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Sebastian at sunset Williamstown
Photograph: Jacqueline Horvat

A local's guide to Williamstown

Explore the many restaurants, cafés, bars and shops in Williamstown with this detailed guide to this historic suburb

By Rushani Epa
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Williamstown, or Willy as it’s lovingly referred to by its local residents, is Melbourne’s first port settlement. The suburb that was once a thriving maritime hotspot is now a spot for sailing with yachts often docked against Melbourne CBD’s picturesque skyline. It has a swimming beach, parks and wetlands, bustling shopping strips on Douglas Parade, Ferguson Street and Nelson Place, and a thriving restaurant scene. 

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What’s Williamstown known for?

Its rich history is filled with maritime tales, maritime museums and colonial landmarks like the Timeball Tower, which served as what’s likely to have been Victoria’s first lighthouse in 1840. It’s also home to the annual Williamstown Literature Festival (AKA Willy Lit Fest), one of Australia’s most respected word festivals that gets some of the country’s most notable authors making the trek to the west. 

How do I get to Williamstown?

Catch the train all the way to the end of the line at Williamstown Station, or drive along the coastal route past waterside mansions via the Strand. You can even cruise down on the ferry with a one-way or return ticket from Southgate in Southbank with Williamstown Ferries.  

What’s nearby?

Newport and Williamstown North neighbour Williamstown up top, and further up you’ll find Spotswood which is home to science museum Scienceworks and American-inspired bakery Candied Bakery.

Why do the locals love it? 

“It’s a bit of a small country town mixed with a beachside feeling that’s close to the city. It’s nice feeling away from all the hustle and bustle but being only a few stops away from the city by train. There are lovely wide streets and beautiful older houses with a proud and close-knit community,” says Alex Brawn, resident of Williamstown and co-owner of beachside restaurant and bar Sebastian. 

Map of Williamstown

If you only do one thing …

Well, technically this is a whole day, but we recommend that you take the ferry down to Williamstown’s pier, then walk along the Strand, through the Botanic Gardens and head to Sebastian’s dining room for a sit-down meal, followed by Il Melograno gelati on Williamstown beach and drinks in town at open-air container bar Peachy Keen.

The best things to do in Williamstown

Food at Sebastian
Food at Sebastian
Photograph: Sammy Green

Eat

For prime seaside dining, get on down to Sebastian (26 Esplanade). Like it’s namesake, the venue was inspired by sunny San Sebastian in Spain's Basque Country with its idyllic beaches and carefree, sunkissed atmosphere. What you get here is an eatery and bar located on Williamstown beach with white walls, salty air and seafront views, topped off with a Meditteranean menu pintxos including gildas that pierce together white anchovies, green olives and guindilla peppers on a little skewer, small plates that feature ceviche made from ocean trout, or larger plates including slow-cooked pork hock. Sit down to a meal in the dining room, or head outdoors for a casual snacky affair, with both options being suited to kids and adults.

Hobsons Bay Hotel (28 Ferguson St) is one of the newer kids on the block in Willy. The gastropub’s menu was designed by Ben Pigott (Supernormal, Cumulus Inc, Stokehouse) and is owned by the brains behind bakery and café chain Rustica. The venue (which previously housed George Colombaris's Hellenic Hotel) has a rooftop overlooking Melbourne’s city skyline, a dining room and a public bar – all with their own unique menus. Expect the likes of cheeseburgers with shoestring fries, rotisserie chicken with salsa verde, and doughnuts with pineapple jam and rum custard. It’s dishing up daily from noon until late and is the perfect haunt for those looking for a casual drink or a substantial pub meal.

Hot nights call for fish and chips and this is when Off the Pier Fish and Chippery (1 Syme St) will become your best friend. The little hole-in-the-wall owned by brother duo George and Hazem Hazouri (Union Square Fish and Chips Shop) is conveniently situated right next to the pier (hence the name) and a well-equipped park that offers a playground for kids and a gazebo for those looking to escape the sun. As far as the food goes, it’s your standard fish and chip joint but the fish is fresh, the batter is crisp, the chips are generously coated in chicken salt and the prices are very fair. Expect friendly service and a little courtyard in the back for those looking to dine-in. 

