Sydney is blessed with dozens of beautiful beaches to swim, surf or simply sunbathe on the sand.
Stay anywhere near the city center and you have a choice of beaches to get to – from pocket-sized harbor bays to slip into calm seas while watching sailing boats bobbing in the water to iconic surf spots with pounding waves and lashings of Australia's beach culture – all practically on your doorstep.
As a recent cold-water swimming convert, I’m sorry to report that even in winter the water temperatures in and around Sydney hover around 18°C (64°F). Should you hire a wetsuit? Only if you’re planning on surfing.
Bondi Beach is closest to Sydney's city center
Definitively Sydney, Bondi is one of the world's most celebrated beaches. It's the closest ocean beach to the city center (5 miles away, but a bit of a pain to get to via the bus), has consistently good (though crowded in summer) waves. It is excellent for a rough-and-tumble swim (the average water temperature is a considerate 21°C/70°F) if you’re confident in waves. If the sea's particularly angry, try the saltwater sea baths at either end of the beach. Free beach-friendly wheelchairs can be booked through the Bondi Pavilion.
Spot celebs from Home and Away at Palm Beach
Long, lovely Palm Beach is a crescent of bliss that's famous as the setting for Aussie TV soap Home and Away. The 1881 Barrenjoey Lighthouse punctuates the northern tip of the headland in an annex of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. The suburb of Palm Beach has two sides, the magnificent ocean beach and a pleasant strip on Pittwater, where the calmer strands are suitable for young kids. From here you can get ferries to other picturesque Pittwater destinations, including park sections perfect for hiking.
There's quality snorkeling at Shelly Beach
The pretty, sheltered, north-facing ocean cove of Shelly Beach is an appealing 0.6-mile walk from the main Manly beach strip. The tranquil waters are a protected haven for marine life – fishing has been banned in Cabbage Tree Aquatic Reserve for a couple of decades – so it offers wonderful snorkeling opportunities. On a calm day you can also explore the rocky shore back to Manly’s main beach. For guided tours, check out Ecotreasures.
Manly Beach is ideal for beginner surfers
Manly Beach, Sydney's second most famous beach, is a magnificent strand that stretches for nearly 1.25 golden miles, lined by Norfolk Island pines and midrise apartment blocks. The beach's southern end, nearest the Corso, is known as South Steyne, with North Steyne in the center and Queenscliff at the northern end. Based right on the sand, Manly Surf School is reliable and well established, offering good two-hour surf lessons year-round, as well as private one-to-one tuition. Half the enjoyment is getting to Manly by ferry – it's well worth the trip.
Escape the crowds by kayaking to Store Beach
A jewel on North Head, magical Store Beach can only be reached by kayak – you can rent them from Manly Kayak Centre – or boat. Pack a picnic lunch, plus plenty of water and your sense of adventure. It's a breeding ground for fairy penguins, so access is prohibited from dusk when the birds waddle in to settle down for the night.
Balmoral is the best beach for a family day out
The North Shore enclave of Balmoral faces off with Manly across Middle Harbour, with a beautiful swimming beach and some good restaurants like Bathers’ Pavilion, Public Dining Room and the more relaxed Boathouse. Split in two by an outrageously picturesque rocky islet accessed by a little bridge, Balmoral attracts picnicking families from this well-heeled neighborhood. Swimmers usually migrate to the shark-netted southern end.
Coogee has wonderful ocean baths
A few miles south of Bondi, Sydney’s Coogee Beach (pronounced “koo-jee”) has not one, but three oceanside pools. At the south end, McIver’s Ladies Baths is a haven for women and children only. Noise is kept to a minimum and no photography is allowed. Beyond it, Wylie’s Sea Baths has a larger rock pool cut low in the cliffs, which means at high tide it’s possible to swim out to sea if you’re not careful (check online for daily low and high tide times). At the northern end of Coogee, Giles Baths is a natural sea bath, which can get a little wild in stormier seas. I’m not alone in preferring Coogee to Bondi, and the clifftop walk between them via Bronte beach is highly recommended.
Nudists head for Lady Bay Beach
Close to the entrance of Sydney Harbour itself is the well-hidden Lady Bay Beach where Sydneysiders can go for a nude swim and sunbathing session. It’s a short hike from Watson’s Bay ferry wharf, which you can access from Circular Quay in the city center. Bring your own food and water if you’re making a day of it, although fish and chips at Doyle’s at Fisherman’s Wharf is a highlight. Check the tide times before you head over: high tide reduces the 100m (328ft) strip of sand even further. The harborside beach enjoys gentle lapping waves to match the relaxed vibe here.
Bronte Beach has a great atmosphere
A winning family-oriented beach hemmed in by sandstone cliffs and a grassy park, Bronte Beach lays claim to having the oldest surf lifesaving club in the world (1903). Contrary to popular belief, the beach is named after Lord Nelson, who doubled as the Duke of Bronte (a place in Sicily), not the famous literary sisters. There's a kiosk and a changing room attached to the surf club and covered picnic tables near the public barbecues. Follow the park inland to find a natural waterfall in a rare patch of remnant bushland.
Avalon is the best beach for a surf challenge
Caught in a sandy '70s time warp, Avalon is the mythical Australian beach you always dreamed of but could never find. Challenging surf and sloping, tangerine-gold sand have a boutique headland for a backdrop. There's a sea pool at the southern end. Good, cheap eating options abound in the streets behind.
Maroubra Beach is a top spot for experienced surfers
The last major beach before you hit Botany Bay, Maroubra Beach is Bondi's match in the waves department, but its suburban location provides immunity from Bondi's more pretentious trappings. Maroubra means "like thunder" in the local Indigenous language, and the beach is part of Australia's second National Surfing Reserve. If you just want to sit on the sand and watch the action, the breaks here provide plenty for skilled surfers. Be warned: shark attacks do happen here.
Find peace and quiet at Parsley Bay
The tucked away beauty that is little Parsley Bay has a calm swimming beach, a lawn dotted with sandstone sculptures for picnics and play, a little cafe and a cute suspension bridge. Keep an eye out for water dragons (native reptiles) as you walk down through the bush.