For me, the Northern Beaches is the playground of Sydney. The region stretches from Manly to Palm Beach and although there’s a lot of hustle and bustle you are surrounded by so much natural beauty that it still feels really distant and disconnected to the standard city living lifestyle. From the many long sandy beaches to the rugged bush walking trails that lead you to amazing viewpoints showcasing what the Northern Beaches has to offer. Yep, the Beaches really has it all.
The Northern Beaches vibe
People here have all the normal duties of life, however surfing and yoga is at the top of their priority list, kind of like brushing your teeth or getting changed in the morning.
I’ve lived on the Northern Beaches for 3 years now and have really adapted to the lifestyle here. Mini road trips up and down the coast searching for waves, seeking out cool new places for coffee and food and exploring new walking trails to get amongst nature have all become regular activities for me and below are some of my favourite things to do and see at the beautiful Northern Beaches.
Literally every beach from Manly up to Palm Beach is surfable and sometimes it can be a bit hard to choose the right beach if you are not familiar with the different spots. This list will help you to find the best waves for your level.
Here, you can surf all year around, but my favourite time is late summer to autumn (February – Mid May). School holidays are over, the water is warm enough to surf in a bikini or board shorts and the waves are small but fun. If you are chasing big waves, winter is your best bet as the stormy season brings in larger swells.
If you are looking to learn how to surf, Manly Surf School or Manly Surf Guide are the best places to get some lessons. Chix Surf School is a girls only surf academy for all girls out there who want to learn or improve their surfing and Manly Surf Hire is where you can get a pretty decent deal for board rental.
Manly: The length of the beach allows you to choose from a couple off different breaks. Manly can get a bit crowded especially during summer.
Freshwater: Freshwater Beach is the birthplace of Australian surfing. Here, “The Duke” introduced the locals to the sport. Like Manly, this is a beginner friendly beach break but can get crowded in summer.
Collaroy: If everywhere else is massive, Collaroy is the place to go, especially if you’re not too keen with surfing double overhead waves 🙂 as it’s usually about half the size of everywhere else.
Palm Beach (southern end): The sheltered southern corner of Palm Beach is perfect for beginners.
Curl Curl: Curly is one of the most consistent beach breaks around. It’s a long open beach that gets swell from all directions. Sometimes the rips can be quite strong so make sure that you are careful.
Dee Why Point: Just off the rock pool at the southern end of the beach is a beautiful point break that works on bigger days. Be warned, it can get super crowded when it’s pumping.
Long Reef: The northern end of Dee Why Beach is called Long Reef. It’s super protected by the headland and works best with nor-east winds.
‘White Rock’: Located in Collaroy Basin, just the other side of long reef, is one of the best reef breaks that within the Northern Beaches. It’s a slabby left-hand break and when its big enough and if the conditions are on, it’ll provide a solid left hand barrel.
Bungan Beach: This beach is nestled between Mona Vale and Newport and is my absolute favourite. If you don’t mind walking down a steep track (there is no parking at the beach) you will be rewarded with less people and great lefts & rights. There are a few different breaks along the beach and the chances are high that you will have one of them to yourself.
Avalon: Kelly Slater lived here for 15 years which says it all. I would only recommend this to advanced surfers as the locals can get very competitive.
Whale Beach: The further up the coast you go, the less crowded the beaches are. Whale Beach has a break called ‘the wedge’. It breaks on a rock slab at the northern end of the beach and provides a speedy left-hand wave.
Counting yoga studios on the Northern Beaches is like counting sheep in New Zealand. It seems like everyone here has discovered the benefits that come along with a regular yoga practice. Most studios have classes in the morning, at lunch time and later in the afternoon/evening. Here are some of my favourites.
Divine Flow is a little sanctuary nestled in the industrial area of Brookvale and is run by a surfing couple. It’s my favourite place to build strength for the line-up but also for practicing mindfulness. It’s home to some of the best yoga teachers on the Northern Beaches and they offer all sorts of styles. There’s beginner’s yoga, power vinyasa, Pilates, restorative yin yoga and meditation classes just to name a few.
Modern Movement has two studios – one in Balgowlah and one in Mona Vale. The beautiful studios are super bright and open. All teachers are extremely experienced and offer a variety of styles. The challenging Heated Vinyasa is their signature class. It’s a great workout for the mind as well as the body, make sure you bring a towel.
If you don’t like crowed classes, The Yoga Space in Dee Why is the place to be. With a maximum of 10 people per class you will get the most out of your practice. They mainly focus on Japanese Yoga but they also offer great Yin and meditation classes.
