Sydney has always been a city of villages. From its first days as a fledgling settlement on the shores of Port Jackson (more commonly known as Sydney Harbour), the village community mentality has continued.
Today’s urban colonists continue to transform the city’s suburbs creating havens of modern village life. From the bohemian chic of Paddington to style ghettoes such as Danks Street in Waterloo, here are five suburbs, each with their own character and identity to explore.
BRUNCH AND BATHS AT THE BEACH
The southern beachside suburbs of Coogee Bay, Bronte and Bondi Beach are each symbolic of the brassiness, laid-back hedonistic nature of Sydneysiders. A magnificent walk along the cliff tops connects all three, offering an enduring angle on beach life in the ‘burbs’.
Starting at Bondi, you can amble the full walk in a few hours, pausing for indulgent stops at the many cafés along the way or a dip in the sea-baths built into the cliffs.
Bondi Beach is synonymous with Australian beach culture and its mile-long curve of golden sand has all the classic imagery in abundance; quintessential lifesavers with their red-and-yellow caps, bronzed Aussie surfers, bikini-clad babes and the ocean that peels into the bay in a series of never-ending waves.
From Bondi, the cliff-top path snakes its way into picturesque little Tamarama Bay before reaching Bronte, just in time for brunch. Competition is fierce at the Bronte Strip – a row of beachside cafés popular with locals in the know.
Holding its own is the well-established Bogey Hole Café (473 Bronte Road), the place to be seen and ‘do brunch.’ Poached eggs on toast washed down with the ubiquitous latté while reading the Sydney Morning Herald and taking in the ocean views is about as ‘Sydney’ as it gets.
Close by are the historic Bronte Baths. Set into sculpted cliffs and dating from 1883, this 30-metre saltwater infinity pool boasts fabulous ocean views and attracts everyone from quintessential tanned Aussie ‘blokes’, to travellers and small children jumping off the edge into the surrounding rock pools. “I learnt to swim here and so did my kids and grandkids and I reckon half of Sydney has too,” says John Maguire, who swims several laps here every day of the year. “And the best part is that the pool is free.”
Back on the trail, the Coast Path winds through the Waverley Cemetery (one of Australia’s most scenic place to be buried with famous residents such as Henry Lawson and Dorothy McKellar) and Clovelly Bay (another great spot for refreshments), before drawing to a dramatic conclusion at Coogee Bay.
Coogee Bay is the great all-round Saturday ‘arvo’ (afternoon in Australian) beach hangout. Not quite as grand in scale as Bondi, Coogee Bay has a more intimate feel with all the essential ingredients; golden sands lapped by blue seas, volleyball courts, headlands shaded with Norfolk Pines.
An excellent place to stay in Coogee is The Dive Hotel, 235 Arden Street. Owners Terry Bunton and Mercedes Mariano employed the genius of Sydney architect Virginia Kerridge to transform what was once a down-at-the-heels guest house into an oasis of style, maintaining much of its original charm while integrating the cutting edge of modern design to create a beach house feel.
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BOUTIQUE BROWSING IN PADDINGTON
The narrow tree-lined streets of Paddington with their sophisticated Victorian terraced townhouses are an enclave of ‘who’s who’ where the salons of some of Australia’s top fashion designers can be found.
The legendary Saturday morning Paddington Market on Oxford Street is something of a launching pad for other up and coming designers, who sell everything from eclectic hand-made jewellery, distinctive home accessories and vintage clothing.
“I guess I resonate to the artistic community in Paddington,” says musician Dale Nougher, whose ultra cool easy listening tunes bathe the market stalls with a fusion of icehouse and progressive jazz. “It’s a sound that has stemmed from my experiences with street theatre.”
Fellow stallholder Ross Duncan is doing a good morning’s trade. A number of people browse his racks of custom-made shirts and jackets with a retro style. “I got frustrated looking for good vintage clothing and decided to design my own. It all stemmed from that.” he says.
On nearby William Street, well-heeled socialites strut their stuff as they browse the renovated Victorian two-storey cottages converted into fashion boutiques housing the creations of big-name designers such as Collette Dinnigan, Leona Edmiston and Helen English.
Peruse one side of the street then pop into the Paddington Alimentari, 2 Hopetoun Street; a Euro-style café delicatessen for lunch before heading back up the other side.
ALFRESCO DINING AT WOOLOOMOOLOO
The thing to do at Wooloomooloo is to dine alfresco. The once dilapidated Finger Wharf in Wooloomooloo Bay dating from 1917 has been transformed into a ‘swish’ complex of residential apartments and swanky waterside restaurants including Otto’s (Italian), Manta (seafood) and China Doll (Asian).
There’s perhaps nothing more iconic of Sydney cuisine than a plate of freshly shucked rock oysters combined with a crisp white wine while taking in the harbour views.
At the other end of the dining spectrum, though with every bit as much character, is Harry’s Café de Wheels, Cowper Wharf Road. This 24-hour pie-cart has been serving pies and mushy peas alongside the wharves since 1945. People of all walks of life have ‘scoffed’ a pie at Harry’s famous cart. The smiling faces of famous customers such as Elton John, Brooke Shields, Olivia Newton John and Pamela Anderson peer out of the multitude of photos on display at the counter. It’s also something of an institutional rite for taxi drivers, sailors and late-night revelers.
STREET SAVVY SURRY HILLS
Surry Hills was formerly considered a ‘slum’, housing the city’s poor. Today the vibe is anything but… now it’s a fashionable scene of restaurants, designer galleries and leafy Victorian streets where corner shops house some of Sydney’s best cafés.
Down at the Bourke Street Bakery, 633 Bourke Street there’s a queue out the door but it seems the locals don’t mind the wait, as the aroma of freshly baked bread overlaid with foccacias stuffed with mouth-watering fillings waft over the heads of those in front.
Further up the hill is Mohr Fish, 202 Devonshire Street, which is a favourite of Bono from U2 when he’s in town. The menu in this dressed up fish n’ chippery is anything but ordinary; the Mahi-Mahi with oyster mushrooms, snow peas and a generous dollop of creamy mashed potatoes washed down with a chilled chardonnay is so good you can almost hear the seagulls squawking.
According to the New York Times, the scrambled eggs at Bills 2, 359 Crown Street (owned by celebrity chef Bill Granger) are the best in the world. Big words, but the scrambled eggs are even bigger. Creamy golden eggs drench thick slabs of toast accompanied by button mushrooms and roasted tomatoes. Divine.
Art and design is a big part of the Surry Hills scene, and the Brett Whiteley Studio, 2 Raper Street, is a ‘must see’. One of Australia’s best-known contemporary artists, Whiteley converted this one time warehouse into a studio and living space in 1986. Since his death, it has operated as a gallery and museum housing his paintings and memorabilia.
DOWN ‘THE DEPOT’ ON DANKS STREET
It all began with one man’s idea to turn a factory into an art gallery complex. The Depot concept took off and the trend was set. Light industrially zoned Danks Street in Waterloo has undergone an incredible metamorphosis in the space of several years.
Today, ultra-modern warehouse apartment blocks, art galleries, restaurants and retail outlets are springing up seemingly overnight.
The Gallery complex known as 2 Danks Street was the brainchild of Sydney lawyer Leo Christie, who recognised the former Kodak factory building with its high exposed iron girders and concrete floors as being the ideal site for an art gallery. Several galleries are housed here including Annette Larkin Fine Art and Aboriginal and Pacific Art.
The building’s resident eatery is the Danks Street Depot; run by slow-food fan chef Jared Ingersoll who has set the benchmark for the other restaurants in the area.