The view south from the Barrenjoey Lighthouse at Palm Beach; image by Hamilton Lund via Destination NSW
Palm Beach is Sydney’s northern-most beach and its spectacular position affords it sweeping views of the ocean, Broken Bay, Lion Island, and Ku-ring-gai National Park.
It’s a suburb that largely strides the Barrenjoey Peninsula. This means it has two beaches facing different directions, which can be confusing for first-time visitors. On one side is the ocean, with surf breaking on golden sand. On the other, is Pittwater, where calmer waters lap the shore.
‘Palmie’, as locals call it, feels like hundreds of kilometres from Sydney, not 45. In just over an hour’s drive from the city you can be strolling along the beach, surfing, swimming, sailing, dining at a water-side café or bushwalking up to the Barrenjoey Headland’s lighthouse.
During summer, Hollywood celebrity-spotting is a local sport here, as it’s where the rich and famous rent stunning multi-million dollar homes while escaping their winters. Palm Beach is also the location of long-running TV soap, Home & Away.
Any time of year, famous or not, you can enjoy a day trip to Palm Beach, for a mini-holiday of your own. We’ve compiled the top suggestions for exploring this beautiful location – plus a few secret treasures to enjoy along the way. Don’t set off without your camera.
From the lower northern beaches there are two alternative routes to Palm Beach. Drive through Garigal National Park, via the Wakehurst Parkway from Frenchs Forest to North Narrabeen, or take the coastal route along Pittwater Road, between Brookvale and North Narrabeen. From North Narrabeen, continue to Mona Vale and through the beach suburbs Newport, Bilgola, Avalon, and Careel Bay, to the ‘end of the line’ – Palm Beach.
Tip: northern beaches locals commute to the city on week days, so try to avoid travelling to or from Palm Beach during morning or evening peak hour.
Stops enroute to Palm Beach
Just off the Wakehurst Parkway, on the north-west side of Narrabeen Lake is Bilarong Reserve which has a unique play park with sandstone sculptures, BBQs tables, a walk/bike way around the foreshore and restrooms. Locals and visitors go fishing, sailing, kayaking and windsurfing here.
The Flying Fox Park, Mona Vale
The perfect spot for a coffee break if you’re travelling with kids. Situated on Winnererremy Bay, the cafe has water views, or you can keep an eye on the children playing in the landscaped adventure park. It’s fenced and has a flying fox, climbing challenges for all ages and a bike path.
Bayview Park, Bayview
This scenic spot is a reserve with sand ‘spit’ with water on all sides, jutting into Winnererremy Bay. It’s also an off-leash dog park where locals take their pets to swim and run free.
A small detour on approach to Palm Beach takes you to the Newport Arms Hotel, which has Australia’s largest waterfront beer garden, children’s play areas and postcard views over Pittwater. The hotel regularly holds special events and features live bands.
Avalon’s laid-back village shopping precinct is a place to be and be seen, with its cool cafes, boutiques, cinema and local institution, Bookoccino. As the name suggests, it’s a book store that sells coffee.
Secluded Whale Beach has only a handful of eateries and a surf club to interrupt its bush setting. One of the area’s longest-established eateries is Jonah’s restaurant and boutique hotel, which, from its position high above the beach, affords diners and guests breathtaking ocean views.
What to do at Palm Beach
Take a short ferry ride from Palm Beach to The Basin; image by Andrew Gregory via Destination NSW
Ferry ride to The Basin
The Basin is west of Palm Beach, across Pittwater and within the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. Although accessible only by boat or ferry, it has been a popular local spot for day trippers and campers for more than 100 years.
The Basin’s expansive shaded lawns are ideal for picnics and its deep water lagoon is netted at its narrow entrance for swimming. There are tables, restrooms, BBQs and fresh water, but no shops, so pack food and drinks on your visit.
The Basin is also one of many starting points for a range of short or long hikes into the national park. Other walking tracks accessible from the Palm Beach area can be found here.
Palm Beach surf and rock pool
Palm Beach has two surf lifesaving clubs, north and south, both of which provide safety patrols on weekends and public holidays during summer, keeping swimmers between the flags. For those who like to swim laps or simply escape the surf, there’s a 50m rock pool at the southern end of the beach which is accessible from Ocean Road.
Visit Barrenjoey Lighthouse
You’ll get your bearings on a walk to the Barrenjoey Lighthouse and keepers’ cottages, as well as a taste of local history. The reward is panoramic 360-degree views of Broken Bay, Pittwater, the Hawkesbury River, Ku-ring-gai National Park, the Central coast and, during spring, migrating whales.
The lighthouse and cottages were built in 1881 from Hawkesbury sandstone quarried from its own site. It’s a climb, being 91 metres above sea level. Near the top, is the grave of the first lighthouse-keeper. There are two tracks: an easy 1km walk starts at the car park; or take the Smugglers Track, a challenging 600m hike named for the customs officers who built it in 1850 to monitor smugglers bringing contraband into Broken Bay.
Guided tours to the Lighthouse operate on Sundays, weather-permitting. They take 30 minutes and cost $3 for adults and $2 for children.
Palmie Fish and chips
The Palm Beach Fish and Chip Shop on Barrenjoey Road has been a local institution since the 1950s. Get your order in and grab an outdoor table with a view over Pittwater.
Pittwater Foreshore Walks
If you enjoy spectacular ocean walks or panoramic photography, The Bicentennial Coastal Walk is for you. It’s comprised of headland pathways and lookouts connecting Sydney’s northern beaches along a continuous coastline route from Manly to Palm Beach. The full distance covers approximately 40km and 23 beaches.