Watsons Bay is one of the best spots in Sydney to spend a summer day with lots of beach-based things to do in Watsons Bay. Having seen photos of the gorgeous beaches, it was one of my top places to visit after moving to Australia.
Watsons Bay, on the eastern edge of Sydney Harbour, is the place to go if you want a break from the crowds at Bondi and Manly. Even in the middle of summer, from December to February, it’s not super packed. Because there are several different beaches around Watsons Bay, if you keep walking farther around the headland, you’ll easily find a quieter place to plop your towel.
Watsons Bay is in the glitziest part of Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, bordering on the ultra-rich real estate of Vaucluse and Rose Bay. However, Watsons Bay itself doesn’t feel exclusive, there are some really nice restaurants but otherwise, it’s just a laidback beachy spot.
Best things to do in Watsons Bay
Whether you want to spend $0 or $200 there are great things to do in Watsons Bay for free and for a luxury day out.
Watsons Bay is surrounded on three sides by the water (Sydney Harbour to the north and east and the Tasman Sea to the west). You won’t be surprised to hear then that most of the activities revolve around the beach.
Watsons Bay has some of the quietest and most secluded beaches in Sydney. The most popular is Watsons Bay Beach, on Marine Parade, which is immediately to the right (north) of the ferry wharf.
Watsons Bay Beach
Watsons Bay Beach is a harbour beach, which means the water isn’t as crystal clear as the ocean beaches on the other side of the headland but it is more sheltered. You’ll find most families at this beach as it’s a good spot for kids to swim.
I would recommend skipping Watsons Bay Beach and heading either up the coastline to the smaller beaches or down to Watsons Bay Baths.
Watsons Bay Baths
Watsons Bay Baths are the best option for serious swimmers and families. It’s a harbour pool that is fully enclosed and therefore protected from sharks or any other nasties that occasionally show up in Australian oceans.
Being at the far edge of Sydney Harbour, away from most of the inner-city pollution, Watsons Bay Baths is by far one of the nicest Sydney Harbour pools. They are also fully accessible with a deep-water access ramp and fully immersible wheelchairs.
There is a 50m lap section for those swimmers keen to get some real exercise in, as well as floating platforms for sunbathing and changing room facilities. The Watsons Bay Baths are run by the local council and are free to access.
Camp Cove Beach
Alternatively, make the short walk up Marine Parade and down to the end of Cove Street where you’ll find Camp Cove Beach. This beach is more secluded, albeit smaller, and is a great place to set up for a beach day.
There is the Camp Cove Kiosk which sells ice-creams, soft drinks, and some takeaway food to keep you going. The beach has parks on both sides and views across to Middle Head on the North Shore.
Parking is very limited here, and non-existent at the beaches farther up the headland, so it’s mostly walking access only, this helps limit the number of people on the beach.
Lady Bay Beach
Further north from Camp Cove Beach is Lady Bay Beach. This beach is harder to get to, so chances are you’ll be one of only a few people there. This might be a good thing because Lady Bay Beach is a nudist beach. If you’re looking for a chance to whip your kit off in Sydney, this is it.
Even if you aren’t ready to let it all hang out, these beaches are worth the walk. They are some of the only semi-private beaches on the southern side of Sydney and have stunning golden sand and turquoise water.
Water activities in Watsons Bay
There are more things to do in Watsons Bay on the water beyond swimming and sunbathing. Lady Bay Beach and Camp Cove beach are also good snorkelling spots. Just remember to bring your own snorkelling gear as they are no facilities at the beach.
For a more active day out in Watsons Bay, try your hand at stand-up paddleboarding. WATSSUP, based out of a van at Watsons Bay Beach, offers SUP lessons and a SUP cruise, taking you to the best spots in and around Watsons Bay to paddle.
Watsons Bay Walks
Even if you aren’t keen to get sand between your toes, Watsons Bay is a great spot for outdoor activities in Sydney. Watsons Bay is on the Bondi to Manly Walk route, an 80km track that connects Bondi to the South with Manly on the North Shore.
The track loops around Watsons Bay so you can start on Marine Parade, the main street running behind the beach and the ferry wharf, and follow the signs right up to South Head before coming back down to Robertson Park which backs on to Marine Parade again. See the map below:
The section of the Bondi to Manly Walk around Watsons Bay is only about 5km total and takes around 60-90 minutes, plus swim breaks and time for admiring the view and taking photos.
It’s an easy walk to fit into a morning or afternoon in Watsons Bay. On the way, you’ll visit The Gap, Hornby Lighthouse, and various historic points of interest.
The walk covers the section of Watsons Bay from the ferry wharf north to South Head. There are also some good walks south of the wharf including the Watsons Bay to Rose Bay Walk (more on that coming soon).
Possibly Watsons Bay’s biggest attraction, the unoriginally named ‘Gap’ is an area between the cliffs on the eastern side of Watsons Bay where you can see out across both the Tasman Sea and Sydney Harbour. The views from the lookout at the gap are truly stunning, filled with dramatic sandstone cliffs and crashing waves.
Unfortunately, the cliffs have been the site of historic tragedies including the shipwreck of the Dunbar in 1857. The cliff edges are now securely fenced off which does restrict the view somewhat.
