Along the crystalline coast of Sydney’s northern beaches, Manly Beach is just a 30-minute ferry ride across the harbour, promising a sneaky reprieve from the ever-beating pulse of frantic city life.
Writer, explorer, self-confessed surfing fanatic and San Diego native, Audrey Hill was drawn to Australia (via no short list of other destinations along the way) through her passion for travel.
In 2013, after a year of getting some dirt under her nails on her dad’s farm, Audrey set her compass for Sydney and has since put her nomadic lifestyle on the back burner after settling down with her husband to raise her daughter, though she wouldn’t change a thing. She’s currently enthralled in family life, competing in local surf comps, maintaining a career in online marketing, and writing all about it on her blog, Surf Stoked Moms.
Audrey gives us the lowdown on the best things to see and do around her adopted hometown of Manly.
Name: Audrey Hills
Where’s home right now: Manly Beach
Kids: Valentina, 3 ½ years old
Q: How long have you been living there, and what inspired you to move there?
A: We have lived in Manly Beach for about 4 years (I’ve lived in Australia for nearly 6). Although I am a 5th Generation Californian, I fell in love with Manly on a backpacking trip with my best friend in 2009. After I returned to the states, I always wanted to go back but did not return until 2012 after my best friend married an Australian guy she met on her trip. After her wedding, I came back on a Work Holiday Visa and the rest is history.
Q: Best thing about where you live:
A: The beach and the ability to walk or ride my bike everywhere!
Q: When you have overseas visitors with kids visiting you, where’s the first place you take them to showoff your town?
A: The beach of course! Within biking distance, we have so many amazing beaches for surfing, snorkeling, exploring and relaxing. Queenscliff offers amazing waves all year round, Shelley Beach a great place for snorkeling, and Delwood is epic for feeling like you’re outside of the city within Sydney city limits.
Q: What’s the best time of year to visit the area and why?
A: I’d have to say Australian Autumn, which I still call fall. February to May is just lovely with super warm water, lots of sunny days, and fewer people.
Q: Would you rate the area as expensive to visit? If so, what are some tips to keep costs down?
A: If Australia is expensive, then Sydney can be outrageous. But you can certainly find ways to keep costs down. I highly recommend renting an Airbnb way in advance of your trip – this way you’ll have the pick of the places and hopefully the lowest costs. There are only a few hotels in Manly and all are pricey plus with an Airbnb you’ll have a kitchen and more space. You really don’t need a car if you base yourself in Manly and are interested in staying around Sydney. In Manly you can rent a bike to get around town and always hop on the ferry over to the city. It’s also extremely easy to get to the airport on public transport. As for food, Manly’s Corso has so many options but for lunch my daughter will eat sushi every single day, which is great because we can grab lunch for $10 and head to the beach.
Q: Best nearby beaches for surf families?
A: On weekends we hate driving so you’ll find us at Queenscliff on the Northern end of Manly Beach with an umbrella, a bunch of snacks, and an array of surfboards. Equally nice are Freshwater and Curl Curl depending on the wind and swell. South Curl Curl has a postcard perfect rock pool that little ones love. Don’t tell the locals I sent you, but North Narrabeen on a North East swell on a weekday is all time!
Q: Any local attractions you think are overrated/best to avoid?
A: Manly’s main beach on weekends in the summer is absolutely packed which I avoid like the plague and walk just 10 minutes to the north for some open sand.
Q: Best local coffee place (and is it kid friendly?):
A: It’s on our end of the beach (Queenscliff) so we spend a lot of time at Ruby Lane. It’s got heaps of space, toys for the kids, and solid coffee and breakfast. The kids’ menu is super healthy and a great value. I always get the paleo bread with poached eggs, and mushrooms, and bacon, and anything else I can possibly add. I’m that girl.
Q: Family friendly places to eat out:
A: Besides sushi, we always go to Mint on The Corso for Asian noodles and salads. My daughter loves it and you can take your food down to the Wharf and eat on the grass. A massive soup or salad will set you back $12. As for dinner, we like the Skiff Club where we almost always order the whole barramundi, which comes with chips, veggies, salads and sauce for around $50 and feeds the whole family. It’s got a relaxed but upscale vibe and is full of families. Plus the view is unbeatable! A new restaurant that I really like is Loco Madre, which serves family style South American-Latin food right on the beach near North Steyne. I love the margaritas, dollar oyster night (Wednesdays) and the shared entrees. It’s not specifically geared towards kids but plenty of families eat there. But note, it’s slightly more upscale with entrees about $30 each and appetizers $20.
Q: List the best local activities/places to keep the kids entertained for free (or at least under $20):
A: Besides the beach, there’s basically a playground every five hundred metres. Sometimes we get on the bikes or scooters and park hop. Another great free thing to do is walk up on the headland above Shelley Beach. You can make it a long walk (out towards North Head) or a short walk just around the headland. My daughter loves the jungle vibes and climbing on the rocks down by the beach. If you have a car, go up to Manly Dam. You honestly feel like you’re outside Sydney on a camping trip. There’s a nice park there but what we love to do is take some firewood and use one of the council maintained fire pits to cook up a classic Aussie breakfast. You can swim in the dam as well.
Q: Local park with the best kid facilities:
A: For ages five and under, I’d recommend the park at Queenscliff Lagoon. The bigger kids also have a nice path outside the park to ride skateboards and scooters or some open grassy areas to throw a ball. The lagoon is a favorite with local dogs so if you’re traveling with your pooch, check it out.
Q: Best local hidden gem that tourists don’t often know about:
A: Sydney Harbour is home to so many sneaky beaches in its nooks and crannies. Around Manly, check out Fairlight Beach, Delwood Beach, and Collins Flat. Collins Flat has a small waterfall and an infamous jump rock. For a special occasion or a particularly beautiful summer day, we often rent a small speedboat or pontoon boat from Manly Boat Hire and motor around to secret beaches like Quarantine Station or Store Beach. It’s actually not that expensive if you have a group and usually works out to be $30-40 bucks per person for the afternoon. We love getting the pontoon boat complete with BBQ and lily pad for birthdays.
Q: Since travelling, what have you noticed that is unique to where you live that you haven’t noticed anywhere else?
A: Pristine beaches in a highly populated urban area and the surf side rock pools.
Q: So tell us a bit about your biz – and how much of what you do is inspired by being a parent and/or where you live?
A: So I am the one-mom band behind Surf Stoked Moms. It’s a blog for all things related to surfing, traveling and being a “murfer” (a mom who surfs). I also write freelance travel stories and run my own digital marketing business. My blog and business is all about being able to be at the beach, with your children and travel as much as possible.
Q: Can you picture doing what you do anywhere else?
A: Funny, you ask, I literally just wrote an Instagram post about how I want to move to so many places I visit. Deep down, I am a serious nomad but I can’t imagine a better place to stay put than Manly. We’re a block from the surf, a bike ride from the ferry, and 2.5 hours from empty beaches where you can drive on the sand! The only improvement I would ask for is a teleport so I can get back home to San Diego faster!
Q: And finally, best piece of travel advice you’ve ever been given:
A: “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion, and avoid the people, you might better stay home.” ― James A. Michener
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Happy Place Hunter's resident Editor In Chief, Caz Emge, has written for publications around the globe for two decades. An avid outdoor buff, in her (limited) spare time she and her videographer husband and two sons gather insights for this site – sharing happy places as they find them Click to read full bio