If you’re a Sydneysider, Manly is the perfect staycation. It’s an easy drive from the inner city, offers beautiful beaches, ace restaurants, a buzzing brewery scene and a fantastic pub culture, all with the laid-back vibes you’d expect of a town far from any metropolis. And if you’re visiting from further afield, it offers all the buzz and amenities of popular beachside areas like Bondi, without the city-adjacent hassle and hustle. From where to stay to spots to dine and drink, here’s how to spend 48 hours in Manly.

The Q Station is a little rough around the edges – but what it lacks in frills it makes up for in history and location. Set within a national park right on the harbour, it offers views across the water to the glittering Sydney CBD. Yet, thanks to its historical buildings and natural surrounds, it almost feels like a different time and place altogether. It was formerly a quarantine station, where passengers from ships potentially carrying disease were isolated until they were in the clear – a concept we’re all more than across in the third year of coronavirus. There’s a range of accommodation options, including self-contained former worker’s cottages, which have multiple bedrooms, as well as the first-class passengers’ digs, which have a more hotel-style layout. Guests can explore historical buildings, including the old kitchens, and there’s an on-site museum that digs into the history of the site.

Where to eat
Buzzing Busta opened in 2019 and is fun, fresh and young – a vibe its owners also perfectly execute at nearby sister eateries Sunset Sabi and Chica Bonita. The terrazzo-tiled diner does a seasonal menu of Italian dishes with little twists: carpaccio is jazzed up with octopus and ’nduja; burrata is beautifully dressed with green tomato, apple and dill; and panna cotta gets a zesty glow up with yuzu sorbet. Pasta is hand-rolled daily and, like at neighbouring wine store Winona (also by the same team), the vino menu is bursting with natural drops.

Five minutes’ walk around the corner, opposite Manly Beach, the Basque-inspired Wine Room is doing excellent grape juice, sure – but it’s also nailing the bar snacks. Bird’s nest-like potato cakes come with a glorious side of almond cream encrusted with trout roe, while the smoked Spring Bay mussels are offset with a herby salsa. The tapas sit alongside a 400-strong wine list that dances across Australia, New Zealand and Europe.

Last summer, grand old Freshwater pub the Harbord Hotel reopened after a slick makeover, which included the addition of breezy restaurant Balsa, where the pub menu pulls inspiration from the beach at the end of the street. Book in for a weekend lunch, and tuck into outstanding lobster rolls, raw tuna tostadas and a menu of flatbreads topped with spicy prawn and feta, or lamb shoulder, fig relish and goat’s cheese. The crisp potato scallops with wakame-vinegar salt are a must-order.

Fuel up in the morning with breakfast at Girdlers, an easygoing cafe that caters to a range of dietaries and employs wholesome, healthy ingredients. Go classic with avo on rye (or gluten-free brown bread) with grilled haloumi and poached eggs, or a bacon-and-egg roll with vegan mayo on a charcoal bun. Or opt for buckwheat crepes folded over fillings such as eggs, mozzarella, bacon and avocado, or banana, house-made vegan chocolate sauce and coconut ice-cream.

At the end of your trip, take the tastes of Manly with you, with a six-pack of thick and chunky cookies from Butter Boy. butterboy.com.au

Where to drink
Right next to Manly, Brookvale is like the northern beaches’ version of Marrickville: a still-functioning industrial area with a booming community of bakeries, breweries and distilleries alongside auto-parts suppliers, concrete manufacturers and tool stores.

There, you’ll find the Manly Spirits Co distillery and its range of gin, whisky and liqueurs. In the space where its spirits are stilled, sip on G&Ts, try a gin or whisky flight, or tackle its gin-loving cocktail menu (if you’re feeling under the weather, the Doctors Orders – barrel-aged gin, lemon juice, honey and ginger syrup – will pep you up). The distillery also offers a range of experiences – from classes where you make your own gin in a tiny copper still, to tours, tastings and cocktail masterclasses, it adds a touch of interactivity to your booze session.

The neighbouring 4 Pines Truck Bar pours more than 20 beers – including pale, amber and summer ales, sours and lagers – from a refitted 50-year-old pick-up truck inside the brewery’s warehouse. Like Manly Spirits, the space is kitted out with all the equipment used for brewing – in this case, enormous steel fermenters nearly two storeys tall. It’s a lively spot to drink a beer and watch sports on the big screen.

Back in Manly, enter Cove Deli on Central Avenue, pass through a 1920s fridge door and down a staircase to underground sandstone speakeasy The Cumberland, which is shaking and stirring some of the best cocktails on the northern beaches. It does a rocking menu of classics, along with cocktails that use foraged ingredients and lesser-known drinks from the pre-temperance era (the delightfully named Hanky Panky is a concoction of Beefeater gin, Antica Formula vermouth and Fernet-Branca). And that deli isn’t just a gimmick – it ferries cheese and charcuterie downstairs via a custom-made dumbwaiter.

What to do
Manly is an area with plentiful natural beauty, no matter if you’re right in the centre of town or exploring its beaches and national park. The 15-minute Manly to Shelly Beach walk may be short, but it condenses the best of the area into an easy stroll. Amble from Manly Life Saving Club along Marine Parade, which has sandstone cliffs on one side and never-ending ocean on the other. Really make the most of it by taking a dip at either end, as well as in the Fairy Bower ocean pool along the way.

If you prefer to tackle a sturdier walk, hop to the 10-kilometre Manly to Spit Bridge hike. Along the way it takes in beaches, Aboriginal rock carvings, lookouts across Manly and plenty of swim spots. While the walk isn’t too difficult, it does involve some dirt tracks, stairs and sand, along with an easygoing boardwalk, so it may be tough for those who don’t take in semi-regular exercise.

With its prime peninsula location, Manly has a number of beaches. Hike along the Collins Flat Track to the secluded Collins Flat Beach, on the edge of Sydney Harbour National Park. Little Manly Beach is an ideal spot for families, with its calm water, as is Manly Cove Beach, which has the added bonus of being a short stroll from the ferry terminal. And Manly Beach has icon status for a reason – it’s both a top surfing spot and fantastic for a dip.