As part of your Old Town walking tour, head to the Orchidarium Estepona. It’s home to 1,300 species of orchids and a great diversity of other plants. The best time to go is April – June when more varieties are blooming. For 3 euros you can experience the orchidarium, or just chill outside in the plaza for free.
Murals of Estepona
One of the things that makes Estepona unique is its collection of murals scattered throughout the city. Sponsored by the local government, the murals bring to life all of Estepona’s neighborhoods, not just the city center. ‘Dia de Pesca’ (Fishing Day) by by Jose Fernandez Rios is probably the most well known, as it’s one of the biggest murals in Spain. Some are odd, some have a message, and some are just plain fun.
Map of Estepona’s artistic murals (You can also grab a printed map from the tourist office).
El Puerto Deportivo
Known to most simply as “el puerto” or the port – El Puerto Deportivo refers to the marina as well as the other major part of the city. The port is the heart of Estepona’s itty bitty nightlife scene (with the exception of one “proper” discoteca, Mosaic).
Here’s what you’ll find in the port:
–Louie Louie Rock Bar has live cover bands or DJs on the weekends, and sometimes Thursdays.
-The Irish pub (I forget the name) is a big meeting spot and a solid place to get a drink. Caution: May turn into a reggaeton dance party on weekends.
-Rick’s Café is a gin bar with a huge variety of gins to choose from. Another popular meeting spot. There’s one in the center too.
-Plenty of seafood restaurants. Many non-Spanish/ethnic restaurants are also here including a few Indian restaurants, a few Thai (Thapa Thai is the best), a few Italian, and Belgian restaurant Hibiscus.
-Mercadillo del Puerto, Sundays 9 – 2. Aside from a few artisan vendors, it was mostly knockoff designer stuff and cheap clothing. Nothing special, IMHO.
-Charter boats. More on that below.
Rent a Sailboat
There are a handful of charter companies in the port who offer sailboat cruises, whale watching, and fishing trips. The Strait of Gibraltar is host to many dolphins and whales!
Our group rented a chic sailboat for two hours with cava, beer, water, sodas, and snacks included for 200 euros. Up to 8 people, can book additional hours. You can book here, or call this guy ORLANDO (+34 722 369 290) He speaks English and is a super nice guy (number found the traditional way – on a flyer).
Picnic in Parque Playa del Angel
Situated along a walking path that snuggles up to the coastline, Parque Playa del Angel is one of those special places most tourists miss. This grassy park-with-a-view is also an open-air museum, featuring 12 sculptures from sculptor Santiago de Santiago. A great place for some morning yoga, a picnic, or a nap in the sun. Or catch the sunrise, if you’re into that kind of thing.
From Kamaleon, follow the wooden footpath all the way to the park (5 mins walk).
Beaches in and Around Estepona Costa del Sol
Playa la Rada
La Rada is the main beach, smack dab in the center of Estepona and running along the Paseo Marítimo (boardwalk). The water may not be as clear as other nearby beaches, but La Rada is close to everything and has all the amenities: playground equipment for kids, sunbeds, showers, access to shops, restaurants, bars, and chiringuitos.
Playa del Cristo
Right next to the port is a small beach that’s easily accessible from the center, yet feels a bit more secluded. Families love this little cove beach for its shallow waters, protection from the wind, and chiringuito offering snacks and sunbed rentals.
Just around the corner is a fabulous mirador with a wide open view of the coast. A great place to catch the sunset before heading out for dinner.
I almost don’t want to share this tip with you because I love it so much. I want to keep it all to myself.
Just a 15-minute drive from Estepona in the direction of Cádiz, Tubalitas beach is worlds away from what you’ll find on Estepona’s Playa La Rada. The water is clearer, the sand is rockier, and there’s usually far fewer people. If you go during the week or off-season, you may even have the place to yourself.
There is not much here other than some houses and a chiringuito, so bring a picnic or some snacks and water.
Playa de Chullera
From Tubalitas, drive five minutes more in the same direction and you’ll hit Playa de Chullera or Punta Chullera. Another peaceful stretch of beach with calm waters, splendid views, and gravelly sand, Chullera sits just at the boundary of Málaga and Cádiz provinces.
Eating and Drinking in Estepona
When on the coast, we eat seafood! That’s my motto. There’s great seafood to be had in Estepona, most often ordered in raciónes (portions) and media raciónes (half portions). If it’s tapas you’re after, don’t fret. Raciónes are basically the same concept but with slightly bigger portions – order lots of different things and share it all.
What to Eat in Estepona – Typical Costa del Sol foods
Berenjenas are eggplant, in this dish prepared thinly sliced, breaded and fried. Then drizzled with miel de caña, which is essentially molasses but translated as “sugar cane honey”. Did not expect to like these but they were really yummy.
Pecados al Espeto
If you visit in the summer (from June on) when the “chiringuitos” or beach bars are open, be sure to order pescado al espeto. Pescado al espeto is a skewer of fish, cooked outdoors over an open fire, and served whole. Sardines are common in the Málaga area, but you can get lubina (bass), squid, etc. Delicious, healthy, affordable.
