Melbourne probably isn’t the first city that springs to mind when thinking about Australia’s famous beaches.
Instead, you might think of Sydney with its Pacific-facing coastline and massive harbor, or perhaps Perth with its Indian Ocean beaches over which the sun sets.
However, Melbourne is wrapped around the vast Port Phillip Bay, which means there are plenty of beaches within easy reach of its bayside suburbs. Often accessible via public transit, these pleasant stretches of sand are sheltered, with minimal wave action and perfect for a relaxed dip. And being Melbourne, there’s sure to be a good cafe or bar nearby when you’re finished with the bay views.
Here are seven of Melbourne’s best beaches.
1. St Kilda Beach
Arguably Melbourne’s answer to Sydney’s Bondi Beach, this stretch of sand is the city’s most famous. That’s partly because of St Kilda’s longtime role as a bayside entertainment playground – the suburb’s streets are crammed with pubs, restaurants, bars and live music venues.
The beach itself – which fronts the clear waters of the bay – is bookended by icons: at the north end, there’s the iconic St Kilda Sea Baths building, which houses a seawater swimming pool and hub of places to eat and drink. To the south, you’ll find the fun-filled attractions of historic amusement park, Luna Park. With very little swell, its waters are safe for families and after a swim or sunbathe, you can walk to Esplanade above the beach for a drink or meal at the Hotel Esplanade, a famed Victorian-era pub. Catch trams 16 or 96 to this beach.
Planning tip: St Kilda Beach isn’t well supplied with changing rooms, so to make life easier, wear your swimming gear beneath your clothing. There are public toilets in the Sea Baths complex and on nearby Jacka Boulevard.
2. Port Melbourne Beach
To the northwest of St Kilda Beach, Port Melbourne is very easy to reach from the city center. Jump on a number 109 tram heading west along Collins Street and you’ll be there in no time, riding along the converted rails of what was once Australia’s oldest train line. Once there, you’ll be greeted by a beach running alongside a former industrial suburb, where classic Victorian architecture meets glass-and-steel 21st-century buildings.
Planning tip: A good way to experience the beachfront is to walk southeast to Victoria St in Albert Park. Here you can enjoy fish and chips at Ahoy Roy or have a drink at the Bleakhouse Hotel, before catching the number 1 tram from its terminus back to the city center.
3. Elwood Beach
South of St Kilda, Elwood is far less frequented by tourists or Melburnians on a day trip, perhaps because it’s tucked away and just west of the nearest tram and train lines. For those who do make the effort to reach it, they’ll find a less-crowded beach that’s mostly a local hangout. Beachgoers fling frisbees and kick footballs across the sands and in the adjacent sporting grounds and leafy Elwood Park.
A little further to the east is Elsternwick Park, a broad stretch of greenery with benches and a small ornamental lake. (This body of water is best left to the birds and isn’t appropriate for swimming.)
Planning tip: Food can be found on the shopping strip along the nearby Ormond Road, including fish and chips at Heads & Tails (112 Ormond Road).
4. Altona Beach
Melburnians rarely tell you to “go west” when looking for a beach, but they should. The bayside suburb of Altona defies the gritty industrial stereotypes of the city’s west, delighting in its gorgeous sandy beach a short walk from Altona railway station.
It’s well off the tourist trail, so it’ll only be you and the locals on the sand. In late 2023, its decaying 135-year-old pier will be replaced by a brand-new structure stretching an impressive 300m (985ft) into Port Phillip Bay, with a boardwalk allowing visitors to promenade above the waves. There are beach volleyball courts, and adjacent Logan Reserve has toilets and a children’s playground.
Local tip: Grab a serving of fish and chips from Altona Beach Bites at 137 Esplanade. Take it across the street to the picnic tables above the beach, and enjoy the bay views.
5. Williamstown Beach
Another west-side gem, this stretch of coarse, golden sand at the seafaring suburb of Williamstown is an appealing spot for a dip, with its curved shape creating a protected area that’s perfect for families.
There’s a kiosk selling snacks and coffee at one end; while at the other end is the upscale Mediterranean-style restaurant, Sebastian. Behind the beach is the Williamstown Botanic Gardens, a good place to wander or find some shade after a swim.
Detour: Williamstown Beach railway station is the closest to the beach, but you might like to extend your visit by strolling along the Esplanade and Morris Street to Williamstown Station. A little further past the latter station is Williamstown Timeball Tower, a 19th-century structure once used to signal the time to ships nearby, so captains could set their clocks.
6. Dendy Street Beach
A popular beach next to Brighton – one of Melbourne’s most exclusive suburbs on the east side of the bay – Dendy Street Beach runs between Green Point and the 19th-century Middle Brighton Baths. It’s a lovely place to take a dip, particularly late on a hot summer’s day when the sun is setting and casting its glow across the waves.
What it’s most famous for, however, are the Brighton Bathing Boxes, a long row of colorfully decorated timber huts that have been here since the Victorian era – perfect fodder for selfies and Instagram shots. Both Middle Brighton and Brighton Beach railway stations are nearby.
7. Sorrento Front Beach
As far south as you can go in the Melbourne metropolitan area, the Mornington Peninsula suburb of Sorrento is as charming as its namesake on the Italian Riviera. Situated on a long narrow peninsula, it’s a place of aquatic contrasts: on the south shore are the unpredictable waters of Bass Strait, while on the north shore lies the much gentler Front Beach.
Admire Sorrento’s historic limestone buildings before heading for the sand, which is framed by stands of Norfolk pines and a long jetty. You can hire paddle boards on the foreshore and fuel up afterwards at The Baths restaurant near the pier.
Detour: From Sorrento you can catch the regular ferry across the bay to Queenscliff, an attractive seaside town on the Bellarine Peninsula. It’s a great place for an overnight stay, or you can take a bus onward from there to Geelong, returning to Melbourne via frequent trains.