Last updated: September 8, 2021
With literally dozens of different beaches to choose from, between Palm Beach in the north and Cronulla in the south, Sydney is the perfect destination for swimming, sunbathing and surfing.
While some of these beaches are famous around the world and draw big crowds on warm summer days, there are also still lots of quiet and secluded beaches to discover in Sydney.
We have shortlisted what we believe are the best beaches in Sydney, some small and reasonably quiet, others much busier and with more facilities.
Top 15 Sydney Beaches
Pick your favourite from the below list of 15 great beaches in Sydney, ordered from north to south.
1. Palm Beach
The Palm Beach peninsula is one of the most famous beach suburbs in New South Wales, located around 40 kilometres north of the Sydney CBD.
The water at the beach facing the ocean can be a bit rough at times due to strong winds. The smaller beach facing Pittwater, also known as Station Beach, on the other side of the peninsula has much quieter waters and is perfect for a relaxing swim.
When visiting Palm Beach, don’t forget to visit the Barrenjoey Lighthouse up the hill on the Barrenjoey Headland. The views from there are absolutely stunning, and a short walk will get you there.
2. Whale Beach
Whale Beach is a picturesque, 600 metres long strip of sand in the Northern Beaches region, located just south of Palm Beach.
Perhaps not as well known as its bigger neighbour, Whale Beach is usually much quieter than Palm Beach, and has a pleasantly secluded atmosphere.
Whale Beach is around 600 metres in length and is surrounded by two 40 metres high sandstone headlands, Little Head at the north end and Careel Head at the southern end of the beach. The views from both headlands are absolutely beautiful.
Just like many other beaches in Sydney, Whale Beach also has a man-made rock pool. The Whale Beach Rock Pool is 25 metres long and is located at the southern end of the beach.
3. Freshwater Beach
Hugely popular with surfers, Freshwater Beach is a 350m long strip of sand located just north of Manly Beach.
Swimming can be somewhat hazardous at Freshwater because of the waves and rips, but surfing conditions are usually excellent.
Freshwater forms part of the Manly-Freshwater World Surfing Reserve as one of the World Surfing Reserves, which recognises the historical, cultural and environmental values of famous surfing beaches.
4. Manly Beach
Manly and Bondi are by far Sydney’s most popular beaches, but opinions are divided on which one is the best or the most popular. But they are in fact quite different, so we prefer not to choose one over the other.
Manly actually has two main beaches, one facing the Harbour with mostly calm water perfect for families, and the other one facing the ocean with typically stronger currents.
The best way to travel to Manly Beach is by ferry from Circular Quay. This popular ferry trip is a tourist attraction in itself, and is a great way to experience the beauty of Sydney Harbour.
5. Shelly Beach
If Manly Beach is a bit too crowded or wild, follow the footpath from Manly’s main beach heading south, which leads to picturesque Shelly Beach.
This small strip of sand forms part of Cabbage Tree Bay, a protected aquatic reserve that covers an area of around 20 hectares, including the entire bay, the shores and the beaches, from the southern end of Manly Beach to the northern end of Shelly Beach Headland.
Shelly Beach is a popular spot for scuba diving and snorkeling, with a great variety of marine life that can be viewed in the shallow water.
6. Balmoral Beach
Balmoral Beach is a picturesque strip of sand in Sydney Middle Harbour with usually calm water, a swimming enclosure and excellent picnic areas.
The Esplanade right behind the beach has lots of cafes and restaurants on offer, while the grassy areas are perfect for a picnic or a leisurely stroll.
Due to its sheltered location, the water always seems to be calm which makes it great for swimming. You can also be a little more active and go stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking or snorkeling.
7. Milk Beach
With fantastic Sydney Harbour and city views in front of you, and a beautiful heritage listed mansion right behind you, Milk Beach in Vaucluse is a great spot to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Milk Beach is one of the many secluded bays and beaches you can see along the Hermitage Foreshore Walk, one of the most enjoyable coastal walks in the greater Sydney area.
8. Shark Beach
Shark beach, with Nielsen park right behind the beach, is a hugely popular weekend destination for families to go for a swim and to have a picnic.
