Order of the day: Storm the beaches!

Israel's Mediterranean coastline offers various levels of relaxation and hikes, beach games and plenty of sunbathing.

beach 88 (photo credit: )
beach 88
(photo credit: )
Now that the heat of summer has set in, one of the most pressing issues facing us is keeping cool. The beach option is always a popular choice, since it not only affords refreshing water activities, but picnic opportunities, games and other outdoor fun as well. Israel has about 190 kilometers of Mediterranean coastline, so it can be a tough decision choosing which beach is right for you. All kinds of factors come into play, such as what facilities are available, whether there is a lifeguard on duty, entrance fees, accessibility, and who frequents the shore. In general, the beaches in Israel can be divided into two broad categories: authorized and unauthorized. The advantages to authorized beaches are published information about pollution levels, restroom facilities, showers to rinse off after swimming, at least some shaded areas and garbage cans. They also have lifeguards on duty. But even among the authorized beaches, differences abound; the sand is different, the types of beachgoers vary, the quality of the available facilities is not the same and accessibility is not uniform. You need to consider which factors are most important to you so that you can maximize your fun in the sun. While a comprehensive listing of the available beach options would require a good 20 pages, we hope this shortened list is of use. URBAN BEACHES Each city on the Mediterranean coast operates its own beaches. For the most part, urban beaches tend to be more crowded than the non-urban ones, due mainly to accessibility issues. Buses run directly to, or very close to city beaches, making it easier for teens to get there on their own. Plus, people live closer to city beaches, so it's less of an undertaking to go down to the sand for a few hours. Easy access: Tel Aviv As many people know, the Tel Aviv beach isn't the cleanest place to hang out, and it's probably the most crowded of Israel's beaches, but it's convenient and there are no entrance fees - although if you come by car you'll have to find paid street parking. Showers and bathrooms are available, and there are restaurants and bars along the promenade. There is a wide strip of sand, allowing for sunbathers to coexist with paddleball and soccer players. It is a very popular beach among teens, young adults and senior citizens. At night, the Tel Aviv beach lights up with seaside pubs and parties. Beautiful people: Caesarea The beaches in Caesarea don't feel like city beaches; they're not easily accessible without private transportation, and you don't feel the exhaust of cars behind you. And the beaches are stunning. The sand feels as though it's been imported from the Caribbean, and all around you are historical remnants; at Aqueduct Beach, you enter the sandy strip by walking under an ancient aqueduct. There are shaded areas, as well. The facilities, though, are surprisingly rundown, and the actual parts of the beach authorized for swimmers are rather narrow. Admission is free. Note: This is not a beach for people with poor body images, as it seems everyone who shows up on the Caesarea shore has nothing better to do but work out all day. Smiling surf: Nahariya The sand on this quaint northern city's beaches is not the softest, and the authorized swimming areas are not huge (the northernmost beaches are closed because of pollution), but the boardwalk makes up for what the beach itself lacks. It features a large number of restaurants (kosher and non-kosher), ice cream shops and places to sit and relax, as well as bars that open later in the day. It's a nicer version of the Tel Aviv strip, with city parking. Southern style: Ashdod There are six authorized beaches in Ashdod. Oranim (midway down the city's coastline) hosts older bathers in the morning, while Lido (directly north of Oranim) offers cafes and kiosks, as well as a large parking lot with an open market on Wednesdays. Entrance is free. Under the boardwalk: Bat Yam The beach in Bat Yam boasts a raised promenade above the water and a number of restaurants and cafes that stay open into the night. Entrance is free, but there are parking fees if you come by car. Happening heights: Haifa Although Haifa is the country's third largest city, its beaches are not as crowded as one might expect. Even when it gets busy, beachgoers still don't have trouble staking out a spot on the sand. There are restaurants and bathrooms conveniently located on the beaches. However, the view up and down the coast is less than ideal, with the city's industrial smokestacks poking out not too far away. But if you turn around, you see the impressive Carmel Mountains. Maintained terrain: Herzliya All of the city's beaches charge admission, aside from Nof Yam. The money seems to go to good use, however, as the beaches are wide and clean with soft sand. But when the beach fills up on the weekend, it can be hard to get a spot near the water. Wasting away: Acre It seems the beaches in this old city have been left to fend for themselves. While there is ample parking, the beaches aren't particularly inviting. Admission is free, except for the private Country Club beach. Take a stroll along the shore in the Old City instead of swimming. SEPARATE BEACHES For the religious crowd - or those who just want to lie out in sun without being ogled - Israel offers a number of same-sex beaches. Note, however, that even though the beachgoers are all of the same sex during the posted times, the lifeguards are almost exclusively male, and if there are vendors selling refreshments or renting lounge chairs, they tend to be men as well. You can find segregated beaches (Men: Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday mornings, Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons; women: vice versa) in Kiryat Haim, Acre, Tel Aviv, Ashdod, Netanya, Herzliya and Ashkelon. NON-URBAN BEACHES Israel has what seems to be an endless number of beaches, in cities, kibbutzim and just dotted along the coast. Some are worth the trip, and others are probably don't justify the schlep. Fantastic & family friendly: Achziv The national park just south of Rosh Hanikra offers a large grassy area for picnics and lounging (though pets and balls are not permitted), ruins of the ancient Achziv (mentioned in the Bible, Mishna and Talmud), and breathtaking blue water. There are natural and man-made pools where parents can feel safe letting their young children wade in the calm waters. The sand is soft and white. In July and August, female sea turtles can be spotted coming ashore to lay their eggs. Well maintained showers, restrooms and snack bars are available. Entrance: NIS 25/adult, NIS 15/child, 12.50/senior. Silent seclusion: Habonim While this beach is not authorized for swimming, it offers a number of nice features. Hiking trails along the rocky shore offer some physical activity, and overnight camping is permitted. There are clean bathrooms and showers. The sand is not particularly soft, but the water is clear. Above all, the beach is quiet. The access road is unpaved and it's a bit of a trip once you turn off Highway 4, but you get privacy in return. Not recommended for family trips. Entrance: NIS 23/car, NIS 50/overnight. Wet wildlife: Shavei Zion The swimming beach itself is not particularly long, but there are a few shaded huts for sunless relaxation. Volleyball nets are strung up for those who want to play, and a snack bar operates right near the water. Most interesting, however, is the amount of sea flora and fauna in the attached nature reserve. There are also the remains of a Byzantine church. Access is available from Shavei Zion or Nahariya. Entrance: NIS 10/adult, NIS 5/child. Aerial excitement: Palmahim This is exactly what you expect when you say, "I'm going to the beach." A wide strip of sand for sunbathing, Frisbee playing or seashell collecting, plus a long shoreline so that everyone can get a great view of the sea. There are a number of shaded areas for avoiding the strong Israeli sun, and a (non-kosher) restaurant (that also sells prepackaged junk food) on a raised wooden deck. Parking is plentiful, but the restroom facilities aren't gorgeous. Beachgoers tend to be on the young side, both with and without children. Since Palmahim (between Bat Yam and Ashdod) is right near an air force base, you are treated to fighter planes zipping back and forth overhead. Entrance: NIS 20/car. Party perfect: Nitzanim Soft golden sand, plentiful shade and ample parking are part of what make Nitzanim a very pleasant beach. While the view south is somewhat marred by Ashkelon factories, the view west invites lots of deep breathing. Nitzanim is popular for both family outings and romantic retreats. Festivals are often held here as well. Religious and non-religious people visit the beach. The bathroom and shower facilities are in good condition, and a (non-kosher) restaurant operates on a wooden deck. Entrance: NIS 10/car/weekday, NIS 40/car/weekend.