Northern Beaches

The magic of the Northern Beaches is that you can find whatever kind of beach you're after, from surfing swells to quiet coves. This stunning stretch of coastline curves 30km from Manly to Palm Beach and boasts more than 20 beaches, each with its own distinct vibe. Whether you want to surf, swim, snorkel or relax, you'll find the perfect spot. Beyond water fun, check out delicious waterside eateries and a thriving craft beer scene, and tackle some outdoor adventure activities.



Surfing & beaches

Surfers make a beeline for the National Surfing Reserves of Manly, Freshwater and Narrabeen, which hosted the World Surf League Championships in 2021. If you want to learn what it takes to ride a wave, sign up for surfing lessons at Manly Surf School or Manly Surf Guide, and if you want to embark on a Manly to Palm Beach two-day surf trip, follow our guide.

For those who prefer calm, sheltered bays to big waves then head to the delightful Shelly Beach in Manly's Cabbage Tree Bay. This protected marine reserve is perfect for snorkelling and diving, the crystal-clear waters are warm, and the area is teeming with colourful fish such as blue groper and cuttlefish. Join a tour with Ecotreasures or rent your own gear at Manly Surfboards. Other standout beaches in the area include Dee Why Beach, Avalon Beach, Mona Vale Beach and Curl Curl Beach, just to name a few.

Freedivers exploring the Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve, Manly

Cabbage Tree Bay, Manly 

Outdoor adventure

The ocean isn't the only waterway on the Northern Beaches. There's Narrabeen Lagoon, which is popular with families, kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders. There's also a 9km walking and cycling trail around the edge of the lagoon. Another popular hike is the stunning Spit Bridge to Manly Walk, a 10km track passing sandy beaches, ancient Aboriginal sites and incredible lookouts.

Couple enjoying stunning coastal views of Sydney Harbour from Dobroyd Head, Balgowlah Heights

Spit Bridge to Manly Walk, Balgowlah Heights 

The Pittwater foreshore, just inland from Avalon Beach, is a wonderful place to explore if you like bushwalking. Enter via Australia’s second-oldest national park, Ku-ring-gai Chase, and take the Red Hands Cave walking track, which meanders to ancient Aboriginal ochre hand paintings. Beforehand, take in the mesmerising views from West Head Lookout, and afterwards, cool off at Resolute Beach, a tucked-away local secret. Ferry services run seven days a week and stop at seven departure locations.

This is perfect whale-watching territory, with scenic lookouts dotted along the coast from North Head to Barrenjoey Head, Sydney’s northernmost seaside point. The Barrenjoey Lighthouse Walk is your best option for an on-land vantage point, and more than worth it outside of whale-watching season as well for the incredible panoramas. The walk is only a kilometre long, or you can tackle the even shorter, more lung-testing Smugglers Track. 

For a guided day trip of the area (and the surrounding Northern Beaches region), join a tour with Go Beyond Tours or Sydney Incognita.

Where to eat & drink

The Boathouse started out at Palm Beach (its current iteration is a pop-up called Casa by The Boathouse) and its particular blend of casual, cafe cool can now be found at Shelly Beach as well as Whale Beach. Manly is an eating-and-drinking hub with a range of casual options, from delicious Japanese at Sunset Sabi and Cantonese at Queen Chow to fresh seafood at Manly Pavilion, Garfish and Wharf Bar. At the next suburb over you'll discover fine-dining Italian at Pilu at Freshwater.

Table with a view at Pilu at Freshwater in Manly, North Sydney

Pilu at Freshwater, Northern Beaches

The Newport is a destination pub, with people from all over Sydney taking a day trip to this sprawling, beautifully renovated heritage property right on the Pittwater foreshore. Nearby at Whale Beach, Jonah’s is another fine-dining venue with boutique accommodation boasting outstanding ocean views.

If you're looking for local brews, there's the 4 Pines Brewpub along Manly's Esplanade or Modus Operandi in Mona Vale. Be sure to check out the nearby suburb of Brookvale, whose gritty industrial area has become a thriving mini hub of local beer brands (most within walking distance), including Nomad Brewing Co, 7th Day Brewing, Bucketty's Brewing Co and Dad & Dave's Brewing. 

Couple enjoying beers at the 4 Pines Brewing Co. Truck Bar, Brookvale

4 Pines Truck Bar, Brookvale

Getting there

If you want to explore the Northern Beaches from top-to-bottom, the best way is to drive. It takes about 90 minutes to get from the CBD to Palm Beach. An incredibly scenic ferry will take you from Circular Quay to Manly and buses go all the way north. You can also cross Pittwater on the Palm Beach ferry and arrive at the Basin. Or, if you want to splash out, catch a seaplane from Rose Bay.


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