Small, but perfectly formed: the best small beaches in Sydney
I spent a good six months living in Sydney, which is easily long enough to figure out that Bondi is a little overrated. The best way to take advantage of Sydney’s stupidly beautiful harbourside location and ocean beaches is to dig a little deeper, and find some hidden gems. There are more dazzling beaches in Sydney than any city should be allowed to have, quite frankly, and this list only scratches the sandy surface – plus, there is nothing more rewarding than stumbling across your own secret and secluded spot – but the suggestions that follow are good starting points if you’ve already ticked off Bondi, Manly, Coogee, et al.
Redleaf Beach and Murray Rose Pool
Redleaf Beach, and the enclosed area of water called Murray Rose Pool (previously Redleaf Pool) is one of my absolute favourite beaches in Sydney. Situated in the gorgeous Double Bay area of the city, it is almost certainly one of the closest beaches to the CBD. It is also something of a local secret; with little street signage, you have to be in the know to find it, and it definitely has less of a touristy feel. (From New South Head Road, look out for signs for Redleaf Cafe). Families and locals from the eastern suburbs tend to be the norm here, all adding to the chilled out, friendly vibe. Its small size and multitude of facilities also mean everything you might need, including a cafe with umbrellas for shade, toilets and changing rooms, is all within easy reach. Anyone who has trekked for what feels like miles across the sun-scorched sands of Bondi will appreciate only having to walk for 20 seconds to grab a coffee or an ice-cream.
The beach itself is beautifully clean, and the harbourside enclosure provides a safe spot for swimming. You can even walk along the pontoon encircling the pool if you want to stretch your legs, and there is nothing more glorious than gazing out across the boats bobbing in the harbour on a sunny afternoon. (Damn… Why did I ever leave Sydney?).
A short stroll from New South Head Road, it is easily accessible by bus (323, 324, 325 and 326).
Opposite busy Manly, strewn with its pine trees, sunbathers and surfers, lies Shelly Beach, a lovely little curve of sand in a small sheltered bay. It is one of the few coastal beaches which almost turns inwards toward the mainland, facing north-west, meaning that it is well protected from large waves and prevailing winds. Follow the scenic Marine Parade round from Manly or, if you’re feeling particularly energetic, take the plunge and swim across. Fill up with something healthy or hearty at the beautiful Boathouse cafe whilst drinking in the sublime views.
Popular with families, scuba divers and snorkellers, the beach descends from quite shallow waters out to a depth of around 12m, and if swimming isn’t your bag you can take a brisk walk to the scenic North Head Sanctuary, following a route leading directly from the beach. Shelly Beach’s free barbecues also ensure you can round off the day in true Aussie style, naturellement.
Clovelly is a quirky little beach tucked in between some of the eastern suburbs’ big boys. Situated between Bondi and Coogee (with nearby Bronte also worth a look), Clovelly’s distinctive cove-like shape and features make it a particularly pleasant option for an ocean dip. Whilst the words ‘concrete’ and ‘beach’ aren’t the most obvious combination, the man-made walls along the sides of the beach (one half containing the Clovelly Ocean Pool, or Geoff James Pool) help to create calm and safe waters that are much less rough than some of the other nearby options. It also provides an alternative for those who want a blissful day at the beach without getting sand stuck to their sunscreen, as many visitors put their towels out on the warm paving and plunge in the pool when the sun gets too strong.
As well as the calm waters and sloping, shallow sands which make this beach such a great choice for weaker swimmers, the lack of swell and tranquil waters provide superb snorkelling conditions; situated within the Bronte-Coogee Aquatic Reserve, Clovelly boasts a range of underwater residents. All the usual facilities are here in abundance, including disabled access and free street parking.
At some point, everyone catches a ferry from Circular Quay; it’s kind of a done deal. It’s also one of the most scenic ways to either go west inland up the river, or east out towards the ocean, and boy are there some nice places to stop off. (If you don’t believe me, check out more details – and other ferry options – from Time Out Sydney). Camp Cove is on the ‘South Head’ side of the harbour entrance; jump on a ferry for Watsons Bay (route F7 for the Eastern Suburbs) and wander up Cliff Street after disembarking, or take the more scenic route up Marine Parade and then cut through via Cove Street.
Either way, Camp Cove is easy walking distance from where the ferry docks, and is well worth the trip. The water here is particularly calm, despite being so close to the edge of the harbour, and the beach is also wheelchair-accessible. Add the kiosk selling drinks and ice-creams, and some solid beach practicalities are ticked. More dramatic by far are the drop-dead gorgeous views: if you tire of gazing across those cobalt waters, take a walk up to the headland north-east of the beach. On a clear day, you’ll be able to make out the spiky outline of Sydney’s CBD in the distance, whilst Hornby Lighthouse further round South Head is another great viewpoint. Just don’t look too closely at Lady Bay Beach as you pass by – it’s one of Sydney’s nudist beaches, so you’ll probably see a little bit (or a lot!) more than you bargained for.
Don’t forget to stop off at Doyles on the Wharf before your ferry ride back – it wouldn’t be a day at the beach without fish and chips now, would it?