With its vibrant bars and restaurants, scenic bushwalks and some of Sydney’s best shopping, this beachside suburb has more to it than sand and surf.
Put these bar experiences on your list
Resembling a Jamaican beach shack with corrugated-iron cladding and tropical motifs, Jamtown on Belgrave Street embodies the beachside vibe. The Smith ’n’ Wesson cocktail is a sweet-and-sour blend of pot-stilled rum, brown sugar, lime and bitters. You’ll probably order too many – they’re that good. Soak it all up with the signature jerk chicken and coconut rice and peas. Rum not your sack of sugar? Head to Cured on Market Lane for a glass of wine with a board of perfectly temperate cut-to-order salumi and cheeses. When afternoon turns into evening – which happens all too easily here – ascend the stairs of the Hotel Steyne all the way to Henry's Rooftop for views of Manly Beach and dance away the evening to live music and DJs.
Shop for one-off fashion and collectables
For some of Sydney’s best boutique shopping, skip the beachfront tourist traps and hit Manly’s quieter backstreets. Bow + Arrow on Whistler Street sells threads by emerging designers from around the world, such as one-of-a-kind antique linen pieces by Patriae and elegant summer clothing by Ozma. Also look out for organic, rough-hewn tableware by Papi Ceramics and super-chic Spanish-made Steve Mono leather bags. Just down the street is Desire Books and Records. Like Paris’s Shakespeare and Company – albeit smaller and without such a storied history – Desire is where you can spend hours flipping through records or sitting back in a vintage chair with a worn novel. It’s in one of Manly’s many charming Art Deco buildings, complete with curved glass windows. From Manly Wharf, it’s a 30-minute walk north to Apostlebird. Beyond its unassuming frontage is a world of flecked copperware and oddities such as cast-iron doll moulds – the kind of antiques store where everything feels like an objet d’art.
Sample cuisines from around the world
Merivale’s newest northern offering, Queen Chow Manly, is the main attraction on the Wharf and definitely worth booking. Off The Corso, Banana Blossom is where locals queue for boxed Asian-style salads, made fresh to order and perfect takeaway for the beach. Enjoy stretchy noodles, tender chicken and buttery avocado with spicy sesame dressing and abundant herbs. Fancy Mexican? Chica Bonita, just a couple of doors down from Banana Blossom, has loads of atmosphere, fast service and delicious chimichangas. Pocket Pizza on Pittwater Road channels New York’s red-sauce joints with gingham tablecloths and pizzas with fun names like Anchovio Banderas and Fungitown.
Breakfast like a local
When the sun is high, locals head to Whistler Street. For excellent coffee, try Barefoot Coffee Traders (18 Whistler Street; 0415 816 061); their flat white is smooth and silky, with a gentle, smoky back note. Engage with Manly’s beach-hippie scene at Ora, where the Friendly Coffee – cream and butter blended with coffee, coconut oil, maple syrup and gelatine – is the stuff of local legend. Not only is the food here organic and healthy, it also tastes amazing. Try the Sai bread, dense with seeds, served with soft cheddar, pink sauerkraut and peppery olive oil. Next door is the coolest cat in the neighbourhood, Showbox – all music, concrete and industrial finishes, plus beautifully made coffee.
Go for a walk in the national park
Aside from the famous Spit Bridge-to-Manly walk,there are plenty of other places to wander across the Manly peninsula. The most spectacular is the 9.5-kilometre Manly Scenic Walkway route from Manly to North Head. Although it’s only about 20 kilometres from central Sydney, North Head in Sydney Harbour National Park is pure bushwalk, with the odd CBD skyscraper popping up in the distance to remind you of where you are. Keep an eye out for little penguins (Manly is home to the only known mainland breeding colony in NSW), echidnas and water dragons. With views of Sydney Heads, you might also see whales, as it’s one of the best whale-watching spots in the city. Follow the signs to Q Station to check out what was once the “Ellis Island of Australia”, the first port of call for some immigrants. The former quarantine station is now a hotel and runs ghost tours.
Find your inner yogi on a secret beach
Manly is located in one of the leafiest areas of Sydney, with secluded beaches all around – some of them accessible only via the water. It’s fun to get to them by kayak. Flow mOcean offers quite the experience, running Kayak Yoga every Thursday and Saturday. It goes like this: you hop into a kayak, paddle out to a surprise beach location and take a relaxing yoga class with your toes in the velvety sand. Then it’s a half-hour paddle back to Manly, where you can get on with your day, feeling refreshed and absolutely worthy of that afternoon cocktail. Hello, rum bar… ￼
Gather supplies for a picnic at Shelly Beach
Shiralee Organic Meats on Darley Road is not just an ethical butcher, it’s also a brilliant place to stock up for your beach picnic. Pick up Meredith Dairy Goat Cheese, organic butter and fermented vegies to go with the housemade sausage rolls and pies. And if you’re so inclined, grab a cup of hot umami bone broth while you’re there.
This piece was originally published in 2017 and has been updated.