Whether you’re looking to move to the Northern Beaches in Sydney or you’re interested in a day trip or a weekend away, welcome to the ultimate guide to visiting one of the most desirable parts of Sydney.
When asked where to live in Sydney, a lot of people always say they’d love to live in the Northern Beaches. So what makes it so exciting? We were lucky to spend two months living in Warriewood during the Christmas holidays (pet sitting) so we could explore other parts of the area other than Palm Beach.
One thing I learnt from this stay is how differently I now view the Northern Beaches in Sydney. We had previously always just driven the easy one hour drive straight up to Palm Beach with a quick stop off at Bilgola or Whale Beach on the way. We’d never really considered many others suburbs to stop off at before.
Well, well, well, there’s so much more going on up in this area of Sydney! We found loads of beautiful village style shopping streets and some beaches we never knew existed before! So, we wanted to share everything we learnt about the different Sydney Northern Beaches suburbs and of course some hidden gems too!
NEED TO RENT A CAR? Getting around Sydney isn’t the easiest to be honest! Although you can get the bus to Palm Beach, we recommend hiring a car from here car so you can stop off at the amazing places we mention in this post.
Table of Contents
Sydney Northern Beaches Map
Just so you’re aware, the North Shore in Sydney technically starts from Manly and ends up in Palm Beach. Zoom into the map below to see everywhere we mention in this post!
The Different Vibes
We travelled up and down between these Sydney suburbs a lot and noticed quite a difference between vibes in every single place we went to.
The main thing we noticed is it felt like once we drove over the Narrabeen Lagoon Bridge, it felt like we weren’t in the city anymore. Maybe it just wasn’t as busy or that the buildings looked different. There’s not a lot of high rise apartments after this point and it’s not as busy – but this is just what we noticed.
We also noticed that once we drove to Newport Beach, the landscape really started to get much more tropical and more beautiful once we started to drive up the windy coastal roads on the way to Palm Beach.
MOVING TO NORTHERN BEACHES?
If you are thinking of moving up to Palm Beach, be warned that it will take at least 1h30m on the bus to get into the city.
Even when we lived in Warriewood and I had meetings in the city, I found it quicker to drive to St Leonards Station (which took 40 minutes), and then jump on the train from there. If you’re thinking of living closer to the city, check out our where to rent in Sydney guide.
In saying that, the Northern Beaches is undeniably stunning and if we had enough money, we would move there in a heart beat. If you’re interested to know where, we’d probably live in either Warriewood, Pittwater (Clareville, Scotland Island or Church Point), Avalon or Bilgola. These are the areas that really captured our hearts.
But, we’re going to break it down into all of the North Shore beaches in Sydney so if you’re looking to move there or go exploring for the day or the weekend, here’s what to expect.
Obviously Manly is the busiest of all of the suburbs in the Northern Beaches. Even though you’ll get quieter beaches the further north you head, there’s a reason why Manly is so popular. The beaches are spectacular and you’ll also get to choose between surfing beaches and flat water beaches (something we only saw again in Palm Beach).
Located next door to Manly is Freshwater Beach, the more budget friendlier place to live in. You won’t find as many tourists here so it makes a great place to live in Sydney if you’re looking to be near to Manly.
Our tip: Go and find the awesome little wormhole tunnel which connects Manly and Freshwater Beaches, and book a table at Pilu Restaurant which has stunning views over looking the beach.
Curl Curl Beach
Although we didn’t spend a lot of time at Curl Curl Beach, one thing I did pick up on is that it’s really beautiful. This long stretch of sand is absolutely stunning and although you definitely still feel like you’re at a city beach, it’s somewhere I’d venture to if I wanted to go to a different beach from Manly.
Our tip: Go check out the rock pool at Curl Curl, it’s absolutely beautiful!
A bit of a sidetrack but if you’re looking to do some shopping in Northern Beaches, the Westfield in Brookvale near Curl Curl is probably the nicest Westfield I think I’ve seen in Sydney.
