No matter which way you drive out of Sydney you’ll find spectacular scenes and nature begging to be investigated. One of the best is Palm Beach, a thin strip of land surrounded by ocean that also happens to be laden with incredible food options, deluxe retreats and experiences that will make you forget it all lies just an hour out of Sydney.
Here’s our tips for making the most of this stunning adventure playground.
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Drive – Head north
Point the car north and set forth. After working your way through Mosman and the Spit Bridge you’ll be presented with sparkling harbour views. If you’re already stinging for nature, pause at Narrabeen Lagoon, a little-known oasis surrounded by bush. You can take off your shoes, dunk your feet in and survey the surroundings – kayaks glide on the water, bikes zip through bushy tracks and joggers bustle. With the sensation of a weekend away settling in, strap in and swing onto the Wakehurst Parkway towards Avalon Beach.
Lunch – Smalltown, Avalon
Fuel awaits. Smalltown is a quaint cafe on Old Barrenjoey Road, offering beans from Single Origin and a menu with that rare balance between familiar comforts and attractive unknowns. The conservative here can hit a hash brown-stuffed bacon-and-egg roll – everyone else should look at the fluffy buckwheat waffles with peanut butter ice-cream and fresh berries.
Adventure – Palm Beach Lighthouse
A quick 10 minutes down the road is Palm Beach, one of the most spectacular coastlines anywhere near Sydney. The tiny peninsula here has dual beaches, both with shimmering caramel sands and turquoise seas. At the far end there’s steep sand dunes to explore as well as a trail up to Barrenjoey lighthouse. Spend the afternoon here exploring – an astute eye will see an alternate, hidden trail including a short bout of rock climbing. Either way you’ll be rewarded with expansive views of the headland and an endless horizon of ocean.
Dinner – Jonah’s
Jonah Restaurant on Bynya Road, Palm Beach, is the kind of destination venue people go to propose, celebrate their birthdays and do all those other significant life celebrations. Why? The views are comparable to what you’ve just seen at the lighthouse. The menu is a fusion of Italian and modern-Australian – try new season asparagus with a hops emulsion and hazelnuts (startlingly good for boiled asparagus), and succulent roast lamb, made tart and grainy from a dressing of finger limes and ground linseed sauce.
Stay – Barrenjoey House
Five minutes down the road on the other side of the headland is Barrenjoey House, a rare hotel that feels chic but organic, giving the impression it’s both luxuriously modern and antique – more like a European beachside home than a Sydney outpost.
If you want to go all out, book the loft or the nearby cottage. The loft is essentially a massive, self-contained apartment, elegantly fitted with vintage furniture and well equipped with a fridge, hefty TV, and tea and coffee gear. There’s also large windows showing off views of the picturesque nearby beach and pier. The cottage is one more step up, a fully operational home with a kitchen, two bedrooms and simply a stroll to the sand or onto a ferry. Hear the waves lap as you drift off to sleep.
Breakfast – Palm Beach Boathouse
A short drive from Barrenjoey House takes you to one of the most scenic cafes in Sydney. (There’s a theme emerging.) Literally in the middle of Palm Beach’s peninsula, the cafe has views of the bay, the headland, the ocean and all the activities happening around it. Inside you’ll find a menu of Australian cafe classics with a few odd twists and turns. Many locals will be ordering a classic big breakfast with a dark-roasted Will and Co. coffee – those a little less conservative will look for the breakfast bibimbap (a Korean rice bowl), a croissant, French toast or a kombucha.
Adventure – Barrenjoey Boat Hire
Right next to the boathouse is a tiny boat hire. Here there are shelves of boats strung up like kitchen tools, and a smattering of kayaks and canoes ready for the waiting. Rent some fishing gear, choose a boat (most just over the $100 mark with options from a simple tinny to something appropriate for a big fishing haul) and spend the afternoon reeling in snacks.
Second option: grab a kayak for $25 per hour and set out to explore the surrounding bays. There’s limitless options here and the waves are short, so it’s quick access to any of the cliff-flanked beaches you can see. You can paddle – or drive – to the basin for lagoon exploration and improvised hikes, or try Resolute Beach for an empty stretch of sand, a good swim and a bushy trail out to a historic lookout.
Lunch – Newport Arms Hotel
Nearly time for home. Depart with a late lunch at the Newport Arms Hotel, one of those places that has something for everyone. That phrase is common, but when you’ve as much space, chefs, kitchens and ambition as the Newport, you can run a wood-fired pizzeria, a menu of pub grub, another of modern-Australian seafood, a gelato cart, a pastry kitchen and several bars all at once, without much effort. Find a spot by the balcony and enjoy the last stretch of sunlight, sated before the drive home.
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