As I write this, I’m perched happily in my arm chair in my home in Noe Valley, San Francisco. However, many people I know and love have been heading out to my previous home, Sydney, in the past month or two and it seems that more people I meet are heading there shortly, too. So I wanted to try and capture the things I want to recommend to people that head to Sydney. I won’t include the obvious things here, like the Opera House/Harbour Bridge because, well, that’s fairly obvious. Instead, I’ll share some of the things I used to love doing whilst I lived there. The walks and places to see and most importantly, the places you can get great coffee – at least, the places you used to be able to get great coffee – it’s been more than a year since I was last in Sydney! So here goes.
1) Bronte Beach.
I got married here and that about sums it all up. Bronte is a beautiful beach that is a short 1.5-2km walk from the more well known Bondi Beach. It’s got a small ocean pool that you can swim in and a terrific beach to sun yourself on should you feel so inclined. Here’s my tip. Take a bus or Uber out to the cafe/restaurant Three Blue Ducks. There, you will find one of Sydney’s best coffee’s. Place and order ‘to go’ and then, once your coffee has arrived, head down the hill towards the ocean. At some point, you’ll find a little street that offers a beautiful panarama of the Pacific Ocean and a park bench. Either take a seat and enjoy the rest of your coffee, or keep wandering on, following your nose to the beach. Once there, head to the far end of the beach towards the swimming pool. Jump in and enjoy. Once you’re done, catch the bus back into town.
2) Manly-Spit Bridge Walk.
This one will take most of your day, but it’s well worth it. Bring with you a light backpack, comfortable walking shoes and a water bottle. Dress in whatever is comfortable, but make sure you’re wearing something you can swim in. Start by heading to Circular Quay (where the Opera House is) and buy yourself a bus pass and a ferry pass. You’ll need the bus pass to be a Zone 1&2 ticket, I believe. You’ll use that later. For the ferry ticket, buy yourself a one-way pass to Manly. Walk through to the ferry terminal and jump aboard the next Ferry to Manly from Wharf 3.
This ferry trip is one of the jewels of Sydney. It’s public transport, but the views are spectacular. Make sure you get a seat or a space on the ferry outside. Take lots of photos. The ferry ride lasts about 30 minutes. Consider that, for many people living in Manly, this is their daily commute.
Once you arrive in Manly, walk from the ferry into to town and buy something for your lunch. Don’t eat it yet! I used to like going to the Manly Deli and getting a Mediterranean sandwich. Ask them to wrap it in glad wrap/cling film and then pack it in your bag. Buy anything else you fancy for the journey and then head off.
You’ll want to then walk back to the ferry wharf and turn to walk ‘right’ – or in the direction of Sydney city. Check out this site for a better map/directions. You follow a footpath for most of the first 2-3km, weaving in and out of suburban Manly. At some point, you get onto a bush trail. Keep walking until you hit a point where there are a lot of stairs that lead you down to the beach. It’s about 6/7km into the walk, so slightly more than half way.
This is my favourite bit. Strip down to your swimmers and dive into the ocean. It’s amazing. If you’re lucky, there’s a chap that makes smoothies on a boat that drives up and down the coastline. If he’s there, buy one. Once you’re done cooling off, eat your lunch on the beach.
To finish, you walk back up the stairs and then come out onto a beach. The beach takes you around to the Spit Bridge. Cross the bridge and then head over to the bus stop, just outside the small cafe and buildings there. The bus that arrives will take you back into town. All told, it’ll take you 5-6 hours from leaving your hotel to arriving back home.
3. Darlinghurst coffee day.
Depending on your love of coffee, you can spend the entire day wandering around Darlinghurst/Surry Hills/Paddington. Here are a few of my favorite cafe’s that I frequented when I lived in the area. There are bound to be new ones since I left, so follow your nose. Room 10, Single Origin and Reuben Hills are probably the highest quality of this list, but each option as it’s charm.
- Room 10*
- The Bunker
- Infinity Sourdough Bakery
- Sur Bourke
- Joe Black
- The Royal
- Bills (for the worlds best scrambled eggs)
- Single Origin*
- Reuben Hills*
- Paramount Coffee Project
- Sample Coffee
Finally, although not in the Darlinghurst area, I reckon Sydney’s best coffee can be found at Coffee Alchemy. It’s worth the pilgrimage to get out there to try it. It’s a religious experience. I used to take the train and walk but you could equally just Uber or drive.
4. Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair – good for runners.
If you’re a runner, you can’t miss the chance to job around the botanic gardens and around the headland known as Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair. It’s hard to talk about this without a map, so you’re best bet is to search for Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair when you arrive in town and plot a run from your hotel to there, ensuring you wind your way through the botanic gardens as you do. It’s one of the most picturesque places in Sydney and gives you an awesome vantage point of the Opera House and Harbor Bridge. If you don’t normally run with your phone, you may want to so you can snap some photos.