For an Aussie beach vacation, visit Sydney’s Northern Beaches
There’s no need to travel all the way to Byron or Queensland for a beach holiday, just catch the ferry to Manly or drive north to the idyllic suburbs of Avalon or Palm Beach. The Northern Beaches are part of Sydney but feel far away from the urban grind. The restaurants are excellent, the towns are full of boutique shops and cafes, and the scenery is stunning with pristine beaches that are prime for surfing. There are golf courses galore, coastal walks, and lots of outdoor activities to enjoy.
What are the Northern Beaches
The ‘beaches’ are a large area that stretches the north coast of Sydney. They begin at the Spit Bridge in Clontarf, near Manly, and go all the way up to Palm Beach. The most desirable suburbs to visit include Manly, Mona Vale (including Bayview and Church Point), Newport, Avalon, Whale Beach, and Palm Beach.
Why visit the Northern Beaches
- Endless coastline with dozens of beaches to explore
- Great restaurants and bars with spectacular views
- Enjoy cute village centres with boutiques and cafes
- Explore a less touristy area full of friendly locals
- Outdoor activities abound – surf, SUP, kayak, bike, rock climb, hike
- Take a ferry or boat for a day on the water
- Save time – no need to travel far for a beach experience, just combine with a visit to central Sydney
- Rent a beach house or enjoy a luxury boutique hotel
- Avid golfers will delight in the affordable courses
- It’s a birders paradise with lots of colourful parrots and other species
- It’s a great area for fishing
How to get there
By Car: Renting a car is the best way to explore the Northern Beaches. As the region is large and spread out, having a vehicle offers flexibility to explore the whole coastline. It’s definitely the most convenient option but beware of peak hour traffic in Sydney!
By ferry: Manly is best accessed by a 25-minute ferry from Circular Quay. It’s a wonderful journey past the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. ($9 one way). Manly is the only suburb connected by a ferry to the centre.
By bus: Buses are the only way to get up the northern end of the beaches on public transport. There are fast buses from the city centre as far as Newport (around an hour). Switch at Newport to get to Avalon and Palm Beach. Wynyard to Palm Beach is almost 2 hours by bus, or about an hours drive.
Uber & Taxis: Uber and taxis both operate in Sydney, although they aren’t cheap. Expect prices similar to America. Manly to Palm Beach would likely cost between $50 to $100 in an Uber. They’re handy for getting home after a few drinks.
Beachside suburbs to visit
Manly is a world-famous beach, it’s the Bondi of the Northern Beaches, only nicer. Manly is the best option for those who like nightlife and a vibrant energy. It’s the busiest with the most shops, restaurants, and bars. There are lots of rooftop bars and restaurants, many with ocean views. To see a quieter side of Manly, venture away from the Corso (pedestrian walkway). There are some secluded beaches like Shelley beach. The walk to Shelley is a nice coastal path and it’s a great swimming beach. Manly is also popular for surfing and there are lessons available.
Manly is great for activities. The Spit to Manly is a 10km walk along the coast that’s spectacular and relatively easy. Clontarf is also worth a visit, there’s a beachside reserve and its a lovely spot for a swim or a look at some of Sydney’s most impressive houses. There are lots of walks, SUP and kayak rentals, bike rentals, golf courses, and surf lessons available. There are numerous beaches in the area for surfers of varying abilities.
Rent a beach house or get a room at the Sebel with its incredible location and modern surf vibe. Take the Manly ferry from the city for a scenic journey past the cities major sites. It’s the closest to the city centre.
Must do: Shelley Beach, rooftop drinks, Manly ferry, Spit to Manly walk, surf lessons, beers at 4 Pines Brewery, Manly Art Gallery, SUP or kayak, whale watching between May & November, bike the coast path, check the calendar for events. Golfers can do a round at Manly, Seaforth or Warringah courses.
Eat & Drink: Cocktails with a view = Manly Wine, Glasshouse, Manly Greenhouse, The Boathouse Shelley Beach. Mexican – Chica Bonita. Cafe & bar – In Situ. Brewery = 4 Pines. Japanese fusion = Sunset Sabi. Seafood = The Herring Room, Arthur’s Oyster Bar.
Stay: The Sebel Manly Beach or rent a beach house.
Mona Vale is a bustling suburb with a large outdoor shopping village, 5 minutes drive to the beach. Mona Vale is a nice long beach that connects through to Warriewood when the tide is low. Both Mona and Warriewood are popular with surfers and swimmers. There’s an ocean pool for those wanting to do laps or escape the waves.
