Sydney Harbour Beaches: The Ultimate Local’s Guide
Did you know that there are more than 40 Sydney Harbour Beaches? I discovered this a few years ago when reading a fabulous book called The Harbour by Scott Bevan. Ever since have made it a mission to visit them all. Today we have shared few lines about each we have made it to so far, a mini guide, to encourage you to seek one of these stunning beaches on your next day exploring Sydney.
- Harbour beaches of Eastern Sydney
- Harbour Beaches in the North
- Middle harbour beaches in Sydney
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Before we get into the individual beaches a couple of quick answers to the most common questions we get about swimming in the harbour.
- Are the beaches of the harbour safe for swimming? Yes, many of the beaches in Sydney Harbour are brilliant spots for a swim. The water is clean but few of these beaches are patrolled so don’t stray far from the shore.
- Are there any nude beaches in Sydney Harbour? Yes, the harbour is a great place for anyone who has forgotten to pack their swimmers. Cobblers and Obelisk Beaches in Middle Head and Lady Bay at Watsons Bay are all clothing optional.
- Can you bring alcohol to the beaches of Sydney Harbour? Some beaches allow public drinking but check local signs before you crack open a drink.
- Are there any fees for accessing these beaches? No, all are free to visit if you are on foot. You may need to sell your soul to pay for parking, if you can find any that is!
- Are the harbour beaches shark free? In a word, no. Bull sharks are said to frequent the harbour in summer, however attacks are rare. The water gets deep quickly at most of these beaches. It’s advised to avoid swimming at dawn and dusk or after heavy rain. You may prefer to stick to netted areas if you are planning some lap swimming and not just a paddle.
- Which Sydney Harbour Beaches have shark nets? Shark Beach at Nielson Park is netted in summer and ironically one of the safest beaches in the harbour. Other netted places inside the harbour include Redleaf (Murray Rose pool), Little Manly Cove, Forty Baskets Beach and Balmoral Beach.
- What time of year is good for swimming in Sydney? Water temperature in Sydney range from18 degrees in August to 24 degrees in January. Only brave locals swim before the water reaches 20-21 degrees, usually in October.
While all these beaches are well known to those who live nearby, some are relatively secret to the many Sydneysiders.
So let’s go find your paradise at a stunning Sydney Harbour beach.
Harbour beaches of Eastern Sydney
Several of these beaches fall into the boundaries of Sydney Harbour National Park, meaning they are not pet friendly. I have indicated those that your dog is welcome at in each instance.
The very first beach you come to when you leave the city is Double Bay Beach, a small stretch of sand
Seven Shillings Beach / Redleaf Beach
Home of the popular Murray Rose Pool, Seven Shillings Beach is often just referred to as Redleaf Pool after the pool that was built here in 1941.
Confusingly, the pool renamed Murray Rose Pool in 2012 for the six-time Olympic medalist. Whatever you call it this is a popular, safe place, backed by a well shaded area when you need to escape the sun.
The swimming area is ringed by a boardwalk that is calling you to show off your best dive or belly flop! There are also a couple of concrete pontoons in the middle of the swimming area – well placed for a rest when you don’t really want to get out of the water.
The onsite cafe does a great coffee and the facilities are usually very clean.
Halfway along the beach, you will find a fence and from here on in, it’s residents only. There is a sign which states “the public can only use the beach in daylight hours below high water, as above high water is privately owned”.
Getting there: The beach is accessed via a walkway from the Council Chambers on New South Head Road
Lady Martin’s Beach
Approached by a narrow public walkway that you would never know is there, a morning at Lady Martins Beach feels a little like you are visiting a friend.
Hidden in the very exclusive suburb of Point Piper, this small sandy beach is perfect when you are looking for a bit of privacy midweek.
The beach is named after Lady Patricia Martin, who donated the land to the public in the 1970s.
The water is usually dotted with expensive yachts and is best visited when the tide is low as it all but disappears at high tide.
Getting there: Parking is very hard to find. Make your way to the Royal Prince Edward Yacht Club and follow signs to the water. The walkway is open dawn to dusk .
Rose Bay Beaches
There are several beaches between Rose Bay and Vaucluse, we don’t rate many of them highly for swimming however they offer some lovely panoramic views.
