Part outsize beach resort, part culture capital, Sydney exemplifies the art of relaxed cosmopolitanism. It’s urbane but not pretentious; cutting-edge but not stressed-out. Now a handful of players is channeling that Aussie energy into new restaurants, hotels, and boutiques in some oft-overlooked (and distinctly chic) neighborhoods. Here, the local take.
The city’s fashionable heart is the corner of Oxford Street and Glenmore Road, in Paddington, where some of the most exciting Australian designers are conveniently clustered. Kirrily Johnston exemplifies the laid-back Down Under aesthetic with her earthy-urban, feminine clothes (think billowy red skirts with high cinched waists), as does Josh Goot, whose block-printed tube and tunic dresses come in colors as bright as the Sydney sun. Inside Kit Willow’s chic, bi-level boutique, Willow, you’ll find flirty draped frocks in organza and tulle. Just up the block in the ornate, shop-filled Strand Arcade is Corner Shop, a Sydney stalwart known for its tightly edited international collections (Marc Jacobs, Isabel Marant, and Benah). Men shouldn’t miss the downtown boutique of Brent Wilson, with its updated classics, including easygoing suits, shirts, and sweaters. For housewares, head to Surry Hills. Planet Commonwealth carries Ross Longmuir’s streamlined beds, tables, and sofas, all made from Australian hardwoods (don’t worry, they’ll help with shipping). The lure at Koskela is Aboriginal craftwork, such as the one-off lampshades traditionally woven with bush string.
Though other areas are better known for barhopping, these days downtown is heating up after dark. The latest night-owl haven is Ivy (drinks for two $30), a multilevel complex with 18 bars, a ballroom, and rooftop cabanas. Sydney’s coolest cultural commissar, actress Cate Blanchett, now directs the Sydney Theatre Company along with her husband, Andrew Upton. Snag some tickets to a production at either the STC headquarters (a spectacularly converted wharf by the bridge) or at the Sydney Opera House—you may well catch Blanchett on stage. Post-show, grab a cocktail at the Opera House’s restaurant, Guillaume at Bennelong (drinks for two $34), where the bar is surprisingly little-known and the harbor views are knockout.
Manly, a less touristed beachside hangout than Bondi, is a ferry ride from downtown’s Circular Quay, but it’s worth the (quite lovely) trip to sample the exciting new Manly Pavilion (dinner for two $85), where the fresh Italian dishes (pan-fried whiting wrapped in lardo; pappardelle with wild-boar ragù) are as stunning as the Pacific vistas. Back in city center, celebrity chef Neil Perry recently opened Rockpool Bar & Grill ( dinner for two $226) in a grand Art Deco building. The kitchen specializes in wood-fired grills and house-aged beef—plus, Perry’s sexy, restrained Spice Temple (dinner for two $226) is right downstairs. At Marque (dinner for two $226), in nearby Surry Hills, Mark Best has been winning raves for creative concoctions like yellowfin tuna on French toast with foie gras butter. There’s a notable newcomer to the established culinary scene in the harborside Rocks district: Sake Restaurant & Bar (dinner for two $100), where the young and well-heeled flock for superior sushi, sashimi, and bite-size shrimp tempura with a spicy cream sauce.
Sydney’s latest design-driven digs, the 76-room Diamant Hotel (doubles from $140) is close to both Paddington and Surry Hills. Book a courtyard suite for night views of Sydney’s iconic skyline. Wedged between café-filled Potts Point and the city center, Blue Sydney (doubles from $214) has 100 rooms located on a historic all-timber finger wharf that juts out into the harbor. Run by the same team as Ivy, the discreet, Modernist 31-room Establishment Hotel (doubles from $279) is the city’s most exclusive boutique property—the celebs you spot are likely en route to its bi-level penthouses. For the same downtown convenience without the extravagance, there’s the 41-story, Foster & Partners–designed Frasers Suites (doubles from $155), with 201 understated, light-filled studios and a heated pool.
A recent $500 million refurbishment of the international airport added a retinue of new shops, including the quintessentially Australian R.M. Williams, which makes superb leather boots for men and women, and the world’s first Lonely Planet store. Two locavore-friendly Sydney resto-bars, Bambini Wine Room (drinks for two $27) and Danks Street Depot (dinner for two $55), have also established outposts in Terminal 1. At the separate Qantas Domestic Terminal, check out the slick, Scandinavian-style (but all-Aussie) designer stationery and gifts chain, Kikki.K.