Mona Vale is lively with boutiques, breweries, cafes, and restaurants, although it doesn’t have the beachfront location that other suburbs do, it’s a short drive away. There are some good spots to have a drink. Modus Operandi is a great brewery, the Parkside is a large open-air bar and restaurant, and Paddock & Vine is a great little wine bar.
Warriewood, the southern suburb next to Mona has two great walks on offer, the headlands, which overlooks the beach, or the Wetlands. The Warriewood wetlands is a protected area with many walking trails and is a birders paradise, you might even spot a rock wallaby.
Mona Vale is a cool suburb with a nice beach, it’s a real locals hub! It’s also close to Bayview, Church Point, Newport and Avalon, so it’s in a good central location. There aren’t any hotels, so a beach house or apartment is the way to go.
Must do: Visit Church Point (listed below), swim or surf at Mona Vale, Warriewood or Turrametta beaches, Warriewood Wetland or headland walks, play a round of golf at Mona Vale or Bayview courses.
Eat & Drink: Paddock & Vine, Modus Operandi brewery, The Parkside, Rainbow Sushi, The Armchair Collective & Bronze Kiosk cafes at Mona Vale beach
Stay: Rent a beach house
Church Point & Bayview
Church Point and Bayview are within 5 minutes drive from Mona Vale. They are bayside suburbs with marinas full of yachts and picturesque coastal pathways. Church Point borders Kuring-Gai Chase national park with millions of bushwalking trails with waterfalls and sea views. Hire a boat for the day, or take the ferry from Church Point marina to Scotland Island and the surrounding area. It’s a great way to explore and get out on the water without hiring a private boat. You can also rent SUPs and kayaks in Bayview.
The Waterfront Cafe at Church Point wharf draws a crowd from around the peninsula, especially Sundays and Fridays when live music is on. The Pasadena hotel is next door with oceanview rooms and a lovely restaurant. Cottage Point Inn is one of the most exclusive dining experiences in Sydney, further around from Church Point in the national park. They also have hotel rooms for a luxury waterfront stay.
Church Point and Bayview are very scenic with great water view dining options but there’s no central village and it’s a bit sleepy at night. It’s also important to note that while you can swim in the beautiful bay, the closest beach is 10 minutes drive away in Mona Vale.
Must-do: Take a boat (ferry or private boat), SUP or kayak in the bay, hike in Kuring-Gai national park, have a water view meal or drink. Bayview has a popular golf course with a new clubhouse. Take the ferry to Scotland Island and have a wander.
Eat & Drink: Waterview meals at The Waterfront Cafe, The Pasadena, The Blue Pearl, or The Marina Cafe. For something really special visit Cottage Point Inn for a degustation meal.
Stay: Cottage Point Inn, The Pasadena Hotel
Newport is a beachside suburb with an outdoor strip of shops stretching along the main road, next to the beach. There’s a yacht club on the other side of Newport with views across Pittwater. Take a boat from here, or enjoy the Newport, a sprawling bar with beer gardens and panoramic views. Bert’s Bar & Brasserie is an exclusive dining venue upstairs at the Newport, drop in for some caviar and oysters!
Newport Beach is a great spot for a swim or a surf. Newport tends to be a stop on the way further north to Avalon or Palm Beach, but it’s quaint and has its own charm. There are lots of shops and cafes to enjoy.
Must do: Get out on the water – take a boat from Newport Marina. Surf, swim or relax on Newport beach. Cafe and boutique hop.
Eat & Drink: The Newport, Restaurant Lovat, for a special meal visit Bert’s Bar & Brasserie upstairs at the Newport.
Stay: Rent a beach house. There is only one hotel – the Metro Mirage.
Avalon is a perfect base for exploring the northern end of the beaches. It’s a cute village, right by the beach. Avalon is between Newport/Bilgola in the south and Whale Beach in the north, keep driving past Whaley to reach Palm Beach. There’s a great walk from Avalon headland to Whale Beach. Avalon is another great long beach for swimming and surfing. It’s such a good spot, Kelly Slater lived here for a few years.
Avalon has the most lively nightlife with lots of cocktail bars and restaurants like Alma, Beach House, Flourish, Sunset Diner, and Ninja. For next-level dining visit Clareville Kiosk at the back of Avalon, and Jonah’s in Whale Beach, a short drive away. Avalon is a great spot to stay in a central location to explore the northern end of the beaches. Rent a beach house and stay awhile, since there aren’t any hotels in Av.
Must do: Beach days, surf, sunset drinks at Beach House, Avalon to Whale beach headland walk, explore boutiques, cafes, bars, and restaurants. Avalon has a cheap and cheerful golf course that doesn’t require bookings.
