Herzliya: Beaches, marina, history and beyond

A central city challenges Eilat as a magnet for local and international tourism.

Herzog promenade (photo credit: MIRIAM KRESH)
Herzog promenade
(photo credit: MIRIAM KRESH)
Viewing modern Herzliya, you wouldn’t imagine that the thriving city on the Mediterranean coast, proud of its splendid marina and home to upwards of 50 embassies, has its roots in a humble farming community.
In 1924, seven families raised roofs rich people live. The affluent Herzliya Pituah area is famous for some of the most expensive real estate in Israel, including the row of sumptuous hotels along the beautiful beachfront, the marina to the south with hundreds of boats and yachts lined up at the dock and a lively nightlife. The city hopes to surpass Eilat in drawing domestic and international tourism, as it has already drawn affluent residents from the Anglo and French communities.
Attractive projects continue to go up.
From April through October, festivals tempt visitors who love jazz, beer, chocolate, wine, and traditional Hebrew sing-alongs in the open air. Water sports, a women’s triathlon and a sailing rally bring sports lovers. Metro, touring Herzliya through the auspices of the Herzliya Marina Development Company, was shown the glamorous and romantic sides of the town, but also the workaday industrial zone and middle-class neighborhoods around the city center.
Surprises include a museum of cutting- edge contemporary art, a center where mentally challenged parents learn child-raising skills, and the city park, where winter pools attract all kinds of wildlife and then disappear when the hot weather returns. To top the day, Metro visited the Apollonia national park, with its Crusader fortress atop Roman and Byzantine layers, and a spectacular view of the coast.
The beaches There are seven life-guarded beaches.
Many offer sports, sailing and diving instruction. Shopping, dining and leisure sites stand close by.
At the central Herzog Beach there are two promenades, one a handsome boardwalk that overlooks the water.
As my guide, director of the Marina Development Company Ofer Mor, put it, you can come there in your suit and tie for a business meeting or dinner in a fine restaurant. The second promenade is on the beach itself. A winding ramp leads down from the upper to the lower promenade.
People with difficulty walking may reach the beach via one of two clean, ample-sized elevators from the upper promenade. The beaches were designed for disabled access. On exiting the elevator, you may walk on a wooden walkway that leads down to the water. In summer, an additional ramp is added that leads right into the water.
Water chairs that allow disabled access to the water are available on presentation of ID. Close to the beach and under the promenade are clean restrooms, showers, a first-aid station and police. Aside from the usual beach chairs and umbrellas advertising beer, close to the lifeguard stations there is a series of white pergolas, one of which has a wooden floor for the comfort of those in wheelchairs.
Making the beach as accessible as possible to the city’s residents, the municipality is creating large green spaces – “green fingers” – that allow people to walk or ride their bikes in from town.
Surfers can commune with the waves at the South Beach, which is restricted to surfing and non-motorized sports.
Ramat Yam, the tourism and hotel area, is where the high-end hotels stand, with others under construction.
For a taste of la dolce vita, book a room at the Ritz-Carlton, Dan Accadia, Okeanos, Daniel or Sharon hotel.
I enjoyed an excellent lunch as a guest of the Ritz-Carlton’s Samuel Herbert restaurant (kosher), with a view towards the marina to put one into a mood for fish.
The marina The marina, Herzliya’s pride, is the biggest in Israel, with 750 places for boats and yachts. It is at full capacity right now, but there are plans to enlarge it. Strolling in the marina square on a bright, cool, windy day, it was pleasant to see all sizes of boats resting on the water, from dinghies to mega- yachts. A large mall and chic eateries on the square tempt visitors to get some use out of their credit cards.
There was a group of schoolchildren in orange life jackets gathered around an energetic female instructor. Moments later, they were on the water and rowing a sailboat. Mor explained that the city offers schools from all neighborhoods boating and kayaking classes.
Part of the city’s seafaring skills program includes teaching those skills to disabled children. The marina hosts classes for hundreds of disabled children yearly. The marine education center is open and active 24 hours a day and on weekends. A visitor may book formal lessons and use the storage units.
Herzliya has the only dry shipyard in Israel, making it even more useful to boat owners. The facility stacks boats on two or three levels, saving space and offering garage services as well.
At the north end of the marina is a round, walled platform built over what used to be a traffic circle. A few winding stairs, and you’re up about a story high with a view of the marina and out to sea. Engaged couples go there to be photographed against the background of the sea and boats. Groups bring folding chairs, food and bottles of wine and just hang out there, catching the sunset over the water. Under the rooftop are showers and bathrooms for the owners and staff of the boats docked at the marina. There are plans to hold public events like Pilates classes on the platform.
