There’s a magical place brimming with sun-kissed surfers and gorgeous girls. A peninsula that’s packed on weekends with grinning tourists, and refreshingly quiet through the week.
You can knock back a cold one while watching the waves, sprint along the shoreline, get dumped under a swirling swell, sip a creamy coffee at a beachfront cafe, or don your heels and hit a nightclub for what’s sure to be a ridiculous, fun-filled evening.
If you’re open to it, you’ll find friends easily. One week after landing in Manly, I walked into a cafe and struck up a conversation with a stranger about grammar. He is now one my closest friends, part of my little local tribe (and he runs the uber cool 100Strong Training kettlebell studio in a back alley).
That place is Mantown. I mean Manly. I mean Mantown, as the laid-back locals call it. Cos there really are a lot of men.
What’s special about the northern beaches
If you’re visiting Sydney and have an extra day up your sleeve, hire a car or jump on a ferry and get yo ass over to the northern beaches. The seemingly endless stretch of coastline is simply stunning.
And while it’s not easy to hug the beaches as you drive north (not as easy as it is in Western Australia at least), since the roads are set back, cruising up the coast with the tunes pumping and a panting dog with its head out of the window is a must-do (dog optional).
The northern beaches are also sacred. Situated on the land of the Guringai people (the traditional land owners), Manly and surrounds are steeped in rich Indigenous history. Some say it’s one of the most spiritual spots in Australia. Maybe that’s why so many people feel at home here, almost immediately. I know I did.
Is Manly expensive?
Sydney is one of the most expensive cities in the world. And so, by default, Manly is a pricey place. Rent can cost anything from $500 for a two-bedroom apartment (I was paying $330 a week to flat-share a two-bedroom, top floor apartment with views of Sydney Harbour). You may be able to find cheaper rent in a larger flat-share, granny flat or surrounding suburb such as Manly Vale or Freshwater.
A weekly shop is likely to set you back at least $80-$100 per person. I skip the supermarkets and pick up fresh fruit, veg, seeds, nuts, eggs and superfoods at the Frenchs Forest Organic Markets. It’s always fun sampling produce, saying hi to new friends and tucking into fresh foods. And even though organic food can be expensive, it lasts longer in my fridge and tastes far better than supermarket stuff.
Manly also has a stack of cafes – a large soy latte is around $3.80 – $4.50, while a big breakfast can cost between $12 and $25, depending on where you go. Insitu crafts delicious breakys – and their Rocket Boost cacao and goji berry smoothie is unbeatable.
I also love Barefoot Coffee Traders. They have two spots, which I like to dub Big Foot (on Wentworth Street) and Little Foot (a popular hole-in-the-wall on Whistler St, next to the Council Carpark).
Three Beans on Darley Road is another fave. Be early to grab an outdoor table and people watch in the sunshine.
The only downside is that many Manly cafes are yet to offer free Wi-Fi. Actually, that’s an Oz-wide problem – internet speed and access is a little on the crappy side.
Is Manly safe?
If suburbs were schoolkids, Manly would be the popular kid who charms the teachers and causes havoc at the back of the bus.
It’s beautiful and serene during the day, but at night has a wild and reckless streak. As a result, there’s a 2am lockout on Friday and Saturday nights. That means that if you’re not inside a bar writhing and grinding, you’d better hop in a cab (if you can get one) and high-tail it home.
You’ll also notice hoardes of teenagers descend on the Corso (pedestrian area) on weekends. They’re usually pumped up with booze and out to let loose. As a woman, I’ve never felt unsafe – although a guy did grab me on the dance floor at the Manly Beach Club when I refused to dance with him (thankfully my seven-foot-tall glamazon friend grabbed his collar and threw him across the room. Ok, maybe it wasn’t that dramatic, but she did give him a what for).
I often walk home alone after a night out. Even at 3am, the streets are packed with people buying greasy feeds or stumbling home. Up in Little Manly where I’ve been staying, it’s filled with families and I’ve never seen or heard anything dodgy.
Manly in a nutshell
So – in my experience – Manly is a magical place. It’s sunny, fun and the perfect escape from the city. It’s got a rocking surf break, fab food, quality coffee and it suits families, couples and singles.
It’s also a popular hub for tourists, and there are plenty of backpacker hostels to support the many transient travellers who pour in throughout summer.
Sure it’s expensive, and nights out can get loose, but Manly is a charmer.
Have you been to Manly? What was your experience?