Sydney Travel: a Guide to Manly Beach

  • Bruschetta à la The Pantry.

    Bruschetta à la The Pantry.

  • Bruschetta à la The Pantry.

    Bruschetta à la The Pantry.

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Above: beachside bruschetta at The Pantry.

Newfound sophistication meets a laid-back seaside vibe at this classic northern Sydney suburb

By Amy Fabris-Shi

Positioned on a narrow isthmus, with an oceanfront beach on one side and a sandy cove on the other, Manly became a holiday hot spot in the 1850s with the launch of the now-iconic Manly Ferry, which takes 30 scenic minutes to cross the harbor from downtown Sydney. There are “boardies” and beer aplenty, but the last few years have seen more than US$100 million invested in the historic suburb, bringing with it a new wave of restaurants, cafés, and boutiques. The old green-and-gold ferries, however, are still the best way to arrive.

Where to Stay

Fronting the ocean promenade and just a short stroll to the action of The Corso, a pedestrian plaza running across the Manly isthmus, the Novotel Manly Pacific (55 North Steyne; 61-2/9977-7666; manlypacificsydney.com.au; doubles from US$246) is your best bet for convenience and comfort. Avoid the older quarters at the back of the hotel and splash out on one of the refurbished beach-facing rooms, which open onto private terraces overlooking Manly’s famous Norfolk Island pines and the golden arc of sand beyond.

On the cliff top above Manly, Q Station (North Head Scenic Drive; 61-2/9466-1500; qstation.com.au; doubles from US$130) is set in protected bushland at North Head, the entrance to Sydney Harbour. Today, this is some of Sydney’s most coveted real estate–but it wasn’t always so. From the 1830s until its closure in 1984, the property served as Sydney’s quarantine station. If you don’t mind sleeping with the ghosts of immigrants past, the former dormitories and cottages have been transformed into heritage-chic accommodation. Book a harbor-view room for unforgettable vistas from your tin-roofed balcony.

Where to Eat and Drink

Occupying a former teahouse and changing rooms dating back to 1919, The Pantry (Ocean Promenade, North Steyne; 61-2/9977-0566) offers the joy of a seaside picnic, without all that pesky sand between your toes. Sitting right on the promenade, the small pavilion boasts unobstructed views of the breakers. Louvered doors fold back to catch the salty breeze as you dine on artisanal bites and chilled wines. Rise early to snag a breakfast table and enjoy your free-range eggs and buttermilk pancakes as you watch the morning surfers.

On the other side of the isthmus, a restored 1933 bathers’ pavilion at Manly Cove has been reborn as the Manly Pavilion (West Esplanade; 61-2/9949-9011). The mod-Italian eatery, helmed by young Australian-Greek chef Jonathan Barthelmess, was judged best new restaurant in the 2010 Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide. Dishes like pepper risotto cooked to order with aged organic rice, sage, and Taleggio cheese conjure the Amalfi Coast.

Venerable seafood institution Garfish (1/39 East Esplanade; 61-2/9977-0707; garfish.com.au) operates its own supply and processing facility on Sydney’s northern beaches, guaranteeing the freshest fish. No wonder diners pack the elegant glass-clad restaurant near Manly Wharf, devouring platters of Moreton Bay bugs (a slipper lobster) and oysters prepared five different ways. If you’re not in the mood for seafood, try the roasted kangaroo with caramelized red-onion tart.

A flamboyant departure from its beachfront neighbors, Manly Wine (8-13 South Steyne; 61-2/8966-9000) draws tipplers into a bohemian bower of hanging ferns, stuffed peacocks, and glowing candelabra. The quirkiness extends to the wine list (which speaks of “unpronounceable whites” and “slurpable reds”), but don’t let that fool you–the cellar here is seriously good. Pair a bottle with sharing plates like flash-fried prawns with chili aioli as you enjoy the open sea frontage by day. The mood is more exuberant after dark.

Where to Shop

Between the board rental shop and swimsuit stores that you’d expect of a beach suburb, a growing clutch of designer boutiques adds a touch of class to the waterfront while staying true to its laid-back vibe.

From colorful trilby hats to hand-beaten jewelry and cute sling-backs, the boho accessories at Nelli & Mo (Shop 14/25, Wentworth St.; 61-2/9976-6900) beg to be taken home. In sun-soaked Rialto Square, just off The Corso,

Mr & Mrs Smith (Shop 5, 11-27 Wentworth St.; 61-2/8966-9555) is a treasure trove of hand-picked looks from niche labels including Manning Cartell and Fleur Wood. The smartly edited collection spans men’s, women’s, and kids’ wear, plus stylish pieces for the home collected on the owner’s globe-trotting travels.

In the same courtyard, sister store Mclean & Page (Shop 3C; 61-2/9976-3277) showcases fashion-forward Australian talents such as Camilla and Marc, Kirrily Johnston, Willow, and Zimmermann. The fresh palette, floaty resort wear, and fun party outfits take you all the way from beach chic to cocktail queen.

Originally appeared in the August/September 2011 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Manly’s Moment”)

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