Sydney’s Best Urban Beaches-1

Sydney’s Best Urban Beaches

Did you know that some of Australia's best beaches are just a few minutes away from downtown Sydney? Here's where to go

From iconic Bondi to laid-back Milk Beach, some of Australia’s best beaches can be found just a few minutes away from downtown Sydney. Each beach has one major thing in common—they’re beautiful—but the vibe changes depending on where you go.

Sunrise over Bondi Beach, one of Australia's most iconic sights

Sunrise over Bondi Beach, one of Australia’s most iconic sights

Not sure where to start? May we suggest the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Path that links Bondi in the north to Coogee 12km south, taking in panoramic headland views along the way. Get there early enough (Sydney life starts at sunrise) and you’ll feel like you’ve stumbled on a local’s only spot. By lunchtime, the path is busy with tourists, while locals have retreated to the shade, or to their desk jobs. They’ll emerge later, for Happy Hour at The Corner House in Bondi or Hemingway’s in Manly. Wherever you end up, you’ll have plenty of company and ample people-watching opportunities. Life truly does revolve around the sand in this oceanfront city.

Bondi Beach

Ah, Bondi! Bathed in golden sunshine and packed to the rafters with happy-go-lucky locals, if there’s a beach that represents the best of Australia, Bondi is surely it. As soon as the sun rises surfers hit the waves for a session before the work day starts, followed by a second wave of tanned, toned locals in lycra heading for a run on the Coastal Walk or an early yoga class. Next up it’s the keen swimmers, clocking laps at the iconic Iceberg saltwater pool (yes, that’s the one you’ve seen on Instagram a thousand times).

You might be seeing a theme here: Bondi calls to those who live for an active lifestyle, fueled by green juice and avo toast from Cali Press. To join the fun, grab yourself a flat white to go at Porch and Parlour then take a stroll around, checking out the wares from local Aussie designers Camilla (boho-chic sundresses and accessories) and Bondi Bather (bikinis for beautiful people).

Milk Beach

If the views of crashing waves and golden sands that come as standard in Sydney are not enough for you, how about a swim within eyeshot of two iconic landmarks—namely Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge? If this sounds tempting, Milk Beach has your name on it. Flat rocks and leafy trees and shrubs make impromptu lounging spots and you’ll be in the company of Vaucluse locals and not too many other people. If you have a snorkel, bring it—you might see seahorses—and don’t forget your camera for those Opera House pics.

Round off your afternoon with a classic British-style Afternoon Tea—scones, jam, and all the trimmings—at the nearby Vaucluse House Museum and Tearooms, a 19th century mansion with expansive manicured grounds that’s now a museum where you can step back in time to see what life was like for upper-class Sydney residents a hundred years ago.

It might be small, but Tamarama Beach is a popular hangout for locals

Tamarama Beach

It might be just 100 meters long, but Tamarama Beach is a favorite surf spot with Sydneysiders. A strong rip tide and hidden rocks make it a dangerous proposition, but that does not deter the surfers who descend on the area whenever the surf is up – until the lifeguards deem the waves too dangerous. Tucked between two jutting headlands that separate Tamarama from Bondi in the north and Bronte in the south, and overlooked by some of the city’s most expensive homes, the beach has been nicknamed “Glamarama” for the chic crowds it attracts on weekend afternoons.

Read More: Stay Like a Local in Sydney

Balmoral Beach

If Bondi attracts the serious surfers, Balmoral is all about the laid-back swim. The big waves seen at other Sydney spots are absent here, leaving lovely gently lapping waves to enjoy. Backed by palm trees, grassy lawns, and the historic Balmoral Pavilion, the vibe is very relaxed and less scene-y than other beaches in the area. At the weekend, families with picnic baskets carve out space for themselves on the grass, while amateur sailors tack across the bay, and groups of friends start up an impromptu cricket match.

Balmoral is in the chic suburb of Mosman, with its million dollar homes and beguiling views of Sydney Harbour. There are shops, cafes and delis selling local produce a-plenty, but if you want to finish the day like a local, grab yourself some takeout fish and chips from the famed Bottom of the Harbour Seafoods, find a spot on the grass, and enjoy your alfresco supper.

A surfer leaves the water at Manly Beach in North Sydney

Manly Beach

At this northern Sydney beach suburb, you’ll find all comers: Surfers, tourists, retirees, and everyone in between. Vacationers mix with happy weekend staycationers and avid ocean swimmers pull on their caps and hit the waves for a long lap along the shorefront. To get a feel for this laid-back sandy stretch, stroll along the promenade under the fragrant pines then pick your spot and set your towel down.

This is the birthplace of Australia’s surf scene, and the endless chilled out surf shops in town are testament to the sport’s ongoing influence here. The annual Australian Open (now the Vissla Surf Pro) takes over the town every winter, and surfers from around the world home to make the Manly pilgrimage at least once a lifetime.The post-beach scene is very relaxed here, and there’s a growing number of coffee shops where you can pick up a flat white and a sweet treat to enjoy in the afternoon sunshine—Barefoot Coffee Traders is one of our favorites.

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Images: Getty Images
Jenny Cahill-Jones