A trip to the Northern Beaches ticks off a lot of Sydney ideals: splendid salty swims, monumental walks and views, plus a healthy serve of history, dining and shopping on the side. The meandering peninsula and bays that stretch from Palm Beach to Manly encompass 21 ocean beaches, from hidden leafy inlets to breezy straits with endless surfable waves.
Whether you’re looking to unwind in the sun with a good book or relax by getting active in the whitewash, there’s a beach, lake or park to suit your needs. So slather on the sunscreen, pack a picnic and check out these ten top spots on the Northern Beaches.
Gems on the north side
While we love the waves down at Palm Beach, it’s the walk to Barrenjoey Lighthouse that really gets our motor going. It’s a steep, sweaty ascent, but a quick one up the short sandy trail, with steps and rocky lookout points. Your leg-day reward is the panoramic view of the peninsula. Spot sea eagles, black cockatoos and whales during migration season before clambering down to the North Palm Beach Surf Club – you may recognise the area as the filming location of Home and Away's Summer Bay. For those looking for a real hidden gem, head uphill in the other direction for the Bible Garden.
This sandy corner of Cabbage Tree Bay is a dream for anyone seeking out calm waters, marine encounters and snorkelling adventures. Shelly Beach is like the chill little sister of nearby Manly Beach, surrounded by greenery and sheltered from big waves and bustling city life. As part of a protected aquatic reserve, it’s a great place to spot sea life while you bob on a floatie, snorkel or scuba dive. It’s also a starting point for the well trod North Head walk. Hit the trail after a dip in one of Sydney’s original ocean pools, the Fairy Bower Rockpool.
Need to impress visitors? Board the Manly ferry at Circular Quay for a seasalt-sprayed journey to this vibrant neighbourhood. After the windy voyage, start at the Hello Manly visitor information centre for all your tourist hot spot needs. Then, stop in at cafés and restaurants as you wander through the Corso all the way to the beach for gleeful romp in waves that've bred many a surfing legend. If bodysurfing isn’t your game, stroll north up the hill from Manly Village and find serenity among the bushtracks and headland.
Become a brave mountain goat as you straddle the sheer clifftop walk between these two beaut locations. Dive into the cool rockpools at either end to reinvigorate your weary body with salty goodness. These historic swimming holes were chipped into existence almost 100 years ago, and still bring joy to families and dedicated lap-swimmers year round. Venture into Dee Why post-swim and find cafés and fish and chipperies to fuel a final foray in the surf before you kick back and people-watch on the promenade.
If you’re looking for an easy-going but practical village attitude in your next Sydney excursion, Mona Vale should be high on your list. This little corner of the Northern Beaches boasts a fantastic surf beach, with the kind of authentically Australian rockpools that keep you on your toes as waves spill over the sides. It’s a great spot for little’uns with a kiddies' rockpool, and the recently renovated skate park next to the sports centre will have bigger kids sprinting for their knee pads and scooters. There's even a spectacular golf course adjacent to the beach.
While the area’s name doesn’t inspire visions great beauty, Pittwater is indeed a glistening gem in Sydney’s crown of coastal suburbs. The region spans from Mona Vale to Ku-ring-gai National Park, offering boating adventures throughout the bay, ferry rides and stand-up paddle boarding in secluded waters. You can BYO vessel and access the water by the council boat ramps or learn seafaring ways at the local yacht clubs. The inlets and coves squirrelled away within the bay are perfect picnic spots that you’ll often get to preside over privately.
This is one to add to your Sydney bucket list. Parts of the Coast Walk are not yet complete, but once finished, it will provide a continuous walking path connecting 36km of Northern Beaches coastline. The boardwalks, cycleways, stairs, footpaths and tracks will stretch from Manly all the way to Palm Beach, providing easy access to your favourite beaches, pools and lookouts. This mammoth project is set to be completed in less than two years, but with most of it open there’s plenty to explore right now.
Choose between a dip in the lagoon or a splash in the waves when you visit this high energy ’burb. Narrabeen is the heartland of water sports north of the bridge, with opportunities to hit the seas while windsurfing, sailing, kayaking, canoeing, rowing, fishing or boating. Explore complex ecosystems while you're afloat on the Narrabeen Lagoon, or follow the 8km Narra Trail on foot or bike for another perspective of the bordering reserves, picnic spots and playgrounds. Wave riders should venture to North Narrabeen for killer swells in a dedicated National Surfing Reserve. If you want to catch an early morning set, pitch a tent at the nearby Sydney Lakeside Holiday Park.
No, it’s not the swooping bandit bird, but instead a secluded, rustic Australian beach-and-bush experience perched on the edge of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. The only way to reach this luxury nest is by sea, so you’ll need to jump the ferry from Palm Beach. You can stay in the heritage-listed homestead, built more than 100 years ago, or rent out the cottages, cabins and lodge for a relaxation-focused family getaway. For those who relax by doing, there’s also kayaking, golf and fishing to keep you moving.
Sick of being salty? Direct your attention to Manly Dam. The glistening expanse of fresh water just 15 minutes’ drive from the centre of Manly has all the allure of its oceanic siblings minus the waves, making it an ideal spot for lazy days spent swimming, fishing, paddling and even water-skiing. The banks of this dam are a picnicker's paradise, and there’s a challenging 10km bush track to follow around the lake if you’re feeling bloated after lunch. Manly Dam Mountain Biking Track is one of Sydney's best and enjoyed by both beginners and advanced riders.