Once a favourite destination of Oscar Wilde and Jane Austen (not together), Worthing has long been overshadowed by its boisterous cousin Brighton, ten miles to the east. But don’t let the genteel reputation fool you – these days the town has as much to please the ’gram as the grans. Beachy nostalgia cosies up to street art, craft ale and the green shoots of a seriously good food scene, while beautifully preserved art deco architecture delivers more than a few #AccidentallyWesAnderson vibes.
Take a walk. Worthing’s pebble beach might discourage all but the most determined posers, but the palm trees, candy-hued beach huts and a driftwood sculpture garden make for a thoroughly photogenic stroll along the prom. Start at Marine Gardens, home to a putting green and several local bowls clubs (what do you mean, you don’t follow the league?), then head eastwards, past the Lido, a glorious 1920s bandstand recently featured in ‘Stan & Ollie’. You’ll find the work of enigmatic local street artist Horace scattered around town. He paints famous residents past and present – including Gwendoline Christie, Billy Idol and ’90s royalty Dave Benson Phillips. And if the weather doesn’t play ball, take shelter at Worthing Museum and Art Gallery. Home to one of the largest costume collections in the UK, it’s the ideal place to embrace your inner dandy.
Perched right on the seafront, Crab Shack is famed locally for its fresh, innovative seafood (try the cockle popcorn). Pitch – an airy new opening from 2018 ‘MasterChef’ winner Kenny Tutt – offers a gourmet revamp of a seaside classic in the shape of chorizo-and-manchego doughnuts. Beat the afternoon slump at Baked, a social enterprise cakehouse where the counter groans with as many as 20 different varieties of brownie. And because you can’t possibly paddle without an ice cream in hand, Italian caff Macaris has been serving the most generous scoops in town for the past 60 years. Lick fast, or prepare to fight off a seagull.
The town has no shortage of beach bars and traditional boozers, but a crop of new neighbourhood micropubs are encouraging a local taste for craft ale and House of Hackney interiors. The best of the batch are Brooksteed Alehouse and The Grizzly Bear – stumbling distance from Worthing and West Worthing railway stations respectively, so there’s always time for a quick half before the journey home.
One of Britain’s oldest working cinemas, the Dome exudes Jazz Age glamour for a fraction of the price of your local Picturehouse – even better, it has a balcony bar overlooking the sea. You’ll find Worthing’s artist quarter a quickstep away, comprising East Beach Studios, a row of converted beach huts selling paintings, handmade jewellery, ceramics and sculptures by local creators. Don’t miss Coast, a pleasingly ramshackle beach café that regularly hosts live music, DJs, and the town’s most discerning dogs.
Kitesurfing is really taking off around these parts, so book a taster session with one of Worthing’s many instructors. Or if you prefer turf to surf, head up to the South Downs and take a spin round Cissbury Ring, the largest hill fort in Sussex. Steeped in legend, brimming with butterflies and grazed by a herd of hungry New Forest ponies, on a clear day this neolithic landmark has views all the way to the Isle of Wight.
The reigning Pier of the Year, Worthing Pier was built in 1862 and has endured fires, wars and several dodgy nightclubs to remain the jewel in the town’s crown. In recent years its Southern Pavilion has been restored to its former glory as an elegant art deco tea room, offering panoramic views across the waves.
Sadly Jane Austen’s holiday rental of choice is now a Pizza Express, but Airbnb has plenty of charming places to lay one’s bonnet. This Grade II-listed fisherman’s cottage is built from bungaroosh: a mix of beachy debris, found (like stoolball, pond pudding and the word ‘twitten’) almost exclusively in Sussex. Inside it’s all stripped wood, stable doors and chic iron bedsteads, but the location is the real beauty. Just a stone’s throw from the beach, it’s ideal for hauling back your catch of the day. Even if it comes in batter. From £130 per night.