El Puerto de Santa María– Andalusia’s Hidden Gem

Not every girl is lucky enough to marry a guy whose hometown is a gorgeous, historic beach city.

Luckily, I was. El Puerto de Santa María, Ale’s hometown, is located in the region (AKA autonomous community) of Andalucía and in the province of Cadiz. When I first arrived here two Christmases ago I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. I remember it being super windy and very old looking. It isn’t as quaint as Cadiz, as gorgeous as Seville, or as fun as Granada. But after two years of spending weekends here throughout the school year and a month each summer, I find myself loving El Puerto more and more. Here is why:

It has a castle!

I had been to El Puerto de Santa María various time before knowing this. The city has various parts and Ale’s family doesn’t live in the historic center, but rather in one of the beach neighborhoods called Valdelagrana. His neighborhood is gorgeous, filled with people’s summer homes and condos, but the historic center is really cool too. One day we were walking around when I caught a glimpse of this castle and started to freak out… “You have a castle?!” I asked Ale. “Oh yeah” he replied. “I guess we do.” Oh Spaniards!

The Castle of San Marcos

Beautiful bird families (storks?) live atop El Puerto’s churches.

I’ve seen these birds living on top of churches in many Spanish towns and it never ceases to amaze me. They are so pretty and look so regal in their big nests atop gorgeous, old buildings. Does anyone know what type of bird they are?

The Famous Port

El Puerto de Santa María is, as its name suggests, a port city and it is famous for being the port from which Christopher Columbus set sail for the second time on his way to the Americas. The port is still functioning and is filled with small fishing boats and some larger cargo ships. There are some nice bars such as La Cristalera where you can have a drink and look out on the water.  You can also catch the ferry to Cadiz for a lovely 30 minute sail across the bay. 

The Beaches

Although El Puerto has various beaches, we spend our time in Valdelagrana where Ale’s parents live about two minutes from the water. Valdelagrana isn’t the best beach in the world– the sand is too fine and gets all over you and the razor clams that wash up to shore make it dangerous to walk barefoot sometimes– but I can’t complain! The water is really warm since it is from the bay and the sand dunes are gorgeous. The boardwalk is full of bars and restaurants and everything is reasonably priced, if not downright cheap.

There’s nothing better than a run on the beach.

In summer it’s crowded, but in winter just peaceful and quiet at 60°F!

Amazing Food!

This is certainly not unique to El Puerto, as amazing food is a staple of Andalusia. When I come to visit I take full advantage by enjoying tapas, cheap beer, amazing gelato, and yummy pastries until I no longer can button my jeans. Then I stop, run on the beach, and eat some more!


The best churros I’ve ever had are from El Puerto– always freshly fried, super crisp, and not oily!

The best ice cream ever: Los Italianos Best flavor: Tejas

Not quite food– yet! Soon to be delicious, pink pomegranates.

The best Feria I’ve been to.

It’s a bit shabby in comparison to others, but it’s also more fun. Forget about private, snobby casetas (fair tents in which people eat, drink and dance) because in El Puerto virtually all tents are public. The music is also a lot more varied. The traditional Sevillanas is popular, but shares the stage with folk music, pop, techno, and reggaeton.

Los Toruños National Park

This was another discovery I made after already spending some significant time in El Puerto. One day, Ale decides to take me to “a small park” near his house. After walking about 10 minutes from his front door, we arrive at a gorgeous natural reserve called Los Toruños. This amazing park has trails along the coast and throughout small salt marshes. You can explore on foot, or rent a bicycle for a few euro. If you get too hot you can make your way to the beach at one of the various points of access.

Dorky picture of me on a rental bike!

Dreamy Sunsets

At all times of year the sunset at Valdelagrana beach is gorgeous. I drive Ale crazy taking millions of pictures– trying to capture the bright, beautiful colors with my camera. Here are some of my attempts!

The pink sun sets in September.

My dreamy man at sunset!

Lessons Learned

El Puerto de Santa María is a hidden gem and a fantastic tourist destination. The Spaniards already know this, as they flock to its beaches in July and August. But I think it makes a great trip year-round– right now it’s January and I’ve been enjoying the 65°F days and bright sun.

I also realize I need to start reading about the places I go with Ale– otherwise I’m sure I’ll miss out on more amazing castles, nature reserves, and local delicacies!

If you live in or plan on visiting Andalusia, make time to stop by El Puerto de Santa María. You won’t regret it!

Does anyone know of any other hidden gems in Spain?


  1. I second Kaley. I’ve seen them on top cathedrals in other cities and upon asking, was informed that they were “cigüeñas- los que traen bebes”

    That park looks amazing! El Puerto might have to be a weekend trip sometime soon.

