Sydney beaches secret guide

5 Secret Sydney Beaches

When I was a wee girl growing up in Bonnie Scotland, beaches were all about seaweed and stones.

There are sandy beaches in Scotland, but we spent most of our time at the more typically Scottish sort. And we four kids loved them!

We went to many, many beaches. Dad loved his boat and we spent our summer holidays sailing around the Hebridean islands. We scrambled over boulders, climbed cliffs, and loved to turn over rocks to chase the wee beasties that leapt about like fleas.

Many years later, I was flying into Sydney from Asia for the first ever time. The plane started to descend and I saw sandy beach after sandy beach spreading out below me.

‘Crivens,’ I thought, ‘we must still be far away from the city.

Then the plane landed.

It has never occurred to me that you could have beaches in a city, as part of the city, right there on peoples’ doorsteps. I was gobsmacked.

In Sydney, many people really do have beaches right on their doorstep. In fact there are around 150 beaches in the Greater Sydney area. Gasp!

My Aussie mate picked me up from the airport and later that arvo (as I realised the afternoon is called) we grabbed our cossies (as I found swimming costumes are called) and headed off to Cronulla, the most famous surfing beach in Sydney’s south.

The waves astounded me. No wonder there’s so much sand, the rocks have all been pulverised. I quickly learned to stay within the flags.

We splashed and jumped about for hours that day and I learned to bodysurf. We used the beach showers, we had a cold beer which tasted like no other beer ever had. It’s the salt, the sun and the exhaustion that makes it taste so good.

I’m pretty sure that’s when I became an Aussie, right there at the beach that first day in Sydney.

Having lived here for many years, I can now say joyfully that I’m a bit of a beach expert, maybe even a beach bore?

And these days, I am most fond of the smaller ones, the prettier ones and of the rock pools. They may not be famous like their big brothers next door, they may not attract surfers from all over the world, but my faves are now the hidden gems. And there are lots of them, many slap bang next door to a fabulously famous beach.

So here’s my list of five of the best kept secrets of the Sydney beach scene:

Tamarama Beach


The little brother round the corner from Bondi has an atmosphere all of its own.
Locals call it Glamourama and a visit explains why. There are beautiful bodies galore, all sizzling on that hot sand and occasionally loping down to the water for a dip.

Actually, at Tamarama maybe dip isn’t the word. This beach is famous for its rips and its big surf. The first time I swam here I ended up crawling out of the water on my hands and knees, feeling as if I’d done a spin cycle in a gigantic washing machine. And that was between the flags!

Shelly Beach, Cronulla


Just around the corner and along the walking track from the main beach at Cronulla, this is a sweet little sandy beach with an ocean pool. It is much quieter and more intimate that its huge surf beach brother.

There’s a very beautiful art deco pavilion which has showers and toilets including, on the top floor, some toilets with the best ocean views in the city!

The huge rock pool juts out from the beach. If you’re doing laps you’re best to stick far out in the pool as the beach area is often busy with toddlers, buckets, spades and sandcastles. Bring a mask and snorkel as the fish life can be excellent in the pool.

Shelly Beach has a large reserve behind it, a reserve being Sydney-talk for a large park. Towering palms provide plenty of shade, so BYO picnic blanket and hamper and spread out to enjoy a long, lazy day by the beach.

Little Manly Cove


Just across the peninsula from world famous surfing mecca Manly Beach, Little Manly Cove is on the Harbour and a completely different beach.

There’s no surf, the views are all of yachts, of the many small peninsulas jutting into the Harbour, and of multi-million dollar mansions.

There’s a netted area, the bollards are fabulous for leaping into the water from, there’s a rocky headland to explore and – best of all – a great little café right at the beach, selling coffees, drinks and takeaway grub. Perfect!

Whale Beach

Just south of the millionaires’ playground of Palm Beach, around the lofty cliffs is Whale Beach.

It’s a much smaller beach, nestled between two striking cliff faces and with the most spectacular rose gold sand.

The rock pool at the southern end is home to early morning swimmers summer and winter, as many of these pools are.

When I grow up, I’d like to be like those guys, fit, strong and so very calm when facing an icy plunge in the pool.

Cafes and restaurants are near the beach, and the homes clinging to the steep hill behind the beach make a spectacular a backdrop to the beach and the wide blue ocean beyond.

MacCallum Pool, Cremorne Point

Hop on the ferry at Circular Quay, get off at Cremorne Point and then amble along the walkway to this completely hidden gem on the waters of the harbour.

Macallum Pool is a public swimming pool, set just by the waters of the harbour and fed by them. It has a deck all around and is completely free to use.

The views over Sydney Harbour are absolutely gorgeous. The huge trees by the pool are glorious to see too. The water is refreshing, the ferries glide by, yachts bob.

Macallum Pool is only lacking a café, but then again, it wouldn’t feel so hidden and so special with any more amenities, or people.

After a dip and a laze and a picnic you can walk all the way around Cremorne Point and catch a ferry back from Mosman Bay.

An ideal Sydney day out, slow, healthy and with spectacular views to enjoy.

What are your favourite beaches in Sydney or anywhere else?

Five Secret Sydney Beaches is a guest post by Seana Smith.

Seana blogs about Sydney with kids, weekends away and family travel at her author website and blog.

Seana is the author and co-author of three books Sydney For Under Fives, Australian Autism Handbook, and Beyond The Baby Blues. Find Seana on Facebook here and on Twitter here.

