Australia’s Legendary Bondi Beach Is Hibernating. Here’s What to Do When It Wakes
Inside the epicenter of Aussie beach culture.
Australia’s beaches are absolute legend, with some 10,000 stretches of impossibly white sand lining 30,000 miles of coastline. And right now, Sydney’s Bondi Beach -- perhaps the most famous beach in a country overflowing with them -- is the quietest it’s ever been.
Personally, I’m into it. We locals embrace these cooler winter months when our sidewalks, restaurants, and parking spaces aren’t thronged with visitors, and the pandemic has eliminated the usual masses. But as much as I’m enjoying the respite, Bondi’s cosmopolitan energy is why I live here in the first place. As a former New Yorker, that’s something that I love. And miss.
Bondi’s fame means it’s Australia’s most-visited beach: a half-mile crescent of golden sand bookended by cliffs and located less than 5 miles from downtown (or the CBD -- central business district -- as we call it). It’s not even the prettiest beach in Sydney, nor does it offer the best surf break. But it’s nonetheless the epicenter of Sydney beach culture, a densely-packed hub where locals and visitors alike come to hang out, exercise, enjoy gorgeous scenery (natural and human), eat, drink, and have a good time.
You’ll hear different languages being spoken along the muralled promenade where a mixed bag of humanity crosses paths. Long-haired teens bound for the skatepark roll past parents pushing prams toward the kids’ pool. Botoxed women in trendy activewear stroll past dripping surfers peeling off wetsuits. Tourists from around the world take selfies next to shirtless dudes glistening on the pullup bars. Lap swimmers and happy hour loungers commingle around the iconic Icebergs pool.
There’s truly nothing like it. And while Bondi’s hibernating right now, someday those crowds will return. And you’ll want to be a part of it. Here’s what to see and do when you finally make it to Australia’s most popular beach.
Stroll and surf at Bondi
Surfing is the obvious activity here, but if you’re picturing Point Break, think again (that big finale set in Australia was filmed in Oregon anyway, bruh). Experienced boarders will find better waves and less crowding at neighboring Tamarama and Bronte beaches. But Bondi’s still a good place for beginners, with severalsurfschools and hireshops close to the beach.
You can also find some serenity along the scene-iest, buzziest beach in Sydney. The cliffs at the north end hide a little-known lookout point called Ben Buckler. From that raised vantage point, you can look across the bay of Bondi and marvel at the wild, dramatic beauty of Sydney’s coastline. Walking the 3.5-mile coastal trail linking Bondi and Coogee beaches is a must-do, taking you past beaches, bays, and cliff lookouts. In the winter months June and July there’s a good chance you’ll see whales spouting in the water.
The scenery is stunning the entire way, so it’s not necessary to walk the whole thing if you’re short on time or energy, although the women-only baths at Coogee are worth a visit if you can swing it.
Take a dip in the Icebergs
Open year round, the world-famous Icebergs swimming club includes access to two ocean-fed lap pools, a sauna, and change rooms. The pool juts out into the ocean, and it is utterly magical to sit in the sunshine at the pool’s edge watching waves roll past you to break on the rocks a few feet away. Occasionally, a larger wave will breach the concrete wall and splash gently over your legs, and you will seriously consider leaving everything behind and moving to this ravishing, distant city on the other side of the world. After swimming, you can grab a bite and a drink to soak in that view as you dry in the sun.
Dive into Bondi’s food and drink scene
In general Sydney food is really good, albeit expensive. Don’t bother with burgers, bagels, or Mexican food here. As much as sand between your toes makes you want a fish taco in your hand, believe me, it just won’t compare. Ask any American here and they’ll tell you good Mexican and online shopping are among the things they miss most from home.
Cafes, on the other hand, tend to be excellent, with good espresso coffees and light, fresh breakfasts and lunches. There are too many good cafes to name and frankly, it’s hard to go wrong around Bondi, but I will say that Bill’s, though expensive, is rightly famous for its ricotta hotcakes and sweetcorn fritters.
Other consistently good cuisines include East Asian (China Diner, Bangkok Bites, Handmade Noodle and Dumpling Kitchen); seafood (Raw Bar, North Bondi Fish, Bondi’s Best); Italian (Totti’s, Peppe’s, Ciccia Bella, La Piadina); and Modern Australian (Drake Eatery, Iceberg’s Dining Room, Sean’s Panorama).
When it comes to liquid refreshment, you’ve got your choice of seriously mixology (Isabel, Rosenbaum & Fuller) cosy wine bars (The Shop, Speakeasy, Ode); upscale hotel bars (Ravisi’s, The Pacific Club); and quirky good-time spots (The Anchor, The Stuffed Beaver).
A note on Australian beach culture: Drinking in public is illegal so we do not openly consume alcohol on the beach -- especially not a well-patrolled beach like Bondi. We also don’t bring folding chairs and coolers full of supplies and camp out for the day. We come, we swim, we play sports, we lie on the sand, and when we’re done we put on our thongs (translation: flip flops) and head to the nearest cafe or bar for sustenance.
Explore arts and culture on the waterfront
Throughout the year, Bondi is the site of multiple cultural events, both official and unofficial. It hosts the City2Surf race in October, the Sculpture by the Sea outdoor exhibit in November. It’s home to major celebrations on Christmas and New Year’s, as well as smaller festivals throughout the year.
In the center of the beach, the Bondi Pavilion community center hosts regular events in its theater, art gallery, courtyard, and atrium. The heritage building is currently closed for restoration until 2022. When it reopens, the revamped facilities will include new restaurants and cafes, so watch this space: situated just yards from the sand, “the Pav” is likely to become the best place to grab a beer in Bondi.