Travel Notes: Sydney

During our time in Sydney, Rob and I repeatedly remarked that it reminded us of favorite elements of other cities (e.g., set right on the water with numerous ferries like Seattle, quirky neighborhoods like Buenos Aires, warm weather like San Diego), but that it possesses all of these attributes rather than just one or two.  You can work downtown and take a short ferry to a nearby neighborhood where you could swim and surf after work and all without sitting in hours of traffic.  We only had five days in the city so I know I didn't get the full picture, but it was a fantastic place to visit and I can't wait to visit again.  It may just be my new favorite city...

Some observations we made about Sydney include:

  • Beer is very expensive (AU$20 for a pint in some places, which is US$15) and not very good (I saw a 6-pack of Corona on sale for AU$28 or US$21). 
  • I found the city to be kid-friendly and easy to navigate.  Our taxi driver to the airport had a carseat available and was totally patient when Blythe had a meltdown about riding in it, our flight from Sydney to Queenstown had a special seatbelt extender for lap children that I've never seen before, and our hotel brought us the coolest potty training stool-seat combo, plus a rubber ducky, a hat, and a coloring book.  There were breastfeeding rooms everywhere and plenty of public restrooms that were remarkably clean (one notices such things with a potty training 2-year-old who is obsessed with washing her hands and knows that saying she needs to go to the bathroom will get her to a place with a sink.
  • They have shark nets at the beaches, which is a bit disconcerting and, apparently, controversial.
  • Everyone remarked to us that Sydney is so expensive (people we met who live in Sydney), but Rob and I found it to be on par with any other major city (e.g., NYC, Paris, Boston, Amsterdam).
  • Not panicking as a passenger in a car driving on the left-hand side of the road takes some adjustment.
  • Our first attempt to get a babysitter through the Westin led to a quote of $46/hour. Eek.
  • How do you order a regular coffee?  A long black, I think.  But then you have to ask to have milk added and if you are from the U.S. it will be a tiny, tiny coffee (it made me think of Zealander:  "What is this? A coffee for ants?").  I've settled on enjoying flat whites.  Also, decaf is an extra $0.50.  It was explained to me that this is because they don't use the chemical process to make decaf like we do in the U.S. and their process takes quite a while and/or is expensive.
  • It is very hot and sunny.  I felt like I would burn immediately without a hat and sunblock.  
Obviously I'm not the only one concerned about the sun.  This sign hung at the beach.

Obviously I'm not the only one concerned about the sun.  This sign hung at the beach.

We had input from a number of friends on what to do in Sydney, plus I tried a service called Mom Aboard that was recommended by a friend (thanks, Lindsay!).  Mom Aboard has "Momambassadors" in various cities around the world and you share with them the length of your trip, what activities interest you, how old your kids are, etc. and they create a custom itinerary for you that is full of helpful information, including the best playgrounds, how to reach a doctor, and where the family-friendly neighborhoods are located.  We usually do all of our own trip planning, but this was helpful and led us to a few cool spots we wouldn't have otherwise found.  Some of the highlights from our trip are the following: 

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Activities

The Toranga Zoo is a beautiful and short ferry ride from downtown (the "CBD").  The zoo is set on a hill and fun to explore, especially the area devoted to animals native to Australia where you can actually walk around in a fenced-in area with the animals (including kangaroos and wallabies).  It seemed like an incredible feature of the zoo that would never exist in the U.S.  It rained for our most of our morning, but we still had a lot of fun and the food at the cafeteria was surprisingly good (including roasted pumpkin, which is everywhere in NZ and AU).

Rob and Blythe at the Opera House

Rob and Blythe at the Opera House

Sydney Opera House - We were staying downtown so we caught many glimpses of the opera house, which is stunning, particularly viewed from one of the ferries leaving from Circular Quay or from the nearby botanic gardens.  After our zoo outing, we walked over to the Opera Kitchen and sat outside marveling at the harbor and the opera house and enjoying a drink (and a pear for Blythe, acquired in the following way: Darcy: “How much for this pear?”  Bartender: “Is it for the little one?”  Darcy: “Yes”  Bartender: “Free." I need to start keeping track of things Blythe gets for free on this trip).  

Royal Botanic Gardens - Just outside of the CBD and free to enter, the Royal Botanic Gardens are peaceful and stunning.  We walked through as a family and I returned twice on runs and caught a colorful sunset over the city and the opera house from one of the peninsulas in the gardens.  On one evening run, I noticed they were showing an outdoor movie along the water in the gardens, which looked like a lot of fun. 

