With the beach, harbour, Aquarium and beachside playgrounds, Manly is the ideal location for a family day out in Sydney.

Family Day Out Manly

A Family Day Out in Manly

7  Miles from Sydney and 1000 miles from care

This slogan used to describe Manly by the Port Jackson & Manly Steamship Company in 1940 perfectly captures my feelings about this iconic spot. Manly just exudes a relaxed holiday feel and is a perfect place to take your family if you’re visiting Sydney. (I have to admit I’m a little biased having lived nearby in Narrabeen for two years).

Manly Beach Morning

It’s early Saturday morning in Manly and it’s relatively calm. We’ve arrived in Manly way before the hordes of tourists arrive via the ferry from Circular Quay. There’s still plenty of people around though. There’s surfers catching some of Manly’s renowned waves and swimmers doing their ocean laps. Away from the water, there are plenty of bronzed and buff bodies running or cycling along Manly’s famous promenade sheltered by fig trees.

We’ve decided to spend the day in Manly starting with an early morning breakfast in my favourite beachside café, Whitewater. Situated across the road from Manly Beach, Whitewater combines beach views and sumptuous food. Plus, their family-friendly attitude means that we’ve been eating here since my daughter was a toddler. It’s our go-to weekend breakfast spot whenever we visit Sydney. The staff are friendly and welcoming to babies and kids and provide paper and crayons to keep kids occupied. Just down the street is the sister cafe of Whitewater, Bluewater which is more casual but as just as kid-friendly with high chairs, colouring-in paraphenalia and lots of room for strollers or prams.

Manly Beach Playground

After a big breakfast, it’s time to walk and scoot to North Steyne just 700 metres north of Manly beachfront. There’s a playground there that we’ve meaning to check out. It doesn’t disappoint. Not only does it have great equipment for kids aged 0 to 8, being beachside, it has spectacular views.

Manly Beach Playground

There’s climbing equipment, a roundabout, a large communal swing as well as interactive games for younger kids. After an hour playing here, we set off to enjoy more of Manly. It’s now getting busy on the beachfront and in town.

Manly Beach Afternoon

We find the Manly markets in the middle of the Corso and stop for a browse. The markets run every Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 5pm feature lots of cool stalls.

Manly Markets

After perusing the wares, we’re thirsty and sit down for a drink at Manly Wharf Bar.

Manly Wharf Hotel

It’s crowded with people but there’s lots of families here so we feel right at home.With a kids menu and harbour views, it’s a perfect spot to hang out with your children.

Manly Wharf

Although it’s tempting to stay for another Corona or two, we manage to extricate ourselves and head around to Manly SEA LIFE Sanctuary. Although this aquarium isn’t as large as others, I actually prefer it for younger kids.

Manly SEA LIFE Aquarium

It has all the usual creatures you would expect such as lots of fish, turtles and some sharks.

Manly SEA LIFE Aquarium

Shark Harbour features an underwater viewing tunnel and we get up close and personal with Murdoch and Freckles, two Grey Nurse sharks. We also see their marine turtle friends and make the obligatory Finding Nemo jokes.

Kids will especially love the hands on activities such as the interactive rockpool where they can touch a crab or starfish or some of the other interesting local creatures that live in Sydney rockpools.

Manly SEA LIFE Aquarium

But the star attraction is the colony of Little Penguins that call Manly home.These gorgeous little creatures are a treat to watch.

Manly SEA LIFE Aquarium Penguins

We laugh at their clumsiness on land but marvel at their speed and agility in the water. The barking noise takes a bit of getting used to though. It’s hard to believe that these cute little creatures make such a noise.

Manly SEA LIFE Aquarium

After emerging from the aquarium, we decide to follow the penguins’ lead and jump in the water.

Manly SEA LIFE Aquarium

With a choice of a few harbour and ocean beaches in Manly, it’s a tough decision. The harbour beach Manly Cove is near to the Aquarium and features a safe and netted swimming area which is great for families. But we decide instead to visit Shelly Beach, a pretty little ocean beach near Fairy Bower. It’s a 1km scenic walk from Manly Beach around to Fairy Bower. We dawdle along the path pausing to look back towards Manly Beach and take time out to check out each of the nine stainless steel sculptures placed on the rocks.

Sculpture Shelly Beach Manly

We’re tempted by the rock pool along the way but decide to proceed with the original plan of swimming at Shelly Beach.

Shelly Beach Manly

This is a gorgeous little beach and is just one of a handful of inland facing ocean beaches in New South Wales. Due to the direction it faces, it’s quite sheltered which makes it a popular swimming location for families. Although the beach is busy, there’s still plenty of room to throw down our towels and bags and snag some real estate.

Shelly Beach Manly

The gentle waves means there’s lots of parents and kids in the water and we quickly join them. The water is sublime and clear and we notice a few snorkelers further out. The area is gazetted as a Marine Reserve and there are many underwater species to view. We plan on bringing snorkeling gear the next time we visit.

After a refreshing swim, we head back to the sand and relax on our towels while our daughter builds sandcastles. We’re planning to stay for a while but unfortunately, the weather has other ideas. A loud crack of thunder spoils our idyllic beach afternoon and we notice the dark storm clouds gathering foretelling a summer storm.

Shelly Beach Manly

Families around us start to pack up and we follow suit hurrying back to the car just in time as fat raindrops start to fall on our heads and the storm ensues.

Shelly Beach Manly Rock Pool

It’s a spectacular end to an idyllic day in Manly!

To stay longer in Manly, choose from family-friendly accommodation such as the Novotel Manly Pacific which offers free accommodation and breakfast for two kids under 16, Manly Surfside Holiday Apartments, Quest Manly and The Outback Lodge. More tourism information is available at Hello Manly Tourism, the official Tourism website for Manly.