Best Of Manly Beach, NSW

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In February 2018, Manly Beach took top honours as Australia’s best beach in TripAdvisors’ 2018 Travellers’ Choice Awards. Having spent 18 years living there, it's easy to see why it appeals to travellers from both from our own backyard, and from overseas. For a start, Manly is a summery explosion of sea, surf, sand, restaurants, cafes and shops, a Northern Beaches suburb which isn’t bothered by the “outside world”. Its road to fame began five decades ago, when 70,000 people descended on the sleepy beach suburb for the first ever World Surfing Contest. The 1964 event gained worldwide attention, and by the time local favourite, Bernard “Midget” Farrelly, lifted the trophy, Manly Beach had become synonymous with the popular and romantic surf image of the time. Fast forward to 2018, and mop-haired teenagers still run barefoot with their boards through the streets. While the surf culture remains as strong as ever, however, there’s more to Manly than catching a wave. 


Set on a peninsula with surf beaches on one side and Sydney Harbour beaches on the other, Manly is a 30-minute ferry ride, or a 15-minute fast ferry ride, from Circular Quay in the Sydney CBD. Since it was first set up as a resort in the late 1800’s, its catch phrase has been “seven miles from Sydney, a thousand miles from care”. That mantra always caused locals to cringe a little when we lived there, but it does highlight Manly’s laissez-faire attitude. It’s also a self-contained community-cum-resort-area which has also earned another nickname, the “insular peninsula”, because many of the locals have little interest in going anywhere else.

Fine Dining 

Besides its beaches, one of Manly’s major drawcard is a strong restaurant and cafe scene. It has caught the eye of some “big name” restauranteurs over the years, with the likes of Hugo’s at Manly Wharf opening its doors almost a decade ago, and surviving the fallout of the closure of its sister venue in Kings Cross in 2015. Criniti’s followed, opening large eatery opposite on the harbour side, offering Southern Italian dishes inspired by traditional Criniti family recipes, alongside contemporary Australian favourites. And there’s also Garfish, the third outlet in the upscale fish and seafood chain, located along the Esplanade up from Manly Wharf.

Casual Cafes 

With non-stop development and crazy real estate prices, many of Manly’s iconic cheap eats have long since disappeared, but there are still a few venues for casual fun, which locals and tourists can enjoy. If you love salads and like to eat healthy, Banana Blossom is tucked away near the main carpark on Whistler Street, and serves Asian salads which are hearty and delicious. Located in an alley off Sydney Road (just up from the New Brighton Hotel) is Manly Thai Gourmet, which serves authentic Thai favourites without the price tag. And for a cheap lunch, Moustache Cafe is in another alley on the Corso towards Manly Wharf, idea for an Eggs Benedict brekkie or a freshly made sandwich for lunch. 


Manly’s bar scene also evolved over the years, with Manly Wharf Hotel on East Esplanade a favourite with both locals and visitors, thanks to a harbour front location and al fresco deck areas. Across the street is the local brewery bar, 4 Pines Brewpub, complete with a minimalist decor, great views and a menu of quality crafted beers to choose from. Hotel Steyne enjoys a commanding position at the corner of the Corso and the beach front, and while it might still appear a little daggy on the outside, it has a nice beer garden, and a rooftop bar. Further up the Corso, the Ivanhoe Hotel had a major facelift in recent years emerging with a Hamptons-chic look, and has a cluster of bars from ground level to the rooftop.

Things To Do 

Although the beaches are a major drawcard, there are some lovely walks you can enjoy, along the beachfront to Queenscliff and back to Shelly Beach, and on the harbour side. If you’re feeling particularly energetic aim to do the walk from Manly to Spit Bridge, a 10 kilometre hike through Sydney Harbour National Park which offers plenty of spectacular views across Sydney Harbour at many vantage points, and  historic sites such as Grotto Point Lighthouse. Another option is to rent a bike and head up to North Head, or go kayaking on the harbour. 


Beyond the slew of surf shops and high street boutiques on The Corso, there are a few nice outlets worth a look. Desire Books And Records on Whistler Street is where you might find a vintage novel or LP, while McLean & Paige on Rialto Square is big on Australian fashion designers. And if cool and funky homeswares are more your thing, The Modern Furniture Store on Raglan Street has Finnish cushion covers, Darcy table lamps and more.


This is probably where luxury travellers are a little let down, with nothing above a barely four-star on offer. The Novotel Sydney Manly Pacific enjoys a beach front location on North Steyne, and is within a stone’s throw of the area’s main restaurants, cafes and shopping, while at other end of the beach front, on South Steyne, the Sebel Sydney Manly Beach has over 80 accommodations and a great location across from Manly Surf Lifesaving Club. Quest Manly is located on the harbour side, with a range of apartment-style hotel rooms from studios to two-bedrooms, while further afield, Q Station Sydney Harbour National Park Hotel is up on North Head, with commanding views of the harbour, but a long walk to the action downtown. 


Joanna Hall