Sydney doesn’t just boast some of the best beaches in Australia, many of this city’s shores are considered the finest on the globe. But with more than 100 beaches dotted throughout the harbour and along Sydney’s coastline to choose from, it can be a daunting task deciding just where to sample the surf.
Here at Time Out, we’ve pondered this head-scratcher plenty over the years, selecting our favourite spots for our curated lists, including our recommendations for the best dog-friendly beaches, the best secluded seafronts, and even the best beaches to enjoy wearing nothing but your birthday suit.
But we felt it was high time we got definitive. So, here it is: our ultimate pick of Sydney's best beaches.
The best of the best
A quintessential Sydney experience; no wonder it’s one of the city’s most popular beaches with visitors and locals alike
To say this corner of the Eastern Suburbs has it all would be no overstatement. Bronte has waves every bit as exciting as Bondi’s, but also quiet rock pools and the beautiful ocean baths at its southern end for those who prefer a gentler dip. Its pristine sands lead to well-manicured lawns with modern utilities, including shower blocks, barbecues and a superbly stocked kiosk. It’s easily accessible from the city, and as the second major beach on the breathtaking Bondi to Coogee coastal path, it’s conveniently situated for those in the mood to explore.
More things to enjoy near Bronte.
The North Shore’s biggest draw gives you two beaches for the price of one
There are those who like to spend their beach time hurling themselves into waves, and there are those who prefer chilling by the gentle lapping of a sheltered shore. If you happen to enjoy a bit of both, Manly is the place to go. The pinched peninsula of this North Shore suburb has one of the smallest spans between the Harbour waters and the open ocean anywhere in Sydney; you can walk from the calm of Manly Cove to the thrills of Manly Beach in less than ten minutes. If you’re travelling from central Sydney, one of the greatest pleasures of a day out in Manly is the journey there. The 20-minute ferry ride from Circular Quay is like a postcard flip-book of Sydney’s most famous landmarks.
More things to enjoy near Manly.
This emerald-hued lagoon, found in the calmer waters of the Harbour, is one of Sydney’s lesser-known gems
A distinctive footbridge, spanning the breadth of this elegant finger of water, perfectly frames Parsley’s picturesque shoreline and leafy surrounds, while also providing the ideal platform for Insta-fabulous shots of the Sydney skyline. Protected from the sea swells coming in from the open ocean, it’s an ideal place for less confident swimmers to take the plunge and a must for any snorkelling enthusiasts. Parsley Bay feels like a well-kept secret, but it still comes with all mod cons; there’s a small but well-stocked kiosk plus toilets and a shower block adjacent to the car park.
If you’re a Home and Away fan (or even if you’re not), a pilgrimage to the popular soap’s beachfront backdrop is mandatory
This expansive stretch of dramatic coast, located at the northernmost tip of Sydney on the slim peninsula by Broken Bay, is one of the best surfing spots close to the city. Those confident carving through the waves can brave the monster breakers at the beach’s north, while novices are best sticking to the southern end, where the waters are more forgiving. Head to Palmy (as the locals call it) on Sunday and you can catch the weekly tour of the Barrenjoey Lighthouse, a historical 1881-built sandstone landmark offering spectacular 360-degree views.
It is the Sydney beach: golden sands, big waves and grade-A people watching (if you don’t mind the crowds)
Located 7km east of the CBD, Bondi’s fun-filled surf and panoramic views of the Tasman Sea attracts 2.6 million people to its golden sands every year. It’s a place to see and be seen; your Insta-options are endless. But Bondi’s indestructible popularity can also be a double-edged sword. At the height of the summer season, overcrowding can really take the sheen off its glamorous reputation. Fortunately, escaping the tourist trap is easier than you might think. Simply head a kilometre up Campbell Parade to North Bondi, and you can enjoy the same sunny skies and azure waters without the vacationer crush.
More things to enjoy near Bondi.
Standing on this crescent of coastline, it would be easy to forget you’re just 60kms from a major city
Take an hour’s drive south of Sydney and you’ll find yourself surrounded by the epic, rolling bushlands of the Royal National Park. Along its eastern edge, there are several wonderfully isolated beaches, but the largest and most impressive is unquestionably Garie Beach. It’s surrounded by densely forested hills without a hint of civilisation anywhere to be seen. Well, save for a small kiosk (only open weekends and public holidays), where you can get simple refreshments. If you enjoy a challenging hike, take the bushwalk to Eagle Point, a striking rock formation that might possibly resemble some type of bird.
More things to enjoy in the Royal National Park.
You could very well dub this beach in Sydney’s far north the OG surfers’ paradise
The second Northern Beach (after Palm Beach) to make this list is one of the most reliable go-to destinations for surfers anywhere in the State. Bordered by imposing sandstone cliffs, including the rock formations of Bilgola Head and Hole in the Wall, Avalon is also a place of outstanding natural beauty: rugged, awe-inspiring and extremely Insta-worthy. Be warned, though, this isn’t the best place for a casual paddle – only confident swimmers and experienced surfers should brave these seas. Riptides, particularly at the far ends of the beachfront, are not to be taken lightly.
Hugging much of the sea-facing edge of the suburb of Mosman, Balmoral is one of the inner Harbour’s largest beaches
Its sheltered waters are ideal for stand-up paddleboarding, and the relatively shallow seas and absence of shipping lanes mean you can get stuck into some serious open water swimming, far from the shoreline. For those who like their beach time on the refined side, there are plenty of upmarket cafes and eateries to try, including the excellent Balmoral Boathouse. But if you’re in the mood to get into nature, catch the ferry from Circular Quay to Taronga Zoo and take the 6km trail via Chowder Bay to Balmoral, one of Sydney’s best inner-city bushwalks.
More things to enjoy near Balmoral.
Live it up like a millionaire as you explore the sands overlooked by some of the priciest properties in the city
A short stroll from Watsons Bay ferry wharf, Camp Cove is nestled on the Harbourside of the South Head. Sandy shores give way to rocky outcrops that are perfect terrain for snorkelling, with many forms of marine wildlife calling Camp Cove home. It’s a popular spot for paddleboarders and kayaking, not least because of its multimillion-dollar views (it’s not for nothing that some of Sydney’s most pricey residences are found in this neighbourhood). The beach is well served by an excellent kiosk, and the heritage trail along Lady Bay Road up to the top of South Head connects Camp Cove to the equally delightful Lady Bay Beach.
Small but mighty, this hidden gem boasts the rare pairing of gentle seas with an open ocean view
Stand looking out to sea at the midpoint of this charming cove just south of Maroubra and it almost seems like the shoreline is scooping you up in a bear hug. Embraced by two rocky outcrops on either side, this ocean-facing beach is surprisingly well sheltered from the monster swells so common at other popular spots along Sydney’s Southeast coast. While it’s certainly not a total secret, particularly among locals, Little Bay definitely falls into the “hidden gems” category of Sydney seaside attractions. We recommend you take in the sunset here; framed by the Bay’s adjacent cliffs, it’s a breathtaking natural spectacle.