Discovering the Best Beaches in Manly:
A Blend of Hot Spots and Cool Local Secrets
May 08, 2023 – 8 minute read
Known the world over, Manly is that sweet spot in the venn diagram of sun, surf, and socialising. Renowned for its laid-back atmosphere and picturesque surroundings, it invites visitors with a jaw-dropping variety of stunning beaches. Combined with plentiful options of accommodation in Manly you’ll quickly discover why this is such a world-class destination. All told, Manly is the perfect basecamp for surfing, swimming, sunbathing, and staying – all things iconically ‘Sydney’.
Read on to explore Manly’s best beaches and what to expect when you arrive.
Manly’s Beaches – A Destination Lifestyle
Location: S Steyne, Manly NSW 2095, Australia
Atmosphere: Manly Beach exudes a vibrant and relaxed vibe, capturing the essence of Australia’s beach culture. With its golden sands stretching over a kilometer, it’s often bustling with both locals and tourists alike. The beachfront promenade is lined with Norfolk Island pine trees, offering a scenic backdrop, and there’s a palpable sense of community and fun, with people enjoying picnics, sunbathing, or just taking in the views.
- Surfing: Manly is renowned for its consistent waves, making it a popular spot for surfing. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced surfer, the beach caters to all skill levels with surf rentals nearby.
- Volleyball: The soft sands of Manly are often used for beach volleyball matches.
- Swimming: The beach is patrolled by lifeguards, making it safe for swimming.
- Scuba Diving & Snorkeling: There are nearby sites like the Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve which offer fantastic underwater sights.
- SUP & Kayaking: The calm waters make it the ideal beach for stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking.
- Walking & Cycling: The Manly Scenic Walkway provides panoramic coastal views and can be enjoyed on foot or by bike.
- Yoga: If you’re looking for a more zen activity, enjoy a relaxing yoga session on the beach
Amenities: At its heart is The Manly Corso, a lively pedestrian mall connecting the harbor to the ocean, brimming with shops, cafes, and restaurants. Along the expansive beachfront, restrooms and showers are conveniently located. Families can find playgrounds for kids and numerous picnic areas and barbecue facilities, perfect for a relaxed meal or gathering.
Accessibility: Manly Beach is highly accessible, especially for those coming from Sydney’s CBD. The iconic Manly Ferry provides a scenic 30-minute ride from Circular Quay to Manly Wharf. Once at the wharf, the beach is just a short walk away. Additionally, there are bus services, and ample parking spaces are available for those driving.
Unique Feature/Fact: Manly hosted the first ever World Surfing Championships in 1964, which is why Manly is known as the birthplace of Australian surfing. Interestingly, both the Men’s and Women’s championships were won by Manly locals, Midge Farrelly and Phyllis O’Donnell. Manly is one of the world’s five Surfing Reserves with its consistent quality surf, rich surfing history, strong community support and a magnificent coastal environment.
North Steyne Beach
Location: North Steyne, Manly NSW, Australia
Atmosphere: North Steyne is a central section of the long stretch of sand known as Manly Beach. It offers a slightly more relaxed vibe compared to its neighboring sections, South Steyne and Queenscliff. The beautiful shoreline and rhythmic waves create a serene backdrop, and while it can get busy, especially during weekends and holidays, it generally feels a bit more spacious and less crowded than the other parts of Manly Beach.
- Surfing & Bodyboarding: Given its consistent waves, North Steyne is a favored spot for surfers and boogie boarding. The beach offers good conditions for various skill levels.
- Swimming: There’s a flagged area for safe swimming.
- Beach Volleyball: Occasionally, you’ll find games taking place in the soft sands.
- Sunbathing: The expansive beach provides plenty of space for sunbathers.
Amenities: North Steyne Beach offers convenient restrooms and showers for visitors, along with the presence of the North Steyne SLSC providing facilities and services such as lifeguards during the summer months. Additionally, beachfront cafes dot the area, perfect for a quick bite or drink.
