When you can’t choose between the beach and a swimming pool, these rocky swimming spots have the best of both worlds. Dive in as the sun rises and you’ll have the salty baths to yourself, or wade in at hightide for a thrilling swell as waves crash against the walls. If you want more of a wave-fighting challenge, head to the city's best beaches or combine a swim with a one of our favourite walks around Sydney. Prefer to stay (relatively) dry? Here are the best places to go kayaking.
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Ocean pools in Sydney
This salty seaside pool is located on the very edge of Cremorne Point. Stroll down past leafy flowering gums, before arriving at the harbour edged pool – panoramic views of the city skyline and bobbing boats are contrasted with the pool’s well-worn rope fencing and aquamarine lining. Splay out on the timber decking for a sun bake or take a dip – the water is above the harbour line so it gets cleaned and refilled weekly (make sure you check the cleaning schedule before venturing here).
While its bigger, more recogniseable neighbour often gets all the Insta-fame, these beautiful ocean baths are very deserving of a dip too. Built into the rocky cliffside, stairs lead down to a shallow-ish pool area, which is great for families and little nippers. There’s a small wooden barrier, which divides the pool up, so lap swimmers can do their thing (it’s not very long though, making it more suited to a leisurely few laps rather than a serious swim). Also try and get here before 5am – watching the sun breach over the ocean’s horizon from this vantage point is pretty special.
This is one of the most private places to bathe in all of Sydney. The cliff-side swimming spot, built in 1886, is also known as McIver's Baths. The view is stunning, the water is salty fresh and shark-free, and there’s a couple of strips of grass at the top of the cliff where you can set up solar panel-style with a book. It’s women only, and the mix of people there is wonderful and rare: kids with mums, gal pals, lesbians, women whose religion forbids them bathing in front of men… Some chicks go topless, but there’s none of the leary culture you might get on a main beach: it feels like a safe space, a little haven. It's a gold coin donation to get in – just chuck it in the bucket as you enter.
The triangular-shaped Fairy Bower Pool, found on Marine Parade, is a shallow rock pool that’s enticingly calm and clear compared to the waves at Manly Beach. Swimmers may find the shape and depth of the pool too tricky for laps – it’s 20 metres long, but only if you want to swim to one side. But the beauty of this swimming hole is that most people come to cool off or sunbake, so you won’t be in the way if all you fancy is elbows on the side staring out at the ocean.
This salty waterhole is its own entity, carved into a rock flat at the base of a steep hill north of Maroubra Beach. It’s the perfect spot for sand-haters. You can soak up some rays on the rocks beside the beach or shelter in the shade on the grassy hill above. Built in 1932, this 30-metre-pool’s best (or worst) feature is the way waves crash all the way over the edge at high tide, giving the ocean bath its own little swell. During very high seas, it becomes unsafe to swim. Visit at low tide and the water is calm – the only sign it’s sometimes owned by the ocean are the dozens of fish that remain when the sea retreats.
Along the popular Manly to Spit walking path you’ll come across quieter swimming spots that attract more of a chilled-out family vibe. Fairlight Beach is one of those gems, and the clear, calm waters are something of a shared secret for snorkelling and spotting sea life. If you’re more inclined to swim laps or if you have little ones in tow, there is a walled rock pool and small paddling pool that’s sheltered from the harbour swell. What makes it super family-friendly are the public facilities, all pram accessible from the path. There are warm showers and accessible toilets too.
This stunning pool is helpfully divided into two sections by the original wall that dates back to the 1920s. You have a 50m pool on one side, though no ropes to guide you, and on the other is a shallower splash and play area for little flippers. If you’re wanting to stretch out up on the tiled bank at the ocean end like a happy fur seal, we’d suggest holding on tight to the chain railing – even with the spilling basin in place waves can come crashing over the walls at high tide.
It’s the most photographed ocean pool in Australia – at Sydney’s most famous beach – which makes the 50-metre saltwater pool a popular spot for sunbathers and a bottleneck spot on the Bondi to Coogee walk. The baths have been a landmark of Bondi for more than 100 years, and if you want to become a member of the oldest winter swimming club in Australia you must swim three Sundays a month for a period of five years. Luckily, for those who just want a slice of the active lifestyle synonymous with the suburb, it’s from $5.50-$8 for casual entry.
Ocean pool by day, wedding venue by night, the heritage-listed baths that sit below the Maroubra to Bondi coastal walkway have changed little since they were built in 1907. The idyllic spot was born from one man's passion for the ocean: champion long-distance swimmer Henry Wylie obtained a special lease below the high-water mark to build the seawall and raised boardwalk.
This lovely little ocean pool is a great spot for simmering down after a few hours in the more rowdy surf at Cronulla Beach. It’s also an ideal homebase for families with small children. You enter the pool by a sandy bank, and it’s right next to grass lawns and a fenced playground so you can spend time waddling to and fro with toddlers without too much hassle. It’s not far from Cronulla's CBD, and you can access the rock pool easily with a pram or wheelchair.
The family-friendly Dee Why Rockpool offers a new wading bath for grommets looking for a splash war and an older lap pool for bigger merpeople wanting to cool down. The main draw for this salty oceanside swimming spot is the location. It's within 100 metres of a bus stop that services the trusty old L90 from Wynyard, so sweaty inner city folk can get in on the salty swim action, and it's just as close to Dee Why Beach and a clutch of cute cafés along the Strand.
Be a tourist in your own city
Just because they’re popular doesn’t make them tacky... These tried-and-tested tourist attractions around Sydney range from thrill seeking adventures to scenic tours of our city's peaceful gardens and parks.