Whichever route you take into Williamstown, you’ll see its working class heritage on display. Take the train and you travel past the Newport rail yards – Victoria’s largest and oldest maintenance centre. Drive down Kororoit Creek Road from the west and you pass a range of factories and refineries. Come across the bay and the shipyards dominate your view.

Look past the heavy industry and you’ll find a tight-knit community with a strong sense of its history. The city views are popular with couples and families, young and old, who know they’re sitting on something special. Ferguson Street towards the foreshore has a mix of fashion, cafes and dining, and while the Victorian-era storefronts facing the bay on Nelson Place have a more touristy reputation, in recent years a few traders have moved in to give the area more energy.

The town likes to support locals: you can buy locally grown veggies at the farmers’ market that runs twice a month or support local makers at the monthly craft market. There’s also a literature festival, the Willy Lit Fest, which attracts some of Australia’s most-loved authors and has a large focus on local participation.

The suburb’s maritime history is proudly present, and still very much alive: further along the bay a mix of small shipyards and large defence contractors go about their work building boats.

Everything is close enough to walk to, whether you’re heading to the Rifle Club pub (the historic shooting range is long gone) or the World War Two-era warship HMAS Castlemaine moored at the docks – with a lot of great places to eat or get a coffee in between.

Flat-out on a sunny afternoon, Crowded House owner Luke Houli has to speak loudly over the hustle and bustle. Alongside a range of single-origin coffees, this cafe has worked with North Melbourne’s Di Bella Roasting Warehouse to create a house blend for the Williamstown cafe. It combines a Middle Eastern-tinged menu with the look and feel of a family cottage with a huge outdoor courtyard, making it a must for visitors on a sunny day.

A local all his life, Houli has seen a lot of changes to the seaside suburb. “I’ve been in business here for the past five years, and the local dynamics of Williamstown are changing. It’s still got a bit of the feel of an old country town, but it’s moving toward the hip end of things now, too. There’s a lot more happening on this side of the west.”

Crowded House
48 Ferguson Street, Williamstown
(03) 9397 5526

“We go from something as simple as a mac’n’cheese all the way to grilled octopus,” says Russ Devlin, co-owner of Carter Smith Devlin & Co. “Our chef comes from a fine-dining background so we’re incorporating that side of things into a cafe setting on the Williamstown waterfront.”

While Williamstown’s Nelson Place has suffered from a lacklustre reputation in recent years, Devlin believes the small town’s foreshore is on the verge of a revitalisation. “Nelson’s Place seemed to us to be a bit tired, and it lacked the energy that it deserved. So we thought, in our wisdom, that we might be able to come in and bring a bit of energy and enthusiasm to the place. It’s a wonderful spot.”

With a great view, first-class coffee and an extensive menu – the hash browns with triple-smoked ham, poached eggs, chives with homemade hollandaise are rapidly becoming a local favourite – it’s leading the charge to bring life back to the waterfront. “The cafe next door is being renovated into an Italian restaurant, there’s a Croatian restaurant around the corner. It’s really starting to create a nice culinary vibe to the area.”

Carter Smith Devlin & Co
215 Nelson Place, Williamstown
(03) 9397 3907

Open for just over a year, this cafe is brimming with acai bowls, cold-pressed juices and other healthy options. Crimson Bear co-owner Pete Jurcic wasn’t a local when he set up shop, but after visiting Williamstown regularly throughout the years, he couldn’t think of a better spot. “I love that it has maintained a community feel,” he says. “Everybody is extremely friendly and very proud of their suburb.”

The natural surroundings were another reason Jurcic was drawn to the town. “As a health-and-fitness enthusiast I love the amazing parklands and proximity to the bay,” he says. Take your falafel tortillas from Crimson Bear down to the Williamstown Botanic Gardens for a picnic underneath the palm trees, overlooking the pond. If you’re into riding, the Hobsons Bay Coastal Trail runs through Williamstown. The eight-kilometre stretch from the beach to Altona is an easy ride along the foreshore.

Crimson Bear
63 Stevedore Street, Williamstown
0422 664 303

Also worth checking out:

Williamstown Botanic Gardens
One of Victoria’s first public gardens, this is a historic and beautiful place to relax. Palm trees surround a pond filled with waterlilies and enormous pine trees provide the perfect shade for a picnic.
Corner Giffard and Osborne Streets, Williamstown

Mezmez
Open for nearly a year, this venue’s Middle-Eastern breakfast and lunch menus bring people in from far and wide, with the grilled sujuk (Turkish sausage) a particular standout.
42 Ferguson Street, Williamstown
(03) 9397 8804

The Pickle Barrel
This small but much-loved local coffee spot has a well-deserved reputation among locals.
60 Ferguson Street, Williamstown
(03) 9399 8338

El Burro
There are five types of paella to choose from at this Spanish restaurant, but if you’re not crazy-hungry it also does tapas – the pesto arancini is our pick.
209 Nelson Place, Williamstown
(03) 9399 9292

Retropia
A showroom is filled with vintage mid-century Danish furniture. You’ll find nesting tables, occasional chairs with footstools and an impressive array of teak sideboards and bookshelves.
3/33 Macaulay Street, Williamstown
0448 393 553

To explore the suburb in more detail, visit the Williamstown suburb profile at realestate.com.au.