15 of Sydney’s best local summer secrets
Where to summer like a local in Sydney.
Sorry, Sydney, but it’s time you shared your secrets! To help you summer like a local, we’ve dug out the spots that Sydneysiders would rather keep all to themselves. Secret swims, waterside dining hideouts and more: here are fifteen of the best ways to summer like a local.
Where to seek out a hidden swim
Gordons Bay, Sydney: Credit DNSW
1. Worst-kept secret: It might be smack bang on one of the world’s most famous costal walks, but many oblivious tourists overlook Gordons Bay on the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk in their rush to shotgun a patch of sand on nearby Clovelly or Bronte beaches. Encircled by native scrub and boulders perfect for sunning, the sheltered, light-dappled cove is a top snorkelling spot, complete with an underwater nature trail. Look out for friendly groper fish.
Giles Baths, Coogee, courtesy DNSW
2. Sneaks under the radar: You can keep Cinque Terre and Corfu; give us Coogee any day. Along with a generous sweep of beach, this coastal burb is blessed with a collection of scenic tidal pools, including the heritage-listed Wylie’s and the ladies-only McIver’s Baths (where women of all shapes, sizes and ages bask happily on the rocks, cossies optional). Our favourite is Giles Baths, a natural rock pool on Coogee’s northern headland ruffled by the waves that spill over its craggy walls.
3. Locals only: How can you tell this beach remains undiscovered? Easy. There’s parking available, and it’s free - a rarity at Sydney beaches. Tucked between granite cliffs on the south Sydney coastline, Little Bay can only be accessed by a narrow timber staircase that leads to the golden sand and calm waters that make this gem a hit with families. Be sure to pack your snorkel.
Where to dine on the waterfront
The Fenwick, Balmain: credit The Fenwick
4. The newcomer: The charming 1880s sandstone building that houses The Fenwick in Balmain East may have serviced tugboats in a former life, but as of mid-2019 it has been serving up plates of Italian-inspired dishes for brekkie and lunch. Drawing on the waterside location, the menu has a strong focus on fresh seafood. Try nabbing a table by the open archway, at the stern of the restaurant, for impressive views of the Harbour Bridge.
Bathers Pavilion, Balmoral, courtesy DNSW
5. An icon brought back: Don’t let the Bathers’ Pavilion’s effortless Riviera vibe fool you – no thought (or expense) was spared in the newly unveiled renovation of this heritage-listed Balmoral Beach institution. There’s serious talent running the show – including chef Cameron Johnston, of St Claude’s and Jonah’s; ex-Attica pastry chef Kumiko Endo; and Cam Fairbairn of the late Acme on the floor – and considered design (every seat offers ocean views and works by big-name artists adorn the walls). All are welcome, too, for a Merry Pops ice cream from the kiosk, a Champagne sundowner on the Louis Roederer terrace or a bang-up meal at the chef’s table served by co-owner Serge Dansereau. We’ll cheers to that.
Mosman Rowers, Mosman, Sydney: Credit Mosman Rowers
6. Don’t call it a comeback: The well-heeled of Sydney’s Lower North Shore have been knocking back sundowners at the Mosman Rowers for more than a century. The Rowers recently ran into financial trouble and almost shut up shop. But thanks to a spike in new members and generous donations it underwent a reno and reopened in 2019, with two schmick, harbourfront, all-day dining offerings. Archie Bear is perfect for a casual brunch and welcomes sandy feet and paws, while The Rowers Bar is for dinner, drinks and sunsets.
Where to escape the crowds
Wendy's Secret Garden: Credit DNSW
7. The not-so-secret secret garden: In a feat of guerrilla gardening for the ages, Wendy Whiteley worked through her grief at the passing of her husband (artist Brett Whiteley) and daughter by turning the disused land outside her Lavender Bay home into what’s become known as Wendy’s Secret Garden. The council and landowners looked the other way as she hoicked out old mattresses, rusted fridges and thickets of weeds to shape the rambling harbourside oasis. The whimsical garden spills down to Luna Park’s back fence, and is free for all who want to shelter in its shady corners.
