Different ways to play at Sydney’s best beaches

People from across the globe flock to Sydney’s famous beaches for surfing and sunbathing, but there’s so many more beachside experiences to enjoy. Find the right beach for you.

Destination NSW

Destination NSW

Aug 2023 -
min read

For nature lovers 

While Sydney’s beaches are packed with locals and visitors alike, you’ll find a different population of locals under the surface at Gordons Bay. This protected aquatic reserve between Coogee and Clovelly is frequented by rays, harmless bottom-dwelling Port Jackson sharks, octopus and huge blue groper fish. Snorkellers and divers can follow the self-guided 600m underwater nature trail over reef and kelp forest or join a tour with Underwater Scooter Tours where even non-swimmers can glide along with the help of a powered ‘scooter’. Another aquatic reserve, Cabbage Tree Bay in Manly is home to more than 150 species of fish, turtles, seadragons and grey nurse sharks; Ecotreasures runs guided snorkels here.  

Friends getting ready to go snorkelling at Gordons Bay, Coogee

Gordons Bay, Coogee

From May to November, migrating humpback whales can be easily spotted from the clifftops between Bondi and Coogee. You may also spot them aboard a whale, dolphin and seal-watching cruise from Circular Quay, such as Whale Watching Sydney and Captain Cook Cruises.

Often referred to as Sydney’s backyard, the Royal National Park is a natural wonderland of sandstone cliffs, beaches, grassy woodland, rainforest and eucalypt forest an hour south of the city. It is home to more than 300 bird species and a haven for bushwalking. Garie Beach is a magnet for surfers, while Wattamolla Beach has a lagoon where you can snorkel or picnic beside a waterfall.  

People enjoying swimming at Wattamolla, Royal National Park Sydney

Wattamolla, Royal National Park Sydney

For thrill seekers 

Sydney is synonymous with surfing, with five of its beaches included on the National Surfing Reserve Register: Manly, North Narrabeen, Cronulla, Bondi and Maroubra. Of the big five, Bondi is the most famous; you’ll see serious surfers at the southern end while body boarders paddle out at the northern end. First-timers can get a gentler introduction to Bondi’s waves with Lets Go Surfing, which also runs lessons at Maroubra. For a full day of oceanside adventure, Salty Safaris combines a surf lesson with a walking tour from Watsons Bay to Bondi Beach. Or read our more in-depth guide for how to get into surfing here

Surfer heading out to catch a wave at Bronte Beach, Sydney

Bronte Beach, Sydney

If surfing is a step too far, swap a surfboard for a paddleboard or kayak and paddle the calm waters of Frenchman’s Bay in historic Botany Bay with Lets Go SUP, or soak up magical views of Sydney Harbour with Rose Bay Aquatic Hire. Rose Bay is also seaplane territory: take to the skies with Sydney By Seaplane or Sydney Seaplanes for a scenic flight over the harbour and coast, add a picnic stop at exclusive suburb Palm Beach or dine at one of the Hawkesbury River’s waterside restaurants, where you’ll feel a world away from the city.  

Back by the beach, have fun with a game of volleyball at Manly, where courts are set up year-round, or cruise to Bondi Skate Park or Maroubra Skate Park for a beachside skate session.  

Stand-up paddleboarding, Shelly Beach

Stand-up paddleboarding, Shelly Beach

For chill seekers 

You’ll feel a sense of calm exploring the ocean at one of the city’s harbourside beaches, including Milk Beach in Vaucluse, also great for snorkelling; Redleaf Beach, which has a boardwalk, netted pool and city views; and on the other side of the bridge, sheltered Chinamans Beach in Mosman and Balmoral Beach

A staggering 35 ocean baths have been carved out of Sydney’s coastline. Its most famous are the 1929-built Bondi Baths – also known as Bondi Icebergs after the local swimming club – which comprise 50m and 25m pools. Lesser known but no less charming are the 19th century Bronte Baths; Wylie’s Baths in Coogee, which has raised decks for beachgoers to laze about in the sun with views of the Pacific Ocean; and McIver’s Ladies Baths, the only ocean pool in Australia that is exclusively for women and children. Further south, bathe with the locals at Mahon Pool in Maroubra or Malabar Ocean Pool near Randwick.  

Take on one of the most picturesque and popular beachside walks in Sydney with the spectacular 6km, cliff-hugging Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk via the beachside suburbs of Clovelly and Bronte. It comprises some steep paths and staircases but rewards walkers with panoramic views. Head harbourside for the two-kilometre Hermitage Foreshore Track that connects the villages of Watsons Bay and Vaucluse. Or cross the Sydney Harbour Bridge to the city’s north shore and walk the Spit Bridge to Manly track, which passes sandy beaches, ancient Aboriginal sites and incredible lookouts. 

Friends taking a selfie with views of the southern end of Bondi Beach, Bondi

Friends taking a selfie at the southern end of Bondi Beach, Bondi

Let a local lead the way on an 8km walk from Circular Quay to Watsons Bay with Fit City Tours, or connect to Aboriginal culture on a walking tour of The Rocks with Dreamtime Southern X and find native bush foods by the beach with Bondi Aboriginal Walking Tours

For Instagrammers 

Show your social media followers a different side to the city beyond its most famous icons. Head to Hornby Lighthouse, a heritage-listed red-and-white lighthouse that stands tall on Sydney Harbour (and is the perfect perch for whale watching during winter). Add colour and pride to your feed with a snap of the rainbow staircase at Coogee Beach, created for Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in 2021. 

Couples walking along the rainbow staircase at Coogee Beach

Couples walking along the rainbow staircase at Coogee Beach

If you’re up at first light, capture the sky glowing orange as mist rises from the ocean pools at Bondi Icebergs, Bronte Baths or Wylie’s Baths where you can frame the century-old deck in the background. Another sunrise locale, the man-made Queenscliff Tunnel (Manly Wormhole) at Queenscliff Beach was carved out 100 years ago and is particularly striking as the light bounces off the sandstone – but should only be visited at low tide. The naturally beautiful yet precarious Figure Eight Pools in the Royal National Park are located on a dangerous rock shelf and can only be reached by a 6km walk when the tide is right, so should only be visited with a tour operator, such as Mate Tours or Emu Trekkers.  

 Friends running through the Queenscliff Tunnel (Manly Wormhole), Queenscliff Beach

Queenscliff Tunnel (Manly Wormhole), Queenscliff Beach - Credit: Northern Beaches Council

For foodies 

From fine dining to casual bites, Bondi is packed with excellent eateries. Iconic pub Beach Road Hotel is a social hotspot for partygoers. North Bondi Fish is a relaxed venue to feast on seafood, while Sean's Panorama is a local fine-dining institution serving farm-to-table produce. For a location that can’t be beat, Icebergs Dining Room and Bar is a sleek modern Italian restaurant overlooking Bondi’s ocean pool. Downstairs, grab a coffee poolside from the Crabbe Hole.  

Selection of dishes at North Bondi Fish, Bondi Beach

North Bondi Fish, Bondi Beach - Credit: Federica Portentoso

Beyond Bondi, gather your friends for long lunches and afternoon drinks at Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel, with views of Sydney Harbour in the distance. Or head to the three-level Coogee Pavilion: on the ground floor order pub-style food just steps from the beach; find caviar and fine-dining Mediterranean at Mimi’s and tapas at Una Mas on the middle floor; or order a round of drinks with ocean views at the rooftop bar. 

Friends enjoying food and drinks on a sunny day at Watsons Bay Hotel, Watsons Bay

Watsons Bay Hotel, Watsons Bay

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