Our trip to Israel and Turkey in June was our first excursion to the Middle East and one of our best adventures yet! We visited the Western Wall on Shabbat, swam in the Dead Sea, ate Israeli street food in Tel Aviv, and spent an afternoon at a haman in Istanbul. It was a trip full of contrasts, and a month later I am still reeling from all that we absorbed. First up on my recap list: Tel Aviv.
Tel Aviv felt remarkably familiar. It’s hip, gritty, and lively, just like San Francisco. However, the beaches top San Francisco’s offerings hands down. In fact, Tel Aviv beaches are a lot like Sydney’s beaches, except the Star of David dots the shoreline instead of the Union Jack.
It’s easy to forgot that Tel Aviv is only an hour away from Jerusalem in the east, and the Gaza Strip in the south. Tel Aviv is such a laid back place. The only whiff of tension that we got was the occasional military plane flying over the beach, and the extra security at neighborhood schools and shopping centers. Other than that we always felt very safe, and I was comfortable roaming the streets and running on the beach solo.
Where We Stayed
We spent most of our time in Tel Aviv at the Sea Executive Suites on the beach however at the end of our trip we had one night at the Shenkin Hotel. Both had their merits, but all-in-all I preferred being on the beach.
We loved staying here. The rooms are spacious, breezy, modern, and right on the beach. The breakfast was pricey, but offered a solid selection of salads(!), bread, pastries, cheese, and ala carte eggs. The only downside is that Sea Suites is a 15-20 minute walk to most of the eat streets around town, but I think it’s worth it to be on the beach. There’s a small gym in-house, or you can opt to run along the boardwalk/sand.
Tucked away in a side street, the Shenkin hotel is a centrally-located, design-forward boutique hotel. We only stayed here a night, but it’s surrounded by loads of coffee shops, and great restaurants and bars. We were initially allocated a tiny room however, after negotiating with the staff, we moved to a bigger room for 20 USD. The room was clean, modern, and comfortable, but it's definitely worth springing for the extra space. We loved the glass of Prosecco on arrival, and were so appreciative when the staff arranged a space for us to have a shower after we checked out and before our long flight back to San Francisco.
Where We Ate
Israeli food is phenomenal, but Tel Aviv offers plenty more than falafel and hummus.
This famous hummus and falafel joint lives up to the hype. I think we ended up eating at Hakosem three or four times in total. Crunchy on the outside, and soft on the inside, the falafel is phenomenal, as is the hummus, and all the condiments. Totally worth the trip!
We stumbled upon this one at the end of our Jaffa tour and it ended up being one of my favorite non-hummus meals in Israel. This vintage-chic stop in Jaffa Flea Market draws inspiration from all over the globe and everything was ate was delicious. We ordered majadera, moussaka, Arabic salad, and cajun chicken, and I wanted more of almost everything.
This hip and healthy cafe was recommended by my dear friend, Jess, and was a great place for lunch. We were ravenous when we got there and ordered kombucha, a turmeric smoothie, the rice bowl, and a classic salmon bagel. All were solid but the turmeric smoothie was my favorite. Cafe XOHO is definitely health-centric, and many options for those with dietary restrictions.
Hotel Montefiore has a 1920s vibe and was one of the more upscale places we ate in Tel Aviv. The menu is internationally-inspired, and the food flavorful and hearty. It’s more bistro food than fine dining, but a good choice for breaking up falafel and hummus street eats.
This was our favorite coffee shop in Tel Aviv. The barista know what they are doing at Way Cup and the coffee is reliably velvety smooth. We loved watching the passing parade of Tel Avivians starting their work day and taking their kids to school from the terrace. The Aussie flag out the front was the icing on the cake.
Other noteworthy stops:
Maysha, Cafe Noir, Thai House, Shila, Coffeelix, Coffee 51, The Norman (cocktails) and Miznon.
For me, the highlight of Tel Aviv was soaking up the beach life, and enjoying copious quantities of Israeli cuisine. However, these places are also among my must-sees:
Jaffa Old City (2000 years old)
Jaffa Flea Market
Rothschild Boulevard (Bauhaus Architecture)
Staying healthy in Tel Aviv wasn’t a problem. There are outdoor public gym facilities all over the city, and a well paved area to run along the beach. I did a combo of sand sprints, jogging, and weight training at the hotel gym while I was there, and felt totally comfortable being in running shorts outside. Tel Aviv is hot in the summer, and everyone is minimally clad.
Israeli food is veggie heavy and there are plenty of healthy options to choose from, whether you’re splashing out or traveling on a shoestring. There are also plenty of choices for those with dietary restrictions like gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian and vegan.
Check out my Instagram for more highlights from Tel Aviv.