By Abigail Klein Leichman
Dig out the sand toys and don't forget the sunscreen. It's time to hit the beach, and here are some of the best Israel has to offer.
Life's a beach in Israel. This small country is blessed by three seas -- the Mediterranean, the Dead and the Red (the Sea of Galilee is really a lake, though it does have beautiful beaches too). With the help of recommendations from veteran tour guide Joe Yudin of Touring Israel and Hassan Madah of the Tourism Ministry, ISRAEL21c offers you the top 10 beaches in Israel, just in time for summer.
1. Beit Yannai Beach (Mediterranean - Netanya)
Named after the ancient Judean king Alexander Yannai, the Alexander River north of Netanya was in a sorry state until a 1994 restoration project transformed the area into a lovely, wheelchair-accessible nature reserve. The beach is at the spot where the river runs into the sea.
Considered by many to be Israel's most beautiful beach and kite-surfing locale, Yannai is pristine and quiet. The Israel Parks and Nature Authority has posted signs with information on the natural features of the beach and its wildlife.
You can camp overnight here, and there are picnic tables, restaurants and showers. Don't miss the nearby eucalyptus grove and ancient ruins.
Entrance fee. Information: 09-866-6230.
2. Coral Reef Beach (Red Sea - Eilat)
The best place to snorkel in Eilat, Coral Beach is a popular diving reef and a family-friendly beach. Its setting on the world's northernmost coral reef affords visitors an amazing place to see the multicolored coral garden and the Red Sea aquatic creatures that inhabit it.
Rent a snorkel, mask, flippers and life jacket, walk along a short pier and step down into shallow warm water teeming with tropical delights. Sunshades and loungers, hot showers and a snack kiosk are available.
Entrance fee. Information: 08-637-6829.
3. Banana Beach (Mediterranean - Tel Aviv)
The entire west flank of Tel Aviv is one long shoreline lined with beaches. Banana Beach, located on the southernmost edge near Jaffa, has become a sort of hippie bohemian sanctuary on Friday evenings. It's a great place to end a walking tour of Tel Aviv, as young people begin gathering here at sunset for drum circles, singing and dancing on the cliffs.
The rest of the week, it's a fairly tranquil spot where you'll find people sunbathing or playing Matkot, Israeli beach paddleball. The Banana Beach café right on the sand screens films and sports events in the evenings for free. You can rent surfboards and wind surfers, or sign up for surfing lessons, at the Galim surf shop.
No entrance fee; sand chairs available for hire or you can bring em' from home.
4. Mineral Beach (Dead Sea)
You want mud? You got it. Whereas at many Dead Sea beaches you can buy packets of its famous mineral-rich mud to slather on your skin, at Mineral Beach there's a huge mud pit to climb into. Prefer a natural Jacuzzi? There's one here, too, fashioned out of hot sulfur pools.
When you get tired of floating on the Dead Sea, try the freshwater pool. At this clean and accessible beach, you can rent a towel or locker, get a health treatment or lie on a tanning bed.
The site also has an amphitheater, a cafeteria and showers to wash off the mud and sand. Mineral Beach is on the northern end of the Dead Sea, so it's a fast destination from Jerusalem and the surface is less pebbly than at the more southern beaches. (If you're into sunbathing in the buff, nearby Neve Midbar Beach has a secluded section for nudists.)
Entrance fee. Information: 02-994-4888.
5. Dado Zamir Beach (Mediterranean - Haifa)
This central Haifa beach has pretty gardens along its long boardwalk promenade, beachside restaurants, pubs and coffee shops, free parking, benches and sitting areas, a dance arena (with weekly public dances and Israeli folk dancing on Saturdays), an amphitheatre for summer events, sports and playgrounds and a pool for toddlers. It's even got Wi-Fi.
The picturesque boardwalk runs from its southern tip to the northern part of Carmel Beach next door. For the disabled, Dado offers reserved parking, adapted showers and bathrooms, and ramps for easy access to and from the beach.
Information: 1-800-305-090; 04-853-5606/5.
6. Sironit Beach (Mediterranean - Netanya)
Netanya has one of the longest coastlines in Israel, and offers eight beaches. What's particularly cool about Sironit, one of the city's southernmost beaches, is the glass-walled Beach Elevator that descends into it from the Rishonim Promenade along the cliff-top. This lets you get from the city center to the seashore in 20 seconds, for just one shekel.
Two breakwaters opposite the beach create tranquil bays for safe swimming almost all year. Sironit has a restaurant, stage and fitness facilities among its other features.
No entrance fee, but parking fee. Information: 1-700-709292; 09-882-7286.
7. Metzitzim Beach (Mediterranean - Tel Aviv)
This northern Tel Aviv spot overlooking the S'de Dov airfield used to be called Sheraton Beach for the hotel that once stood next to it, but was later renamed for the Israeli cult classic film of the same name ("metzitzim" means "peepers").
It attracts a mix of hipsters and families, with calm, warm water due to a man-made lagoon. There's a café-restaurant and playground here, and just south of the main area is a separate section for the religious public, where women are admitted Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays; men on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Also in the area you can find beaches catering to gay sunbathers and another where dog-owners are allowed to let their canines romp.
8. Dor Habonim Beach (Mediterranean - Haifa)
South of Haifa off Route 4, Dor Habonim ("Generation of Builders") is part of a coastal nature reserve, a relatively remote cove favored by nearby kibbutzniks and families.
Natural rock jetties in the sea are perfect for kids to climb and sit on, and along with natural lagoons, they also keep the waves from getting too rough. The reserve has walking routes that pass through the bays, from which you can see sights including caves and wildflowers.
There are no facilities here to speak of, and it's not accessible by public transportation. But these same qualities are what make it one of the most beloved beaches for Israelis in the know.
Beyond the swimming area is the home of Paradive, where you can go skydiving with a tandem instructor.
No entrance fee.
9. Dolphin Reef (Red Sea - Eilat)
Eilat's public beaches tend to get quite crowded, but if you're willing to pay admission to the Dolphin Reef, you get the added benefit of a quiet beach where you can relax under an umbrella and watch the dolphins, or even join them in the water if you're age 10 or over.
"You'll feel like you're in Jamaica," promises tour guide Joe Yudin. There is a snorkeling and diving center here, as well as an underwater photography center and beachside café/bar. Adults can take advantage of the site's music-infused relaxation pools as well.
Entrance fee. Information: 08-630-0100.
10. Aqueduct Beach (Mediterranean - Caesarea)
You can't beat this Caesarea beach for its setting among ancient Roman ruins. While sitting on the clean white sand, you'll marvel at the raised aqueduct built by order of King Herod in the first century BCE and expanded upon 300 years later to bring running water to the old city of Caesarea from the springs of Shummi six miles away at the foot of Mount Carmel.
There are no restaurants here (just a kiosk), but neither are there loud music or crowds. Lifeguards are on duty on only parts of the long strip of seashore, which is sometimes also called Arches Beach.
No entrance fee.
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