  2. thanks for the kind words over on my blog! 🙂 this post is wonderful — i think it’s easy to overlook the hidden gems within spain (especially andalucía!), and i’m glad your bringing light to one of them.

  3. Geez, Lauren, you’re making me Spanish “homesick”. Go have some lengua at Er Betis for me and then dance the night away at El Nino Perdido 🙂

  4. Yay! I love Puerto! I stayed there for Carnival a few years ago, and went back last year to see more of it over Semana Santa. It’s really charming, I think. Lucky you!

  5. Gorgeous post and you´ve made me realise I married a Spaniard from a beachy hometown too – but in the opposite direction – Gijón in Asturias. I´d like to follow your example and do a wee feature on Gijón, though I´m not half as handy with a camera as you are. The photos are stunning. My hubby has a “gig” in Cádiz in September at the Uni so I´ll try to go along with him and take our lassie to try out the things you´ve pointed out. And yes, storks!

    1. Oh, please do! I’ve never been to Asturias and would love to read about it. I’m working on the photography skills, thanks for the compliment! Definitely check these things out while you’re in Cadiz!

  6. I swear the best pizza I’ve ever had in Spain was at that little place up the beach from Ale’s house!! and that Feria…diosssss what was in those rebujitos! Please let me know when you’ll be back down here, In Cái or Sevilla or otherwise!

  7. The Feria in Puerto de Santa Maria has so far been the only one I’ve been to… and I would love to return this year! I thought the city was beautiful… plus you can find a few of the most important bodegas for sherry!

  8. Pingback: 7 Must Try Foods in El Puerto de Santa María | Hotel Pinomar
  9. Hi! I’m moving to Jerez in about a month to teach (yoga). I am struggling with little things like the best place to get a cell phone, and getting from Jerez to Rota easily for work. Do you have any pointers? Thanks!

    1. Hey Ande! Jerez is great and only 10 minutes to the beach by train. You’ll love it. I’m not sure about connections to Rota, but the whole area is extremely well connected by buses and trains. I’m sure you’ll have various bus options. As for a cell phone I would go to Jerez’s big mall– Aire Sur I think– & compare prices. Prepaid plans from Yoigo are best for short stays, and Orange offers decent long term contracts with lots of phones to choose from too. Have a great trip over!

  10. I love this blog and was so glad I stumbled onto it again, it’s been a while since I’ve read it! I’ve been lucky enough to call Andalucia my home as well and have lived in a small town called Mijas in the Malaga province since September.

    I’ve down some traveling around Andalucia and have fallen in love with many gems myself!

    My first one is Mijas Pueblo! It is a famous pueblo blanco and could not be more charming. It is nestled in the mountains, and you can visit the gorgeous Santuario de la Virgen de la Pena, where it is said the virgen made an appearance in the 16th century, you can marvel at the donkey taxis, or one of the only oval plaza de toros in Spain. And the best part is the views of Fuengirola and the seafront laid out below you.

    I also fell in love with Nerja and nearby Frigiliana. Although Nerja is best known for it’s caves, the town itself is super charming. From El Balcon de Europa, to the winding streets and the cute Plaza de Espana, I wish I had had longer to spend there. And the best part of Frigiliana was the view of ancient caves carved into the mountainside and it being another typical white-washed village.

    Outside of Andalucia, I recently traveled to Barcelona. And thanks to the blogging genius that is Liz from Young Adventuress, I knew I had to take a daytrip out of the city to check out Girona, but especially Besalu. The bridge is the real star in Besalu, but the whole city itself made you feel like that you had stepped back in time. Girona was incredible as well.

    I’m just in love with Spain, and there is so much I want to see. Not enough time or money!

    1. Thanks for reading Valarie! I’ve heard great things about Mijas, and love Nerja, Girona, and Besalu. Spain is incredible, there is truly so much to see and do. And when you finish traveling the mainland (as if that’s even possible!) you still have the islands! Keep traveling!

  11. I will be visiting el puerto next spring for about two months with 3 of my friends. We are there to do some volunteer work and enjoy the area. Do you know anyone who rents out their place? We are looking for something with at least two bedrooms (and hopefully 2 bathrooms since we are 4 girls, lol). Been looking at all the vacation rental sites but it’s always great to get a recommendation from someone who’s been there! Thanks! 🙂

  12. I live in El Puerto at the opposite end of town from you…still on the Number 3 bus route though! I love it here – it’s a very friendly town and my Andalusi improves daily!

  13. Hi
    I’m just on my way to puerto se Santa Maria. Please could you tell me the name of that pizza place. We love pizza!!! And any other good vege places would be much appreciated!
    Thank you.
    Best wishes,

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