The Best of Sydney
Australia’s gem sparkles on a deep blue harbor
Posted on August 1, 2018
When I first met her, she was a sweet young thing, all gleaming white and nearly brand new. The year was 1975 and she — the Sydney Opera House — was an architectural wonder on her way to becoming the most famous landmark in the Southern Hemisphere.
I couldn’t have imagined it then, but over the years I’ve had the pleasure of revisiting “The House” many times, first as a travel guidebook author and, more recently, on assignment for various magazines. I’ve watched her become a world-class performing arts center and a beloved community gathering place.
Visitors pose for photos in front of the Sydney Opera House and congregate in the cafés along its west side, but my favorite thing to do is walk around to the back, where a quieter patio overlooks the harbor. This relatively intimate setting is a great spot to pause and enjoy the breeze and the continuous parade of sailboats, ferries, and container ships.
There’s also something magical about attending an evening performance in the Concert Hall, the Drama Theatre, the Studio, or the Joan Sutherland Theatre. These spaces are spectacular and during the interval, patrons are treated to the sight of sparkling lights reflected on the harbor.
Since Sydney’s harbor is its heart, it’s important to get out on the water. One of the best ways is to catch a ferry at Circular Quay and take the short and very scenic ride to the seaside suburb of Manly. This spot is renowned for its beautiful beaches lined with stately Norfolk pines. From here, it’s fun to walk along the coast past the historic Fairy Bower ocean pool to Shelly Beach.
The suburb of Bondi, slightly south of the city, is famous for its iconic crescent-shaped surf beach. Like Manly, Bondi is home to a classic Aussie ocean pool and is the starting place of the memorable clifftop walk to Bronte Beach. In recent years, Bondi has become known for its popular cafés and restaurants and is chockablock with hip locals on weekends.
Best Sydney Dining
Even though I like several Bondi eateries, Fred’s in Paddington is hands-down my very favorite restaurant in Sydney. A friend who knows my fondness for Chez Panisse in Berkeley (and all things Alice Waters) turned me on to this spot, which is the creation of a Chez Panisse alum. Danielle Alvarez honed her skills with Waters and it shows in her open-kitchen restaurant, which at once feels very chic and very homey, and the menu that is based on locally-sourced produce.
My husband started with Clair de Lune oysters prepared with coriander and white pepper mignonette. I opted for the spring vegetables served with ginger, coriander seed, and ricotta. Both were fantastic, as were our main courses of buffalo ricotta ravioli with fresh peas, asparagus, basil, and sorrel pesto. Waters orders some of her veggies from Chino Farm in Rancho Santa Fe, and Alvarez has obviously found its equivalent in Sydney’s surroundings.
Best Sydney Lodging
On our most recent visit to Sydney, my husband and I taxied into town from the airport and talked about where we might go for dinner. That conversation ended when I saw the view from our room (1611) at the Four Seasons Hotel Sydney. A large picture window perfectly framed the Opera House and the panorama included picturesque ferries coming and going from Circular Quay.
“Why would I want to leave this room with that view?” I said.
In addition to an ideal location, the hotel has a great staff (the concierge repaired my sunglasses) and an excellent kitchen. Our room service dinner was delicious, and I was amazed at the extensive buffet breakfast that was offered every morning.
When To Go
The best times to visit are September to November and March to May, when the weather is similar to spring and fall in San Diego. Temperatures are higher and airfares and hotels are more expensive from December to February.
Having said that, one of my best Sydney memories is watching the famous New Year’s Eve fireworks from the Royal Botanic Gardens adjacent to the Opera House. That family-friendly option is available again this year, but it would also be wonderful to be inside the house attending Opera Australia’s La Bohème. This very special NYE event is being presented with a 30-minute interval timed for the 9pm fireworks.
Puccini and fireworks at the Opera House. Sounds like the best of Sydney to me. Elizabeth Hansen
Four Seasons: Photo courtesy of the Four Seasons Hotel Sydney All other photography couresty of Adams / Hansen Stock Photos