Chiringuito La Peseta on La Rada beach does a great espeto.
Another common local fare is boquerones fritos, or fried anchovies. Yep, they eat lots of fried stuff. These little guys are served without the heads, but with the spine (usually).
Taberna Miguel is a bit tourist-geared but also frequented by locals, and they have really great fried boquerones.
Gambas al Pil Pil
Imagine butter garlic shrimp, but made with the best olive oil in the world. Pil pil sauce is a mix of extra virgin olive oil, garlic, smoked paprika, and Spanish peppers. It comes out in a sizzling ceramic bowl and it goes fast! For a group, order at least two.
Where to Eat in Estepona
For some awesome and authentic local seafood, everyone will point you to La Escollera. It’s in the port and feels much more local than what you’ll find on the Paseo Marítimo. The ensalada de pulpo (octopus salad) is excellent here.
Here’s my recommendation for a can’t-lose and totally local order: Enough raciónes for your group of boquerones fritos (fried anchovies served whole), gambas al pil pil (shrimp in garlic butter sauce) or gambas cocidos (basically peel-and-eat shrimp, no cocktail sauce), ensalada de pulpo, and your choice of fried or grilled fish.
La Bodeguita del Chato
For something a little different but still utterly Spanish, head to la Bodeguita del Chato. Think Spanish tapas meets Asian fusion – the smoked salmon on a crispy chip thingy is amazing, as is the tosta de queso de trufa (truffle oil cheese). Bao buns with Iberian presa had potential, but were poorly executed. I hope it was just an off day because the concept was killer.
P.S. Did you know traditional vermouth is a thing in Andalucia? Order a Negroni here and ask for the house-made stuff. A steal at 4 Euros for this classic, boozy cocktail.
Bar El Caliente
To eat breakfast like the locals eat, head to a cafetería and order up a toasted bread topped with whatever you fancy. Tostado con tomate and tostado con jamón are standard choices. In the mornings, Bar El Caliente on Calle Real is a popular spot. Their claim to fame is the “el calentito” sandwich – with grilled jamón york, butter, tomato and manchego cheese.
If you’re feeling frisky, grab a ración of churros at any churrería, and don’t forget to order chocolate for dipping. This was my Sunday go-to.
This little French-style café has great French and Spanish pastries, tarts, brownies, sandwiches, cappuccinos and more in a cute atmosphere. The perfect place to chill for a bit or have a light lunch. If you’re a freelancer, it’s a good environment to get some work done.
Honoré is just outside the historic center. Look for the bright red and yellow building on Calle San Roque.
Kamaleon/The Good Life
These are my favorite patio bars to take guests for a drink. They’re side-by-side and as close to the beach as you can get without being ON the beach. In other words, not a chiringuito. Located at the far end of the beach (in the direction of Marbella), either place is perfect for pre-dinner snacks and a cocktail.
Say cheers with a cava and a Spanish tortilla de patata, and let the scenery do the rest.
La Galeria Gastro-Bar is a few blocks from the beach with an art and wine theme. They can recommend a great Spanish wine – or just go with the house. It’s always good.
Winning order: Jamón plate, cheese plate, tosta de mousse de pato (duck liver pâté), chicken Caesar salad, and a tapa of patatas bravas (a typical Spanish dish of fried potatoes with a drizzle of spicy sauce and mayo).
Mercado San Luis
Many Spanish cities have turned their old produce/fish markets into modern food court-style markets. The highlight of Estepona’s sleek Mercado San Luis is the sushi. Ask about the special daily roll, they are always amazing.
Cocóra Coffee Roasters
Cocóra combines Andalucia’s super-chillness with a bit of hipster vibe. They’re serious about coffee and they roast their own, right in the café. You can buy a bag to take home, and some healthy treats too. Get the affogato with vegan ice cream. Do it!
Grab a seat outside under the shade of the orange trees, take a sip, and smile.
Near Estepona Costa del Sol
To experience the posh side of Costa del Sol, head to Alcazaba Lagoon. Part of a chic residence community, non-residents are welcome to use the lagoon with the purchase of food. The crystal blue waters of this environmentally-friendly lagoon are ripe for swimming and poolside lounging. But you can also rent kayaks and stand-up paddleboards for a fun day in the sun.
Hiking in Sierra Bermeja
Pinsapos are a special species of fir tree that only grows in a few places in southern Spain and Morocco. Paseo de los Pinsapos begins near the village of Genalguacil and guarantees beautiful views of Costa del Sol, Gibraltar, and on clear days, Morocco. This route climbs to approximately 1450 meters above sea level.
Free Parking in Estepona
Getting around in the Costa del Sol is easiest done by car. And I’ve got a super-secret money-saving parking tip for Estepona. You’re welcome:)
There is a public parking lot at the junction of Avenida Juan Carlos I and Avenida España. It’s quite central and there are lots of spots. It’s free, but with a 1-Euro-per-24-hours suggested donation to a local non-profit foundation. Everybody wins!
There are also a few paid underground parking garages along Avenida Espana.
When I’m not out searching for the best food and beaches in Spain, I’m writing copy and more for a bunch of awesome brands. Checka-check it out!