When we feel like a weekend getaway by the water, we usually opt for destinations that are a couple of hours drive from Sydney – places like Kiama, Port Stephens, Lake Macquarie, Terrigal, The Entrance, to name but a few. But there are many destinations much closer that are perfect for a quick ‘stay-cation’, writes North Shore Mums founder Rachel Chappell.
On a Friday night, my husband casually suggested ‘we don’t have anything on this weekend, why don’t we go away?’. With three young children, spontaneous ideas like this usually get squashed pretty quickly. But the forecast was for beautiful sunny weather, we had zero plans (quite unusual) and I was keen to make the most of the unseasonably warm autumn. ‘Okay! Let’s do it’.
We decided to keep it as easy as possible and stay in our own beautiful city. There’s a reason why so many tourists choose to stay in Manly when they visit Sydney, so this weekend we were going to join them.
Manly is just a 20-minute drive from North Shore suburbs like Roseville and St Ives, so psychologically it felt like a much smaller undertaking than going further afield. Packing took less than an hour, as I rationalised we were only needed pyjamas, a couple of changes of clothes, toiletries and a few extra nappies. Plus, I knew that we could easily buy food and whatever we forgot when we arrived.
We managed to score a last-minute two-bedroom suite at the Novotel Manly Pacific. When we walked in the door, I couldn’t believe our luck. We were on the top floor, which had amazing views across the beach – cue squeals of delight from Miss 4 and Miss 6! It was absolutely perfect for us.
One bedroom had a huge king-size bed (and they had even set up a complimentary portacot for our 12-month-old baby), whilst the second bedroom had two single beds – perfect for the bigger girls. The suite had two bathrooms (one with a bath!), plus a lounge, 6-seater dining table and kitchenette (with full-size fridge, microwave and kettle). I also quietly loved the fact that the cooking facilities were limited, as I had no intention of cooking that weekend. Time for a break for me too!
The rooftop pool and spa at the Novotel was a real highlight for the kids, with amazing 360 degree views around Manly. The girls delighted from jumping in the cold pool and back into the spa, over and over and over again. I enjoyed watching from a slash-proof distance away!
With a 6am Sunday wakeup (normal in our household) and nothing to eat, the breakfast buffet that opened at 6:30am was very appealing. Even better, the kids eat free! I always get very excited by breakfast buffets (and of course overeat), and the one at Novotel was probably the best I’d ever had! It was well stocked with a huge range of cereals, breads, pastries, muffins, fresh fruit, stewed fruit, yoghurts, juices. Plus the hot buffet was fresh and continually replenished with bacon, sausages, hash browns, mushrooms, tomatoes, baked beans and more.
There really is so much to see and do in Manly with young kids, you could easily spend a whole week there (or even buy a house there, as we fantasised) and never get bored. Although we didn’t get chance to do all these things in 24 hours, here are my suggestions of fun things to do with kids in Manly.
1. Bike or scooter along the esplanade
If your kids love to get around on wheels, Manly has it all. Where the corso meets the beach, either head right to Shelley Beach (about 20 mins walk one way), or head left to North Steyne, Queenscliff and Manly Lagoon. There’s a couple of playgrounds along the way, including a fabulous one at Manly Lagoon. No matter which way you go, you’ll be able to stop at one of the great cafes along the way or pick up some snacks from a kiosk.
2. Go to the beach!
For older kids who love big waves, the main beach at Manly is lots of fun (just remember to swim between the flags). Or if you prefer calmer waters, Shelley Beach or the beach on the harbour side (near where the ferries come in) are better for younger children.
3. Walk up and down the corso
Lots of Surf Shops, Fashion Retailers, take-away food, restaurants, cafes, bars, pubs, water fountains for the kids to jump in and a playground. Humphrey’s newsagency is well worth a visit too – funky giftware, cool kids toys and not to mention the biggest range of magazines around!
4. Eat out!
There are a huge amount of cool restaurants, bars and cafes in Manly to choose from – and they’re all busy, pretty much all the time! Manly is very busy on a Saturday night, so booking a restaurant is highly recommended! We were dining at 6pm, so luckily managed to score the last unreserved table for four at Honolulu Grill at North Steyne. Next door, Jellyfish was already full of young families.
5. Visit Manly SEA LIFE Sanctuary
Manly features a fabulous aquarium called the Manly SEA LIFE Sanctuary. It’s a great chance for kids to learn more about all the creatures in the ocean and get close to fish, sharks, penguins, turtles, stingrays and more! It’s set across three levels and doesn’t have a lift – there’s space to park your pram on the ground floor, so bring a carrier if your baby can still fit in one. After you’ve explored the aquarium, there’s an ocean-themed indoor soft play area for kids to burn of any remaining energy.
6. Explore North Head Sanctuary
If you’ve got a car, drive up Darley Road past Manly Hospital and follow the signs to North Head. It’s a stunning spot! It’s the headland where the harbour meets the ocean, and has breathtaking views of the harbour and city. It’s a great natural area to explore on foot. Stop for a coffee or bite to eat at Bella Vista Cafe, which is located inside the Heritage Listed North Fort Building.
Manly is awesome! It was so nice to really hang out there, rather than be limited by the free 2-hour parking mindset. We really felt like we’d had a mini break without the big drive, and it was lovely to spend some quality time in such a beautiful part of Sydney.