Friday, September 27, 2013
A Day at the Beach in Tel Aviv
My wife and I headed off yesterday for a day at the beach. Tel Aviv has about 14 kilometers (9 miles) of Mediterranean beachfront, with promenades, sandy beaches, numerous cafes and restaurants, fancy hotels, and endless blue horizons. We usually head to the Charles Clore Beach in the south, mainly because of its close proximity to Jaffa (Yafo),with its Biblical connections and historic port.
Also known as the Dolphinarium Beach, for the dolphin tank and nightclub that once stood at the site, the Charles Clore Beach is a comfortable place to relax in the sun. We left our home in the Judean Hills and the drive took us 35 minutes (because there was no traffic on the holiday). When we go to the beach we go early in the morning, to ensure getting a good parking spot across the street from the beach and a spot in the shade.
Lifeguards are on duty at the beach during the official bathing season, which runs from May through October. An area was roped off for swimmers, while surfers took to the waves for some wet thrills. Even the dogs have their own stretch of beach nearby.
To the north, the skyscrapers and hotels of Tel Aviv can be seen:
Jaffa (Yafo) stands out prominently to the south:
History lesson = Yafo was mentioned in the Bible, and was ruled by the Canaanites and Phoenicians before being conquered by King David and King Solomon. Alexander the Great and the Romans stationed troops in the port city. Yafo was conquered by the Arabs, the Crusaders, the Ottomans and Napoleon. Theodor Herzl arrived at Yafo port on his visit to the Holy Land. Tel Aviv was established on the sand dunes outside Yafo in 1909. The two cities were joined together and the official name of the municipality became Tel Aviv-Yafo in 1950.
Jaffa is today a mixed city, with Jewish, Muslim, and Christian residents. Seeing the people strolling along the promenades and at the port yesterday, I couldn't help but think that Jaffa is a good example of coexistence between the different populations.
Enough history. Back to the beach, where there is plenty of room for everyone to enjoy the sun and sand. Don't forget to use sunscreen!
The beaches in Tel Aviv have chaise lounge chairs that you can rent, bathrooms, and showers. The paved promenade is crowded with joggers and there are special bicycle lanes. On the beach you can hear the click of Matkot, the Israeli version of racquetball. There is a section of beach near the Hilton Hotel that is particularly gay-friendly. In addition, Hof Hadatiyim (Nordau Beach), just south of the Tel Aviv port, is geared for the religiously observant, with separate days for men and women bathers.
After spending a few hours at the beach, my wife and I walked to the old Jaffa port area. Much of this area has been renovated with fancy apartments overlooking the sea, classy restaurants, and boutique shops. Just a short distance up the hill there are artists' galleries, and colorful, winding stone-step lanes with signs of the Zodiac as their names.
There are plenty of places to eat in the old port, including the recently opened Jaffa Port Food Market, located inside recently renovated port buildings. Inside the market are food and drink stands, but we found it a bit too crowded for our taste. We ate instead at Rokach Yam, a seafood restaurant that serves very tasty Greek Fattoush Salad and fish and chips. Sitting at an outdoor table, we watched the passersby and the fishing boats harbored in the sea.
There is more to Jaffa than just the port. The art galleries are a major attraction, as is the Jaffa Flea Market (Shuk Ha Pishpishim), and the famous Clock Tower. On a previous visit, we had enjoyed the authentic Arab cuisine at the Haj Kahil restaurant. Seeing the other sites in Jaffa would certainly take up the better part of a day, but we decided to head to the old train station for dessert instead.
HaTachana, the Old Tel Aviv Train Station, has become one of the city's trendy tourist destinations. Originally built in 1892 as the terminal serving the Jaffa-Jerusalem railroad, the tracks and old railroad buildings are now home to fancy stores, boutique clothing shops, art displays, restaurants, and souvenir shops. There is little here that you can't find elsewhere, yet the ice cream at Vaniglia is extremely tasty (although the shop is a chaotic mess of customers, cones, and the indecision which flavor to order.)
There is much more to see in Tel Aviv and along its beaches than what I've mentioned here. A special highlight is the Tel Aviv Port to the north, a decked area of shops, restaurants, bars, entertainment venues and playground facilities which we've visited many times.
Although we didn't stay on the Tel Aviv beach until sunset yesterday, here's a previous dip of the sun into the beautiful Mediterranean Sea: