Mona Vale Pool, Sydney, Local's Guide to Sydney, Guardian, The Guardian UK, Serena Renner

Remote isolated rock pool off Mona Vale beach at high tide. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo.

Ringed by national parks and blessed with more than 100 beaches, the best bits of Sydney are outdoors, active and (mostly) free. Here’s how to enjoy it like a local.

“The best things about Sydney are free,” resident Russell Crowe has said. It is arguably the top metropolis on the planet for soaking up the scenery, but Sydneysiders don’t take these God-given gifts for granted. When they’re not out in the surf, swimming laps in an ocean pool, or sailing around the harbour, locals are barbecuing, picnicking, or finding other ways to enjoy the subtropical setting.

Bondi to Coogee 

Being an east coast city, Sydney’s finest hour is sunrise, and the best time to surf, walk, or exercise is in the coral morning light. Head to the 90-year-old Icebergs swim club in Bondi Beach for sunrise laps, a sweat in the surfer-view sauna, or Yoga by the Sea, which offers classes to a soundtrack of crashing waves. Early morning is also the best time to beat the tourists on the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk, a 12km round trip of cornmeal coves, seawater swimming pools, and even ancient Aboriginal rock art.
 Bondi Icebergs , A$7 for the pool and sauna, plus additional A$20 for yoga, open every day except Thursday from 6am (6.30am at weekends)

North Bondi

The north side of Bondi Beach is where locals hang out in the mural-backed kiddie pool, on the orange-striped rocks around the Ben Buckler headland, and at the Biddigal Reserve, aka “grassy knoll”. It’s also where veteran Let’s Go Surfing staff can help novice surfers perfect their pop-ups, and where local legends own the greens at the refurbished Bondi Bowling Club (from A$12pp, subject to availability). Once the playing’s over, head up to Rocker cafe, a new breakfast and lunch outpost co-owned by Darren Robertson of Three Blue Ducks fame. Go for coffee and the maple-smoked bacon and egg roll, or one of the best poke bowls (raw fish salad) in Sydney.
 Let’s Go Surfing, from A$110 for a two-hour adult lesson

Hermitage Foreshore walk

Sydney has no shortage of stunning coastal walks. One of my favourites starts at Nielsen Park in the posh suburb of Vaucluse and meanders for 2km beneath gum trees and over rocky bluffs in Sydney Harbour national park to Rose Bay. Along the way, hikers might spot cliff jumpers and iguana-like water dragons sunning themselves on rocks. It’s tempting to join them, but it’s worth waiting to reach Milk Beach – a small sand crescent with Opera House and Harbour Bridge views. Walk from south to north and end with a tea and warm scones smothered in clotted cream and house-made rosella jam on the verandah of the Vaucluse House Tearooms (fresh scones with tea or coffee from A$16)

Shelly Beach

Riding the ferry from Circular Quay to the northern surf ’hood of Manly is a thrill, even before rounding the bend from Manly Beach to spot the palm-fringed cove of one of Sydney’s best snorkelling and shore diving sites: Shelly Beach. As you fin your way over spiky yellow seaweed and lavender sea sponges in this marine reserve, keep an eye out for sightings of wrasse, cardinal fish, and eastern blue groper, as well as dusky whaler sharks, cuttlefish, weedy sea dragons and spotted nudibranchs. A rare west-facing beach, Shelly Beach is also a great spot for watching sunsets.
 Sydney Ferries run from Circular Quay to Manly, A$7.35 each way using the city’s Opal cardDive Centre Manly offers snorkel and dive tours, from $75

(Read 11 more local’s tips in the full guide, published in January 2018, at