Accessibility: North Steyne is accessible by the same means as Manly Beach. The Manly Ferry from Circular Quay is a popular route, and from Manly Wharf, it’s a short walk along the beachfront to reach North Steyne. Buses serve the area, and there’s also parking nearby, though it can get busy during peak times.
Events: Throughout the year, North Steyne becomes a hub of activity, deeply rooted in its surf culture and tight-knit community. As a renowned surf spot, it frequently hosts both local and national surfing competitions. The North Steyne SLSC plays an integral role, organizing life saving events that display the prowess of lifeguards. Additionally, the community comes together for various initiatives, including beach clean-ups and communal barbecues.
South Steyne Beach
Location: S Steyne, Manly NSW 2095, Australia
Atmosphere: South Steyne is the southernmost section of the iconic Manly Beach and has a lively atmosphere, with its proximity to Manly Corso adding to the buzz. Being closer to the main commercial areas, it’s often bustling with both locals and tourists, offering a mix of relaxation and excitement.
- Surfing: South Steyne’s waves cater to surfers of various skill levels, with surfing schools often seen giving lessons to beginners.
- Swimming: The beach has a designated area for safe swimming, under the watchful eyes of lifeguards.
- Beach Volleyball: As with other parts of Manly Beach, South Steyne is a popular spot for beach volleyball enthusiasts.
- Sunbathing: Its golden sands draw sun worshippers from near and far.
Accessibility: South Steyne Beach provides restrooms and showers for visitors, and its prominent SLSC frequently hosts events with excellent facilities. Adjacent to The Corso, a plethora of dining options, from cafes to restaurants, awaits beachgoers.
Location: Queenscliff Beach
Atmosphere: Queenscliff Beach is the northernmost section of Manly’s continuous stretch of sand and offers a slightly more laid-back vibe than its southern counterparts. With its tall pine trees and impressive headland, it presents a picturesque setting that often attracts a mix of locals and fewer tourists, giving it a more local feel.
Photo Credit: Destination NSW
- Manly Wormhole: The Wormhole is a natural rock formation that has been carved out of the cliffs at the southern end of Manly Beach, and it’s only accessible during low tide. It’s a tunnel that allows visitors to walk through the cliff and emerge at Queenscliff Beach. However, visitors should be cautious and check the tides before visiting the Wormhole, as it can be dangerous during high tide or rough weather conditions.
- Surfing: Queenscliff is known for its surfing conditions, sometimes boasting large swells, making it a spot for the more experienced surfers.
- Swimming: There’s a rock pool at the northern end, great for those who want a more contained swimming experience.
- Beach Walks: The stretch offers a scenic pathway for those looking to take a leisurely stroll along the coast.
- Parasailing & Hang Gliding: The headland sometimes sees adventure seekers taking off for some aerial fun.
Amenities: Queenscliff Beach offers restrooms and showers for visitors’ convenience, and its northern end features a popular rock pool for tranquil swims and picnic spots for leisurely meals.
Accessibility: Queenscliff Beach is accessible by the same means as the rest of Manly’s beaches. The Manly Ferry from Circular Quay followed by a slightly longer walk or a short bus ride is a common way to get there. Buses directly serve the Queenscliff area, and there’s nearby parking, though it can get competitive on peak days.
The Queenscliff Lagoon, which empties into the beach, creates a unique rip known as the “Queenscliff Bombie.” This phenomenon can create powerful surf conditions, drawing experienced surfers looking for a challenge. The lagoon itself, with its bridge, adds a distinctive landscape feature to the beach area.
Location: Shelly Beach, Manly NSW, Australia
Atmosphere: Shelly Beach is a small, tucked-away beach located just a short walk from Manly. It exudes a tranquil and intimate atmosphere compared to the busier beaches nearby. The cove is surrounded by bushland, creating a sense of seclusion and offering a haven for those seeking peace and relaxation.
