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Step Into Liquid

The city has 40 beaches to choose from, and each has its own style, from its most famous, Bondi, to Palm Beach, Sydney’s version of the Hamptons. Surf lessons are a cliché, but one you should indulge in wholeheartedly. And if you’re gonna learn to shred, it ought to be with Tony Morley, one of a team of mostly blond-haired, tan pros at Lets Go Surfing, a school at North Bondi known for its small classes and highly trained instructors. Morley, 26, has been surfing since he was 10 and specializes in teaching beginners to stand up on Bondi waves, which look tame but can have gnarly rips (A$69 for two-hour group classes; 61-2-9365-1800).

Yes, it can be a tourist trap—expect busloads of Japanese visitors and swarming British backpackers—but without the crowds, it can be truly gorgeous. To experience the quiet, beautiful Bondi, go at 6 a.m. for laps with the locals along Campbell Parade; after, have an espresso at the Bondi Tratt (61-2-9365-4303), serving “brekkie” from 7 a.m.

Barely-there bikinis rule at Tamarama, a tiny beach around the cliff from Bondi that’s big on attitude and style. Prime flaunting hours are weekends, from noon to 4 p.m. Stop by the Beach Café (61-2-9130-2419) for a fresh mango smoothie. Don’t miss the regular surf lifesavers’ drill, when good-looking, athletic bodies scramble into the surf and power through the waves. If you feel like you might need to be rescued, this is the place to do it.

Families go to Manly Beach, on Sydney’s northern shores, for laid-back surf breaks. Leave the city from Circular Quay; it’s a quick trip by ferry. If you miss the boat back, wait for the next one at the Manly Wharf Hotel (61-2-9977-1266), a good spot for a Carlton Cold and a bird’s-eye view of the dock.

An hour’s drive from the city, Palm Beach is a glamorous day trip, especially in a ragtop—or even better, by private seaplane (Sydney Harbor Seaplanes, 61-2-9388-1978). Aussie film types, financiers, and other movers and shakers own mansions at “Palmie” and lunch at the Beach Road Restaurant (61-2-9974-1159). Try the roasted blue-eyed cod.

Balmoral Beach is like its own small island, with lovely swimming beaches: no surf and no rips to worry about. Don’t drive here—parking is impossible—just catch the ferry or bus from Circular Quay. Every weekend in summer, there is free Shakespeare in the Rotunda. Go to the Bathers’ Pavilion (61-2-9969-5050), a changing shed from the twenties that’s now a chic light-filled café and restaurant: the perfect spot for sundowners right on the beach.

Next: The Best Place to Buy Fish You've Never Heard Of

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