Bondi Beach - My list is starting to feel a bit obvious, but we had the best morning at Bondi Beach. I thought for sure it would be too touristy and lame, but Rob rented a surf board and caught some awesome waves while B and I checked out the street art and went to Icebergs pool, which totally blew me away.  Seriously, why don't these ocean pools exist in the U.S.?  Or do they and I just don't know?  It was SO FUN to swim in the ocean but in a pool, with the waves crashing around us.  Blythe loved it because it feels calmer than the ocean and the setting is unreal.  It was just $6.50 for me to enter (B was free).  Note that there are these ocean pools all along the coast near Sydney and most of the others are free (our favorite was Freshwater,  north of Manly Beach).  We couldn't figure out easy public transportation to Bondi, so we just took a taxi.  

Coastal Walks - There are incredible coastal walks in and around Sydney, often from one beach to the next.  We only did one in its entirety, from Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach.  There were a few set of stairs we had to carry the stroller up, but it was a great way to see different neighborhoods and beaches and to get out of the city.  It also passed through the stunning Waverly Cemetery.  We stopped for the most delicious meal of our time in Sydney at the Three Blue Ducks in Bronte (and stopped for a moment to enjoy the Bronte swing).  We walked all the way to Coogee Beach, where we had a refreshing drink at the Coogee Pavilion, which was another pleasant surprise - I expected touristy and chintzy but it was anything but.  

Waverly Cemetery

Waverly Cemetery

Watson's Bay - We took another ferry from Circular Quay to Watson's Bay for the loveliest afternoon at a small beach, Camp Cove.  We each went for a run out to the lighthouse near the beach and were afforded views of downtown Sydney and the coastline.  The beach was calm and Blythe loved it.  I recommend picking up lunch ahead of time and bringing it to Camp Cove to enjoy.  We bought fish and chips right as we got off the ferry and were alerted by a local after we waiting thirty minutes for our food that we could get better fish and chips, faster, and for less money just up the hill, so perhaps that is worth exploring.  The neighborhood surrounding Camp Cove is darling.  

Camp Cove Beach

Camp Cove Beach

Manly Beach and Freshwater - Yet another ferry ride to Manly Beach (from my data point of one, toddlers love ferries), which although touristy was fun and had some great attractions for kids (splash fountains along the main drag and numerous playgrounds).  Manly Beach was closed the day we went and we needed new shoes for B, so we asked a Mom at the playground who suggested we head to nearby Freshwater for a well-stocked kid's shop and a great beach. It was an excellent recommendation - we loved the beach at Freshwater. Rob rented a surf board again and B and I visited the saltwater pool (free!), which she again loved.  We even befriended a man and his 4-year-old daughter and he told Blythe she has "a lovely international accent" and I just melted.  

Not pictured: the incredible saltwater pool to the left

Not pictured: the incredible saltwater pool to the left

Darling Quarter Playground - This playground is amazing - water features that kids can manipulate, splash pads galore, and all the usual stuff as well (but nicer).  My photos don't do it justice.  This is located within walking distance of the CBD.

Exploring Surry Hills - Rob and I had a chance to explore this charming neighborhood sans Blythe and poked into a number of cute shops (The Standard Store was my favorite) and bakeries.  You can't walk a block without stumbling upon a hipster coffee shop either.

Eating

Lunch at Three Blue Ducks - those mussels!  

Lunch at Three Blue Ducks - those mussels!  

Central Baking Depot (CBD)
Lox Stock and Barrel (Bondi)
Three Blue Ducks (Bronte)
Coogee Pavilion
Fika Swedish Kitchen (Manly Beach)
Nando's (a chain restaurant we loved in London with locations around Sydney - perfect for a quick and inexpensive (but delicious) dinner)
We created a Google Map of all the restaurants that were recommended, which was helpful.

A Few Thoughts:

  • Purchase an Opal card to make using public transpiration easy.
  • We stayed at the Westin Sydney and felt it was the perfect home base in terms of location (ease of access to sites we wanted to see and to public transportation) and having a few amenities that were really helpful. The staff was friendly and accommodating and I'd highly recommend it.  Our room wasn't large, but Blythe loved the big tub and space-wise it worked for us for five nights.  If we'd stayed longer, we would have done airbnb because it gets tricky being without laundry and a kitchen.  
  • A few resources I used to plan our trip other than Mom Aboard are AFAR Travel Sydney Guide and NYT 36 Hours in Sydney.
Thank you, Westin Sydney.  This is the best potty training chair I've ever seen!  If only it fit in one of our bags...

Thank you, Westin Sydney.  This is the best potty training chair I've ever seen!  If only it fit in one of our bags...