Sangam Tandoori (135 Nelson Pl) has brought bright, earthy colours in the form of North Indian curries to Williamstown since 1999. The restaurant is popular among locals and is a hotspot for families and couples during the evening on weekends. Its menu boasts rich and fragrant dishes like the chicken do pyaza that marries a thick masala onion sauce with tender chunks of chicken. Snag a seat by the window that looks across to the park and pier and mop up your curry with some doughy naan and cleanse your palate with a mango lassi.

If you’re looking for some of the best pizza in Melbourne, look no further than Pizza d'Asporto (11/71 Kororoit Creek Rd). Located in an unassuming carpark, the family-run pizzeria sling pies with thin crusts, high-quality toppings and simple yet sensational pastas. Al dente rounds of orecchiette dance with crisp, fried morsels of pork sausage and broccolini in the salsiccia and broccolini pasta, and layers of sopressa salami, leg ham and hot cacciatore lay on a bed of San Marzano tomato and mozzarella in the salumi pizza. Pizza bases can be made gluten-free, chocolate pannacottas disappear within seconds and glasses of housemade chilli oil dot the tables. It’s near impossible not to enjoy your meal here.

A few doors down from Pizza d’Asporto sits a Vietnamese bakery that dishes up salad rolls to hungry tradies and smiley biscuits to kids, but it’s the banh mi that’s worth trying. Hot Golden Bakery (7/71 Kororoit Creek Rd) masters banh mi with freshly baked rolls and the usual trimmings including crisp pork belly and crackling, and glistening barbecue chicken, yet it’s the kimchi roll with its tangy shreds of fermented kimchi and juicy pork meatballs that stands out from the rest. Grab it to go with spring onion, cucumber and coriander then head to the nearest park or beach. 

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Peachy Keen
Peachy Keen
Photograph: Supplied

Drink

Peachy Keen (82/84 Ferguson St) brings a trendy and typically Melburnian concept to the coast. How? It’s housed in an open-air container bar, tucked away in town, and its bright peachy exterior sits pretty on vivid green Astroturf topped with bar stools and striped parasols. The bar is open from Thursdays to Sundays and is the ideal spot for an afternoon or evening cocktail, and if you’re hungry, the venue has partnered with pizzeria 3 Grains who can deliver its Roman-style pizzas to your table.

If walls could talk, the Stags Head Hotel (39 Cecil St) would have a lot to say. One of Williamstown's oldest pubs, it was originally licensed in 1849 and the fit-out remains much the same as when it was first developed. There’s a sunlit beer garden in the back, locals pouring in and out and a rotating selection of beers on tap. A classic pub menu also features everything from chicken parmas to Szechuan pepper calamari. 

Spot the bright pink neon sign and chances are you’ve arrived at Lower West Side Wine Bar (73-83 Douglas Parade). This narrow, modern wine bar is located near the hustle and bustle of Williamstown’s shopping precinct and stocks a varied selection of Australian, French and Italian wines along with European influenced bar snacks. 

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Kodama Coffee
Kodama Coffee
Photograph: Supplied

Coffee

It would appear that the residents of Willy are very keen on their coffee. So keen that Kodama (69-71 Stevedore St) is usually teeming with people rain, hail or shine. Beans are by Axil Coffee Roasters and the little café also promises an all-day menu to boot. Our tip is to go for the chilli scrambled eggs with fried shallots, parmesan, coriander, green onion and whipped feta on sourdough. Its sister venue, Boma, is based in Yarraville, and the two are known to bring the best coffee to the west.

Walking down the street you might look to the side and see an alley filled with people sitting around on milk crates with takeaway coffees in hand, and that’s when you’ll know you’ve stumbled upon Piccolo One (2/12 Douglas Parade). The tiny espresso bar brews great coffee and has brunchy snacks on offer too, and is a popular haunt for locals and post-ride cyclists.  