If there’s one thing I can tell you about Frenchs Forest, it’s the Frenchs Forest Markets! This organic markets in Sydney runs on a Sunday and it’s one of the best in Sydney so make sure you check it out!
Dee Why Beach
Dee Why is a really popular family beach in Sydney and a classic Australian beach town. There’s loads of places to eat next to the beach and there’s two kids swimming pools which makes it extra handy.
It wasn’t our favourite beach to be honest, but if you have kids, then it would be the perfect beach to take them to.
Tip: We didn’t manage to venture up to Long Reef Beach but I can image it would be a lot quieter than Dee Why – somewhere we’ll make sure we visit next time.
Collaroy Beach is one of those northern beaches in Sydney you need to visit, even if it’s to purely pop over to The Collaroy pub.
Although it’s ran by Merrivale so you know to expect it to be above average for a meal, the food is actually pretty good. Plus they have a deck overlooking the beach so it’s a fab spot to spend the day after a swim here.
The more secluded Fisherman’s Beach and Long Reef Headland Walk.
Our Tip: Looking to find a secluded beach in Sydney? Go check out Fisherman’s Beach next door to Collaroy Beach. It’s a beautiful beach complete with a walking track out to Long Reef Headland. We didn’t get time to do this walk but it would definitely be on our list for next time.
Fisherman’s Beach in Sydney on the other hand a beautiful beach. When we visited the water was a bit murky but that could have been just to the day itself. But, go check it out if you love discovering new beaches.
Did You Know…
There’s actually loads of little coastal walks on the Northern Beaches which makes up the Northern Beaches Coastal Walk which runs from Palm Beach to Manly and is 35km. Check out The Bloody Long Walk which is an event to tackle this walk in just 1 day.
Although Narrabeen Beach is technically part of the same stretch of sand as Collaroy Beach, it has a totally different vibe to Collaroy. Maybe it’s something to do with the the holiday park opposite the beach but it has more of a holiday vibe to it.
And as I mentioned in the beginning of this post, the vibe seems to change from feeling like you’re at a city beach to feeling like you’re far away from it all once you get to Narrabeen and further up the peninsula.
The beauty about Narrabeen is you have access to Narrabeen Lagoon which is a fantastic lake you can cycle, walk or run around. The track is 8.6KM long and takes around 2-3 hours to walk around. There’s various car parks around the lagoon you can park at or even go from your campsite at the Sydney Lakeside Holiday Park if you want to.
Narrabeen Rockpool is also opposite the holiday park and it’s one of the best rock pools in Sydney. It’s almost hidden and you wouldn’t even know it was there unless you did your research.
There’s also a good walking track over to the next beach we mention called Turimetta Beach – my absolute favourite beach in Northern Beaches in Sydney!
If you’re looking for a holiday away from Sydney but isn’t too far from home then the Sydney Lakeside Holiday Park could be just the ticket for you.
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We found a great running track from Warriewood Beach over to Turimetta Beach which honestly took my breath away. Everytime we visited I just couldn’t get over how this beach is actually part of Sydney. It feels like you’ve found the most beautiful hidden beach in a National Park. You’ll also be able to see Narrabeen Rockpool from this beach but you’ll need to access it from Narrabeen.
Be careful though when swimming as it’s known to get a lot of rips here at Turimetta Beach. You’ll also need to walk down steps to visit this beach so it’s not good for anyone with prams. There’s also no facilities or life guards at this beach.
We hadn’t even heard of Warriewood until we actually stayed there for a couple of months. To be honest, if you’re driving you could blink and miss it and you wouldn’t even see much because it’s hidden from the road.
Actually all you might see is signs to Warriewood Mall and to the amazingly kitsch United Warriewood Cinema. There’s a few United cinemas located in the Northern Beaches in Sydney, including Collaroy and Avalon. Honestly go check it out, we LOVED Warriewood cinema in an ironic sense. It’s literally like stepping back into the 1980s – it’s amazing!
Warriewood Beach really surprised us, it’s an amazing little find and we just adored the beach early in the morning. The Warriewood Life Saving Kiosk serves up some fantastic and simple food which comes with gorgeous views overlooking the beach and onto MonaVale Beach as well.
