Ashdod may not be the first place you think of for a beach getaway. But this blue-collar town, built along the coast in the late 1950s, offers easy access to the sand and sun without the crowds and hubbub of Tel Aviv, Herzliya and even Ashkelon, its slightly upper-scale neighbor to the south.
There are plenty of options for how to spend a day here, in Israel’s fifth-largest city. And, as long as you’re not beach-averse, there’s always the welcoming strip of sand and sea to walk or run along, or to sit and stare at.
12 p.m., indulge: Traveling with the family? Make everyone happy by filling their tummies at the Ben & Jerry’s Israel factory store in Beer Tuvia. Nestled in the industrial environs of the town with an Astro-turfed front yard, wooden picnic tables and climbable cows, the factory store offers the full range of the Vermont ice cream company’s choicest flavors, including some harder-to-find local options like Mint Cookies and Cream, or Chubby Hubby. There are also deals to be had on the pint-size containers (if you’re heading straight home), and a full array of milkshakes and treats, like the Cappuccino Shake (two shots of espresso with vanilla ice cream) and the Vermonster, a bucket of 20 scoops covered with hot fudge, cookie crumbs and banana slices. You’ll roll outta there. Ben & Jerry’s, HaKatzir Street, Beer Tuvia, 073-2708720, open weekdays and Fridays.
2 p.m., work it off: It takes about 20 minutes to reach Ashdod from Beer Tuvia, an easy drive in midday traffic, and then to slowly make your way — unless you’re in a 4-wheel drive — along the bumpy, sandy road to Sycamore and Big Dune Park, possibly the last place in the country where visitors can experience the sand dunes that once made up most of the coastal stretch from Gaza to Caesarea. This swath of land, on the southeast side of Ashdod, is one of the country’s remaining dunes, reaching 35 meters high (115 feet), and stretching about 800 feet (almost 250 meters) long. It’s punctuated by impressively full sycamore trees, which offer perfect shade during the hotter seasons of the year.
Our group arrived mid-afternoon, thinking we’d have the place to ourselves. Ha! Turns out that Friday afternoons at the dunes is akin to entering an alternate universe, that of ATVs and dune buggies, as track-suited locals saddled up to ride the dunes, clearly a weekly event. There must be a questionable environmental situation being created here, as the four-wheel drives spew carbon dioxide and who-knows-what-else along the lush, brown curves of the dunes. But there were those of us who admittedly enjoyed watching the buggies cruise along the ridges and valleys of the dune.
That said, we ended up choosing one of the smaller baby dunes, untouched by wheels of any kind, and spent a good hour rolling down and climbing right back up, bare feet sinking blissfully into the deep, soft sand.
There is supposedly wildlife in the park, but we didn’t catch sight of any porcupines, deer, or jackals. They must have been more aware of the Friday visitors than we were. But heading back to the parking lot, we found one van selling snacks and sahlab, the perfect drink to cap off a sand-dune slide. To get there: From the Ashdod-Ashkelon road (Highway 4), take the southern Ashdod exit (Ad Halom). Turn west at the intersection when getting off the highway, and turn right again after the gas station. After 40 meters, there will be a left turn to the Ad Halom bridge, and then ample parking.
5 p.m., check in: There isn’t a huge option of overnight accommodation available in Ashdod. Many a Google search will send seekers to the Holiday Inn in Ashkelon, an entirely unnecessary commute. Besides going the rental-apartment option, easily accomplished through the Airbnb or Tellavista websites, there are two good options in the city — the budget Orly Hotel, or the recently opened West Suites — both within easy access of the beach. The Orly has simple rooms that include a refrigerator, as well as breakfast — although it’s a far cry from the traditional Israeli breakfast. Orly Hotel, 22 Nordau Street, 08-856-5380.
Down the road, the Tamares West Boutique Hotel is an upscale addition to Ashdod, located at the northern end of the city with a great view of the port, which is a fairly quiet and empty part of town. With very comfortable suites — which can easily sleep four adults, or two adults and two children, and include a spacious balcony, kitchenette and two TVs — the hotel offers the full array of facilities, including a gym, pool (not open in the winter), saunas and a well-stocked library in the lobby. Tamares West Boutique Hotel, Ashdod, 09-952-0808.
10 a.m., haul it to the harbor: Take some time at Ashdod’s port of call, operating since 1965 and one of the country’s two main cargo ports, which hauls in cars, shipping containers and passenger ships. The port boasts a recently renovated visitor’s center, where groups can take an hour-and-a-half tour that includes interactive displays and activities about the port’s history and its operation, as well as close-up looks at the massive cranes, ships and containers being moved around the port area. The free tour is geared for ages 9 and up, is only open to groups of 20 people or more, and must be reserved ahead of time, but it’s worth calling and asking about individual groups as well. Call 08-851-7564 and check out the port website as well.
12 p.m., before heading out: There are more than a few well-reviewed restaurants in Ashdod, including French bistro Balzac (not kosher, a short walk from the West Hotel) and seafood specialists Idi and Daniel. There are also several restaurants near the West Hotel and the port, including Namaste, a kosher Indian restaurant that lacks atmosphere but is great for family gatherings and offers flavorful, plentiful Indian food right on the beach. Namaste, 20 Hatayelet, Ashdod.
If you’re not done with Ashdod yet, there are a few more stops to be made. Walk along the beach, which can be done on the boardwalk, parts of which have been recently refurbished, from one end of Ashdod to the other. Head over to the Lachish Park and Zoo for a free visit with the zebras and ostriches, and climb in the playground. There’s also the Ashdod Museum of Art – Monart Center overlooking the Ashdod marina, and the Corinne Maman Museum, an archeological collection of the Philistines, Ashdod’s first pioneers.
Finally, you can always postpone your visit until the week of December 7, when the Ashdod Open Championships for ballroom and Latin dancing will be held in the port city, offering entertainment of a different kind. Olé!