Monday, Dec. 21, 2009


Sydney, it's true, is a bit of an exhibitionist. a glittering playground, its sandstone coves and sun-blazed beaches skirt the prodigious harbor and open Pacific. But it isn't all just sea and sport. Today, Sydney's 4.5 million denizens make it one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities — a multiethnic hub of business, creativity and culture. Beyond all its brazen beauty lies a host of eclectic pleasures.

1. Circular Quay

Begin here for a close-up gander at the great steel arc of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House's splendid sails. Here too, housed in a restored 1930s-designed building, is the Museum of Contemporary Art, tel: (61-2) 9245 2400, and the Customs House Library, tel: (61-2) 9242 8555. One block on, the Museum of Sydney, tel: (61-2) 9251 5988, is set behind a starkly beautiful art installation that marks initial contact between the British colonizers and the Cadigal people, the area's first Australians.

2. Lunch at Sean's Panaroma

"I wouldn't want to be a tourist restaurant," says Sean Moran, of his beautifully intimate Sean's Panaroma, tel: (61-2) 9365 4924, perched above iconic Bondi Beach. "Lots of people come from overseas, but it still does feel like a neighborhood restaurant." Short on pretension, Panaroma is long on all that matters. Seasonality is paramount: exquisite ingredients (many straight from Moran's own farm) are allowed to shine. The daily, four-course Chef's Choice menu ($85) merely lists chief ingredients — patrons trust Moran implicitly.

3. Bondi Beach

Bondi seduces many a nomad into staying put; chances are you won't hurry to leave. Swim, sunbathe or sign up for a surf lesson — a two-hour lesson at Let's Go Surfing, tel: (61-2) 9365 1800, costs $90. Or take in the spectacular stretch of sandstone cliffs and coves of the Bondi-to-Bronte walk along a one-hour, 2.5-km coastal path. And if you dally past dusk, swing past the White Revolver, on the corner of Curlewis Street and Campbell Parade, a bijou club where Bondi's style set converges.

4. Oxford and William Streets

Paddington's Oxford Street has long been the darling of Sydney shopping. You'll find local luminaries Sass & Bide at No. 132, tel: (61-2) 9360 3900, and High Tea with Mrs Woo at No. 72b, tel: (61-2) 8065 5345. Adjoining William Street has also come into its own as a tiny trove inclining to the handcrafted. Collette Dinnigan is at No. 33, tel: (61-2) 9360 6691. Belinda Seper's boutiques Belinda and the Corner Shop are at Nos. 29 and 43, tel: (61-2) 9380 8728. In Pelle, No. 90, tel: (61-2) 9331 8100), Monica Schnieper presides over a vintage panoply.

5. Sydney Festival

The month of January sees an emptied city center, free of cars and transformed into a spectacle of music and surprise, featuring a mesh of talent ranging from bands of international and local fame to acts including a burlesque circus and indigenous arts practice. Overall, Sydney Festivall, Australia's largest cultural event ushers in more than 1,000 artists and offers free and freewheeling events including Festival First Night. See for more.

6. Live Music

As much as Melburnians love to malign Sydney's live-music scene, the glitter city has more than a few formidable institutions. Beyond major concert and recital spaces, check the listings of intimate venues. For over three decades, the Basement, tel: (61-2) 9251 2797, has been hosting varied acts, from Prince to Georgie Fame. In boho Newtown, the Vanguard, tel: (61-2) 9557 7992, is another standout jazz, blues and roots venue. Both establishments also have decent restaurants.

7. Late-Night Sustenance

Revelers would be lost without the good shepherds of late-night fare. One such man is Abraham Zailaa, at legendary Fatima's Lebanese Restaurant, tel: (61-2) 9698 4895, open until 3 a.m. A gentle giant, Zailaa serves falafel rolls and other delicacies to night owls, and enjoys "just coming across a lot of nice people" — including the likes of the Beastie Boys and Ben Harper, to drop only a couple of names. Another worthy fixture is Golden Century Seafood Restaurant tel: (61-2) 9212 3901, for the likes of salt and pepper crab and whole, fresh fish, served until 4 a.m.

8. Surry Hills Galleries

"Art is the thrilling spark that beats death, that's all." So said the late Brett Whiteley, whose wayward brilliance can still be seen at the Brett Whiteley Studio, tel: (61-2) 9225 1740, in arts hub Surry Hills. Unfinished paintings, art equipment and books remain, as does a graffiti wall covered with quotes and images. For the spark of emerging artists, see the nearby First Draft Gallery, tel: (61-2) 9698 3665. When you're done gallery browsing, grab a flat white and a standout brunch at Four Ate Five, or try Reuben Hills' aptly named brothel sandwich in honor of some of the area's more wanton residents.

9. Taronga Zoo

Sydney Harbour resounding with lions' roars? Yes, really. Taronga Zoo, tel: (61-2) 9969 2777, lies on the leafy north shore. Along with thousands of exotic and native Australian animals, it comes with some dress-circle water and skyline views, and draws more than a million visitors a year. An adult ZooPass, including the ferry fare from Circular Quay, is $45; die-hards can sleep over in a luxury safari tent with after-hours adventures for $225.

10. Royal National Park

The Royal National Park became a people's park in 1879. It spans more than 130 sq km of windswept heath, rain-forested gullies and magnificent coastline. Of the beaches, Wattamolla, Garie and Burning Palms are standouts. The park has over 100 km of trails, and is also beloved of surfers and cyclists. Drive in or catch the ferry from Cronulla.