From the moment you board the iconic yellow-and-green ‘Queenscliff’, ‘Narrabeen’ or ‘Freshwater’ ferries that cruise from Circular Quay to Manly you’re forced to take things a little slower – and that’s not a bad thing. 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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Find the best things to do in Manly
Shelly Beach is a popular place to snorkel or learn to dive. Take a dip and have a look out for the famous Blue Gropers in this area. The Boathouse Shelly Beach is a triple threat: kiosk, café and restaurant in one.
Join the queue leading into this baby pink garage in a Manly laneway for creative flavours of buttery croissants. It takes three days to perfect each puffy crescent at Rollers Bakehouse and they sell out like hot cakes.
The saltiest dogs will feel a fresh sense of adventure on a four-hour paddle and hike organised by Manly Kayak Centre. Tours visit the historical, and possibly haunted, buildings at the old Quarantine Station.
Sundowners are a religion this side of the harbour, and when you have views of boats bobbing in the harbour from Queen Chow Manly it’s easy to see why. Head chef Patrick Friesen has duplicated the Merivale dining concept that worked so well in Enmore. Take a party and order the Moreton Bay bugs Singaporean-style.
Get a sense of the tremendous history of the land on the bucket list ten-kilometre trek Manly to Spit coastal walk. At the highest point of the climb you can see Aboriginal rock engravings of a kangaroo, a whale and small fish at Grotto Point.
On a Sunday morning you’ll find Patrick’s Farm proudly selling certified organic produce from the Hawkesbury at the weekly Manly Markets. The Markets can be hit-and-miss for non-edible goods, but it’s always worth a visit for beach-ready snacks from Chippendale café Brickfields, Brooklyn Boy Bagels and Milklab Coffee.
Take a walk towards Shelly Beach on a warm day and you’ll see a congregation of bathers around a triangle ocean pool of aqua salt water. 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.
There’s a cosy hideaway that has an expansive list of sambos with a sizeable, fun-loving cocktail list. You’ll find American diner-inspired the Nook a few blocks from the beach; order one of their mezcal and mandarin Oaxacan Sours.
Sift through the $2 vinyl record bin on the steps of a secondhand bookstore that has branched out into preloved surf-rock. Desire Books is one of our favourite places to kill time browsing $5 paperbacks, from The Secret River to The Handmaid’s Tale.
You don’t need to travel to the Great Barrier Reef to discover Australia’s marine life – you can see cockatoo fish, leatherjackets, sea urchin (so much sea urchin) and teeny tiny pomfrets right here, in Manly. Dive Centre Manly runs Snorkel Safaris of three popular spots in the area, and they take visitors on underwater adventures every day.
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.
Put this place high on your Manly hit list for the pizza. 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.
Prefer terrifying ghostly encounters to a lazy day at the beach? Q Station has been running ghost tours for 20 years, and it’s said to be home to playful, intellectual and matronly spirits.
Wander along Whistler Street and you’ll find one of the most stylish independent boutiques in the area. Bow & Arrow stocks floaty Rachel Comey dresses, bohemian Ulla Johnson blouses and silk slips by Pereira Fitzgerald.
The united forces of arts writer Elli Walsh and muso Cam Walsh, with restaurateurs Luke Miller (Chica Bonita, Sunset Sabi) and Bo Hinzack (Roller’s Bakehouse, Showbox Coffee Brewers) have opened Manly’s only dedicated natural wine shop. Tucked just a few blocks back from the Manly Beach front, Winona is a unique addition to this coastal neighbourhood in Northern Sydney.
Collins Flat Beach has the closest waterfall to Sydney harbour. There are no picnic facilities, but it’s a perfectly secluded spot for lunch at the beach or for a romantic walk away from the crowds.
This bright and chirpy café is a design lesson in Nordic minimalism, perked up with cheerful splashes of patriotic yellow and blue. Rock up early enough for breakfast and get into the Swedish breakfast tray.
Possibly the best known beach to tourists after Bondi Beach, Manly’s long stretch of golden sand is said to have been the location of the first Surf Life Saving Club in the world. You’ll find volleyball nets, surf board hire and plenty of sand to stretch out.
Would it be a trip to the Northern Beaches without indulging in one of their own, locally crafted beers? 4 Pines was born in Manly, and it’s still home to their microbrewery and keller door. You’ll find their core range on tap, weekly live music, burger battles and Sunday roasts downstairs.
Manly Beach is considered to be the birthplace of Australian surfing – hosting the first World Surfboard Riders Championship in 1964 – so where better to learn from the masters? Manly Surf School, which runs lessons across Collaroy, Long Reef, Palm, and Manly Beaches, runs daily dunks in the ocean courtesy of their 30 trained surfing teachers.
This small gallery and museum punches above its weight with 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.