Sitting behind Rose Bay Police Station Bellamy Beach is a 250m stretch of sand next to Point Piper Marina.
One of the eastern suburbs dog friendly beaches, the water is not usually great for swimming perhaps because of the marina traffic but it’s well known for its kayak rentals.
Getting there: Same buses from above but a shorter 4 minute walk
Next up is the main Rose Bay Beach, another dog friendly paradise but not a good swimming choice with nearby stormwater drains often affecting water quality.
Hermitage Foreshore Walk Beaches
These next four beaches are along the Foreshore Walk, lay inside the boundary of Sydney Harbour National Park. One of the easiest walking trails on the harbour, the Hermitage Foreshore Track begins in Bayview Hill Road.
These are three are best for their views rather than for swimming.
- Queens Beach
- Hermit Beach
- Little Tangara Beach
Some days it’s a case of blink and you might miss it, but when the tide is right you will see these beaches take shape. Queens Beach has fantastic views of the city skyline. Hermit Beach has some old picnic tables if you fancy stopping for lunch along the way.
If you’re looking for spectacular views of the city and Sydney Harbour Bridge from afar, Milk Beach is perfect.
Sitting below historic Strickland House, Milk Beach offers a unique view of the city skyline, The Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge with a sandy foreground making this a bit of an Instagram hot spot. It is particularly lovely at sunset and makes a great place to propose.
Thankfully, the name does not describe the quality of the water, which is usually crystal clear, Milk Beach got its name because it was the spot where boats made milk deliveries to Strickland House
In summer boats often anchor off the beach and the peace and quiet disappears with music from the boats giving a party vibe. This could be good or bad depending what you are in the mood for.
On NYE and some summer weekends ticketed events are held here, attracting large numbers of party people. At other times it is relatively empty.
Getting there: enter via the gardens of Stickland House (52 Vaucluse Rd, Vaucluse) or from the Hermitage Foreshore Walk
Shark Beach / Nielsen Park
The seawall here is being rebuilt so the beach is currently closed but expected to be open by mid year. (April 23)
If you’re looking for a picnic spot in Sydney’s East, look no further than Nielsen Park. This sun-drenched beach is surrounded by lush greenery and shaded picnic areas, making Nielsen Park a perfect place to escape the midday heat.
Shark Beach is also a great place for a swim, one of a handful of beaches in the harbour with a shark net, the netted area is big enough to carve out a few laps. Shark Beach is part of Sydney Harbour National Park.
Nielson Park is very popular in summer and school holidays so arrive early or stick to weekdays for some peace.
There is a very cafe nearby and a lovely restaurant and good change rooms and facilities.
Head up the stairs to Bottle and Glass Point and take in the view before you leave!
Tip: This beach is suitable for disabled visitors with a little effort.
Getting there: Bus 325 takes about 35 minutes from the city centre or a little less from Edgecliff and drops you at the park behind the beach. Parking fills quickly, especially in summer.
You may have spotted the white suspension bridge spanning this bay in Vaucluse on Instagram. Built in 1910, it gets plenty of use, with locals including a stroll across the 50m bridge and around the sandstone headland in their daily walk.
If you visit midweek you will likely find a quiet and calm spot perfect for a relaxing few hours.
However arrive on the weekend and you will discover it abuzz with local families swimming and kids’ birthday parties under in the shady picnics area. There is a small cafe/shop, and the playground is being upgraded, which will probably make Parsley Bay an even more popular place for families with young children.
Tip: the shark net is only in place in summer so take care swimming at other times of the year.
Getting there: 325 from Town Hall Park St, Stand G or Edgecliff Station. Get off at Fitzwilliam Road
Related: Check out our list of more than 20 picnic spots in Sydney
Kutti Beach Vaucluse
Most people who accidentally come across Kutti Beach or spot it from the water assume it’s a private beach off-limits to anyone but homeowners. The entry from the road is well hidden, so this is understandable but follow our advice (and don’t tell too many people) and you will find a quiet patch of yellow sand just waiting for you to set up your towel.
To reach the beach, make your way to the end of Wharf Road. When you see the wooden boatshed – it’s the Vaucluse Amateur Sailing Club building -look for the gap in the fence and the narrow wooden staircase.