Sticking out on the edge of South head, Hornby Lighthouse seems too cute to be functional. At only 9m high with vertical red and white stripes, it reminds me of a candy cane. You can’t actually go in Hornby Lighthouse but the rocks around the lighthouse are the best spot to take photos in Watsons Bay. You’ll get views of the CBD skyline, North Head, and Manly and out across the Tasman Sea.
Historic Watsons Bay
You can find evidence of early colonial and wartime Sydney throughout Watsons Bay. Walking up Old South Head Road you’ll spot St Peter’s Church and Our Lady of the Star Church, both beautiful old sandstone buildings with heritage status.
Positioned at one end of the entrance to Sydney harbour, South Head has historically formed part of the city’s coastal defence and you’ll see remnants of this in the gun fortifications, bunkers, and tunnels scattered around South Head.
The best way to see all of these is by walking the South Head Heritage Trail, the 1km loop that connects South Head to the Bondi to Manly Walk Track. If you’re super lucky you might spot some whales on the way (I’ve seen some at North Head before but not yet at South Head).
Where to eat in Watsons Bay
If you mention Watsons Bay to a Sydney local, they’re likely to tell you about Doyles. It was the first thing out of my mother-in-law’s mouth when we mentioned we were going to Watson’s Bay.
Doyles is one of Sydney’s best-known seafood restaurants and definitely one of the longest-running, having opened in Watsons Bay in 1885. Doyles became famous for top-quality seafood and the prices at its flagship beachside restaurant reflect that. If you want to treat yourself to an incredible meal in a beautiful environment this is the place to go. You’ll get white table clothes and everything.
Fish & Chips
Fortunately, you don’t have to have a big budget to get a taste of Doyles as there are also two more outlets in Watsons Bay, the mid-price Doyles Garden Bar and the takeaway fish n chip spot Doyles on the Wharf. Their special chilli plum sauce is a really unique addition to the classic Aussie fish n chips.
The other Watsons Bay institution is Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel, which offers lunch and dinner at its Beach Club restaurant on Watsons Bay Beach. The Beach Club is the place to while away an afternoon in the sun with some mates, a few drinks, and music.
If you are staying longer in Watsons Bay, consider booking a room at the Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel, it’s on of the most popular boutique hotels in Sydney.
Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel also has a takeaway kiosk that does great smoothies, shakes, and juices as well as some takeaway food you can take and eat on the beach. If you get to Watsons Bay early in the morning this is the place to grab your coffee.
For a cheap day out in Watsons Bay, skip the restaurants and grab some picnic food to enjoy at one of the picnic tables in Robertson’s Park. There is no supermarket in Watsons Bay, so you’ll need to BYO food or trek down to Coles Rose Bay.
It isn’t a beach day without an ice-cream and fortunately there are a couple of options in Watsons Bay. You can get a limited selection of flavours from the cart by Doyle’s on the Wharf or pre-packaged ice-creams from Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel Kiosk or the Camp Cove Kiosk.
However, the best option is to go to Gelatissimo which is tucked away in the southern corner of the park. They have tons of flavours sold by the scoop, definitely check out the monthly specials!
Getting to Watsons Bay
Watsons Bay is only a short 20-25 minute drive from the Sydney CBD, or, for those of us who don’t drive, it’s accessible by ferry or bus.
Watsons Bay Ferry
The ferry is the best way to get to Watsons Bay because, at only $6.50 each way, it’s the cheapest harbour cruise in Sydney. The F9 ferry from Circular Quay in the central city goes to Watsons Bay every half hour via Rose Bay.
The ferry trip is only 25 minutes, but you’ll pass some of Sydney’s top real estate as well as cute harbour islands and naval shipyards.
Watsons Bay Bus
If you want the cheapest way to get to Watsons Bay, the public bus is the way to go. The 324 and 325 buses from the central city and the 380 bus from Bondi Beach all stop at Watsons Bay. Fares are around $3.50 depending on time, day, and departure point.
When to go to Watsons Bay
As a beach suburb, Watsons Bay is at its best and busiest in the summer months. Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel often hosts events through the summer months such as the Watsons weekends with live music or the Beach Club Sessions hosted by White Claw Seltzers.
If you are visiting in summer, be aware that Watsons Bay Beach and the section of South Head around the lighthouse are unshaded so you will need to come prepared with sunscreen, water, hats, etc.
If you are keen to try out the walks, then visiting Watsons Bay in the shoulder season (March/April, November) or even winter is ideal as it will be cooler.
What’s On in Watsons Bay
Watsons Bay is a great spot to view the Sydney fireworks on New Year’s Eve or watch the yachts heading out for the start of the Sydney to Hobart race on Boxing Day, December 26 each year.
If you’re an athlete or just a keen spectator, the South Head Roughwater ocean swim event is something special. It’s a 10km race from Bondi finishing in Watsons Bay. All swimmers have to have boat support given the difficulty of the course, it makes exciting watching.
Frequently Asked Questions About Watsons Bay
It takes around 25 minutes by ferry from Circular Quay or 45 minutes by bus. You can drive there in around 20 minutes from central Sydney, depending on traffic.
Yes, you can take either a bus (from central Sydney) or ferry (from Circular Quay) to Watsons Bay. There are no trains or light rail to Watsons Bay.
Yes, there are two restaurants in Watsons Bay as well as several cafes and takeaway food kiosks.
Absolutely! While you can swim right by the wharf, the best place to swim at Watsons Bay is Camp Cove Beach which is around 10 minutes’ walk away.
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