Cronulla is the rough-edged beachside gem in Sydney's Shire crown. It’s been immortalised in the coming-of-age novel Puberty Blues (and the more recent TV adaptation), but it’s come a long way since the era of Chiko Rolls and surfie chicks. It’s home to Sydney’s longest continuous stretch of beach, some of the city’s finest takeaway picnic fodder, long-running music venues, and a clutch of well-kept cafés.
What it lacks in inner city glamour, it makes up for in stunning coastal walks, safe swimming spots patrolled year-round, and the easily accessible mall, which is more attuned to cruisy outdoor window shopping than multi-storey retail madness. If you’re headed south, factor in an adventure in the Royal National Park, which is accessible from the Cronulla Wharf. Love the seaside life? Find more superb coastal spots via the best ferry trips in Sydney.
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Find the coolest things to do in Cronulla
Unlike its salty counterparts in the Eastern Suburbs, Cronulla Beach is located just five minutes' walk from the train station. The sand backs onto Cronulla Park, so you don’t feel the concrete encroaching too ominously, yet you still have easy access to CBD cafés and bars for a post-swim refreshment. The strong surfing culture means this stretch of water is one of the few in Sydney that’s patrolled year-round, so if you tire of watching the wave-riders catch breaks from the rocky headland, you can brave the water yourself, no matter the weather. The beach is also accessible for people who use wheelchairs.
Despite moving to a smaller storefront a few doors towards the train station, this sanctuary for book lovers more than lives up to its name. There are a few trestle tables of secondhand reads out front, and they’ve maintained a small collection of rare and classic books in the front window. Beyond, the library-classic wooden shelves are lined with new adult fiction and crime history, and you’ll find cookbooks, biographies, philosophical investigations and art and design texts on the next landing. The excellent collection of children’s books in the back corner is worth a visit alone.
Cronulla’s home of live music has been pumping out the goods for two decades. You’re greeted with the comfortable musty smell of spilled drinks from gigs gone by as you walk down the stairs to the bar and dining area, which doubles as seating for on-stage performances. Here, you’ll see impressive indie acts like Cronulla local and massive festival star Ruby Fields, and multi ARIA Award-winner Dan Sultan, as well as local jazz acts, a few international groups and others covering beloved names like INXS, Van Morrison and the Rolling Stones.
You will almost certainly scorch your fingers as you eagerly rip into one of the takeaway chooks from Casa Pollo. The golden crisp skin goads you into tearing the bird apart when you know you should let it cool, but the tender meat that lies within is worth a couple of burns. This classic Portuguese chicken shop rules the roost of a strip along Cronulla Street that boasts many a chargrilled chicken joint. They serve traditional Portuguese butterflied chooks alongside stuffed and standing versions, as well as burgers, schnitty rolls, and salads and baked veggies for sides.
A few scenic cruises chugg out of Cronulla Wharf, but the fleet's star is the hourly ferry to Bundeena. The adorable green, yellow and white vessel dedicated to the route, the Curranulla, has been powering across Port Hacking since 1939, making it the longest operating ferry in Australia. As such, you won’t find any fancy Opal systems or even EFTPOS facilities on these rides, and will need to secure your seat with cold hard cash ($6.80 each way for adults, $3.40 for kids). What you will get is a gorgeous 20-minute ride along Sydney’s most southerly ferry route, and a gateway to hiking, swimming, surfing and adventure in the Royal National Park.
This popular spot on Surf Lane has a line out the door on weekends, but the efficient and jovial team will generally have you seated and ordering a coffee or cocktail within ten minutes of your arrival. The big wrap-around communal bench is a great spot watch the workings of the kitchen if you’re keen on whiling away the day in good company. Try the prawn burger: there’s no way to avoid being covered in the chimichurri and smoky chipotle mayo that the prawns are doused in, but it’s worth it to get the right proportions of hot chorizo, melted gouda, fennel salad and grilled crustacean into every bite.
Make a day of this mighty 12km track. Those without private wheels can jump on the 987 bus from Cronulla Station and start the trek from Polo Street. Head south-east on the service trail around the Kamay Botany Bay National Park gates, then you'll gradually encounter sandy bush tracks and more defined coastal cliff paths with incredible ocean views. Once you pass the Cape Bailey Lighthouse and head down towards the Boat Harbour Aquatic Reserve, it’s a matter of keeping the ocean to your left and aiming for the distant Cronulla CBD to complete the final, more cruisey leg of this journey that ends with you back in town, ready to down a beer.
The charm of this Italian joint is in the almost kitsch details: the rough booth seats are crowned with hanging baskets of chilli and garlic, there are ageing posters of Naples on the walls and photographs from the mother country on the crowded mantelpiece, and the spicy salame pizza comes out on a stand, so you’re six inches closer to the bubbling fior di latte, bitey gaeta olives and cured meat. If you like minimal intervention when it comes to quality ingredients, order the plump prawns, clams and soft mussels nestled in linguini that’s hydrated with a zingy white wine and cherry tomato sauce.
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 the CBD, and you can access the rock pool easily with a pram or wheelchair.
There’s a lot to like about this long standing coffee-focused laneway café. The menu is short and simple, each dish is prepared and served with quality ingredients but without an extravagant price tag, and the venue lets you feel comfortable wading in wearing thongs and boardshorts still damp from your last surf session. It’s all no-nonsense order-and-pay at the counter here, so be sure to keep an ear turned to the coffee machine for your name being called while you chill on a milk crate or perch by a wine barrel out front.
This is the only dog-friendly beach in Sydney that directly faces the expanse of the ocean and not a bay or harbour. You’ll find it as you stroll along the Esplanade from Cronulla Beach out towards the headland of Kamay Botany Bay National Park. But to get that pupper access to the crashing waves, there are some drawbacks for dog owners. Off-leash canine visitors are only invited before 10am and after 4pm each day, and banned at other times (harsh) and there are no facilities for human bathers in the unpatrolled waters.
Seek out these beautiful beacons
Lighthouses have an enduring quality that makes them stand out among Sydney’s beautiful buildings. They essentially do the same job, albeit with some technological upgrades, that they were entrusted to do decades and even centuries ago: ensuring ships don’t run aground on our reefs and rocky outcrops. It’s this history, along with their superb placement near secluded hikes and at the top of incredible coastal paths (perfect for whale encounters) that make these mystical wayfinders such a beacon for Sydney sightseers.