Balmoral Beach, Mosman
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Early-morning swimmers, stand-up paddleboarders and walkers populate Balmoral Beach well before the rest of the world comes alive. And why wouldn’t they? To have one of Sydney’s most beautiful beaches at your doorstep is a luxury that must be taken advantage of. Luckily, for the rest of us, the beach is just as pleasant later in the day – though on weekends a carnival atmosphere replaces its tranquillity as bathers, runners, picnickers and sunbathers descend. Apart from the sand and sea, there are cafes and the Bathers’ Pavilion and the Rotunda, which both date back to the 1930s, to explore.
Clovelly Beach, Clovelly
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With its concrete promenades and sea walls, Clovelly Beach resembles an enormous ocean pool rather than a beach. It’s great for snorkelling and there’s a plethora of edible sea life living here – it’s possible to catch eastern rock lobster, southern rock lobster and blacklip abalone. Clovelly is part of the Bronte-Coogee Aquatic Reserve which means all other sea creatures are off limits, especially blue groper (a huge blue groper called Bluey is a local personality).
Bronte Beach, Bronte
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One of Bronte Beach’s many charms is the huge grassy park area adjoining the beach. There are plentiful barbecues, toilet facilities and kiosks so it’s a popular destination for summertime gatherings. The beach itself often has rough waves so it’s popular with surfers, but swimmers can bob safely in the Bogey Hole, a little pool ringed by rocks, or the excellent ocean pool at the southern end of the beach.
Wattamolla Beach, Royal National Park
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South of Sydney is the Royal National Park, 150 square kilometres dedicated to pristine beaches and mangroves, woodlands, rainforests and coastal heathland. Set up beneath the cabbage tree palms and return to your towel for shade in between dips. A waterfall splashes into the still, clear lagoon – which is great for kids – and the barbecue area is great for cooking a picnic lunch. Don’t forget the tomato sauce.
Shelly Beach, Manly
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The cove of little Shelly Beach is part of Cabbage Tree Bay. From the sands of Shelly Beach, visitors have a great view of the goings-on at Manly without enduring the crowds, though it’s possible to explore both beaches on the same day – it’s only a 10-minute walk between them. It lies on a protected marine reserve and it’s popular with snorkelers and scuba divers – expect to see such adorably named creatures such as weedy sea dragons, gloomy octopus and little penguins.
Palm Beach, Pittwater
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Palm Beach is famously the site of Home and Away’s Summer Bay, where Shane and Angel fell in love and where Alf calls everyone a bloody drongo. It also happens to be a fantastic beach with something for everyone – there’s great surfing, shallows at the southern end for paddlers and the charming Barrenjoey Head Lighthouse, dating back to 1881, at the northern end.
Collins Flat Beach, Sydney Harbour National Park
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This beach, nestled between North Head and Little Manly Cove, has probably played host to its fair share of proposals. It’s the epitome of romantic, with its trickling waterfall, lush vegetation and view across the Heads – and if you’re lucky, you could see one of the fairy penguins that call this area home. There are no shops or barbecues, so pack a hamper for a picnic lunch, but leave the cake at home in favour of the ice-cream boat that arrives regularly.
Congwong Beach, La Perouse
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This white-sand beach in Botany Bay National Park offers beautiful, calm turquoise water and fantastic walking trails. Undertake a hike that concludes at Congwong and take a refreshing dip as a reward for your efforts. There are no waves so it’s great for paddling and it’s a favourite with divers – expect to find seahorses, moray eels and giant cuttlefish. Pictured is the bridge to Bare Island, also a popular diving spot.
Milk Beach, Vaucluse
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Hidden behind historic Strickland House in one of Sydney’s most exclusive suburbs, Milk Beach is something of a secret. The harbour beach has calm, clear waters and plenty of shady spots from which to observe seaplanes taking off from Rose Bay bound for Palm Beach or the Harbour Bridge in all its glory. On New Year’s Day, it becomes a gathering place for a pop-up party, complete with DJ, dancing and boat-borne partygoers.
Murray Rose Pool, Double Bay
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Waverley Council changed the name of this popular harbourside beach from Redleaf to Murray Rose Pool to honour the Olympic swimmer in 2012, but it’s still popularly known as Redleaf. It’s a walk down a set of very steep steps past a café and grassy areas to get down to the water. There are two floating platforms for sunbathing and diving, a shark-net to keep our finned friends at bay and a wrap-around pontoon. Best of all, it’s about six kilometres from the CBD.