How to see Sydney the non-touristy way

Taking in the sights of Sydney.
Taking in the sights of Sydney. Photo: Brett Hartwig

Sydney's never been at the top of our holiday wish-list destination. The idea of paying a premium price to cram our three kids into a family-friendly apartment, in the outskirts of the city, just wasn't appealing. We opted for tropical destinations instead. Kids and pools make for an easy holiday for everyone.

But a weekend break proved us wrong.

Instead of trying to do everything, we decided to bunker down out of the city and immerse ourselves in the local community. We decided to travel deeper.

Sampling the local treats.
Sampling the local treats. Photo: Brett Hartwig

Our base was a self-contained Airbnb house, just metres from Sydney's iconic Bondi Beach. You could be forgiven for thinking that Bondi was simply a crowded tourist spot, lacking substance, as I once had. But it turned out to be a great place to chill out with kids.

It was our first time staying in an Airbnb place and it was perfect for our family. With three kids, aged 5, 7 and 9, we can no longer fit in one hotel room and instead find ourselves staying in dodgier places with two adjoining rooms or family-style apartments. But we got the space we needed and it felt like home. And instead of being at the mercy of stock-standard travel information, the Airbnb host gave us some awesome, unique, tailored travel tips, that only the locals know about. Like where to get a decent takeaway coffee (a must for any parent).

We were pointed in the direction of Hall Street, a street full of hip restaurants and shops. It turned out, the further you wandered away from the beach, the cooler it got. The flock of day-trippers tended to spend most of their time crammed onto the beach and eating in the over-priced touristy food joints on the esplanade, so it was pretty easy to escape the crowds and ease into beachside living.

There's also a wide variety of great takeaway food places in Bondi, like Mad Pizza which has amazing pizza and pasta and a great menu for kids. For breakfast, you are spoilt for choice with the iconic Bills, rubbing shoulders with a whole host of delicious competitors. And a late night stroll with the kids to get gelato at Messina is a fun-filled, people watching experience.

Bondi's back streets are reminiscent of Venice Beach in California. There's a bit of grunge, cashed-up families, surfers strolling home with their boards tucked under their arms and a steady stream of bohemian hipsters, enjoying catch-ups with friends in open air restaurants, which spill onto the street. There's this ease of pace which makes you feel like you've travelled to a faraway place.

Your days can be spent on the beach, at the playground, swimming in the stunning Bondi Icebergs Club pool or strolling around the Bondi Farmer's Market on a Saturday morning. And then when you need to laze around, you can head back to your accommodation for a nap or to read in the sun. Our Airbnb pad had a lush green yard, a daybed and a huge outdoor table where we shared a meal with some old friends one night. The luxury of being able to entertain mates while on holidays is yet another reason to seek out something other than a hotel.

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Bondi was also the perfect launching pad to other destinations around Sydney. A cab into town to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art was easy and relatively inexpensive. But buses into the city and Bondi Junction run regularly and you can mix-it up, like we did, by catching a ferry from Circular Quay, back to Watsons Bay, then jumping in a cab for a short trip back to Bondi – yet another great tip from our Airbnb host. We can't wait to head back to Sydney so we can spend a whole afternoon in a beachside restaurant at Watsons Bay. The kids loved playing at the water's edge and climbing the trees, while we ate salt and pepper squid from the iconic Doyle's on the Wharf.

In just a couple of days, we'd immersed ourselves in the Bondi community and felt a sense of connection that you simply can't get by wandering along the foreshore on a day-trip. We'd given the kids an introduction to the stunning beauty of the harbor and relaxed in a holiday home. It was perfect for a family wanting a break with substance.

Sydney is now definitely on our wish list for a longer family holiday. And Bondi is now a place we think of with heart, not just the setting for rescue and vet reality TV shows.

Watching the surfers at Bondi Beach.
Watching the surfers at Bondi Beach. Photo: Brett Hartwig

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