- Snorkeling: The clear waters and the aquatic reserve make it an ideal spot for snorkeling with a variety of marine life to be observed.
- Swimming: Its sheltered nature ensures calmer waters, making it perfect for a leisurely swim.
- Bushwalking: The surrounding bushland has trails, notably the Shelly Beach to North Head walk, offering stunning views.
- Picnicking: Many visitors bring along a picnic to enjoy on the sands or in the grassy areas.
Amenities: Shelly Beach offers restrooms and showers for visitors, along with a nearby cafe for meals and drinks. Additionally, public BBQs and picnic tables are dispersed throughout, enhancing the beachside dining experience. For a more formal dining option, there is a cafe on the beach named The Boathouse.
Accessibility: Shelly Beach is just a short 10-15 minute walk from Manly Beach, making it easily accessible for those already in the Manly area. There’s also a small car park at Shelly Beach, but it can fill up quickly, especially on weekends. For those relying on public transport, the buses that serve Manly can be used, followed by the walk to Shelly Beach.
Unique Feature: Shelly Beach is part of The Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve, ensuring protection for marine life, which in turn makes it a snorkeler’s paradise.
Location: Freshwater NSW 2096, Australia
Atmosphere: Freshwater Beach, commonly referred to as “Freshie” by the locals, exudes a friendly and relaxed community vibe. Nestled between two headlands, its secluded feel makes it a favorite among families and those wanting a quieter beach experience compared to its neighboring Manly Beach.
- Surfing: The beach is historically significant for surfing and offers consistent waves suitable for all levels, with surfing schools available for beginners.
- Swimming: Its clear waters are great for swimming, and there’s a natural rock pool at the northern end.
- Sunbathing: The sandy expanse is perfect for those wanting to soak up some sun.
- Children’s Playground: Located nearby for families with young kids.
Amenities: Freshwater Beach offers restrooms, showers, and lifeguard services for visitors’ safety and comfort. Additionally, cafes and kiosks provide refreshments, while designated picnic areas enhance the beachside experience. head on over to the Harbord Diggers Club for some entertaining and dining, as well as several other restaurants and cafes overlooking the beach.
Accessibility: Freshwater Beach is located about a kilometer north of Manly and can be accessed via a scenic walking path that goes along the coastline. There’s also a car park available, though it can get crowded during peak times. Public buses serve the area, providing an alternative to driving.
Fun Fact: Freshwater’s unique claim to fame is that this is where surfboard riding was popularized in Australia by Hawaiian “Duke” Kahanamoku. Duke famously carved a board from a piece of local timber and demonstrated surfing for a crowd on 10 January, 1915. A life-size statue of Duke Kahanamoku was erected on the northern headland to commemorate the historic day.
Location: Fairlight Beach, NSW, Australia
Atmosphere: Located on the harbor side, Fairlight Beach boasts a calmer and more tranquil vibe compared to some of Sydney’s ocean-facing beaches. With views stretching out over the harbor to the city, it’s a serene spot, popular among locals and families.
- Swimming: The enclosed harbor waters provide a safe swimming environment, particularly for children.
- Snorkeling: The beach is part of the Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve, offering a rich marine environment ideal for snorkeling.
- Walking: The Manly to Spit Bridge walk passes by Fairlight, offering walkers scenic harbor views.
- Picnicking: Many families and couples come to relax and enjoy a quiet picnic.
Amenities: Fairlight Beach provides restrooms for visitors, boasts a tidal rock pool for sheltered swimming, and offers a playground for children. Additionally, benches are dispersed across the area, inviting guests to relax and enjoy the scenic views.
Accessibility: Fairlight Beach is situated between Manly and Balgowlah and can be easily accessed by walking from Manly Wharf, which is a mere 10-15 minute walk away. There are also nearby bus stops served by buses traveling to and from Sydney’s CBD and other northern suburbs. Limited street parking is available, but it can be challenging to find a spot on busy days.