Industrial zone The industrial zone in Herzliya Pituah attracts major hi-tech companies like Microsoft and the co-working hub WeWork to its clean, orderly streets.
There are so many large companies with temporary foreign employees that a whole building exists where they rent one-person apartments on shortterm leases. My guide pointed out one or two original businesses from before the hi-tech era with a sense of historical pride.
And if you’re hungry for very good food in Herzliya, the industrial zone is where it’s at. Fine restaurants abound there and it’s just a matter of making your choice.
City center The city center, where the un-glitzy folks live, has a small-town feel. A mix of Jewish ethnic streams and middle- class families long established in the town give off a friendly sense of neighborhood culture as it was in the 1950s and ’60s. I remarked on the relative quiet to my next guide, a native of the town.
“Well, it’s not Tel Aviv around here. In fact, it’s quiet here because everyone’s in Tel Aviv, at work,” he pointed out.
Education Apart from the usual school system expected in a modern Israeli city, Herzliya has four very different centers of education. One is the Interdisciplinary Center, an independent research college that offers degrees in law, business, government, computer science, communications, economics and psychology, as well as a new program in sustainability. The coming generation gains skills for the future in IDC research centers such as the Institute for Legal Implications of Emerging Technologies. IDC also offers several tailored leadership programs.
Another unusual school is the Tadmor School for Hotel Management, one of Israel’s important centers for students of the culinary arts.
Yet another outstanding school is the Center for Science and Technology, where more than 1,300 children from local schools take advanced science classes.
Finally, Nitzan is a center where parents with learning disabilities gain tools to help them bring their children up within societal norms. Nitzan’s comfortable atmosphere is more like a home away from home than a valuable educational center.
Sports and culture Water sports on the beach apart, Herzliya boasts two football clubs, a basketball club, a rugby union and a 7,100-capacity stadium. About 17 km.
of biking paths run through the town, some connecting with the path in the municipal park. Hundreds of joggers also enjoy the municipal park’s 1-km.
running path, which is especially floored to prevent joint stress.
Beit Harishonim is Herzliya’s history museum. Installed in a city founder’s house, the museum documents the town’s history from the 1920s to the 1940s. An effigy of Herzl leans over the balcony in greeting. Indeed, Herzl’s presence in the museum is almost palpable.
Among the displays are findings from the Apollonia excavation site, artifacts from Herzliya’s early years and a 1920s dining room complete with gramophone. Visitors can enjoy a short film about the town’s history, and researchers may find sought-after information in the museum’s archives.
A botanical garden surrounds the stately house.
Herzliya’s Museum of Contemporary Art was a pleasant surprise, with exhibits and installations balanced well on the sharp edge of real-time issues.
The Artists’ Residence is a gallery that hosts cultural events as well as exhibits.
The Performing Arts Center houses an auditorium, a large hall, a coffee shop and an ample lobby.
Fans of the flicks will find great movies at the Cinematheque.
Nature, ecology and archeology The town’s municipal park is a large green space connecting the eastern and western sides of Herzliya. You wouldn’t expect to find such an expansive park in the middle of the town.
Sitting on 18 hectares, it has green lawns with gentle hills that kids love to roll down, a stage for concerts and performances, a natural amphitheater, ample and sophisticated play areas, mountain bike and walking paths, and seasonal winter ponds. The ponds attract wild ducks, cattle egrets, frogs and other wildlife while Israel’s rains last. Come summer, the ponds dry up and the wildlife disappears until next year. However, a lake on the grounds is there all year around.
Stretching alongside the northern beach area, Tel Michal hides layers of history under a hill covered with wild grasses. Remains of cultures from the Bronze Age to the early Arab age were excavated at various times, the latest being the work of Ze’ev Herzog and James Muhly on behalf of Tel Aviv University.
Excavations stopped in 1980 due to lack of funds.
At the northernmost tip of the Herzliya region lies the Apollonia National Archeological Park and Crusader fortress ruins. A bridge over the dry moat allows you to enter the grounds.
Piles of large round stones intended to be hurled onto approaching enemies’ heads stand by the edge. Inside, a courtyard, water cisterns and a kitchen with baking ovens give a fair impression of everyday life for the knights who guarded the coast until the Saracens conquered. Standing among the dilapidated stone walls and looking at the rushing sea beneath, you feel a little of the doomed community’s doggedness and determination to guard Christianity in the Holy Land.
Also in the park are ruins of a community that had never heard of Christianity – a Roman villa with some rooms and walls still standing.