David Hancock / Alamy
Nicholas Fonseca
August 14, 2014

This was not an easy list to compile. In fact, the five choices feel almost arbitrary, given Sydney and its greater surrounds are literally dotted with beaches big, small, empty, buzzing, wild, and tame. One of the great joys of living in the Harbor City is you can get up in the morning, decide you want to go to the beach, point at any given spit of sand on a map, and then find yourself in paradise in no time. Seriously, it’s hard to steer beach babies in the wrong direction in a city so spoiled for waterfront options. But there are a few beaches that stand out, partly because they offer unparalleled vantage points, partly because they’re consistent draw cards for tourists and residents alike, but mostly because they’re what most people dream about when they dream about the good life in that “lucky country” known as Australia.

Tamarama

Avoid the crowds at Bondi and head to this tiny cove located halfway along the coastal walk to Bronte. Long been called ‘Glamarama’ by locals who know this is where the beautiful people like to hang out, there’s not a bad spot on the sand. A dip in the water is mandatory, but be careful of the rocks and the rips, which are particularly strong on the southern end of the beach. 

Red Leaf Beach

Down the hill from New South Head Road in Double Bay lies this harbor-side gem, where locals gather at the outdoor café, on the small spit of sand, or up on the grassy knoll. The main feature is the Murray Rose Pool, actually a portion of the water bordered by a shark net, so you can stroll along the elevated boardwalk that surrounds it and dive in without fear. Take a spot on one of the floating pontoons for a bit of sunbathing.

Manly Beach

This Sydney landmark is good for a getaway. Grab the ferry at Circular Quay for an awe-inspiring 30-minute ride north from the harbor to Manly Wharf, which is located in the buzzy center of the Northern Beaches. Manly is lined by an impressive collection of pine trees, and features three main beaches, lovely bays, and a good collection of snack shacks and bars with a view.

La Perouse

Just south of the airport, this favorite with southern Sydneysiders is a casual, scene-free gathering spot for families and nudists alike—a five-minute bushwalk (or, conversely, a more treacherous excursion across the rocks) leads you to a clothing-optional area that’s always packed. Bring your appetite: An ice cream boat docks regularly on summer afternoons. And nearby Bare Island is home to a fort built by British colonists in the late 1800s as a defence against the Russians; walk out there anytime, or go on Sundays for a guided tour.

Avalon

A particular favorite with local surfers of all ages and that ‘other’ most popular beach on Sydney’s north shore, Avalon lies between two headlands and is distinguished by its eye-catching, exceedingly soft copper sands, which shimmer in the sun. There’s a pool nearby for those who want to get in the water and avoid the longboards.

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