Sidna Ali beach
Sidna Ali beach. Photo by Moshe Gilad
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I saw Bar Refaeli – in the flesh! It was on the Herzilya beach, but we’ll get to that later. I’m pretty sure it was Bar Refaeli. She was very pretty and she wore a turquoise bikini. No, I didn’t get any pictures. I’ll get to that, soon, really.

August isn’t an easy month. It’s hard to think logically throughout it, and the only intelligent thought that crosses my mind is that it’s a good idea to go to the beach. It’s best to do so in the afternoon, when the temperature drops a bit and the sun is lower in the sky.

Before writing this column, I spent a few days visiting eight different beaches, all within a half-hour drive from my home in Gush Dan. I visited beaches between Herzliya and Michmoret, a span of about 30 kilometers.

My first conclusion is that these places are incredible; every day that passes without a visit to one of them is a waste. The beaches are beautiful, relatively clean and spacious, great for both sipping a cool drink by the water and for going for a swim. Second conclusion: We must do something to save Israel’s unique, deteriorating sandstone cliffs. All evidence attests to the fact that they may very well collapse on our heads, which would doubtless be very painful.

North Herzliya, under the Sharon Hotel

Photo by Moshe Gilad

I decided to avoid municipal beaches, and the first one I went to was at the northern end of Herzliya. The stairway descending to the beach is a bit further south, near the Daniel Hotel. A short walk away is a café called Gazebo, which offers a pleasant view of the sand and the sea, along with shade and comfortable chairs. They’ve also got tables and chairs on the beach itself.

As I made my way across the sand and to the stairs to go up to the café, I passed by a slim young woman who had just removed her shirt and adjusted her turquoise bikini before sitting down on a lounge chair. She looked familiar, but before I realized from where, I heard the girls standing next to me begin to whisper “It’s Bar Refaeli!”

I kept going as if nothing had happened. I didn’t even turn around. From the café, I took pictures of the beach and the lifeguard station, but not the people lounging below. We all deserve some peace and quiet in August.

A glimpse to the south reveals the terrible mistake that is the Herzliya marina – a big, ugly structure situated too close to the sea. It’s best to steer clear of it. A look to the north shows that the future is still rosy and that all hope is not lost. The houses of Gush Dan disappear there, and the beach sprawls on beautifully, almost completely devoid of people.

This beach features a lifeguard station, showers and free parking. Entry is also free.

Sidna Ali

Photo by Moshe Gilad

Drive along Wingate Street in Herzliya until you reach the northern end, and follow the sign to the Apollonia National Park. Don’t go in – it’s closed in the evening anyway – but continue on to the parking lot above the beach. A flight of stairs leads to the sand.

Before you head down, it’s worth taking a minute to look at the large Sidna Ali mosque, situated up on the cliff. It is named for Ali Ibn Alim, a Saladin fighter who was buried there in 1181. There is no more beautiful place to be buried in Israel. The mosque was built during the 14th century and was part of the village of Al Haram, which was destroyed in 1948 as its residents fled. As you walk down to the beach you’re going northward; it’s easy to see that the sandstone cliffs are in danger of collapsing here. The cliffs are high and the beach is very narrow.

Roughly 100 meters to the north is a house that was built and designed by Nissim Kahlon. His policy for receiving guests is unclear. Last week the house seemed completely abandoned, but I’ve been able to sit on Kahlon’s balcony more than few times in the past, savoring the view and his majestic mosaics. The house’s legal status is also unclear, and some claim he’s breaking the law, but if that's so, he’s been doing it for many years.

A short walk further north leads to what was once called the “fisherman’s village,” where a few fishing boats are kept at a small but beautiful port. There is no better place for a long, relaxing swim.

The beach features a lifeguard station, showers and free parking. Entry is also free.

Ga’ash with or without nudists

Photo by Moshe Gilad

There’s something funny about the beach at Ga’ash. It’s close to the densest residential area in Israel, but it has the vibe of a remote, secret location, cut off from civilization. To get there, you drive north along the always-congested Route 2 toward Shefayim and Ga’ash, until you reach the large bookstore, where you turn west toward the sea and continue on a good dirt road until you hit the beach. The approximately 200-meter descent to the beach itself is rather long and winding, between the rocks, but it's worth the effort: The Ga’ash beach is gorgeous. The cliffs are high and impressive, the swath of sand is wide and the water is clean.