The beach is quite small when the tide is in a so visit on the low tide for more space. Spend some time daydreaming that you live in one of these homes and watching the activity unfold on the harbour.
Getting there: 324/325 from Town Hall or Edgecliff Stations both stop nearby or it’s a 15 to 20-minute walk from Watsons Bay.
Sitting on the side of the Vaucluse Amateur Sailing Club these two places feel quite different to each other. Kutti is ringed by expensive homes and the atmosphere feels very exclusive. Whereas Gibson Beach, an easy stroll from Watsons bay ferry wharf feels much more welcoming and is backed by a public footpath that leads up to a small reserve.
If you are visiting Watsons Bay then Gibson beach offers much better swimming than the area by the wharf.
Getting there: The beach is on Marine Parade with some parking at the Watsons Bay Pilot Station. It’s about a 5 minute walk from the ferry wharf at Watsons Bay.
Watsons Bay Baths and Beach
Watsons Bay baths to the south of the wharf are impressive on many counts. First, they are “Australia’s first deep water wheelchair access to a tidal harbour pool” They have great facilities for wheelchair users with two full immersive wheelchairs available for use and wheelchair storage if you have your own.
The baths also offer a 50m lap pool with sunbathing pontoons, all just 2 minutes walk from the ferry wharf
Next door to the wharf is a pretty stretch of sand to sit with some fish and chips and take in the harbour side view.
For an experience steeped in history, make your way a little further north to Camp Cove. The first inlet north of Watsons Bay, this scenic beach was the site of the first landing of European settlers in Sydney Harbour.
With its calm waters and amazing views, Camp Cove is a great spot for swimming, snorkeling, and sunbathing. There is not a lot of shade, so pack your beach umbrella.
Walk up to the top of Green Point Reserve for fabulous views over the bay.
A small cafe will keep you hydrated, there are also facilities here and a grassy picnic area at the southern end.
The first of three nude beaches in Sydney and the only clothing optional choice on the eastern side of the harbour, Lady Bay is sometimes called Lady Jane.
Perfect for a skinny dip after walking out to the lighthouse. This north facing beach gets lots of sun and can be really busy on nice days.
Harbour Beaches in the North
Unless you have your own boat or have booked a private charter, you will need to make your way to Manly Wharf to explore this next group of northern beaches.
The first small stretch of of sand you reach when you cross North Head, Quarantine Beach, is steeped in history. For 150 years, this was the first stop for ships arriving in Sydney with any sign of illness. Today, it’s a peaceful spot where you can rent a kayak and explore the next three bays or just soak up the sun and watch the Manly Ferry make its way to Circular Quay and back.
Getting there: Although it’s inside the Q Station complex there is free public access to the beach. There is no car parking inside Q Station, so you need to walk down from the visitors’ centre or take the free guest shuttle to the kiosk. The 161 bus stops near the entry to Q Station.
A short paddle from Quarantine Beach is one of the less visited beaches in Sydney, Store Beach which is only accessible by water.
You can rent a boat or kayak from Manly or Q Station and make your way here for a romantic picnic. Along the way, keep your eye out for the small fairy penguin colony, but please don’t get too close.
Don’t expect total serenity on a summer day as charters often drop anchor here to swim and you can sometimes enjoy their playlist from shore.
Collins Flat Beach
Located in Manly, Collins Flat is a picturesque and pristine spot that’s perfect for swimming and sunbathing away from the crowds. It has its own waterfall (it’s tiny, so don’t get too excited) and the reserve that backs the beach provides some shade from midday sun.
There are no facilities at Collins Flat, so make sure you bring water and everything else you need with you.
Getting there: There is a small parking area near which leads to a path down to the water, about 10 minute walk. You can walk from Manly Wharf in about 20-30 minutes or from the 161 bus stop in 15 minutes.
Little Manly Cove
This west facing beach is lovely on spring and autumn afternoons when it’s warmer than nearby options. It has everything you need for a perfect family day out. The calm water is great for paddling and there is a small cafe, toilets and a playground giving you everything you need for a fun day by the water.
There is a shark proof swimming enclosure and picnic facilities, including a bbq in the reserve behind the beach.
