As you step onto the soft, golden sand of the Playa de la Malvarrosa in Valencia , a warm wind brushes against your skin. Behind you, the ramshackle houses of El Cabanyal are interspersed with makeshift market stalls and Thursday-morning shoppers, snaking their way slowly through the gently-throbbing crowds. This beachside neighborhood, so uniquely charming in its rustic, traditional beauty, is vastly different from Valencia’s more refined city centre, or from its metropolitan suburbs. Its decidedly slow pace and local, welcoming feel owes perhaps to its proximity to the city’s celebrated beach, which stretches 3.5km along the eastern Spanish coast. 

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Ibiza this is not: the southern end of this beach is unglamorous, bordered by a row of low, colorful houses, crumbling around the edges, which overlook the wide expanse of sand. Beachgoers laze at the water’s edge, playing volleyball or bounding through the warm, gentle waves of the Mediterranean. But as you venture north, along the brightly-tiled promenade, the scene begins to change, the landscape changing with it.

Crossing a concrete bridge in Valencia, where the beach becomes interrupted by a low, wide river, a small cluster of palm trees sprout up from the sand ahead of you. This marks the beginning of Passeig Marítim de la Patacona: a narrow walkway flanked by beach to its right and a string of bars and restaurants to its left. A world away from the rustic, local haunts of its southernmost neighbours, these bars are whitewashed, crisply-decorated, and unashamedly bohemian. Here, the sand is freckled with small chiringuitos, quenching the thirst of nearby beachgoers with cold beers and fresh glasses of the city’s legendarily-strong cocktail agua de Valencia.

Nature lovers should continue north here, as any signs of a commercial beach town begin to drop away, leaving only rolling sand dunes in their wake. The beach quietens now, rumbling city noises swallowed by the crashing waves, which grow only larger and louder as you tread your way along the swells of sand and rippling beachgrass. Jagged rocks begin to appear in huddles, the sand petering out to make way for the inconceivably still surface of the Carraixet river. A lone white church, framed by palm trees and cacti, observes the scene. In the space of just a few kilometers, Valencia’s municipal beach has evolved, its bars and waterside hangouts making way for towering palm trees and stormy seas. But throughout its various alter egos, Valencia’s beach never loses its iconic bohemian charm.

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