Eat & Drink: Mexican – Alma, Upmarket – Clareville Kiosk, View – Avalon Beach House, Cafes – Swell & Chelsea Tea House, Drinks – Sunset Diner & Flourish.
Stay: Avalon Tree House, or rent a beach house.
Whale Beach is a sleepy suburb between Avalon and Palm Beach. The beach is beautiful, secluded and quiet with a good surf break for advanced surfers. There’s one excellent restaurant, Jonah’s, which happens to also be a hotel. Jonah’s is a hatted restaurant that draws crowds from across Sydney, they even offer a seaplane package from central Sydney.
Whaley is a sleepy high-end suburb for those looking for a quieter spot for ultra relaxation or romance. Most visitors would stay in Avalon or Palm Beach and visit Whaley, it’s only a short drive away.
Must-do: Avalon to Whale Beach headland walk, drinks or dinner at Jonah’s, beach day at Whale beach, visit Avalon and Palmy.
Eat & Drink: Jonah’s.
Stay: Jonah’s, rent a beach house.
After Manly, Palmy is the most infamous beach on this list. It is a truly spectacular suburb and claims the most expensive real estate in Sydney. Infamous as the setting for the wildly successful Aussie soap show ‘Home and Away’, that the Brits are mad for. Palmy is at the end of the peninsula and has a very long, stunning beach that is great for learning to surf, as it has small waves. There are a few cafes lining the beach and lots of luxurious mansions.
The other side of Palmy has the bay, with a ferry. Take the ferry to Ettalong or Wagstaffe for a day on the water. The bay also has some great restaurants like the Boathouse and Barrenjoey House which have stunning views. It has the best fish and chip shop on the beaches, lots of cafes, and a few boutiques. There’s not much going on after 10pm, it’s best to head into Avalon or Mona Vale for late-night drinks.
The lighthouse walk is a scenic short hike with panoramic views. Palmy is as far as you can get outside the city heading north, and it feels like a small town far away from it all. It’s an excellent place to rent a beach house and enjoy a quintessential Aussie beach holiday.
Must-do: Surf lessons, lighthouse walk, swim or walk Palm beach, take a ferry to Ettalong or Wagstaffe, drinks at the Boathouse, visit Whale Beach & Avalon. Golfers will enjoy the Palm Beach Golf course, bookings are advised.
Eat & Drink: Dunes, Barrenjoey House, The Boathouse, Jonah’s Whale Beach, and Palm Beach Fish & Chips.
Stay: Barrenjoy House, The Boathouse, Iluka apartments, rent a beach house.
For beginners wanting lessons, check out Manly, Mona Vale, and Palm Beach. Palmy and Freshwater are perfect, as the surf is usually quite small. For strong surfers the best time of year to surf in Sydney is from March to September, but good conditions can be found all year round. Check out North Narrabeen, Fairy Bower and Queenscliff in Manly, Avalon, Whale Beach, Newport, and Mona Vale for the most consistent conditions.
Where to stay
There are many beach houses and apartments across the beaches, available through Airbnb and other booking platforms. Manly is a perfect option for travelers looking to be close to the city who like a lot of activity. Avalon and Palm Beach are good for those interested in more pristine beaches with a local feel. Church Point and Whale Beach are secluded and best for romantic getaways at boutique hotels like Jonahs, The Pasadena and Cottage Point Inn.
How long to stay
Some visitors rent a house and stay for months, settling into the beach lifestyle. For short trips, 5 days to 10 days would be ideal, but if you only have a few nights, it’s still totally worth it.
When to visit
Best months: October November, late February, and March. For warm weather, outside of summer holidays. You also skip the scorching heat of December, January and beginning of Feb.
The Northern beaches are beautiful all year round, but to really enjoy the beaches it’s best to visit when the water and temperatures are warmer. The warmest water temperatures are from January to April. Winter lasts from June to August, when temperatures are at their coolest and it’s too cold for the average person to swim.
Avoid school holidays: December to mid-February
Visit the Northern Beaches for a taste of authentic Aussie life in a beautiful setting. Explore the bushwalks or coastal trails, surf or swim on the many beaches, play golf or enjoy getting on the water in a boat, ferry, kayak, surfboard, or SUP. Watch the sun gleaming off the waves while enjoying a cool beverage, and finish off the day at one of Australia’s top restaurants. The Northern beaches are a piece of paradise not to be missed on a trip to Sydney. Take your Aussie experience up a notch and do as the locals do.
Interested in drinks with a view on the beaches: https://www.novatravels.org/drinks-with-a-view-on-sydneys-northern-beaches/
The best restaurants on the beaches: https://www.novatravels.org/the-best-restaurants-on-sydneys-northern-beaches/
Get off the beaten path!