The 10 Best Beaches in NSW: Reviewed and Ranked in 2024

Australia’s coastline is a tapestry of mesmerising beaches, each with its own unique charm. Among these, New South Wales (NSW) boasts some of the most stunning coastal gems, combining pristine sands with vibrant communities. My comprehensive research, evaluating beaches based on 10 distinct criteria, aims to guide you through the best beachside towns NSW has to offer, making your next coastal escape unforgettable.

Below are my recommendations for the best beaches along the coastline of NSW.

10. Thirroul Beach, Thirroul – Score: 73/100

Thirroul Beach, image by Maksym Kozlenko

Thirroul Beach and its namesake town blend natural beauty with a thriving arts scene, making it a unique destination on the NSW coast.

Scoring Criteria: 

  • Cleanliness: 7/10
  • Water Quality: 8/10
  • Safety: 7/10
  • Amenities: 6/10
  • Accessibility: 8/10
  • Local Community: 7/10
  • Natural Beauty: 8/10
  • Activities Available: 6/10
  • Accommodation Quality: 7/10
  • Food and Drink Options: 9/10

Thirroul Beach shines with its clear waters and vibrant community atmosphere. The beach is renowned for its cleanliness and water quality, providing a safe and enjoyable experience for swimmers and surfers alike. The town’s commitment to the arts is evident in its array of galleries and live music venues, offering cultural experiences that complement the natural beauty of the area. The availability of quality accommodation and exceptional food and drink options, including beachfront cafes and fine dining restaurants, ensures visitors have a comfortable and satisfying stay.

Thirroul is ideal for those who appreciate the blend of beach life with arts and culture. Its welcoming community and variety of activities make it perfect for families, couples, and solo travellers looking for a relaxed but enriching coastal escape.

Interested in Thirroul?

9. Avalon Beach, Avalon – Score: 76/100

Avalon Beach, image by Maurice van Creij

Avalon Beach stands out for its unspoiled beauty and the laid-back lifestyle of its suburb, making it a favourite among locals and visitors alike.

Scoring Criteria: 

  • Cleanliness: 8/10
  • Water Quality: 8/10
  • Safety: 7/10
  • Amenities: 7/10
  • Accessibility: 7/10
  • Local Community: 8/10
  • Natural Beauty: 9/10
  • Activities: 6/10
  • Accommodation Quality: 8/10
  • Food and Drink Options: 8/10

Avalon Beach is celebrated for its pristine conditions and breathtaking natural surroundings. The beach offers high-quality water for swimming and surfing, backed by excellent safety measures. The suburb’s amenities, including unique shops and boutique cafes, contribute to its charm. Avalon’s strong sense of community and abundance of natural beauty, including nearby walking trails and lookouts, make it a serene retreat. Recent statistics highlight the area’s growth in quality accommodation and culinary offerings, enhancing its appeal as a holiday destination.

This beach is best suited for those seeking a tranquil environment with access to outdoor activities and a vibrant local culture. Avalon Beach is perfect for nature lovers, families, and individuals looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life.

Interested in Avalon?

8. Byron Bay Beach, Byron Bay – Score: 79/100

Byron Bay Main Beach, image by Ank Kumar

Byron Bay Beach, with its iconic lighthouse and lively town atmosphere, is a beacon for travellers seeking both relaxation and adventure.

Scoring Criteria: 

  • Cleanliness: 8/10
  • Water Quality: 8/10
  • Safety: 8/10
  • Amenities: 7/10
  • Accessibility: 8/10
  • Local Community: 8/10
  • Natural Beauty: 9/10
  • Activities Available: 8/10
  • Accommodation Quality: 7/10
  • Food and Drink Options: 8/10

Byron Bay Beach is a jewel in the NSW coastline, known for its crystal-clear waters and wide sandy beaches. The beach is well-maintained and safe, with lifeguards regularly on duty. The town of Byron Bay offers a plethora of activities, from surfing and kayaking to yoga classes and art workshops, catering to a wide range of interests. The community is welcoming, with a focus on sustainability and wellness, reflected in the numerous organic eateries and health-focused retreats. Despite its popularity, Byron Bay has managed to maintain its charm and natural beauty, making it a must-visit destination.

Ideal for adventurers and wellness enthusiasts, Byron Bay Beach offers a perfect mix of natural beauty, vibrant culture, and a plethora of activities. It’s a haven for anyone looking to connect with nature, enjoy community spirit, and explore the arts and wellness scene.

Interested in Byron Bay?

7. Bondi Beach, Bondi – Score: 80/100

Bondi Beach is not just a beach but an icon, synonymous with the Australian beach culture and known for its golden sands, surf, and dynamic community.

Scoring Criteria: 

  • Cleanliness: 8/10
  • Water Quality: 8/10
  • Safety: 9/10
  • Amenities: 8/10
  • Accessibility: 8/10
  • Local Community: 7/10
  • Natural Beauty: 8/10
  • Activities Available: 9/10
  • Accommodation Quality: 7/10
  • Food and Drink Options: 8/10

Bondi Beach excels in offering a comprehensive beach experience with its well-maintained sands and high safety standards, including the famous Bondi Lifeguards. The area is bustling with activities, from beach volleyball to outdoor fitness classes, and the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk. The local culinary scene is vibrant, featuring everything from casual beachside eateries to upscale restaurants. Bondi’s accessibility and range of amenities make it a favourite among both locals and tourists, embodying the essence of Sydney’s beach lifestyle.

