Beer and the Beach in Tel Aviv, Israel
Every 15 minutes or so the sun’s stinging heat nudged me to shift my über-pale legs back under the shade of the umbrella. The shade that was slowly creeping away as the afternoon wore on. A white-ish gray haze from the heat gave a false sense of security as to just how brutal the sun actually was. But people like me shouldn’t be trying to catch any of the Tel Aviv beach rays. Eventually it got to the point where I just threw my cheap Israeli-flag-emblazoned beach towel over my legs despite the fact that it was going on 100˚F outside.
The water was eerily still. It was as though the heat and the sun had sucked the energy out of the sea. Even beyond the manmade breakwaters: stillness. I watched from behind my polarized sunglasses as person after person entered the water: groups of teenage girls wearing bikini tops and denim shorts (wtf?); lone middle-aged men sporting budgie-smugglers and loads of chest hair; a couple of Jewish Bubbes whose voices carried across the water and were most obviously living at least part time in New York. Each person slowly waded into the water, made it out to about waist deep and then just. stood. there. Like the water wasn’t even there.
Wee Man and our friends’ daughter frolicked as only toddlers do in the shallow water. Neither sun nor oppressive heat could slow them down; the only source of energy in the Med. I smiled watching them. I went to adjust my towel a bit when a sudden shadow appeared, blocking the sun.
“Ahh, here I am.” A man’s voice said. Our beach waiter. He hands me a cup: Tuborg. Brewed with a red color, fuller body and a sturdier maltiness for the Israeli market. He then sets down cups of ice water, their sole use being for us to put our beers in so they stay chilled in the heat. We tipped him well.
It’s not the most exciting beer in the world but with my family, my friends, and beach-side drink service for our Israeli holiday I don’t need anything else. Except for maybe some SPF 1 billion.
How we did a Family Brewcation in Tel Aviv, Israel
With a chill vibe, plenty of sun and great beaches, we–of course–treated this Tel Aviv trip as a beach and beer vacation. The somewhat extreme heat and humidity made it so that we had to lower our expectations as to what we were able to go see. We had hopes of making it to Jerusalem or the Dead Sea but between Wee Man and our friends’–with whom we were traveling–two small daughters, we didn’t think they could handle a day of sightseeing. So, we stuck to the beach, had drinks served to us and awesome food instead. A lesson in being grateful for what I have instead of missing what I don’t.
Since we collectively had two small children and an infant we booked an Airbnb just a couple of blocks off the beach. While researching where to stay in Tel Aviv, we ultimately decided on a place with a fantastic kitchen, a huge balcony with a sea view and enough beds. We called it “The Pimp Option.” While the kitchen and balconies were, indeed, fabulous, I’m not listing it here because–truthfully–Hubs and I didn’t have the greatest experience. We ended up sleeping on a super hard, Ikea-quality sofabed in a makeshift bedroom for the five nights we were there. It was not pleasant. In its defense, our friends had a decent bedroom with an ensuite and the kids had proper beds as well. Yet, with the pimp price, we deserved better. It’s these sort of surprises and lack of consideration that has turned me off of Airbnbs if I can help it.
Nevertheless, if we hadn’t gone the Airbnb route we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to have this memorable experience…
Since small children and the fine-dining extravaganzas we love don’t go too well together, we decided to bring the chef to us. After a bit of research and a referral from someone else, I got in touch with Aliya Fastman from Citrus & Salt Cooking (info below.) This American ex-pat specializes in classic and modern Israeli food and offers cooking classes and private chef services. We were just wanting to be fed so I asked Aliya for a menu of all the good Israeli stuff. A few WhatsApp messages, a paid deposit and boom…see you in Tel Aviv!
We were presented, family style, a BEAST FEAST. And, of course, I had to do a beer pairing with it.
We had everything from stuffed grape leaves (awesome, were lovely with an amber ale) to roasted cauliflower (my favorite Israeli side dish) and an incredible Moroccan-influenced chicken pie called Pastilla (which is garnished with powdered sugar, of all things.) And, oh hey, what’s this?! SHE GAVE ME THE RECIPE TO SHARE WITH YOU. Holla!
Aliya was organized, super friendly and made awesome food. And the kids watched cartoons and nibbled on whatever. I mean, I think they ate that night. So, if you love exploring food on your travels but have small kids, definitely consider looking up a private chef in your destination. It’s what pimp balconies (and cartoons) are for.
My tips for a family brewcation in Tel Aviv, Israel
- If you think you might need to, use the restroom when you get off the plane. Passport control can take quite awhile and you’ll be in a massive queue/gaggle of people.
- Book an airport transfer. Trying to navigate the public transportation system (which is mostly in Hebrew) or driving in a rental car is not the way you want to start your beach holiday. Just spring for it!
- Don’t hesitate to go for dinner a bit later if you’re enjoying the beach. In this part of the world you won’t raise as many eyebrows having the little ones out as late as you are comfortable.
- Saturdays are the day of rest in Israel. Expect most things to close around 4-5pm for Shabbat on Friday and not open again until after sunset Saturday–if at all.
- Foldable electric scooters are the mode of transportation of choice in the city. Download the Bird or Lime apps to find the closest available scooter near you, take it where you need to go, and then leave it for the next person. Word of warning: nobody seems to be coming to pick up the ones that need to be recharged during Shabbat so pickins’ are slim during that time. Don’t plan on that like we did or you’ll end up walking!
- My blond-haired, blue-eyed son (and our friends’ daughter as well) was a bit of a rock star, especially among the muslim population. He was given candy, fruit, kisses and choices of music on the radio several times. Just roll with it if your child seems ok with it. It’s just the way it is.
- If you want to sit in the beach chairs at the beach and/or get an umbrella, you have to go find the machine near the entrance to the beach and purchase a ticket for it–not unlike a parking ticket. You show this to the staff working the beach and they’ll hook you up. Tip them and they’ll take good care of you/make people move so your group can sit together if necessary.
- Double check the jellyfish report (umm, in Hebrew) before you head to the beach. We were there in late May and didn’t see a single one (in fact, didn’t even know anything about it until the last evening of our trip!) but they can really be an issue in July, apparently, and the water unswimmable for the little ones.
- If you do swim and get stung by a jellyfish, the lifeguard shacks have vinegar. Or, you could always see if Joey is around to pee on you.
- It’s not only common, but it’s culturally expected to haggle in the markets in Jaffa. If kids haggle, they seem to get a better deal.
One last note: We’re not entirely sure why they do it but, chances are, if you’re out on a night having drinks your server will come and offer you some shots. Hubs and our friend felt very VIP when they got one when they were out only to find out that us ladies got them when we were out too. We were offered everything from Blue Malibu to Arak. And who am I to turn any one of them down?