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The things you won't find here are the towers (torres) and windmills (molinos) that originally gave the little fishing village its name. They have been bulldozed under and replaced with soulless concrete bunkers. Today Torremolinos has been rechristened "Torrie" by its hordes of package-tour devotees.

Most visitors are here for the beaches, not the Mudéjar architecture. There are two: El Bajondillo (aka Playa de Bajondill) and La Carihuela, the latter bordering the old fishing village that is now engulfed in development. The sands are gray.

These beaches are packed in July and August, when you'll find yourself lying next to a dishwasher from Hamburg, a shoe salesman from Leicester, and a janitor of an office building in Stockholm. Let the rich and famous enjoy Marbella. Torremolinos is blue collar -- and proud of it.

Unless Torremolinos is leveled to the ground and rebuilt, it will always be a tacky parody of a Spanish seaside resort. Even so, there have been signs of improvement, especially in the recently finished promenade along the seafront that runs all the way to the old fishing village of La Carihuela. It's quite panoramic for the most part. Some of the most offensive stores in the old quarter of Torremolinos -- those hawking dildos, for example -- are now largely gone, and it's amusing to wander the narrow streets and maze of old alleys. You certainly never have to worry about getting a drink, as the bar-per-block ratio is about three to one.

City officials try to amuse their summer visitors with free events, including music and dance festivals, even jazz concerts and sporting competitions as well.

Torrie's Heartland & La Carihuela

While visiting Torrie's overcrowded streets, keep a close grip on your purse or wallet. The resort is divided into two parts, the main town and the fishing village down below. Locals, especially British expats, call the main square "Central T-town." It centers on the traffic-clogged Plaza Costa del Sol, where you are likely to see an international parade of passersby. The main shopping street is Calle San Miguel, hawking some of the junkiest souvenirs in Andalusia. But, surprise, some excellent Spanish goods will often appear in a shop selling otherwise tawdry crafts not worth the suitcase space.

Brash, bold Plaza Nogalera in the heart of Torremolinos is active day and night. Expect sangria bars, gay hangouts, dance clubs, tascas (taverns) -- and inflated prices. Pick and choose carefully here.

For strolling, we prefer nearby Pueblo Blanco, off Calle Casablanca. It doesn't assault you quite as vigorously as Nogalera.

La Carihuela is west of Torrie's center and is most often approached via Avenida Carlotta Alessandri. It has far more Spanish flavor than the town itself, and there are many old fishermen's cottages remaining, but none so compelling that you have to visit for that reason.

Most visit Carihuela for its excellent fish restaurants, many of which are quite naturally found along Paseo Marítimo. On a summer evening when the center of Torremolinos is blistering hot, a summer promenade in Carihuela, enjoying the fresh sea breezes, is the way to go. Andalusian families, who throng here by the thousands, seem to agree.

If you have children in tow, you can take them to Aquapark, off the bypass in the vicinity of the Palacio de Congresos (a convention center). This water park (tel. 95-238-88-88; www.aqualand.es) is filled with the usual attractions, including "water mountains," pools, artificial waves, and water chutes. Other attractions include "kamikaze," the highest water toboggan on the Continent, and a "black hole," composed of tubes with sharp drops and turns. At least it's a great way to cool off in summer. Charging an admission of 21€ ($33) adults, 15€ ($23) kids, it is open May, June, and September daily from 10am to 6pm and in July and August daily from 10am to 7pm.

More Fun in Benalmádena

9km (5 1/2 miles) west of Torremolinos, Benálmadena (also called Benálmadena-Costa) is a virtual suburb of Torremolinos, although in the past decade it has been making a somewhat hopeless attempt to establish its own identity.

Package-tour operators fill up most of the hotels here. It's not the kind of place you should expect to pay full price. Puerto Marina Benálmadena, its yachting haven, is its toniest part and is a popular rendezvous on a hot summer night, especially with the youth of the area. Also intriguing is the village proper, Benálmadena-Pueblo, the center of the Old Town or what's left of it. It sprawls across a sierra (mountain), 7km (4 miles) from the coast. Unlike the heart of old Torremolinos, this pueblo hasn't been completely spoiled. It'll give you a preview of what a small Andalusian town looks like, provided you decide to venture no farther inland. The area is bounded by shops, bars, and other services.

One of the best aquariums in Andalusia is Sea Life Benálmadena, at Puerto Marina Benálmadena (tel. 95-256-01-50; www.sealife.es). In summer it is open daily from 10am to midnight (closes at 6pm in the off season), charging an admission of 13€ ($20) for adults, 9€ ($14) ages 3 to 11, 2 and under free. Most of the fish come from local waters, including some fierce sharks, sunfish, and rays swimming around the walk-through glass tunnel.

Tivoli World is the largest amusement park along the coast. In Arroyo de la Miel (tel. 95-257-70-16; www.tivoli.es), its chief attraction is a 4,000-seat open-air auditorium. Sometimes world-class artists perform here; check at the time of your visit. Expect anything from Spanish ballet to flamenco to corny French cancans. There are at least three dozen restaurants here, along with snack bars, plus a Ferris wheel and roller coasters. Naturally, there are also so-called Wild West shows of the Buffalo Bill and Calamity Jane variety. On Sunday a rather junky flea market is staged here from noon to 2pm, when entrance costs only 1€ ($1.60). Otherwise, May-to-September hours are daily from 1pm to 1am (off season Sat-Sun noon-8pm). Regular admission is 6€ ($9.60).

To cap off your visit, board the teléferico or cable car (tel. 91-541-11-18; www.teleferico.com), close to Tivoli World. For 8€ ($10), you can ascend to the top of Monte Calamorro for a panoramic sweep of the Costa del Sol and then return. Also rewarding is a 13€ ($21) boat cruise linking Benálmadena with Fuengirola in the west or Málaga in the east. In the peak season, there are about four sailings per day depending on demand. Boats depart from Costasol Cruceros at the harbor at Benálmadena. For more information or reservations, call tel. 95-244-48-81 (www.costasolcruceros.com).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.