Unique Feature: The beach features small rock pools that are safe for children to swim in and toddler to paddle in, making it popular for families.
Manly Beaches Locals Keep on the Down-Low
Location: Store Beach, NSW, Australia
Atmosphere: Store Beach is a secluded and serene paradise, hidden away from the hustle and bustle. This tranquil, harbor-side beach is a perfect escape with its soft sands and calm, clear waters. As an untouched haven, it emanates an almost private-beach vibe.
- Swimming: The sheltered bay ensures calm waters, making it a delightful spot for a swim.
- Picnicking: Many visitors bring along a picnic to enjoy amidst the peaceful surroundings.
- Wildlife Watching: The beach’s seclusion attracts a range of coastal wildlife, including birds and marine life.
- Kayaking: Many people paddle their way to the beach as part of their kayaking route around Sydney Harbour.
Amenities: Given its secluded nature, amenities are limited at Store Beach. It’s essential to come prepared as there are no restaurants or cafes or kiosks.
Accessibility: Store Beach’s secluded charm is enhanced by its inaccessibility by road; most visitors reach it by kayak or private boat, while some adventurous souls use nearby tracks to approach on foot.
Little Manly Cove
Location: Little Manly Cove / Little Manly Beach, NSW, Australia
Atmosphere: Little Manly Cove, often simply known as “Little Manly,” is a picturesque harbor beach nestled away from the larger and busier Manly Beach. It offers a quieter, family-friendly environment with gentle waters, making it particularly popular among local families with young children.
- Swimming: The calm harbor waters are ideal for a leisurely swim.
- Picnicking: The grassy areas adjacent to the beach are popular for picnics.
- Playground: Kids can enjoy the play equipment available.
- Fishing: The pier at Little Manly is a favored spot for local anglers.
Amenities: Little Manly Cove offers restroom facilities and a kiosk with snacks and drinks. Visitors can utilize public BBQs and picnic tables, and a children’s playground is located close by.
Accessibility: Little Manly Cove is located to the west of Manly Wharf, making it easily accessible on foot from the wharf area. There’s also limited street parking nearby, but like many Sydney beaches, finding a spot can be challenging on busy days. Regular buses service the Manly area, providing an alternative to driving.
Unique Feature: The “Little Manly Point Park” adjacent to the beach is a reclaimed area that was once the site of a gasworks plant. The transformation from an industrial site to a beautiful park and beach area is a testament to urban environmental renewal. The park now hosts community events, including family-friendly festivals and cinema nights during warmer months.
Location: Collins Beach, Manly NSW 2095, Australia
Atmosphere: Collins Beach is a hidden gem located in a sheltered cove, creating a peaceful and secluded atmosphere. Surrounded by lush vegetation and characterized by its calm waters, it offers a serene escape from the hustle of the more commercial beaches.
- Swimming: The calm, clear waters are ideal for swimming.
- Picnicking: Collins Beach’s quiet setting makes it a favorite spot for picnickers.
- Wildlife Watching: The beach’s seclusion attracts a variety of coastal wildlife.
- Snorkeling: The clear waters allow for some snorkeling, especially during calmer tides.
Amenities: Restrooms and picnic tables are available for visitors.
Accessibility: Collins Beach is a bit off the beaten track, making it less crowded but also a tad more challenging to access. It’s situated near Manly and can be reached by following a walking path that begins at the end of Stuart Street. There’s no direct car access, and parking in the nearby streets is limited.
Unique Feature: Collins Beach is home to the “Manly Hospital Bushland Reserve,” which is a haven for native plants and animals. This makes the beach and its surrounding area particularly important for local biodiversity. Additionally, the beach is near the old Quarantine Station, a historical site that has tales of early Australian immigration and maritime history.
