Manly's apt motto is "Seven miles from Sydney, a million miles from care." The north shore has beautiful beaches and casual eating. It's also home to Sydney's zoo and a patch of eucalyptus forests.
SEE Manly Beach
Manly Visitor Information Centre, 011-61-2/9976-1430.
Take a JetCat or ferry to Manly from Circular Quay; the beach is an easy walk from the ferry terminal. A mile-long strip of seashore where gorgeous surfers while away the days. You can rent surfboards (try Dripping Wet Surf Company, 93-95 North Steyne, Shop 2, 011-61-2/9977-3549, drippingwetsurf.com; $34 per day) or join an impromptu game of beach volleyball. The three surf clubs along the beach have showers and bathrooms. The 1.5-mile walk from Queenscliff at the north end of Manly to southern Shelley Beach is lovely.
SEE Taronga Zoo
Bradleys Head Rd., 011-61-2/9969-2777, zoo.nsw.gov.au
No other zoo in the world has a backdrop like Sydney Harbour. Look for native fauna-koalas, kangaroos, and platypuses. $23, $12 kids, ages 4 and under free.
SPLURGE Seaplane Safaris
Fly from Rose Bay to national park-fringed Cottage Point Inn for a decadent lunch of, say, panfried wild kingfish followed by a raspberry soufflé with white chocolate ice cream. The four-hour tour includes the 15-minute flight each way and lunch, plus the rush of landing on water. At $308 per person (minimum two people), it's no cheap thrill; a 10-minute sightseeing flight (about $85) is more wallet-friendly.
EAT Bathers Pavilion Café
4 The Esplanade, Balmoral Beach, 011-61-2/9969-5050, batherspavilion.com.au
The essential Sydney view of a picturesque beach and a sea of sails on Middle Harbour is best soaked up during weekend brunch or lunch at this light-filled café. Louvered windows face the beach, and the salt air stirs up a hunger for French-Canadian chef Serge Dansereau's cooking. Try the oven-baked beans with ham hock (his dad's recipe) for breakfast, or lentil-and-taleggio ravioli for lunch.
EAT Manly Wharf Hotel
East Esplanade, Manly Wharf, 011-61-2/9977-1266, manlywharfhotel.com.au
Upmarket pub food-such as blue swimmer crab risotto and overflowing seafood platters-by the water's edge. The Jetty Bar, on the original wharf and overlooking the harbor, is the pick of the hotel's three watering holes.
35 South Steyne, 011-61-2/9977-0322
Flying Fish designer Michael McCann did the beach house-style interior of this newcomer to Manly's dining scene. The menu is a mix of modern Australian and Asian dishes; steamer baskets of Cantonese-style duck in wheat pancakes are all the rage. There are comfy padded white seats, fruity cocktails, and a gas fireplace in the bar.
DRINK Newport Arms Hotel
Corner of Beaconsfield and Kalinya Sts., 011-61-2/9997-4900, newportarms.com.au
The social hub of the northern beaches and Australia's largest beer garden. Everything is big about this place, from the three children's playgrounds to its beer selection-there are some 18 on tap. Set above the idyllic Pittwater estuary.
DRINK Steyne Hotel
75 The Corso, Manly, 011-61-2/9977-4977, steynehotel.com.au
Seagulls, sunshine, fish and chips, and cold beer. There are nine bars in all, spread over two levels. Head to Stage One upstairs for simple steak-and-salad-style meals overlooking the beach, or visit on Tuesdays and Thursday nights for $9 pizzas. You can stay here, too: Comfortable ocean-view rooms cost $99 double, including breakfast.
PLAY Bradleys Head Walk
From Taronga Zoo wharf (take ferry from Circular Quay) to Chowder Head
An easy-to-negotiate 1.3-mile walk through eucalyptus forests and past the old cannons that once defended Sydney. Just follow the shoreline from the ferry wharf and pack a picnic to enjoy at Bradleys Head, which looks back toward the city.
PLAY North Sydney Olympic Pool
4 Alfred St. South, Milsons Point, 011-61-2/9955-2309, northsydney.nsw.gov.au
An unforgettable swim on the harbor's edge, flanked by the bridge and the kaleidoscopic colors of Luna Park (Sydney's version of Coney Island). The massive pool complex also has a sauna, spa, and gym, and has been the training ground for many an Olympic champ. $3.70.
ESCAPE Shark Island
In the middle of Sydney Harbour, Shark Island is an underappreciated gem that's perfect for an afternoon picnic. Hop a ferry to the island (matilda.com.au, click on Ferry Services, $12 round trip), and within 20 minutes you'll feel miles away from the city-even though the Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House are just visible in the distance. There are picnic shelters and restrooms on the island, and a little beach for swimming. Free.