Come the warmer months, locals and visitors alike flock to the Sydney’s ample coastline to duck below breakers, paddle in the shallows, and explore the ocean’s crystal depths. While the larger beaches beckon many, for families, Sydney’s coastal geography ensures there are dozens of gentle bays, inlets and ocean baths that make for a relaxed day by the sea.
Sydney has a plethora of sheltered beaches with gentle currents and enclosed swimming areas surrounded by picnic-worthy parklands that families can spend entire days enjoying.
At Parsley Bay Reserve, a grassy park leads to a small but lovely beach, where a footbridge slung overhead takes bushwalkers on a coastal circuit. You’ll also find a kiosk, playground, walking track and public toilets in this pretty harbour pocket.
On the northern side of the bridge, Balmoral Beach gazes out to Sydney Harbour National Park and is perfect for quick trips to the beach. There’s plenty to feed the brood: from casual dining at The Boathouse to elegant Bathers Pavilion, plus plenty of laidback cafes. Nearby, Chinamans Beach is a chilled spot with less crowds than its more famous neighbour, and backs onto the grassy, picnic-friendly Rosherville Reserve.
Clontarf Reserve is a Middle Harbour oasis for parents and kids with jewel-like, serene waters and plenty of shoreline for sandcastle-building. A shaded playground gives water-logged kids a chance to dry out and Clonny’s on the Beach will keep everyone properly fed and caffeinated. If you’re embarking on the Spit Bridge to Manly walk, stop off for lunch and a dip at Forty Baskets Beach, with a grass-edged shore, swings, and picnic and barbecue facilities.
Ocean pools & baths
Built out into the ocean or carved directly into the coastal rocks, ocean pools are quintessentially New South Wales, with 35 studded along Sydney’s shoreline alone. The famous Icebergs at Bondi is the poster child for such pools, but many more cling to city-side beaches, as well as natural bays enclosed with nets to make safe, swimmable baths.
In the south of the city, Como Tidal Baths is an enclosed pool on the Georges River that sits adjacent to the Como Swim Complex and Como Pleasure Grounds, making it a good place for kids to flit between playground, pool and river. Congwong Beach sits at the entrance to Botany Bay in La Perouse and is nestled snugly in the coastal scrub of Kamay Botany Bay National Park, while still being close to cafes and shops. In Cronulla, Shelly Park Beach offers the holy trinity for families with beach, ocean pool and park. Flanking the Esplanade Walkway, this spot is rich with amenity for calm beach days, including barbecues, kiosk, picnic area and shade to retreat to come midday.
The eastern suburbs have plenty of these seaside gems: Red Leaf Beach/Murray Rose Pool is enclosed by a boardwalk and with a floating pontoon bobbing in the centre of the pool; Wylies Baths at the southern end of Coogee beach is an historic swimming spot with an upper and lower deck offering ample shade for families; and Clovelly Beach, has concreted edges that protect a cove with plenty of snorkelling spots and lead to a sandy beach surrounded by picnic tables, as well as a 25m saltwater lap pool.
In the Northern Beaches, Paradise Beach is protectively nestled on the calmer Pittwater side of Avalon. Enclosed within nets and a boardwalk on one side, this pretty spot is a local favourite that gazes beyond moored boats and across to Ku-Ring-Gai Chase.
Sydney’s bewitching and accessible ocean beaches make it a city unlike any other. These big beaches offer fun surf for older kids, plus coves and cradles of sand that families can play in. Bondi Beach is known for bigger, glassy swells, making it a good option for confident teen swimmers and budding surfers. But with littlies in tow, head to the shallow ocean pool on the North Bondi end of the beach. Nearby Bronte Beach also has a lap pool tucked into its southern end.
Coogee Beach is generously protected from big swells by the picturesque Wedding Cake Island, making it a great option for families. Or head a little further south to the hidden gem of Little Bay Beach, a crystalline cove that radiates with Mediterranean vibes. In Cronulla, the southern end of the beach is known for its gentle waves that are agreeable for relaxed swims or beginner surfing lessons. The surrounding rock pools and a beachside park with playground equipment will keep youngsters occupied should they tire of waterplay.
Catch the ferry north from Circular Quay to Manly Beach, a long stretch of surf with a lively esplanade offering delicious food options and weekend markets. Families with smaller kids should follow the cliffside track to Shelly Beach, a protected marine reserve where the water is clear, calm and nothing short of heavenly.