Mona Vale Beach
Monavale Beach is so iconic in the Northern Beaches, especially for its incredible rock pool. There’s a fantastic walking track from Warriewood over to Mona Vale which goes onto the neighbouring beach of Bungan Beach.
Mona Vale is a massively popular beach though, it always surprised me how much busier it is compared to Warriewood. Both Warriewood and Mona Vale have good surf, but Mona Vale is a bigger beach.
Our Tip: Go to Armchair Collective for breakfast/lunch (pictured above). They serve up some awesome food here! Check out the shopping street and pop into Hansel & Gretel for some Aussie designer clothes shopping. If you have the money, this store is the goods – I wanted everything!
Church Point & Scotland Island
Watch our video of our stay at Scotland Island below!
Personally I just absolutely adore Pittwater. There’s something so special about this part of Sydney that it really makes you feel like you’re a million miles away from the city.
Go Check out Church Point and bring your bikes to cycle around by the water. Eat lunch at either Pasadena or at The Waterfront Cafe & General Store. Both are beautiful but Pasadena is slightly cheaper (although it kinda looks like it would be more expensive). I must say Pasadena has a fantastic outdoor area! Order the fish & chips – it’s really good!
You can also take a boat ride around Church Point or if you’re up for a weekend away from Sydney, stay in Scotland Island like we did at Scotland Island Lodge. What more can I say other than we love this island! There’s no cafes or restaurants but that doesn’t matter as Rosemary at Scotland Island Lodge serves up an amazing dinner!
Newport Beach is one of those beautiful beaches we always missed out on because we were always on a beeline to Bilgola or Palm Beach. Newport Beach is actually really beautiful and is definitely worth a stopover for.
Newport is also well known for its popular pub called The Newport which is now run by Merrivale. I love how they’ve kept the pub really Aussie at the front and when you walk through it, it’s like you’ve come to a restaurant theme park. Go check it out!
If you’re up for walking, there’s a track between Newport Beach and Bilgola Beach but be warned – it’s up a big hill!
Bilgola Beach is one of those hidden beaches a lot of people miss because they just head straight to Palm Beach instead. You know what we love about Bilgola Beach? When you drive down to it, this is when the Northern Beaches starts to feel really tropical. There’s loads of palm trees around and there’s just something that’s stunning about this little slice of heaven!
Tip: Make sure you check out Bilgola Beach rock pool and the kiosk for food and drinks.
5 ESSENTIALS YOU SHOULDN’T GO TO THE BEACH WITHOUT
#1 Beach Tent – If you’ve not invested in a beach tent yet, do yourself a favour and get one asap. Because the sun is so strong, you’ll need to have a good amount of shade to hide under.
#2 Best Books To Buy In 2020 – There’s no better time at the beach than to reconnect with a decent book. Find the best books to buy in 2020 here.
#3 Stainless Steel Water Bottle – Everyone in Australia needs a stainless steel water bottle because they will keep your water cold for up to 24hrs (if not longer). I have no idea what life was like before I bought one, it’s that good!
#5 Beach Chairs – We LOVE our beach chairs which are super light and small enough to carry anywhere. Honestly, invest in one now!
Avalon Beach pretty much took a little piece of our hearts. This is probably the main part of the Northern Suburbs in Sydney which really surprised us because we hadn’t spent any time here before.
Head over to the shopping street behind the beach and you’ll feel like you’ve entered into a village version of Byron Bay. There’s some cool cafes which have outdoor seating which is awesome for people watching.
Be sure to know that Avalon is the final place up on your way to Palm Beach where you’ll find a Woolies, and loads of decent and cheaper cafes to choose from than in Palm Beach.
Now knowing more about Avalon, if I were to head up to Palm Beach for the day, I’d probably stop off at Avalon for food first. Good news is, we actually wrote a whole guide on where to eat in Avalon here because there’s so many places to choose from.
We also loved the home shops and clothing shops especially in Avalon Beach.