Photo credits: Shelly Beach, Whale Beach
Author: Annabel Candy

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

se7en December 13, 2011 at 9:50 am

Oh I love the picture of you when you were small!!! How cute is that and how brave you were to go and play on all that kelp!!! Love the look of your city of beaches… We also have a city of beaches, Cape Town. All sorts of beaches – I should have written a post: Se7en of the best beaches… by now!!! We have sandy beaches, stony beaches, glamorous beaches, crowded beaches and quiet beaches. We live a two minute walk from a fabulous Family beach so we do go to bed to the sound of waves crashing… and right now our days are filled with the sound of squeals of beach goers and summer holiday makers and ahem… shark sirens!!! We no longer swim at our beach we have a pool to rinse of the beach sand and to keep cool in during the heat of summer.

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Annabel Candy December 13, 2011 at 10:03 am

Hi Se7en,

I love Seana’s childhood pic too:) Shark sirens! I am dying to visit South Africa and see the Cape Town beaches.

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Seana Smith December 13, 2011 at 1:07 pm

Thanks so much for having me over to your place for a visit Annabel, very excited and delighted to be here.

Shark sirens! Now that would focus the mind. Luckily shark attacks are exceptionally rare here in Sydney. Down the coast a huge shark was swimming around at a beach we were at last summer, the water cleared very fast! we didn’t see it but talked to some people who had. But we still do swim there. Wish us luck!

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Annabel Candy December 14, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Lol, I do! Thanks for sharing your hot Sydney travel tips and gorgeous childhood memories and photo. I love it:)

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Lucy December 14, 2011 at 3:15 am

Love these beach photos! I wondered whether Whale Beach would get a look in. I love it there.

We spend the summer over at Bonnie Doon (Coasters Retreat.) on the western foreshores of Pittwater. Best bit of beach ever. The kids call it “Grandads Beach”…

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Seana Smith December 14, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Hello Lucy, I don’t know if we’ve been over to Bonnie Doon, maybe can catch you there sometime in January. That area is the most wonderful place to live, we have friends in Scotland Island and surrounds. So near the city yet so far.

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Andrea Martins December 14, 2011 at 8:07 am

Seana, you forgot Delwood Beach! The most gorgeous water colours in all of Sydney (in my humble opinion). Where is it? In between Fairlight Beach and the Manly Wharf area. Andrea x

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seana Smith December 14, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Aha, I know that one from the walk from Manly around to the Spit… but haven’t been for years. Will have to add it to our to-do list for the summer holidays. It’s handily close to the dreaded Manly Waterworks which has been a summer have for years. Thanks Andrea.

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Dave Doolin December 14, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Ocean Beach. San Francisco. In the middle of the Red Triangle: “It has been estimated that of all documented great white shark attacks on humans, more than half have occurred within the Red Triangle.”

And the water is freezing cold, all year long.

One of the greatest surf spots on earth!

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Annabel Candy December 14, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Sounds like a great place to take the kids swimming Dave:) You’re much braver than me, definitely a warm water surfer…. and preferably with no sharks.

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seana Smith December 14, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Oh Dave, not sure that’s the beach for me! I can manage cold… well, for a while, but the sharks are another matter.

Sonia Marsh/Gutsy Living December 14, 2011 at 1:57 pm

I didn’t know you lived in Scotland as a wee lass. I lived in Glasgow for a year when I was 21. Are you the girl on the far left, or the blond next to her? Sounds like we have more and more in common. I like Tamarama Beach. It reminds me of the beaches here in California.

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Annabel Candy December 14, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Lol, I didn’t live in Scotland, it’s a guest post:) Sorry you didn’t realise! I’m not sure but I’m guessing Seana is second from the left. Am I right?! You’ve been all over the place Sonia!

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Seana Smith December 14, 2011 at 3:38 pm

Yes, that’s me second from the left with the red bucket. Why do we have buckets and spades, there’s no sand! Maybe we were collecting crabs in them. We did have a lot of fun as kids charging around the islands off the west coast of Scotland. My big sister Mairi is furthest left, she’s the one now sailing around the Med with her family at 28feetafloat.com

Annabel Candy December 14, 2011 at 3:40 pm

What an adventurous bunch you are and how great you still look exactly the same… even in your online photos!

Julie Ackerman December 18, 2011 at 1:04 am

Sigh. As I prepare to head out into the Arctic known as Philadelphia in December, I am very very jealous looking at these gorgeous Australian beach photos. Thank you for the escape, imaginary though it was.

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Seana Smith December 19, 2011 at 1:17 pm

You’re most welcome Julie! It’s actually grey and warmish today in Sydney, we’re having a run of wetter and colder days that we’d expect for this time of year. Where’s the real Aussie summer I migrated here to find??!!

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Alf Welch January 5, 2012 at 4:59 pm

Yes there is a difference between those Sydney beaches and the ones back home. Dunoon and Rothsay still have that special feeling for me. Chalk and cheese but love them both.

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Aussie on the Road January 7, 2012 at 3:32 pm

I love Shelly Beach in Manly. I didn’t realize there was one near Cronulla as well.

Little Manly is lovely though.

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Jonathan April 16, 2012 at 1:42 am

I am fortunate to have family living not far from Cronulla and have been taken there many times. So much better than Bondi!

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Van Ryan July 2, 2014 at 1:47 am

<3 little manly cove! thanks for the tip :)

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Bonny June 2, 2015 at 5:22 pm

Just saw this come up on twitter and it took me back to when I used to live in Sydney…
My favourite “secret” beaches were Clifton Gardens in Mosman, Resolute Beach on West Head (a small adventure to get to) and walking out along Long Reef. Bronte, Curl Curl, Shelly Beach and Freshwater are the not-so-secret beaches I used to love.

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