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Manly Ferry Wharf
Photograph: Tom Ward/Destination NSW

A local's guide to Manly

Every day’s the weekend at this beachside suburb – but there’s more to the 2095 postcode than long stretches of golden sand

By Emily Lloyd-Tait
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Not everything described as iconic deserves the title, but the double-ended ferries that shuttle between Circular Quay, past the heads and into Manly Cove are truly icons of the beachside suburb. The most visited Northern Beaches suburb is known for its surfing history, rows of Norfolk Island pine trees and busy thoroughfare of shops, cafés and sprawling pubs, but look beyond the well-trodden Corso and you’ll find tiny dive bars, indie boutiques and never-ending ways to make the most of the relaxed, outdoor lifestyle. Before Manly became a popular escape from Sydney’s CBD, it was home to the Gamaragal people, who were custodians of the land on the North Shore of Sydney Harbour.

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EAT DRINK COFFEE THINGS TO DO SHOPPING

What’s Manly known for?
Just how many beaches are too manly for one suburb to have? Well, Manly has eight, which explains why water defines pretty much every aspect of life in this desirable suburb on the Northern Beaches of Sydney. People come here for surfing, sunshine, skateboarding, swimming, snorkelling, kayaking, hiking and beach volleyball.

Why do locals love it?
“You live in Manly for the lifestyle. It’s the kind of place where your mum always had beach towels in the boot so you could meet her for a swim after school during summer, and your weekends consisted of nippers in the morning followed by a pink iced doughnut from the local bakery” says Alice Donaldson, who grew up in Manly. Once she got older it was all about waterfront drinks at “the office” where locals gather on a Sunday to sink beers on the grassy verge overlooking the harbour.

How do I get to Manly?
There is no trainline in Sydney’s Northern Beaches so it’s a matter of car, bus or ferry. Driving can see you get caught in snaggly traffic over the Spit Bridge (especially if  you’re unlucky and it needs to open for a particularly lofty yacht). Buses are a good bet, especially since the introduction of the double decker yellow B-Line bus service that runs as often as every ten minutes between the CBD and Mona Vale and features in-seat USB chargers. But by far the nicest public transport in Sydney is a ferry. You can get the fast ferry, which is private and has a bar on board, or the big public ferry and use your opal card. Even they have a local brewery bar on board too so you can kick back on what is ostensibly a harbour cruise for your commute.

What’s nearby?
The next beach up from Manly’s huge expanse of golden sand (so large it’s technically three beaches, Queenscliff, North Steyne and South Steyne) is Freshwater Beach, which is famous in surfing history as the very first location Duke Kahanamoku demonstrated surf board riding to Australian audiences in 1914. This beautiful, and quieter beach is also home to famed Sardinian fine diner, Pilu at Freshwater. On its inland border is Brookvale, a semi-industrial suburb that has a growing reputation as a hub for craft breweries on the Northern Beaches.

Map of Manly

If you only do one thing
The ten-kilometre Spit to Manly trek is best approached from the Spit if you want to reward yourself with snacks at the finish line. The route takes you from sandy coves to beautiful vantage points of Sydney Harbour, up and down rocky staircases, and to at least four secret beaches. Castle Rock beach is postcard perfect, so bring your swimmers and a towel for this otherwise hard-to-reach beach in Middle Harbour. Also pack water and proper sun protection, as there are very few water fountains and limited shade.

Find the best things to do in Manly

Dumplings at Momo Bar Manly
Dumplings at Momo Bar Manly
Photograph: Anna Kucera

Eat

One of Manly’s most delicious snack bars is a Nepalese-inspired dumpling house called Momo Bar Manly (28 Market Pl), where you choose your flavour filling (spiced chicken and vegetarian are ace), then you choose a sauce or make it a soup with broth. 

Busta (10 Pittwater Rd) is a retro-glam Italian diner making a faultless tiramisu that people are queuing for. 

If you want to eat a bucket of fresh prawns, golden seared scallops, and a bowl of hand-made pasta looking out over the expanse of Manly Cove towards the city skyline and out to sea, Manly Pavilion (West Esplanade) is the place to do it.

The Boathouse Shelly Beach (1 Marina Pde) is the place to be on sunny weekends for that ‘Byron holiday in Sydney’ vibe. Wear your best coastal whites and enjoy brunch with a view, or get takeaway and eat by the calm waters of Shelley Beach.

Pocket Pizza (46 Pittwater Rd) gets top honours for puntastic names Anchovio Banderas, Cheesus Christ and Gordon Hamsey. The Baracolli Obama is in the running for one of the best veggie options around. 

