Clontarf Beach, seen from Mosman, near Chinaman's Beach

Clontarf Beach, seen from Mosman, near Chinaman’s Beach

The last in our series on Sydney’s best beaches, we have already analysed the action of the eastern suburbs, and the beauty of the northern beaches. We now turn our attention to Manly and Sydney’s beautiful natural harbour. If you appreciate beauty but don’t need waves, you’ve come to the right place! Sitting right under the nose of Australia’s biggest city, it’s hard to believe these exist, and even harder to believe that more people don’t know about them. Thankfully they don’t – until now. So here they are, Sydney’s hidden gems, some of the most beautiful beaches in southeastern Australia, just a stone’s throw from the big smoke.


The Hidden Cove: Shelly Beach

Shelly Beach

Shelly Beach

Ok, so it’s not actually part of the harbour, but lovely little Shelly Beach just around the headland from Manly is not exactly your typical ocean beach either. Come to this protected cove any warm weekend and you’ll see lots of families, paddle boarders and snorkelers enjoying the placid waters. Palm fringed, cafe-boasting and accessed by a long walk where you can spot wild water dragons, Shelly Beach is a long-time favourite for many Sydneysiders.

Watersports at Shelly Beach's protected bay

Watersports at Shelly Beach’s protected bay


  • A small ocean pool nearby at Fairy Bower
  • At Shelly, Le Kiosk offers an upmarket restaurant menu and posh fish and chips, while other places nearby serve more humble options
  • Lifeguard
  • Parking
  • Public transport: Take the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly, then walk 30 minutes through The Corso and along the waterfront
  • A variety of accommodation options are available at nearby Manly



Why we like it: The natural feel of the secluded cove; a busy headland and local wildlife

What we don’t like about it: The leagues of screaming children on hot summer days

Recommended for: Families and bathers



The Artist’s Retreat: Chinaman’s Beach

Chinaman's Beach

Chinaman’s Beach

Not many people know about this exclusive sliver of sand, popular with artists and well-to-do families from the lower North Shore. The relaxing stretch of white-ish, powdery sand gives way to the shallow topaz waters. This is on Middle Harbour, so while there are a couple of waves there’s nothing here for surfers. Just across the harbour from here is gorgeous but equally secret Clontarf Beach; spot glimpses of it through the bobbing pleasure craft offshore.


  • Parking


Why we like it: How can something this beautiful be this unknown?

What we don’t like about it: Not easy to find, and not many facilities when you’re there

Recommended for: The high life


The Island and the Bay: Balmoral Beach

Balmoral Beach and its island

Balmoral Beach and its island

Balmoral is so much more than just a beach; it’s a suburb, it’s a destination, and it’s a state of mind. Despite the throngs of people who crowd the waterfront in peak season, it never quite loses its charm. With a handful of cute cafes, high-end shops and it’s gorgeous pavilion, it’s difficult not to love Balmoral. Spend time on the calm beach, walk across the quaint bridge over to the natural island, or while away the hours sipping a cool iced coffee.


  • Baths cordoned off by a jetty
  • Lots of food outlets, but mostly limited to quality seafood and cafe fare
  • Parking
  • Bus access: Take bus 245 from the Queen Victoria Building in the city


Why we like it: An old Middle Harbour favourite

What we don’t like about it: What seems like millions of people descend on Balmoral on weekends.

Recommended for: Romantics, walkers, foodies; the beach scene much more than the beach itself

Comments (4)

  • The Guy Reply

    Hi Tim. This is good to see. A friend of mine lives by the Northern Beaches and swears by them. I’ve only ever briefly driven by Manly beach but I hope to make better use of these places in future visits. Thanks for the beach guide.

    February 1, 2014 at 12:01 am
    • Tim Blight Reply

      Thanks for reading! Some of Sydney’s beaches are beautiful! Let us know how you go 🙂

      February 1, 2014 at 10:36 am
  • Eddie Reply

    This is so beautiful,it looks better than Hawaii,is it as warm,I wonder

    January 4, 2015 at 6:57 am
    • Tim Blight Reply

      Overall, I don’t think so, however the summer temperatures can really make a difference in Sydney!

      January 4, 2015 at 6:29 pm

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