“Pray in Jerusalem, but play in Tel Aviv,” goes a local joke. At the nexus of Europe, Asia and Africa, the city melds sophistication with a joy-of-life attitude. Although this eastern Mediterranean metropolis is Israel’s financial and technological hub, gentle waves and always evolving restaurants, clubs and cultural attractions steal away attention.
A smiling customer says of the Imperial Craft Cocktail Bar, “Seventy years after the state of Israel was established, I can finally get a good cocktail in Tel Aviv.” The tiny watering hole is festooned with relics of the British Empire, and the menu divvies drinks by tastes like fruity, exotic, or deep and aged. Try the anise-themed Thyme to Kill, made with Bombay Sapphire gin, ouzo and St-Germain, and shaken with mandarin jam, lime and thyme. At Bar à Vin, the wine list highlights the best of France and Israel by the bottle or glass. The first microbrewery in Tel Aviv, The Dancing Camel Brewing Company, adds Israeli ingredients like etrog (citron) and date honey to its beers.
The best restaurants come with a view or history. At Manta Ray, the terrace faces the bronzed and buff matkot (paddleball) players on Alma Beach. Likewise, entrées look toward the sea, where fresh catch is accented with flavors like pear chimichurri or curry sauce. Claro occupies an 1886 building that once housed one of the city’s first wineries and, later, Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad. Here, Ran Shmueli’s cuisine brings together multicultural flavors like lamb chops with a spinach-humus stew and labneh (yogurt). For prime beef to pair with Israel’s rich Cabernets and Syrahs, head to Hatraklin, ensconced in Tel Aviv’s first hotel. Settled 140 years ago by messianic German Christians known as Templers, the restored Sarona complex is a veritable 21st-century bazaar, with an indoor market that sells everything from falafel to sushi and schnitzel.
Tel Aviv’s nine miles of beaches photobomb nearly every vista in the city. Each strand has its specialty. Frishman, for instance, is known for beach volleyball, while Hilton Beach has sectors popular with the LGBT community and watersports fans. Rent a jaunty green Tel-O-Fun ridesharing bike and pedal along the seaside promenade. One of the world’s oldest ports, Jaffa figures in both the Biblical story of Jonah and the Greek myth of Andromeda and Perseus. Cobblestoned alleys hold vestiges of Crusader fortifications and Ottoman palaces. Learn about its past at the Eretz Israel Museum, shop for trinkets at the flea market and peruse exhibits at the Ilana Goor Museum. A UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site, Tel Aviv is home to the more than 4,000 Bauhaus-style buildings, many centered around Rothschild Boulevard.
Built in the late 19th century, Neve Tzedek was the first neighborhood outside the walls of Jaffa in Tel Aviv. Now one of the city’s most fashionable districts, the quarter is chock-a-block with buildings that meld Art Nouveau and Bauhaus elements. Saunter along Shabazi Street, where you’ll find Numéro 13 with inspired collections for men, women and kids; Ivshin-Jewellery Design for one-of-a-kind jewelry; and oodles more. Ahava produces facial and body-care lines from Dead Sea minerals, and it has a boutique at the seaside Hatachana shopping center.
“This is wine country today. This was wine country 3,000 years ago,” says Amir Katz, sommelier, chief operator and tour guide with of My Israel Wine Tours, which offers personalized wine-tasting itineraries. Set at elevations from 1,200 to 2,400 feet that enjoy cool breezes, the Judean Hills are characterized by terra rossa soils (shallow clay on limestone bedrock) and landscapes dotted with medieval monasteries and Crusader fortresses. Stops might include Tzora Vineyards, which is set on a kibbutz and produces wines from 80 acres of estate vineyards. In the 1990s, Eli Ben Zaken began to make wine in a chicken coop. Today, his family owns the gorgeous Domaine du Castel, known for its Castel Grand Vin, a Bordeaux-style red blend.