A long stretch of sand made a perfect crescent shape against the shore, hugging the turquoise colored waves lapping against it. Dotting those waves were surfers and swimmers while more people were scattered across the sand. Tourists in sneakers with giant cameras, bikini-clad sunbathers spread over towels, toddling children, groups of friends. We had considered staying in Sydney proper at the start of our Australian honeymoon, closer to the attractions we wanted to see, but ultimately thought being by the beach would give the trip a more “honeymoon” feel. And that is how we ended up riding in a cab down Campbell Parade, marveling at the beauty that is Bondi Beach.
We stayed at Hotel Bondi, a decent spot with tiny rooms and a friendly staff. The decor was plain but the view was awesome. It was truly in the heart of town, with easy access to the beach, the bus, and countless restaurants. Our first day there was spent lounging on the sand and walking the Coastal Walk. We were feeling very lethargic thanks to over 24 hours of travel and the big time difference, and the sea breezes were so refreshing and turned out to be just what we needed.
The walk was fairly long but not really strenuous, just a few sets of stairs and an uneven surface here and there. At the Jersey shore, where I have spent most of my beach time, the coast is basically a straight line, one sandy bank leading into the next so that if you look far enough you can see beach for miles. Here though, the beaches are very different. They are mostly inlets in half moon shapes, hidden by the rocky boulders so that there is distinct definition between the different beaches. At every turn there is a fantastic view, whether it is of surfers in the sea, glistening water hitting the sand, or white crested waves crashing on the rocks.
Aside from that, we didn’t do much at Bondi Beach. We ate at four different restaurants there- Bondi Trattoria (delicious for both pizza and breakfast), Bavarian Bier Café (didn’t realize it was a chain, but loved the make your own salad form), the RSL club (decent food with a nice second story balcony to look over the water), and Pompei’s (delicious Italian food and a great cozy atmosphere). We relaxed on the beach for a total of about two hours. We didn’t swim, because our day planned for swimming ended up rainy and cold. At first though, we were very pleased with our decision to stay out there, even when it meant sitting on the 333 bus for nearly an hour in traffic on the way to Circular Quay.
And then we visited Manly…
On one of our lighter scheduled days in Sydney, we decided to take the ferry over to Manly Beach and check out the scene there. But before I get ahead of myself, the ferry is nothing to gloss over. It was big and spacious and not crowded, with stunning views any way you glanced. The Opera House, the Sydney Harbor Bridge, the buildings of the city, the calm blue water, and the random green islands all looked beautiful when viewed from this boat. We enjoyed a snack on the ride over, and then once we disembarked we were immediately charmed by the corso of Manly Beach. Stretching from the pier where the ferry docked all the way to the edge of the sand, the corso was a delightful way to walk to the beach. It was lined with shops and restaurants of every sort, with colorful décor catching your eyes.
The atmosphere around Manly was just electric. Tourists and locals meshed perfectly and there were friendly faces everywhere you turned. When we got to the actual beach, I was stunned to see a line of tall, leafy green trees bordering the sand. It was a juxtaposing I had never seen to that scale before and added to the unique vibe. Once you go past the trees and onto the beach though, things change a bit. The water was dull in color, churning up debris, while the waves looked deflated and tired. The sand was littered with sticks and seaweed.
We had a lovely day there, sitting on the sand, wading through the water, shopping along the corso, and having lunch at a place called Ribs & Rumps (without ordering any meat!) where the view of the trees, sand, and water was nearly as delicious as the food. And the ferry ride was inexpensive and relaxing, so that was a plus too.
So did we make the right choice by staying at Bondi? Or would Manly have been the better choice? Here’s a breakdown.
The beach winner is: Bondi
The color of the water and the softness of the sand were just unreal. Manly’s beach looked a bit more churned up and not as well taken care of, though that could vary on a day by day basis. While I loved the trees lining Manly’s beach, the rocks and cliffs of Bondi’s shoreline just couldn’t be matched.
The transportation winner is: Manly
A crowded bus or a scenic ferry? Sounds like a no brainer to me! We sat on that 333 bus at least half a dozen times trying to get to the attractions in the city, while the Manly ferry takes half has long and delivers guests right into Circular Quay, arguably the heart of iconic Sydney.
The atmosphere winner is: Manly
I’m not sure a beach village exists that could rival Manly’s corso. It was just so vibrant and welcoming, like the best of the Jersey shore boardwalks and New England towns all rolled into one. Summer essentials? Travel souvenirs? New clothes? Handmade wares? They have it all. Bondi was a nice town, but not nearly as lively.
I can’t really compare them in terms of accommodation because we never stayed at Manly, nor can I compare restaurants because we only ate at one there. However, looking at the most logistically important category, a stay at Manly would have been ideal. We could have easily taken the bus to Bondi just one time to see the epic beach and walk the Coastal Walk, while spending the rest of our days riding that peaceful ferry back and forth.
Bottom line? I think both are worth a visit if you are Sydney and are craving sun, surf, and sand!