Longtime Williamstown local Luke Houli’s café Crowded House (48 Ferguson St) serves up single-origin coffees and Middle Eastern-inspired dishes in a rustic space that also offers a large outdoor courtyard so you can enjoy your coffee in the sunshine. 

For a more French-inspired café experience head to Will's (173 Nelson Pl) and grab a coffee and a crepe. If you're feeling adventurous, the venue also offers more out-there flavours like the blueberry double espresso.

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ZZ Botanical and Home
ZZ Botanical and Home
Photograph: Supplied

Shopping

Zz Botanical and Home (153 Nelson Pl) is every indoor plant fanatic’s dream. The family-run business (that also has a crazy amount of Instagram followers) offers plenty of rare indoor plants of all sizes with beautiful pots and plant care available on-site, too. Zoran and Wendy Micevski who run the store are incredibly friendly and knowledgeable and you’ll have a hard time walking out empty-handed. 

If you’re after any knitting or crocheting supplies, head down the street from Zz to Pick Up Stitches (141 Nelson Pl). The ever-changing window is always filled with cute little woven knick-knacks like tea cosies and little bears, and the store that once serviced the Macedon Ranges has found its home in Williamstown.

Fancy on Ferguson (56 Ferguson St) is a boutique store that offers luxe products that are difficult to find elsewhere. Spot the wall holding coveted candles from Glasshouse, or perfume imported from the world’s perfume capital, Grasse in France. The brand in question is Fragonard and it’s one of the oldest perfumeries in Grasse. There's plenty of other beauty products on offer too and plush Charlie Bears.

If you’re looking for a decent sour beer or a top-notch bottle of Nebbiolo, look no further than Williamstown Fine Wines (9 Ferguson St). And if you need some advice, Justin who runs the boutique wine store will steer you in the right direction. 

Grace and Willow Boutique (5 Douglas Parade) stocks trendy local and international womenswear labels. Expect bright colours, flowing dresses, bags, jewellery and even some homewares. 

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Sunset Williamstown Pier
Sunset Williamstown Pier
Photograph: Visit Victoria

Things to do

Set foot on a doomed cruise at the legendary Titanic Restaurant (1 Nelson Pl). The nautical-themed multi-level venue sits stationary as actors clad in olden day garbs bust out modern-day pop songs and the classic Celine Dion ditty for the ultimate (and bizarre) dinner and a show. Arrive on board, sit down to a three-course dinner and end your evening after a staged shipwreck... you know the one with the iceberg and all? 

Locals of Willy are lucky to have a little beach all to themselves. Well, them and the rest of Melbourne’s westside at least. Williamstown Beach also offers a kiosk by Pizza d’Asporto to keep you hydrated, along with Sebastian to keep you well fed. It’s perfect to go for a dip in on a hot day, but be warned, it gets packed, so packed that long lines of traffic fill its residential streets, so get in early.

And what's Alex Brawn's hot tip? “Stroll through the Williamstown Botanic Gardens. They're a lot smaller but really nice."

Across the road from the beach is Williamstown’s very own Botanic Gardens (Giffard St and Osborne Street). Opened in 1860, it was one of Victoria’s first public gardens, and now its palm tree-lined walkways are home to picnicking locals and wedding photoshoots. It's lush, green and well worth walking through.

The Williamstown Farmer’s Market (Robertson Reserve) is part of the Regional Farmers Markets group and rolls into town every second Sunday of the month. Open from 9am to 2pm, the market hosts local producers, farmers, plant and food stalls and even some live music. At times there are petting zoos for the kids, and more often than not there’s a community sausage sizzle, too. 

Seaworks (82 Nelson Pl) is a not-for-profit organisation and popular maritime site working to preserve Victoria’s maritime history. It sits in the heart of Williamstown and is a working deep-water port and Melbourne’s key mooring site for visiting local and international tall ships and other historic vessels. The space often hosts all kinds of community events and is currently hosting the Sun Cinema’s outdoor cinema until April 2021.

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