Andrew Boy Charlton Pool and Cafe: Credit Andrew Boy Charlton Pool
8. Cool off in the CBD: Who needs those Bondi crowds? Hidden at the far side of the Royal Botanic Garden, Andrew (Boy) Charlton Pool commands an elevated position overlooking Woolloomooloo Wharf and battleships docked at the naval base. Throw down a towel on the sundeck flanking the “ABC”, and try to channel the baths’ Olympian namesake in the heated lap pool.
Henry Deane bar, Hotel Palisade: Credit Hotel Palisade
9. The best views in town: There’s no denying drinking at altitude is a staple summer pastime in Sydney, so it’s hard to believe that – until now – the Henry Deane has flown under the radar. This ritzy cocktail bar sits above the even ritzier Hotel Palisade in Millers Point and boasts views of the Harbour Bridge, Lavender Bay and Goat Island. Its cocktail menu is as impressive as the view – don’t leave without trying the agave love.
Where to sip on a sublime sundowner
The Newport at Newport, Sydney: Credit Merivale
10. The obvious choice: When the Coogee Pavilion crowd tire of boozy après-sun sessions, it graduates to The Newport; another waterside venue from hospitality juggernaut Merivale, in Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Overlooking Pittwater, the eatery has something for everyone. The Kiosk serves platters, the Seafood Market offers oysters, prawns, seafood salads and noodles, The Shack plates up pub classics, and Vinnie’s Pizza pumps out wood-fired pizzas. It’s not just a playground for adults; the kids can keep themselves occupied in the on-site “Gymnasium”.
The Butler, Potts Point: Credit The Butler
11. For the non-beachgoers: You don’t have to be by the water to take in Sydney’s blush pink and burnt orange sunsets. In fact, many head to Potts Point’s French-colonial-inspired restaurant The Butler for this reason alone. The leafy, alfresco terrace is one of the few places that offers a sweeping view of the city skyline and makes for the perfect spot to kick back with one of The Butler’s signature espresso martinis.
Seans Panaroma, Bondi: Credit Seans Panaroma
12. Don’t be basic: After spending a day baking on Bondi Beach, most will head to The Bucket List or Bondi Beach Public Bar for an ice-cold bevvy, but those who know better - the locals - head to Sean’s Panaroma. Sit outside and sip Aussie wine. If you’re keen on fresh produce, stay for dinner. The ever-changing blackboard menu is at the whim of the chef, Sean Moran, and his Blue Mountains farm, from which most the produce is sourced.
Where to hike Sydney’s best paths
13. An oldie, but a goodie: Yes, yes, we know the Spit Bridge to Manly coastal walk is not news to anyone, but did you know that you’re guaranteed to see boomerangs, fish, sharks, a large kangaroo and a fairy penguin along the way? Thousand-year-old ones at that, thanks to rock engravings made by the region’s Aboriginal inhabitants. There‘s also 10km (one way) of jagged rock shelves, groves of trees and gorgeous beaches, bays and inlets.
Cremorne Point Walk, Sydney: Credit DNSW
14. Just across the harbour: Ever wondered how those North Shore mums stay trim? A brisk lap of the Cremorne Point Walk with the stroller and/or hound may well be part of the secret. The 3km path loops around a peninsula jutting into the harbour, with the kind of vistas that only Sydney can deliver. Linger for a swim in Maccallum Pool, where only a white picket fence sits between you and views of the Opera House. Once you’re done, hop on the ferry back to Circular Quay.
15. You’d never know it’s there: Residents of Vaucluse forked out multimillions for their harbourfront spots, but the joke’s on them – you get those views for free on the Hermitage Foreshore track. This path between Rose Bay and Nielsen Park winds through a pocket of Sydney Harbour National Park, past tiny coves such as Milk, Hermit and Queens beaches, where savvy sunseekers set up for the day with eskies. The 1.8km walk is not too taxing for little legs – bribe them for their efforts with fish and chips from The Nielsen Kiosk at Shark Beach.
Words by Krysia Bonkowski and Constantina Demos; published Sunday 1 December.