Getting there: Collins Beach is a 15-minute uphill walk from the Manly ferry wharf. Store Beach will require a boat or kayak.
Website: Sydney Harbour National Park – Collins Beach
East Manly Cove and Manly Cove
These two beaches side either side of Manly Wharf are lovely for strolling after a ride over on the Manly ferry. Sunbathe, build sandcastles or have a beachside picnic, but if you are looking to swim consider strolled a little further to Fairlight.
While you are in the area check out our guide for more to things to do in Manly.
The next group of harbour beaches are highlights of the Manly to Spit Bridge walk. The first is Delwood, home to a a small patch of sand that sits behind the rocks at the shore. Keep walking.
For Sydney Beaches that tick all the boxes for a family day out, it’s hard to go past Fairlight. The tidal ocean pool provides safe swimming and the calm water on the beach is great for little explorers. There are toilets, outdoor showers and an adjacent grass area with towering Norfolk Pines if you fancy some respite from the sun.
Getting there: The 162 bus from Manly stops just a couple of minutes’ walk away. A 20 minute pram friendly walk from Manly Wharf.
Dirty Haul Beach
Never heard of Dirty Haul Beach? Neither had we, like Delwood earlier it is a tiny patch of sand that is pretty but not somewhere you would go out of your way to visit.
Forty Baskets Beach
Fringed with beautiful Norfolk Pines, Forty Baskets Beach offers a recently renovated shark netted harbour swimming pool. Located in Balgowlah, almost opposite Fairlight Beach, Forty Baskets Beach is another stretch of sand with an interesting past. There are several stories about how it got its name:
According to the dictionary of Sydney
“Forty Baskets Beach is named after a catch of 40 baskets of fish sent to a contingent of New South Wales troops detained at the North Head Quarantine Station after returning from Sudan in 1885.”Dictionary of Sydney
However, researchers have found references to the name in newspapers dating back two 1859, two years before any of the theories given, so no one really knows.
What we do know is that “40 baskets” was an imperial unit of measure so whether the name refers to 40 baskets of fish or 40 baskets of goods savages off a shipwreck is anyone’s guess but it is a gorgeous spot worthy of an afternoons exploration.
There are 130 stairs between you and the sandy beach which offers picnic tables, and an enclosed ocean pool.
The small beach is often almost empty mid week, so try to visit then if you can. Weekends local families make the most of their neighbourhood
While you are here, take a walk and see if you can find the monument that commemorates Captain Phillips visit to this spot where he wrote in his diary that the Aboriginals he saw looked “manly”.
Getting there: Arrive on foot via the Manly Spit Bridge walkway. It will take you about 40 minutes from Manly. The nearest bus stop (162, 171) is a 10-minute walk away. Parking fills quickly on warm days. From the car park or track it is a 15 minute (1km) walk along a bush track.
Looking for some privacy? A quiet day in the sun? Reef Beach is a great place to escape the crowds. Another National Park beach fringed by bushland it’ a bitt off the radar and requires a bit of effort to reach, but well worth your effort.
Low tide uncovers now faint Aboriginal engravings of fish and shields in the rocks.
Once a nude beach, a visit to Reef Beach is only for the hardy. With fantastic views to Manly Cove, access is via a bush track through Sydney Harbour National Park. Your efforts will be rewarded with an almost deserted beach and looking across the harbour to Manly.
Tip: Don’t miss nearby Arabanoo lookout at Dobroyd Head while you are here. There are also beautiful wildflowers on the trail above the beach in Spring.
Getting there: It is a 15 minute (1km) walk along a bush track from Forty Baskets Beach or park at Beatty St, Balgowlah Heights.
One for the adventurers, a visit to Washaway Beach involved a 5-10 minute bushwalk and then a scramble or climb down the rocks to the water. Another (unofficial) clothing optional choice.
The beach can like its name suggests disappear sometimes- perhaps check the likelihood of this before you visit. There are no facilities at all and you need to be pretty agile to access.
Middle harbour beaches in Sydney
Castle Rock Beach
Many call this a “hidden gem” but on our visits there have always been plenty of people about. If you are looking for some space on the sand here, stick to weekdays or cooler weekends cause in summer locals arrive in steady numbers.