If you’re here for that plant-based life, hit up the smoothie loving crew at vegan café Verd (C13 The Corso) for a fresh dose of vitamins. 

The original Chica Bonita (9 The Corso) has long been pulling crowds thanks to their killer chicharron, tacos and Margaritas.

For some Hong Kong elegance with harbour views, head to Queen Chow’s Manly post, right on the wharf (Manly Wharf, East Esplanade).

There are countless places for fish and chips in Manly, but for higher end seafood there’s the Herring Room (94 Pittwater Rd).

Sunset Sabi (26-28 Pittwater Rd) is not here to follow the rules of Japanese dining, but rather to break them in service of good times and snacky hijinks. 

Manly loves a little Americana, so get your fix of wings, fried chicken, loaded fries and burgers at JB and Sons (49 Sydney Rd).

What’s a beach visit without a golden packet of freshly battered fish and piping hot chips straight out of the frying basket at Fishmongers (Shop 4, 11-27 Wentworth St).

By day Sketch Manly (19 Pittwater Rd) is an Indian inspired cafe, and at night they are slinging curries and craft beers to adoring fans.

For high-end Japanese dining on the water, Saké Manly (Manly Wharf, East Espplanade) is the go-to in this Northern enclave of Sydney.

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at The Cumberland Manly Bar
at The Cumberland Manly Bar
Photograph: Anna Kucera

Drink

Hemingway’s (48 N Steyne) is the tiny Manly small bar offering the Northern Beaches a double dose of fun drinks and a whole lot of literature directly across from the famous golden sands of Manly Beach.

Donny’s Bar (7 Market Pl) is a bare-brick American-style loft bar where you can get a Bloody Caesar and a slider and pretend like you’re Stateside.

InSitu (1/18 Sydney Rd) is a retro-themed small bar and restaurant that also does bottomless Mimosas and tapas for brunch on weekends.

Manly’s bar scene gets a touch of glamour at the Cumberland (17-19 Central Ave), an underground speakeasy hidden below an old-world delicatessen.

Don’t drink booze? No worries, because everything at Apples @ Manly (5 Whistler St) is alcohol free.

For craft beers brewed on site, make a beeline for the 4 Pines Manly Brew Pub (29/43-45 E Esplanade).

On a sunny evening in summer the seats out on the deck over the water at the Manly Wharf Hotel (Manly Wharf, East Esplanade) are some of the most sought after real estate in the suburb.

The Hotel Steyne (75 The Corso) is a vast enterprise with different zones catering to any whim that may take you, be it cocktails, cider, Chinese food, pub classics, pizza, or a simple lager with the football on TV. 

If you’re after some pan-Asian/surf town fusion with added pinball, Daniel San (55 N Steyne) is the bar for you.

Manly Wine (8/13 S Steyne) has more than a hundred bottles on the wine list, organised into helpful categories that suggest more about how the wine will actually taste than a technical classification.

What’s a beachside suburb without a nautically themed small bar like the Hold (24 Sydney Rd)?

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People sitting outside at Rollers Bakehouse
People sitting outside at Rollers Bakehouse
Photograph: Cassandra Hannagan

Coffee

In a laneway off the Corso you’ll find Rollers Bakehouse (19 Rialto Ln) in a baby pink garage, baking croissants in every flavour imaginable and serving up their house coffee in white, black, filter or bottomless form.

Pair your coffee with a side of Scandinavian comfort food from Fika Swedish Kitchen (5B Market Pl), like a sugar-crusted, spiced cardamom bun.

The simple pleasures of good coffee and a Belgian waffles cannot be overstated at Barefoot Coffee Traders (18 Whistler St).

A very good brekkie roll and a strong coffee from Shadowbox Coffee Brewers (19 Whistler St) is a good way to start the day.

If you’re not in the market for café racer streetwear, Deus Ex Machina Manly (1/18 Raglan St) also slings Vittoria coffee from their shop window. 

Get a colourful, tasty breakfast at Market Lane Cafe (9-11/37-39 The Corso) that ranges from a superfood salad to masala scrambled egg or hot cakes, with Allpress coffee on the side. 

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Sunset at Fairy Bower Pool
Sunset at Fairy Bower Pool
Photograph: Destination NSW

Things to do

It would have to be very ugly weather for a beach visit not to be top priority. Maybe it’s big surf you’re after at Queenscliff, North and South Steyne, or perhaps the quieter waters of Shelley Beach, Collins Flat, Fairlight Beach, Clifton Gardens, or Quarantine Beach. There’s also the Fairy Bower pool for extra whimsy power to you dip.