And because it’s such a popular, and rather small, beach, finding a parking spot on a warm summer’s day can be quite a challenge. So it’s best to go there on a week day, or otherwise in the early morning.
But disregarding the crowds, Shark Beach is an excellent family-friendly strip of sand in Vaucluse, with an enclosed swimming area, a shaded promenade and a cafe for snacks, coffee and lunch.
9. Bondi Beach
Most people will love this beach, while others hate it, but the undeniable fact is that Bondi Beach is an absolute icon in Sydney, in New South Wales, and in Australia.
With a wide, beautifully shaped sandy beach, excellent swimming and surfing conditions, lots of cafes and restaurants in the surrounding area, large picnic areas and even an outdoor gym, Bondi is a great place to hang out for a day.
Listed on the Australian National Heritage List, Bondi Beach is the definition of the classic Australian beach culture, and is a must visit for every tourist coming to Sydney.
Officially recognised as the oldest surf life saving club in the world, the Bondi surf life saving club also deserves a mention. They do a fantastic job keeping the thousands of beach-goers as safe as possible, which is not an easy task.
10. Tamarama Beach
Commonly referred to as “Glamarama” by the locals, Tamarama Beach just around the corner from Bondi Beach, offers good, yet somewhat rough, surfing conditions.
The beach itself is relatively small and narrow but cozy, with a couple of volleyball courts and a cafe at the back.
The water conditions at Tamarama can often be quite dangerous, which is why this beach has become the ideal spot for sunbathing and for simply hanging out, rather than swimming.
11. Bronte Beach
Bronte is another popular beach destination in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, only a short walk away from Bondi Beach, with a large park and lots of trendy cafes situated behind the beach and the park.
The water at Bronte offers great surf conditions, and also has a lap pool for amateur swimmers, and a natural rock pool for a fun splash.
Please be mindful though that the water at Bronte Beach can be quite dangerous at times, so it’s essential to always follow the directions of the much needed surf life savers at the beach.
12. Clovelly Beach
Clovelly is a charming little beach-side suburb just north of Coogee, with a lawn bowls club, a lovely beach and a large parking area.
Swimming here is great, but the water can get a bit rough the closer you get to the open ocean, especially when the wind picks up. In those conditions, it can feel like you’re swimming in a massive wave pool!
Closer to the beach though, the water is very calm and usually quite shallow, perfect for the whole family.
13. Coogee Beach
Often referred to as the smaller version of Bondi Beach, Coogee Beach is a characteristic 400m long strip of sand facing Coogee Bay in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.
While it’s definitely not a best beach for surfing, the water is usually very suitable for swimming. But as always, make sure you stay between the flags, for your own safety as well as for other people’s safety.
Goldstein Reserve, the large parkland area located right behind the beach, has great facilities such as tables, barbecues, picnic shelters and trees that provide plenty of shade. Further back is Coogee Bay Road, where you’ll find tons of great cafes and restaurants.
Coogee is easily accessible via public transport, but perhaps the best way to get there is via the popular Bondi to Coogee walk. It’s a beautiful 6km coastal walk with stunning ocean views from start to finish.
14. Maroubra Beach
One of Sydney’s most popular surf beaches is Maroubra, located south of Coogee. The beach is long and wide so there’s pretty much always a free spot to put down your towel, even on warm and sunny days.
Maroubra Beach is surrounded by open space. To the north of the beach are Jack Vanny Memorial Park, Mahon Pool and the rocky headland.
South of the beach are Arthur Byrne Reserve and headland, and Broadarrow Reserve is to the west.
15. Cronulla Beach
The Cronulla Peninsula south of Sydney has no shortage of beautiful beaches, making it a popular weekend day trip destination for many Sydney-siders.
Popular with surfers, North Cronulla Beach is a beautiful 400m long strip of sand facing Bate Bay. Swimming can be quite hazardous there, due to the strong rips that are almost always present.
The busier beach in the Cronulla area however is South Cronulla Beach in front of Cronulla Park. It’s probably the family-friendliest of all beaches in Cronulla, with usually calm waters and great facilities nearby.
If you’re going to spend some time at the beach, it’s a good idea to bring a beach shelter with you. Have a look at our list of recommended beach tents and shelters for more protection and comfort on the sand.