Visitors to Collins Beach should note that this beach is clothing-optional, meaning that nudity is permitted and common among beachgoers. However, this doesn’t mean that it is a free-for-all; visitors are still expected to behave respectfully and observe beach etiquette. The beach is accessible via a steep 10-15 minute walk from the nearby street, and there are no facilities such as showers or restrooms.
It’s important to note that the beach is not patrolled by lifeguards, so swimmers should exercise caution and be aware of potential hazards such as strong currents or jellyfish. Despite these considerations, Collins Beach is a beautiful spot for sunbathing, swimming, and enjoying the stunning views of Sydney Harbour.
North Harbour Reserve Beach
Location: North Harbour Reserve, NSW, Australia
Atmosphere: North Harbour Reserve Beach, nestled in Balgowlah’s suburb, exudes a calm and relaxed vibe. Being a harbor beach, it benefits from gentle waters and offers a scenic view of yachts and boats anchored nearby. The grassy reserve adjacent to the sandy shoreline enhances the leisurely ambiance of the place.
- Swimming: The sheltered waters make for a pleasant swimming experience.
- Picnicking: With a vast grassy area, picnicking is a popular activity here.
- Playing: The open spaces are great for ball games and frisbee.
- Boating: Its location within the harbor means boating and sailing activities are common sights.
Amenities: North Harbour Reserve Beach provides restrooms for visitors. A playground in the reserve keeps kids entertained. BBQ facilities and picnic tables are set up for gatherings, and trees offer shade for those sunny days. Visitors should note that there are no lifeguards on duty, so caution should be exercised while swimming.
Accessibility: The beach and reserve are easily accessible by car with ample parking in the vicinity. Public transport, including buses, services the Balgowlah area, offering an alternative mode of reaching the beach. Pedestrian pathways are well-maintained, making it easy for both locals and visitors to access the area.
One notable event that takes place near North Harbour Reserve Beach is the annual “Manly Rotary Fun Run & Walk.” This event often sees participants passing through or starting from the reserve, all while supporting charitable causes. The scenic route and community engagement make it a highlight for many in the area.
Location: Delwood Beach, Manly NSW 2095, Australia
Atmosphere: Delwood Beach is a lesser-known gem in the Manly area, offering a quiet escape from the more frequented neighboring beaches. Its secluded location, flanked by rocky outcrops, gives it a private and intimate atmosphere, making it a perfect spot for those looking for a tranquil beach experience.
- Swimming: The calm waters of the harbor are perfect for leisurely swims.
- Snorkeling: The clear waters and rock formations make it a decent spot for snorkeling.
- Sunbathing: Its quiet nature makes it a preferred choice for sunbathers.
- Rock Exploration: The surrounding rocky areas can be explored during low tides.
Amenities: Delwood Beach lacks on-site restrooms, though some are nearby. Grassy areas above the beach serve as informal picnic spots.Accessibility: Delwood Beach can be accessed by foot from Manly, with a short walk around the coastline from the Manly Wharf. It’s situated between Manly Cove and Fairlight Beach. Due to its somewhat hidden location, it’s less crowded, but this also means direct car access and parking can be a bit limited.
Forty Baskets Beach
Location: Forty Baskets Beach, Balgowlah NSW 2093, Australia
Atmosphere: Forty Baskets Beach is a charming, sheltered beach located on the Balgowlah side of North Harbour, offering panoramic views of Sydney Harbour. The beach’s tranquil ambiance, coupled with its picturesque setting, makes it a sought-after spot for locals and those in the know.
- Swimming: The enclosed swimming area is suitable for families and those seeking a calm swim.
- Picnicking: The scenic setting makes it a popular spot for picnickers.
- Kayaking: The calm waters are suitable for kayaking and other paddle sports.
- Fishing: The adjoining jetty and surrounding rocks can be a spot for fishing enthusiasts.
