Are you aching for the beach? There are only a few close options; I heard Tianjin has a small private beach but got lost in the port area and gave up. So, Beidaihe is the best local option – and it’s not bad at all, very fun and yet still lovely. And it’s only 2 ½ hours driving (fast) on a perfect highway.
But the seafood at Beidaihe is really not up to par. And the beach itself is ok but not huge. So…there’s Qingdao, but Dalian itself is exactly one hour by plane. Very close! You can easily leave after work on Friday night, check in by 10pm, stay 2 nights and return Sunday night.
Dalian itself is a modern town, unusually clean and lovely. It’s on a peninsula, and the long drive around the beaches is often spectacular. Some views are similar to the California coast in Carmel or Sonoma (high compliments). And the best part is that there are so many beaches that you can enjoy the water without the crushes of the more local beaches (avoid the famous Laohutan section; we most liked Bangchuidao Scenic Area).
Our favorite beach was one hour north of Dalian, in the well known Golden Pebble Beach Scenic Area (jinshitan). This huge stretch also has multiple beaches – we definitely preferred the quieter beach on the southern end (the first beach off the highway). A long, wide beach with good waves and few people, this is the best beach I’ve seen in China. More north is a fun beach with an amusement park. All along the ocean road are many pullouts and views. Best of all, the beach drive is free (parking extra).
And yes, the seafood was excellent, far better than Beidaihe, and just as good as Qingdao. We ate at a huge and wonderfully gaudy famous local seafood restaurant, right next to Kempinski Hotel (sorry, I don’t remember the name but it’s the multistory restaurant just to the right of the Kempinski, attached by an overhead walkway).
We stayed at the Shangri-la Hotel, which was very impressive, with good size rooms. I think the Kempinski and Intercontinental also would be fine. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any nice hotels on the beaches, but downtown is only 20 minutes away from the beaches. We also rented a car (which is crucial for Dalian) for only 240RMB a day and nicely had the concierge have it delivered to & from the hotel for only 50RMB extra!
The rest of Dalian wasn’t too exciting. The reportedly famous squares, Peoples Square and Zhongshan Square, were drive-past sites. There is a fun pedestrian street just north of Zhongshan Square, with many food stalls.
Overall, I was very pleased that Dalian was just as nice as I had hoped, and it’s definitely good enough for those aching for a summer beach weekend. I prefer it over Qingdao, which is also very nice but not as impressive, especially concerning the beaches and drives. But I also plan to continue going to Beidaihe for a Saturday overnight, as it’s only a short drive away. Too bad about Tianjin beaches…
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