Once known as Steel City, Newcastle is a culturally rich destination with a fast-emerging food and coffee scene. Its un-crowded beaches with great surf are also a draw. We took a two-hour cruise up the M1 to meet with the laid-back locals to unlock some local knowledge about where to surf, chill and relax over a coffee.

Newcastle Beach
Newcastle’s cityside beach has a top surf break and a safe, patrolled area for swimmers. Volleyball nets are set up year-round and there’s plenty of room to throw down a towel on the golden stretch of sand. The beach is conveniently located right next to the famous Newcastle Ocean Baths, housed behind an Art Deco pavilion.

Cafe to visit nearby
Surfboards rest up against the walls outside, towels hang over chairs and salty customers, fresh from the surf, queue for gelato. This buzzing little cafe opposite Newcastle Beach serves Single Origin coffee and has a locally sourced menu. Every Sunday, owner Bec Bowie takes her wheelbarrow to the Newcastle City Farmers Markets to find the best produce for the cafe. Pull up a stool along the bench overlooking the ocean.

Bar Beach
This aqua-blue stretch of ocean offers both a surf beach and a naturally formed, sheltered rock pool for those who prefer to swim in calmer waters. Picnic facilities are available and Sydneysiders will be jealous of the huge, free car park. It’s right next to Newcastle’s Anzac Memorial Walk, where you can take in panoramic views of the city and its beaches.

Cafe to visit nearby:
If you’re searching for the coffee nerds of Newcastle, stroll from Bar Beach to Esther.C espresso bar. Owners Hal Gibbs and Kirsty Majana wanted to bring a little piece of Melbourne and Sydney coffee culture to Newcastle in a laid-back space. A Reuben Hills seasonal house blend is used, as well as Wood and Co beans. There’s cold brew and V60 pour-over filter coffee. Homemade cookies and slices go fast, and there’s a small all-day food menu. The cute space is fitted out with 100-year-old recycled wooden tables and work from local artists.

Nobbys Beach
This beach is home to Newcastle’s iconic headland and Nobbys Head Light, a lighthouse at its tip. The beach is patrolled year round and produces a clean break, ideal for body surfing and learning to surf. Check out the quirky, red mural about the 2007 storms, when cargo ship Pasha Bulker ran aground on the beach.

Cafe to visit nearby:
One Penny Black
This well-loved haunt in Newcastle's Hunter Street Mall roasts its own beans for short blacks and use 100 per cent fair-trade Blackstar coffee from Brisbane for the house blend. A seasonal menu lets the locally sourced produce speak for itself. The cafe, just a short walk up from Nobby's Beach, is charming with its rustic-chic décor.

Merewether Beach
Tourism Australia’s aquatic and coastal ambassador, Brad Farmer, has just declared Merewether Beach among the top 15 beaches in Australia. Ranking at number 13, he praised it for being clean, safe, uncongested and having ample parking. It also has a world-famous surf break, top-notch amenities and a solid cafe scene. The beach is also located right next to the Southern Hemisphere’s largest ocean baths.

Cafe to visit nearby:
Merewether Surfhouse Café
Kicking back with a Will & Co coffee while watching the waves at Merewether Beach is a quintessentially Newcastle experience. You’d be hard pressed to find a cafe with a more prime position than this one, sitting at the bottom of the elegant glass Surfhouse structure. From early morning to close, the spot is buzzing. An all-day menu caters for everything from a big breakfast to burgers and salads.

Redhead Beach
Sitting at the northern end of a nine-mile stretch of sandy coastline, Redhead Beach is easily recognisable by its wooden watchtower built in the 1920s before the introduction of shark nets. The beach, which is patrolled in the warmer months, is overlooked by a stunning rocky headland. Pooch-owners will love this spot, which has a dedicated dog beach zone allowing for leash-free walks.

Cafe to visit nearby:
Common Circus
This lakeside lifestyle store merges homewares and gifts with a cute cafe space serving sweets and coffee from local roaster Glee. The store features Australian labels such as Blacklist, Ahoy Trader and Pony Rider. It also sells fresh flowers and newspapers. The cafe has a wide main window overlooking stunning Lake Macquarie. This place is the little oasis for coffees and sweet treats after a paddle on the lake or a swim at Redhead.