Filled with open toes, falafel cafes, and unleashed pooches, Tel Aviv is the South Beach of Israel. Translated as “Spring Hill,” it’s a daiquiri of casual culture, promenade eateries, edgy hair salons, and, of course, hummus.
The beach is west, and the city is east, so lean left for sand and right for urban culture. Downtown is boho chic, uptown is residential and refined, and the twain meet in cafes and designer boutiques along Sheinkin Street.
You could balance all-nighters at a neighborhood narghile (hookah) bar with catnaps on the beach. Or you could rest your crispy tan at intimate twelve-room Hotel Montefiore (36 Montefiore Street; +972-3-564-6100), a chic and minimalist restoration of a 1920s mansion. You’ll get maximum privacy — and a concierge who packs a gourmet picnic lunch for the beach (with wine and SPF). To stay mere footsteps from sand, pack your black card and check into the Hilton Tel Aviv (Independence Park; +972-3-520-2222). Situated on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean, its glass walls beckon you right into the water.
Those who dare regard hummus as a mere condiment will get schooled at gem-in-the-wall Bahadunes (175 Dizengoff Street; +972-3-527-4814). For less than a venti green tea Frappuccino, you’ll get a bowl of homemade hummus and chickpeas sauced with amba (pickled mangos and chili peppers) and the yellow stuff (yellow peppers stewed in lemon juice). If you survive the kick, reward yourself with a lura at Boutique Central (171 Dizengoff Street). The passion fruit mousse cake is a neighborhood staple. Don’t be fooled by its delicate size: Each bite is a bomb. Once you’ve stuffed yourself, the sun will be setting. Head to Tel Aviv Port for restaurants, bars, and lounges on the water.
Ready to shed your shekels? Rule No. 1: no indoor shopping. Tel Aviv is flooded with outdoor markets, vendors, and art fairs like Nahalat Binyamin (open Tuesdays and Fridays at the corner of Nahalat Binyamin and Allenby Streets), which sells Israeli-themed crafts and folk art — handmade silver jewelry, clay pottery, and Judaica carved from olive wood. What’s that distracting aroma from around the corner? It’s Shuk Hacarmel, Israel’s largest open-air market, which overflows spices, scarves, and skirts — and vendors willing to serenade you for a sale. When you start to melt, recover at Michal Negrin (37 Sheinkin Street; 972- 3-525-2752), a fairy-tale jewelry boutique worth more than its air conditioning. Must-buy item: the signature crystal-encrusted cuff bracelet.
Every beach has its personality and crowd, but they’re all pretty young and fun. Sections are named for nearby streets and hotels, which makes them easy to find. If you don’t mind getting hit with a paddleball or swimming with French bulldogs, head to Metzitzim (or Old Sheraton) Beach, a bustling, high-energy hotspot for Frisbee and people-watching. Keep an eye out for waiters selling watermelons with sides of Bulgarian cheese. Centrally located Gordon and Frishman Beaches attract a more diverse age range and crowd of tanners and surfers with henna tattoo artists, cafe, DJ, and ethnic dancing on Saturdays. If water sports are your thrill, Dolphinarium Beach has equipment rentals and lessons in surfing, parasurfing, and windsurfing. Just don’t try to take a leisurely swim.
And don’t forget your oversize sunglasses.