King George Street
As I detailed in another article about my recent return to Israel, I was lucky enough to stay in the dead center of Tel Aviv during my time in the city. Specifically, in a cozy apartment in a Bauhaus-style building located along King George Street near its intersection with Dizengoff Street, one of the busiest interchanges in town.
Of course, King George Street isn’t awesome only because it’s busy or convenient, although these two characteristics are no doubt related to the abundance of creative and interesting people who live and congregate in its busy sidewalk cafés and shops. Abu Dhabi restaurant, for example, is home not only to some of the tastiest hummus in the Middle East, but also to some of the most rousing mid-meal conversation I’ve ever heard.
Being able to stay here allowed me to ease into Tel Aviv, a process made even more natural by how well I seemed to fit in among the young, international, disproportionately gay population base that calls the King George Street neighborhood home. Rather than rushing to capture and comprehend as much of the urban roar as I could, I would head out between the “meaning of life” conversations I’d have with my prince of a host Lior and allow the energy of the city to wash over me.
Haven’t met your Israeli casanova yet? Not to worry. Several budget properties — Eden House and Tel Aviv Beachfront Hostel, off the top of my head — are located in this neighborhood. I haven’t stayed in either of them so I can’t enlighten you to the specifics of the accommodation they offer, but I’m pretty sure you won’t be spending enough time wherever it is you decide to lay your head for any of that to matter.
A City to Explore by Foot
Perhaps my favorite characteristic of Tel Aviv is how easy it is to explore the city by foot, no matter where it is you choose to stay. If you’re on King George Street, for example, heading north on Dizengoff takes you through one of the most posh neighborhoods of the city, where delicious cuisine like the sumptuous artisan seafood of Goocha awaits you.
Feel like going there other way? Hang a left (that’s easy, for those of you who prefer cardinal directions) on Ben Tsion Road for a delightful uphill trek along one of Tel Aviv’s busiest biking and running lanes that leads you to the iconic Yaakov Garden and HaBima Theatre. Head due south from here to stroll Rothschild Boulevard, site of the massive housing protests that swept the city over the summer.
Although Israel has a reputation of always being under siege — and to be fair it usually is, nationally — Tel Aviv is a bubble of tranquility, one of the best-lit and most abjectly cities I’ve ever visited, so my advice to you is to pick a direction and get as lost as you possibly you can, no matter where in the city you begin your trek.
Or complete it. At the end of Rothschild Boulevard sits Neve Tzedek, the first Jewish neighborhood in Tel Aviv, a charming district of historic buildings that have largely been converted into housing and restaurants that, like on Rothschild, most ordinary Israelis can no longer afford — but that’s a topic for someone else’s article.
Jaffa and Carmel Market
Following Rothschild all the way to its end — and passing through the aforementioned Neve Tzedek neighborhood — eventually brings you to the Mediterranean. Look off to your right to enjoy one of the most beautiful views of the city that exists.
To the left is the old city of Jaffa, originally an Arab fishing settlement that’s now home to one of the largest Arab populations that still exists within Israel proper. Beyond its stunning architecture Jaffa is a peaceful place, with Arabs and Jews living and working alongside one another as if the wars that continue to rage so nearby had nothing to do with ethnicity or religion: In Jaffa, these points are moot.
Exploring Jaffa is a nice way to spend a morning, afternoon or evening — or, if you have a lot of time in Tel Aviv, an entire day. Head up to the HaMidron Garden behind the old clock tower for a wondrous panorama not only of Jaffa but of Tel Aviv as a whole, or stop in to Puaa, a charming café serving up home-cooked, nutritious, tasty food like and the sumptuous root salad, which I enjoyed during my visit to the old city with Lior and his friend Hadas, who lived in Jaffa for a year.
After you get back down to the seaside from central Jaffa, continue heading north on the beach road until you get to Yosef Levi Street, which turns into HaCarmel, a long-ish road that leads to the aptly-named Carmel Market — and, once you’ve finished exploring its narrow, windy streets and alleys, back to King George.
Tel Aviv’s Beaches
As I mentioned earlier, you can head south on King George and take a right on Dizengoff, then take a left on any of the cross-streets after Frishman to get to the Mediterranean Sea and any of Tel Aviv’s dozens of urban beaches. For any gays reading this, wait until Jabotinsky to head left and dead end into Hilton Beach, probably the most popular of Tel Aviv’s urban beaches among people like us.
Tel Aviv’s beaches are as nice as any “city beaches” I’ve come across during my travels, although I did find that they paled in comparison to the snowy sands and azure waters off Mykonos, the Greek island where I’d been holing up prior to returning to the Holy Land.
The great thing about Tel Aviv is that the general mood is so pleasant and day-seizing that the particulars of your position or activity are always secondary: The fact that you are there at all is enough to make the time you spend joyful and worthwhile.