Some of Sydney’s best beaches lie just across the harbor from the main part of the city. Although they’re easily reachable by car (just drive across the Harbour Bridge and head north along the coast), it’s much more fun to get to them by ferry. Manly Beach, with its wide swath of sand, gentle surf, and lively café- and shop-laden promenade, is an especially popular place to spend the day; just grab a ferry at Circular Quay for the 30-minute one-way ride (the boats run back and forth all day long; www.sydneyferries.info). Just south of Manly is Shelly Beach, where the calm waters attract families with small kids; but head north just a few miles and you’ll find Curl Curl—home to the north coast’s gnarliest surf break (and tons of sun-bleached hang-tenners).
Tip: Regardless of how good a swimmer you are, take care to swim between the signal flags. Northern beach surf is changeable, and the currents can be very strong.