Amenities: Forty Baskets Beach offers basic restrooms for visitors. Adjacent reserves have picnic tables and BBQs for family outings. A playground caters to kids, and a netted area provides a safe swimming zone.
Accessibility: The beach can be accessed by foot via a pathway from the end of Beatty Street in Balgowlah. Public transport, primarily buses, service the Balgowlah area, offering another mode of reaching the beach. There’s limited street parking available in the vicinity.
The beach’s name, “Forty Baskets,” is believed to have historical origins. During the 1885 Sudan Campaign, fish were caught here and sent in forty baskets to feed the troops departing for the war from nearby Manly. This act of community support gave the beach its distinctive name.
Location: Reef Beach, Balgowlah Heights NSW 2093, Australia
Atmosphere: Reef Beach, nestled within Sydney Harbour National Park, boasts a serene and secluded vibe, far from the bustling city’s noise. With its breathtaking views of the harbor and the city skyline, the beach offers a peaceful retreat for those looking to relax and rejuvenate.
- Swimming: The calm waters of the harbor make it ideal for a leisurely swim.
- Sunbathing: Given its quiet nature, the beach is perfect for sunbathing.
- Snorkeling: The clear waters are rich with marine life, attracting snorkelers.
- Nature Walks: Being within the national park, there are walking tracks nearby to explore the local flora and fauna.
Amenities: Reef Beach provides basic restrooms, grassy spots for picnics without specific tables, and tree-shaded areas for sun relief.
Accessibility: Reef Beach can be accessed via a short walk from the end of Beatty Street in Balgowlah. Being located within the national park, it’s a bit more secluded and doesn’t have direct vehicle access. However, there’s limited parking available in the nearby streets, and the walk to the beach is part of its charm.
Reef Beach is historically significant to the local Aboriginal people, and evidence suggests it was a former ceremonial site. Due to its cultural importance, the beach was returned to the local Aboriginal community in the late 20th century, although it remains open for public enjoyment. This rich history adds depth to the beach’s allure, making it not just a place of natural beauty, but also of cultural significance.
Relax and Unwind at The Wharf
Once you’re finished beach-life for the day, you might be a little peckish or want to let off some steam. The Manly Corso is the perfect destination for a tasty meal and an evening gander. Stroll along this lively pedestrian street, lined with shops, bars, and restaurants.
Enjoy outdoor dining, live music, and street performances. During the day, the Manly Wharf beside the Manly Corso is a great starting point for various water-based activities, including kayaking and paddleboarding.
Life is Better at the Beach
No matter what beach you choose to visit on your trip to Manly, you’re guaranteed stunning views, chill vibes and great amenities nearby. Whether you’re seeking a fun-filled beach day surfing and paddle boarding, or a relaxed day of sunbathing and browsing the nearby cafes, Manly beaches have it all.
The fun doesn’t stop at the beach, be sure to check out Manly’s must visit spots and attractions to really experience all that this hidden coastal gem has to offer.
Commonly Asked Questions About the Best Beaches in Manly
The most common way to get to Manly Beach from Sydney is by taking a ferry from Circular Quay. The trip takes approximately 30 minutes. Alternatively, you can drive, take a bus, or ride a bike.
Yes, Manly beaches are generally safe for swimming. However, it’s essential to swim between the red and yellow flags, which indicate patrolled areas, and follow any safety warnings or advice from the lifeguards.
Yes, there are several surf schools in Manly offering lessons for beginners and more experienced surfers. Some popular options include Manly Surf School, Manly Surf Guide, and Sydney Surf School.
Dogs are not permitted on most Manly beaches, including Manly Beach, Shelly Beach, and Queenscliff Beach. However, there are designated off-leash areas nearby, such as North Harbour Reserve and Flora and Ritchie Roberts Reserve.
The best time to visit Manly beaches is during the warmer months, from November to April. However, the beaches can get crowded during weekends and public holidays, so visiting on a weekday or early morning might be more enjoyable.
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