Bring everything you need with you are there are no facilities here at all.
Getting there: Another Manly Scenic walkway beach – there is some parking on Cutler Road or in e Ogilvy Road. Stairs lead from the track to the sand.
One of the most family-friendly harbour beaches, Clontarf offers calm waters, plenty of shade, and an excellent well shaded playground.
There is also a netted swimming pool, picnic tables, bbqs and two cafes!
The beach curves around a headland into Sandy Bay with plenty of room even on busy days if you are happy to walk a little way from the baths and playground.
The water is crystal clear and big trees provide plenty of shade on hot days, but this also makes this a very popular family beach, especially on summer weekends. Get there early or visit weekdays to have the place to yourself.
Getting there: 400m from the bus stop on Beatrice Street. Free and paid parking is available but at $10 an hour it can make for an expensive day out.
Chinamans Beach: A Hidden Gem
Chances are if you don’t live nearby you likely have never heard of Chinamans Beach. This spot on Middle Harbour is very secluded, you can’t see it until you walk through the reserve that backs the beach.
It’s calm water makes it great for kids, who also love the big playground.
Getting there: A car is your best bet, the 173X bus from Wynyard stops a 10 min walk away.
Balmoral Beach and Edwards Beach
Balmoral Beach in Mosman has its own little rocky island offering lovely middle harbour views. Summer weekends see the parking spaces fill well before 11am so jump on a bus or take the walk from Taronga Wharf if you are not an early riser,
There are several restaurants by the water including the popular Bathers Pavilion, but we usually end up at the local fish and chips shop, Bottom of the Harbour, which does my favourite version in the city.
Most people don’t realise the northern end has its own name, Edwards beach.
Getting there: Bus 238 back to Taronga Wharf or 114 to the city
Cobblers Beach and Obelisk Beach
For those who like to embrace their natural side, Cobblers Beach is a clothing-optional spot in Middle Head. There are no facilities at all but that does not stop this being quite busy on hot days. Short walk through bushland to get to the water and you will need your shoes cause the ground is pretty rough.
Also clothing-optional, Obelisk Beach was once home to a sandstone obelisk that was erected in the 1850s as a navigation marker. While the obelisk is no longer standing, the beach still offers stunning views of the Harbour.
These are both inside the National Park so sadly no pets. Remember you must remain dressed until you reach the sand.
Getting there: 10 min walk from 111 bus stop or 4 minutes from carpark (metered parking)
Gooree/ Chowder Bay / Clifton Gardens
Chowder Bay also often known as Clifton Gardens the name of the huge park that fronts the beach.
The ward precinct is home to several historic buildings including this shark netted beach.
Getting there: A popular stop on the Taronga to Balmoral Beach walk you can walk from Taronga Zoo Wharf in about 35 minutes. The 111 bus from Mosman Wharf that stops just north of the bay and the 222 bus to the southern end.
The first stop on the trail to Balmoral Beach and just a short detour from the track. A lovely spot for a picnic. There is a cafe and parking a short walk away. Distant harbour views and a nice spot for sunset photos.
Easy reached along a path from Sirius Cove or Taronga Wharf Whiting Beach is popular with boaties who pull up here to take a dip. In the late 19th Century this part of the harbour was chosen by some of Australia’s most talented painters who established a campsite that came to be known as Curlew Camp.
Names like Tom Roberts and Arthur Streeton. Download and listen to this self guided walk while you are here.
Sirius Cove & Little Sirius Cove
Located in Mosman, Sirius Cove is a great beach for your four legged friend rather than one you rush to swim in. There is a huge reserve, a covered playground and even barbeques.
Hayes Street Beach
We will finish our harbour beach list with this small spot next to Neutral Bay Wharf. You reach the beach via a small passageway in the shopping strip. It’s a good spot to enjoy some sun and a paddle or just take in the view. There is shower to wash off after your swim and I recommend grabbing lunch at Thema and Louise on the wharf before you head back.
Check more of our Beach lovers articles
- Sydney’s Beaches you can reach easily by Public Transport
- Bucket List of Beaches in NSW
- A guide to Brighton Le Sands
- Bondi Beach Insiders Guide
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