When it comes to the best beaches in Sydney, it's hard to know where to begin.
Around 100 beaches are speckled around the harbor and along the coast, both north and south of the Harbour Bridge. The only vex for travelers and locals can be picking the best destination.
To make it easy, this list of the 15 best beaches in Sydney showcases our picks for the top of the top.
1. Manly Beach
After alighting from the 30-minute ferry ride from Circular Quay, there's a sign at Manly Wharf that reads: "Five miles from the city, a million miles from care." Such is the lifestyle of "God's Country."
A cosmopolitan mall and promenade add to the sight of young, hip, beautiful and sun-kissed bodies. A day trip here is enough reason to consider relocating to the northern beaches. Whether it's from the beach itself, or one of the nearby cafes, Manly is a pleasing place to catch a wave or simply to people-watch.
Manly Beach, South Steyne, Manly.
2. Tamarama Beach
Known as "Glamarama" for the eye-catching locals sun-baking on the beach --- it's traditionally been a haven for the gay and modeling communities.
Parking near the beach is impossible, but it's worth the fight because the beach is as beautiful as the locals adorning it. Being small and intimate adds to the feeling that this is an exclusive beach reserved for the lucky ones.
A word of warning, though: it's also one of Sydney's most dangerous beaches, with two rips coming in from either side of the bay. While this makes it a haven for surfers catching waves from the northern head adjoining nearby McKenzies Beach, it can be tough if you're not a strong swimmer.
Tamarama Beach, Tamarama Marine Drive, Tamarama.
3. Bondi Beach
Australia's most famous beach is more than 100 meters wide and stretches for well over a kilometer. This allows plenty of space for the overwhelming amount of tourists -- and locals -- that park themselves along the sands. On a good day every grain of sand is covered with bodies, with crowds swelling into Bondi Park and into nearby bars and cafes.
It's sometimes criticized for being too big, too busy, and too touristy --- but it's also the hot spot for fashionable Sydneysiders and travelers and lots of fun.
Bondi Beach, Campbell Parade, Bondi.
4. Bronte Beach
Bronte's sea pool offers a protected ocean swim and is regarded as one of the best in Sydney -- and much like beach culture itself, it's free.
The nearby parkland has spacious barbecue areas for gatherings and is the most family-friendly beach in the eastern suburbs. On public holidays, the park becomes a sea of frenzy as parties take place.
Bronte's east-facing beach picks up plenty of swell and swimming can be tricky at times thanks to the bulky headlands and underwater rocks. Waves can dump close to the shoreline.
But the vibes and views on offer make it ideal for those looking to laze around on the popular beach.
Bronte Beach, Bronte Marine Drive, Bronte.
5. Nielsen Park Beach
It still calls itself the city's "hidden secret" despite near-impossible parking and a crowded beach, but Nielsen Park is a little gem. The more adventurous can walk along the harbor foreshore through a national park to reach it.
It feels secluded, even though it's packed, and has a quaint charm because it's not touristy -- you won't find a backpacker in sight.
The views back across the bays to the city center are impressive. A net, which makes it a family picnic or snorkeling special, encloses the swimming area.
Nielsen Park, Greycliffe Avenue, Vaucluse.
Balmoral, on the north shore's Middle Harbor near Taronga Zoo, has an air of peaceful serenity. Life moves at a more leisurely pace here. If it's loud and proud you're after, this isn't it.
What Balmoral does have in spades is impressive views. And its calmness makes it a great swimming spot for families.
Balmoral Beach, The Esplanade, Balmoral.
7. Shelly Beach
Shelly Beach is just around the corner from Manly on the north head. If Manly gets too crowded -- as is often the case -- then this is your nearby destination.
Because it's protected from the ocean swell, you'll see lots of scuba divers under the water and paddle boarders gliding along the surface.
And they won't be the only ones making the most of the ideal visibility and calmness of the water, with swimmers flocking to the beachfront as well.
Shelly Beach, Bower Street, Manly.
