San Sebastian was a busy fishing and trading port. It was given the status of Villa sometime in the early 12th Century by Sancho the Older, king of Navarra. Later also used as a strategic military fort at the Spanish-French border. The town was used basically as a fortress, with the castle on top of Mt. Urgull serving as its stronghold, which was kept constantly armed and thick walls surrounding the town.

The city's use as a military post throughout the centuries is evident with the number of battles that took place there between Spain and France, and Spain and England, especially during the middle ages.

Again seeing military action in the late 18th Century, San Sebastian was occupied by Napoleon's army to be later "liberated" by the Anglo-Portuguese army that burnt and destroyed much of the city.  Upon Napoleon's withdrawal, the people of San Sebastian set about rebuilding the city.  This effort was helped by Queen Isabella, who visited the city in the early 1800's and was taken with its beauty.  She sent workers and funds to the city to assist in the rebuilding effort.

Today San Sebastian is a major summer resort area, known as Spain's "Summer Capital".  It is particularly popular because of its cool and pleasant summer temperatures.  The city's beaches, shopping, spas, and dining attract thousands of people each year.