It always depends on how you travel and your budget. The Northern Beaches offers everything from camp sites to hostels and high-end accommodation. Here is a list of places I would recommend. Airbnb is always a good option too. I usually recommend friends to look for accommodation in Manly as you are close to shops, bars, supermarkets and public transport.
Budget Accomodation & Hostels:
A bit more expensive:
If you are looking for the best Acai Bowl around, Bare Naked Bowls in Manly and Dee Why is your place to go.
If you love little details Cruise Espresso in Freshwater won’t disappoint you. Every coffee is served with a dried flower to brighten up your day. The big community table in the middle of the café is the perfect place to meet the locals.
Wholesome Eatery in Curl Curl has a healthy and delicious menu for breakfast and lunch. Perfect fuel for a big day in the water.
Tucked away in Brookvale, Barrel One serves some of the best coffee around. The Ruben sandwich has become a post workout or surf staple among the locals but the Classic Bagel is just as good, and don’t even get me started on the cookies.
If you have a sweet tooth, I recommend heading into Manly and checking out Rollers Bakehouse. It’s another trendy coffee shop that’s quite tucked away from the busy streets and they serve some crazy croissant creations (go for the monkey bread).
Highbration in Newport is an organic, plant-based and naturopathically inspired café. They serve amazing cacao blends with medicinal mushroom extracts that give you energy for the whole day. They also have a selection of smoothie bowls, sweet treats (try the banana bread) and ayurvedic curries.
Sunset Diner in Avalon is my go-to place after a long day in the water. Their burgers always hit the spot and the salads are a delicious alternative if I feel like something healthy. Come here on Sundays and you will be treated with live music in the afternoon. It’s the perfect spot for a few lazy Sunday afternoon drinks.
If you are all surfed out and you are just looking for a place to chill out and soak up the vibes these spots are perfect.
‚The Office’ in Manly is one of the best spots to watch the sunset. BYO drinks & picnic blanket and enjoy the view of Manly harbour. This is a true locals hangout.
The Newport is THE place to go on a Sunday afternoon. Grab some food from The Kiosk, The Shack or Vinnie’s Pizzeria and enjoy the view of beautiful Pittwater.
Collaroy Basin is my hidden gem at the Northern Beaches. The southern corner of Collaroy Beach is the perfect spot to escape the crowds and go for a swim.
You can’t leave the Northern Beaches without having a drink at the Hotel Steyne. It’s one of Manly oldest and most iconic pubs and it provides an awesome view, overlooking the beach. Go upstairs to Henry’s Rooftop and listen to live music or check out the impressive Gin menu at the Glasshouse.
Things to do
It’s not all about surfing and yoga at the Northern Beaches. What I love most about this area is that there are so many other activities you can do that you’ll never suffer of severe boredom.
The Spit to Manly Walk starts at Spit Bridge (direct bus from Manly) and takes you through the national park past Aboriginal sites and stunning views of Sydney. The walk takes about 3.5 hours.
Walk up to Barrenjoey Light House at Palm Beach, the most northern point of Sydney. It’s a steep sandy trail but short and the view at the top is well worth it. You are overlooking Palm Beach on the left and Pittwater on the right. If you are visiting during winter you might be lucky to see some whales.
Explore one of the markets where local artists and farmers sell their work and produce. I love buying fresh fruits and homemade bread to take to the beach for a picnic.
Rent a kayak or a Stand Up Paddle board and explore Narrabeen Lagoon.
Do some laps in one of the many ocean pools (Freshwater and North Curl Curl are my favourites).
It depends on where you are staying and what you want to do. If you want to explore the different surf spots, I recommend renting a car. It gives you more freedom and allows you to get to the less crowded beaches. You can rent cars easily with Car Next Door or GoGet.
Public transport in Sydney includes busses, trains and ferries. On the Northern Beaches you can get around by bus and they take you to the main beaches. Make sure you get an OPAL card before you hop on the bus. You can buy one at news agencies or at main transport hubs like Manly Wharf. You have to tap on and off every time you use the bus.
Money & Visa
Most shops and cafes here accept international bank cards so there is no need to always have cash on you. But I recommend to get cash out before you go to the markets because at some stands you might not be able to pay with card.
Check the website of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs before you travel to Australia.
Avoid buying plastic bottles by bringing your own water bottle. You can find water fountains at every beach and along the Corso in Manly to easily refill it.
It also pays off to have a Keep Cup. Lots of cafes give you small discount if you BYO cup.
I also love shopping at the many bulk food stores around. Naked Foods and The Source are my favourites. You will get a discount if you bring your own containers and they have some pretty epic recipes on their websites.