8. Milk Beach
Located behind the heritage Strickland House on Vaucluse Road, this intimate and tucked-away beach gets pretty busy during the summer months, but is near deserted throughout the rest of the year.
A great spot to impress, Milk Beach is a little-known spot that still packs a mighty punch when it comes to commanding views of Sydney. And you'll often see a lot of kayakers moored to take in a spot of lunch.
It's also been the scene of some thumping parties during summer, so you could find yourself walking into a beachy dance floor.
Milk Beach, Vaucluse Road, Vaucluse.
9. Bilgola Beach
Descending down the windy roads that lead to Bilgola Beach from the headlands that surround it, you instantly feel you're travelling a path not well trodden.
The rips crashing into the northern end of the beach create some great surf for "waxheads" living on the "insular peninsula."
Bilgola isn't mentioned much and is kept as a relative secret by locals. Quiet and unspoilt, the beach is a real in-the-know spot.
Bilgola Beach, The Serpentine, Avalon
10. Camp Cove
Close to the mouth of the harbor, Camp Cove has some of the most breathtaking views of Sydney. It's also westward facing so gives east-coasters the chance to watch the sunset over water.
It's close to a large park, children's playground, pub and institutional fish and chips -- what more do you need for a day on a harbor beach?
Views also open up in the opposite direction to the vastness of the Tasman Sea, in contrast to the city vista. Quiet, secluded, and quaint, the picturesque Camp Cove is a stunning swimming spot and the elevated promenade gives visitors a chance to languidly take it all in.
Camp Cove, Victoria Street, Watsons Bay.
Arguably one of the best options for snorkeling and exploring what lurks beneath the water's surface, Clovelly is a small and tranquil beach that's noted for its unique narrow bay between two rocky ridges.
Instead of a long sweeping beachfront, Clovelly is protected and therefore provides a tranquil swimming experience away from the hustle and bustle of its busy neighboring beaches.
It's a good base for Gordons Bay, where you can check out snorkeling routes through the waters, or take a coastal walk to Bondi or Bronte.
Clovelly Beach, Donnellan Circuit, Clovelly.
12. North Narrabeen Beach
Boasting some of the best and most consistent surf, the beach attracts board enthusiasts from all over Sydney. Surfers have no qualms making the 25-kilometer trip north of the city center to get to the three-kilometer-long beach.
The northern end of the vast, sandy strip is protected from the northeasterly winds and is a surfer's destination, while the rest of the vast beach is ideal for swimming.
North Narrabeen Beach, Ocean Street, North Narrabeen.
13. Freshwater Beach
Flanked by headlands on both sides, excellent surf is often produced at "Freshie."
Perhaps fittingly, Freshwater is also the location where Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku first introduced surfing to Australia in 1915. The beach is only 350 meters long and is a popular destination for surfers. It's also the perfect spot for a sunset body surf.
There's also an eight-lane rock pool at the northern end.
Freshwater Beach, Moore Road, Freshwater.
14. Garie Beach
Located in the Royal National Park, 54 kilometers south of Sydney, Garie Beach isn't one for beach-lovers without a car. The large beach is spectacular, though.
It's well preserved and is the perfect spot for a relaxing day at the beach away from the city and the "same old" spots. The facilities are top-notch and there's a great fishing spot off the east-facing rocks.
Garie Beach, Garie Beach Road, Royal National Park.
15. Palm Beach
Part of Sydney's "insular peninsula" in the far north, it's the scene of the long-running "Home and Away" TV series and endless celebrity spotting.
The great views take in a salt water lagoon, typical of beaches of the north side of the harbor.
On a sunny day, Palm Beach is a postcard-perfect sand destination -- even though it's 45 kilometers north of the city center. As with so many beach journeys in Sydney, it's worth a drive as you'll catch some breathtaking views along the way.
Palm Beach, Ocean Road, Palm Beach.
Editor's note: This article was previously published in 2011. It was reformatted and republished in 2017.
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