LOOKING FOR FUN THINGS TO DO IN AVALON? Take a 1 hour drumming class from a professional in Avalon
When we told our friends about Avalon, they told us to check out this sketch below which basically takes the pee out of Avalon locals. We didn’t even know it was a thing. Note the striped tops.
When we drove around Avalon, it almost feels like you’ve entered a tropical American suburb. The homes are big and gorgeous which is no surprise because this suburb is really beautiful.
Clareville is another suburb in Sydney which surprised us a lot. Located overlooking the beautiful Pittwater, to us this is a suburb dreams are made of.
It honestly feels like you’re properly away from it all in a peaceful jungle. The only problem is a lot of homes have like a million steps to walk up and I did notice a lot had lifts to bring items up, rather than having to carry them.
If you’re wondering why you should visit this area, here’s a couple of reasons why. Clareville Beach is a fantastic little beach for families. When I visited, kids were having a complete ball jumping off the jetty.
Another gem I stumbled across after purely looking at Google Maps is Paradise Beach just up from Clareville Beach.
When I drove down the windy road and I came to Paradise Beach, I felt like I had hit the jackpot. This place had the tranquility and peacefulness you’d image to see hidden in a National Park. There’s a swimming pool here to enjoy as well as some incredible looking holiday homes.
To me, Paradise Beach was the biggest gem I found on the Northern Beaches when we lived in the area.
If you’re looking for places to eat, Girdlers is located near Clareville Beach and serves up fantastic healthy food (the acai is amazing!). Clareville Kiosk is a beautiful restaurant with more of a fine dining menu.
Please note, there’s no toilet facilities at Paradise Beach.
Whale Beach is another beautiful beach in the Sydney North Shore which is often overlooked by day trippers heading to Palm Beach. I can’t say I’ve ever seen this beach packed before but it sure is beautiful.
One of the best things about visiting Whale Beach is the drive to it. When you get off the main road, you’ll be able to drive down through the tropical coastline with glimpses of the beach. It honestly makes you feel like you’ve gone somewhere exotic!
We always stop at Whale Beach Deli for brunch which is run by The Boathouse Group. It’s a lovely and peaceful place to spend a day out of Sydney.
ROMANTIC WEEKEND AWAY If you’re looking for a romantic weekend away from Sydney, then you absolutely must stay at Jonahs in Whale Beach. This cliff side boutique hotel is one of the most famous and beautiful hotels in Sydney.
Palm Beach in Sydney is one of the most popular things for tourists to do in Sydney. The reason why this day trip in Sydney is so popular is because it’s also easy for anyone going by public transport as there’s a direct bus from Wynyard (it takes about 1h30m).
Whilst most people generally head over to The Boathouse for lunch and up to the Lighthouse or over to the beach for swim, our favourite thing to do in Palm Beach is to actually get the ferry over to Great Mackerel Beach. Here you can go on a hike over to Resolute Beach – one of Sydney’s best secluded beaches! I probably wouldn’t take young children on this hike as it’s not like it’s paved or anything.
The Boathouse at Patonga
Another thing to do is to get the ferry over to Patonga and have lunch at The Boathouse’s other restaurant. The ferry ride is gorgeous and I don’t know about you but I always feel like I’m on holidays when I jump on a boat!
And if you’re looking for a secret gem to visit in Palm Beach, head over to the Bible Garden for extensive views over Palm Beach. It’s stuuuuuning!
Like we mentioned above, you can get over to Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park from Palm Beach by catching the ferry. You can camp at The Basin (just book ahead) and check out loads of walking tracks nearby like The Basin Trail.
If you’re driving to Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, it actually takes 50m from Palm Beach to get there as you’ll have to go all the way around.
And if you’re feeling a bit more lavish, jump on a seaplane to Cottage Point for lunch. We’ve done this and it’s absolutely beautiful! The restaurant is gorgeous (wear something nice) and the seaplane ride itself is just incredible and worth to celebrate something special.
What’s your favourite place in Sydney’s Northern Beaches? Let us know in the comments below!
Read More Northern Beaches Guides
Find more things tod in Northern Beaches in Sydney right here.