The southern end of this site is known as a nudist beach. Last week it was completely empty – lacking both clothed and naked people. A green sign warns that swimming is forbidden there due the danger of the cliffs collapsing.

A new beach-villa residential neighborhood is in its final stages of construction on the cliffs overlooking the beach. We can only hope that the future, well-off residents won’t close off the northern part of the beach to the public.

The beach features a lifeguard station, showers and free parking. Entry is also free.

Blue flag at Poleg

Photo by Moshe Gilad

A short trip north takes you to the beach at Poleg, between the Wingate Institute and Netanya. To get there, you get off Route 2 at the Poleg exit and drive west, following the signs for the beach.

A real miracle has taken place here over the last few years. The beach at Poleg had a bad rep for a long time, being polluted by waste flowing from the Poleg stream. Indeed, the beach was closed to the public for many years, but after extensive clean-up efforts it has reopened.

This is the second year that the beach has featured a blue flag, the international symbol which means that the beach is clean and safe. The cliffs here have disappeared, and there's easy access to the parking lot. The southern part of the beach has been completely overcome by windsurfers. They look tanned and happy.

The beach features a lifeguard station and showers. Entry is free, parking costs 25 shekels.

Tzukei Yam

Photo by Moshe Gilad

Tzukei Yam is a village in Havatzelet Hasharon, north of Netanya. It features sun-kissed houses with views of the sea. West of the narrow road that leads from Havatzelet to Netanya, underneath the sandstone cliffs, sits an incredible beach. The cliff and the beach are designated as nature preserves. A short path leads down to a few tiny bays, sporting large rocks and narrow swaths of beach. Few people come here, mostly due to the fact that there is no parking.

The beach does not have a lifeguard station, showers or parking. Entry is free.

Havatzelet Hasharon Cliff Bar

Photo by Moshe Gilad

A path leads here from the parking lot down to the beach. Halfway down is a seemingly improvised bar, with the slightly pretentious name of “Cliff Bar.” It features a few chairs and a bar about 10 meters above the beach. If you ignore the ugly stairway, the view is incredible, especially at sunset and with a cool drink. The beach is long and broad, and you can find space for yourself in both directions, north or south.

The beach features a lifeguard station, showers. Entry is free, parking costs 25 shekels.

Immigrant ships at Beit Yanai

Photo by Moshe Gilad

Only three old, rundown posts remain of the great wharf that used to be at Beit Yanai. Facing the existing dock, slightly south, is a large sign which commemorates the drama that took place here exactly 80 years ago. Vallos, the first ship to bring European immigrants to Palestine, anchored there in 1934; 350 illegal immigrants waited on its decks.

The Beit Yanai beach, a nature preserve, is one of my favorite beaches; it remands me of romantic memories and summer vacations. The cliffs still hang over the southern part of the beach, but the northern part is completely flat as it meets the mouth of the Alexander River. The beach is broad, clean, and pleasant, with more than enough room to get away from the crowds.

The beach features a lifeguard station and showers. The Israel Parks and Nature Authority charges a fee for parking.

Kushi Beach at Mikhmoret

Photo by Moshe Gilad

As a child, I remember the Miramar Hotel at the northern part of Mikhmoret as a large, luxurious round building. Something more fitting for Italy than Israel. Today, it lies neglected and in ruins, and is best ignored.

To avoid paying for parking, we continued north, and passed Mikhmoret’s official beach. We got to a large sign reading “Kushi Beach.” There is a large, free parking lot, and a short, easy descent to the beach from there. The site's best feature is the large rocks at the water's edge, which bear the age-old signs of constant waves but also create small pools near the water. There is no better beach for small children who still don’t know how to swim. A wonderful serenity descended upon Mikhmoret during the early evening we were there. The children built sand castles and collected shells. August is the best month – may it never end.

Mikhmoret features a lifeguard station, but Kushi Beach does not. Parking and entry are free.