This beautiful, rugged coastal walk that links the Spit to Manly requires moderate fitness and some prep, but the views are reward enough.

Manly Surf n Slide (West Esplanade and Commonwealth Pde) is an outdoor waterslide playground with heated water, so you can embrace some water play year round. 

If you’re seeking some serenity head to Manly Dam (112 King St) to commune with nature over a picnic or a bush walk.

You can book a game of beach volleyball on the North Steyne segment of Manly beach where nets are set up for daily tournaments.

If you love a bit of new-age wellness to help you unwind you could book yourself a session at Rimba Sweet Infrared Sauna (212 Pittwater Rd), where infrared light heat warms your body to help you sweat out your toxins.

Dive Centre Manly runs Snorkel Safaris of three popular spots in the area, and they take visitors on underwater adventures every day (10 Belgrave St).

On both weekend days Sydney Road is home to the Manly Marketplace, an open air market selling knick knacks, snacks, local art, jewellery, candles, hats and grocery items. 

If you purchase a skateboard from Henrietta Skate (Shop 2, 49-53 North Steyne) they throw in a free lesson so you can get a handle on your board before letting loose on the lovely flat track that runs along the beach.

Scare yourself silly at one of Australia’s most haunted sites. Q Station (1 N Head Scenic Dr) runs nightly lantern-lit ghost tours for $50pp.

Add some adventure to your day with a four-hour paddle and hike organised by Manly Kayak Centre (Manly Wharf, East Esplanade). Tours visit the historical, and possibly haunted, buildings at the old Quarantine Station.

Always wanted to hang ten? Book a group or private surfing lesson through Manly Surf School (North Steyne Surf Lifesaving Club), who will show you how to master the waves.

Hire a beach cruiser from Manly Bike Tours for $16 per hour and take a leisurely cycle along Cabbage Tree Bay cycle path. Each bike is fitted with a pocket bag for your essentials (phone, lock) and there’s a laminated map attached to the handlebars.

If you're headed indoors, make it for the Manly Art Gallery and Museum (West Esplanade), which has an annual program of exhibitions that includes prominent local artists and major touring exhibitions. The museum is devoted to the history of Manly and has a marvellously kitsch collection of beach memorabilia.

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Person inside wine store at Winona
Person inside wine store at Winona
Photograph: Supplied/Ashleigh Larden

Shopping

Fill your home bar, fridge and esky at Winona (2/12-14 Pittwater Rd), a beautiful wine boutique stocking the most delicious new-era natural wines, local spirits, craft beers and tasty snacks .

Bow & Arrow (15 Whistler St) is a stylish independent boutiques stocking sustainable glamour from Mara Hoffman, Rachel Comey accessories, bohemian Ulla Johnson blouses and designer candles.

We all know fast fashion is a problem, so the next time your need a new outfit for a special event, why not visit Department 24 (2/69 Pittwater Rd), a designer garment hire studio.

The Horse (89 Pittwater Rd) is a local Sydney brand of watches and leather accessories with a flagship store in Manly. 

This is not the area for closed toe shoes, so let your tootsies breathe freely with a new pair of Birkenstock sandals (193 Pittwater Rd).

Emporio Home and Flowers(185 Pittwater Rd) is pretty much all the nicest bits of life crammed into two shopfronts. There's the florist on one side, and on the other a deli café so you can snack and shop simultaneously.

If you’re trying to shop more mindfully, a visit to Blaek Store (210 Pittwater Rd) will tick all the boxes thanks to their collection of sustainable, ethical & organic clothing and homewares.

You can shop first, then eat at Ruby Lane Wholefoods (200 Pittwater Rd), or do it the other way around at this café and organic grocer.

Tram (40A Sydney Rd) is a ‘tiny shop of travel and objects’, namely the map-based graphic design work of owner Amy M.

If you’ve done the lessons and have decided to commit to the salty life, gear up at Dripping Wet Surf Co (2/93-95 N Steyne), where life-time surfers will guide you through board, wetsuit and accessory shopping. 

At Desire Books and Records (3/3 Whistler St) you can sift through the $2 vinyl record bin on the steps of a secondhand bookstore that has branched out into preloved surf-rock. 

Three men playing brass instruments
Three men playing brass instruments
Photograph: Daniel Boud

Mark your calendars

Every October the beachside suburb jives to a different beat care of the Manly Jazz Festival, a large scale, community based jazz festival featuring over 60 free performances on multiple outdoor stages from noon until sundown

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