Best Places to Take Kids in Spain’s Costa del Sol

Its record of having the most days of guaranteed sunshine (about 320) in Europe is a powerful reason for the Costa del Sol’s popularity with both European and overseas travelers. The result is a merry mix of international and Spanish experiences, without losing the good-time spirit of this holiday haven.

With all that sunshine and the Mediterranean Sea washing its shores, you can be sure the first place kids want to go in the Costa del Sol is the beach. Every town has its own or there’s one close by. Malaga, the region’s hub, is lined with them. The two main ones, which have Blue Flag status for cleanliness, are an easy walk from the center, and the beach at the west end of La Misericordia has shallow-water beach good for younger children.

There are lifeguards on duty daily from mid-June to mid-September, and you can buy sand toys at beachside kiosks. Along the seafront promenade are playgrounds with slides and climbing gyms, even a pirate ship to climb on. For quieter more intimate beaches, head east from Malaga to towns like Nerja (where kids can also see Paleolithic cave paintings from the time of the Cromagnon at the Cueva de Nerja).

Outside of Malaga (you can get there by bus) are two water parks: Mijas Aqua Park in Fuengirola and the even larger Aqualand in Torremolinos. In Benalmadena, Tivoli World is a theme park with a separate section just for toddlers. Near Estepona, Selwo Aventura is a safari park where wild animals from all over the world live in naturalized settings. SeaLife in nearby Benalmádena is a large aquarium.

But you didn’t bring the kids to Spain to spend all your time in theme parks, so you’ll want to share some authentic local experiences with them. Flamenco is deep in the soul of Andalucía and Malaga has several places where you can see it, two of them especially suitable for children. Most shows begin late in the evening, but Tablao Los Amayas has a 7 p.m. show and special prices for children. Or attend a Friday morning Flamenco demonstration at the Museo Flamenco Peña Juan Breva.

Marbella beach, Spain

Marbella beach, Spain © Stillman Rogers

Malaga is the birthplace of Picasso, and home to an outstanding museum of his works. But perhaps a better way to engage children in the artist’s legacy is to join a small group class or schedule a family Paint like Picasso workshop where they’ll learn how to see the world “Through Picasso’s Eyes” as they paint their own souvenir of the Costa del Sol. El Retorno de Lilith studio is only a few yards from the house where Picasso was born, and classes are suitable for ages 7 and up.

Two Malaga attractions that welcome children with special programs are the Music Museum and Pompidou Center. At the former, kids can try out the instruments, from drums to violins, and the Pompidou Center has a special entrance for kids and the Bajo la Luna II installation filled with shapes and forms children can use to construct their own 3-D creations.

A Spanish tradition the kids are sure to want to indulge in again and again is a chocolate and churros stop. Tasty fingers of deep-fried dough are dipped into cups of hot chocolate so thick the churros will stand up by themselves. For a taste of old Malaga, savor these at Café Madrid, one of the oldest cafés in Malaga, where they’ve been a tradition since 1892. Hint: This is not a good bedtime snack if you hope to get the kids to sleep!