Bondi Beach is recommended for anyone seeking an energetic and social beach environment. It’s particularly well-suited for surfers, fitness enthusiasts, and those who enjoy a lively social scene.

Interested in Bondi?

6. Manly Beach, Manly – Score: 82/100

Manly Beach and Sydney Harbour, image by Maksym Kozlenko

Manly Beach offers a blend of surf culture, scenic beauty, and a family-friendly atmosphere, making it a standout destination on the NSW coast.

Scoring Criteria: 

  • Cleanliness: 8/10
  • Water Quality: 9/10
  • Safety: 8/10
  • Amenities: 8/10
  • Accessibility: 9/10
  • Local Community: 8/10
  • Natural Beauty: 8/10
  • Activities Available: 8/10
  • Accommodation Quality: 8/10
  • Food and Drink Options: 8/10

Manly Beach is renowned for its excellent water quality and diverse range of water sports, including surfing, paddleboarding, and snorkelling. The beach is complemented by the Corso, a bustling pedestrian street offering shops, cafes, and entertainment. The community is warm and welcoming, with numerous events and festivals throughout the year. Manly’s commitment to maintaining a clean and safe environment ensures a pleasant visit for all. With easy access from Sydney via ferry, it’s a popular choice for both day-trippers and longer stays.

Manly Beach is perfect for families, water sports enthusiasts, and anyone looking to enjoy a vibrant beach town atmosphere. Its combination of natural beauty, community spirit, and recreational opportunities makes it a top choice for a coastal getaway.

Interested in Manly?

5. Merewether Beach, Newcastle – Score: 84/100

Merewether Beach, image by Maurice van Creij

Merewether Beach is a surfer’s paradise, known for its stunning coastline, historic ocean baths, and lively local culture.

Scoring Criteria: 

  • Cleanliness: 9/10
  • Water Quality: 9/10
  • Safety: 8/10
  • Amenities: 9/10
  • Accessibility: 8/10
  • Local Community: 9/10
  • Natural Beauty: 9/10
  • Activities Available: 8/10
  • Accommodation Quality: 7/10
  • Food and Drink Options: 8/10

Merewether Beach boasts some of the best surfing conditions in NSW, hosting international competitions and drawing surfers from around the globe. The historic Merewether Ocean Baths offer a unique swimming experience, while the coastal walk provides breathtaking views. The local community is active and welcoming, with a strong sense of pride in their beach and town. Recent developments have seen a rise in quality accommodation and dining options, enhancing the visitor experience.

Merewether Beach is ideal for surfers, beach lovers, and anyone interested in experiencing a vibrant community with a rich history. Its mix of natural attractions, sporting activities, and cultural events make it a dynamic destination for all types of travellers.

Interested in Merewether?

4. Palm Beach, Palm Beach – Score: 86/100

Palm Beach, the jewel of Sydney’s Northern Beaches, is famed for its stunning landscape, exclusive atmosphere, and the iconic Barrenjoey Lighthouse.

Scoring Criteria: 

  • Cleanliness: 9/10
  • Water Quality: 9/10
  • Safety: 9/10
  • Amenities: 8/10
  • Accessibility: 7/10
  • Local Community: 8/10
  • Natural Beauty: 10/10
  • Activities Available: 9/10
  • Accommodation Quality: 8/10
  • Food and Drink Options: 9/10

Palm Beach stands out for its exceptional cleanliness and water quality, offering a pristine beach experience. The community is known for its affluence and hospitality, providing high-end accommodation and dining options. The beach’s natural beauty is unparalleled, with the lighthouse walk offering panoramic views of the coastline. Palm Beach is also a hub for water sports and outdoor activities, making it a versatile destination for visitors.

Palm Beach is best suited for those seeking luxury and natural beauty in their beach experience. It’s ideal for couples, families, and individuals looking for an exclusive retreat with access to premium amenities and activities.

Interested in Palm Beach?

3. Hyams Beach, Jervis Bay – Score: 88/100

Hyams Beach boasts the whitest sand in the world, set against the backdrop of crystal-clear waters and the natural beauty of Jervis Bay.

Scoring Criteria: 

  • Cleanliness: 9/10
  • Water Quality: 10/10
  • Safety: 9/10
  • Amenities: 9/10
  • Accessibility: 8/10
  • Local Community: 8/10
  • Natural Beauty: 10/10
  • Activities Available: 8/10
  • Accommodation Quality: 8/10
  • Food and Drink Options: 9/10

Hyams Beach is a natural wonder, with its world-renowned white sands and clear blue waters creating a breathtaking setting for beachgoers. The beach is well-maintained and offers a safe environment for swimming and snorkelling. The surrounding Jervis Bay area is a haven for wildlife, including dolphins and whales, enhancing the beach’s appeal. The local community is welcoming, with a variety of quality accommodation and dining options that cater to all tastes.

Hyams Beach is recommended for nature lovers, families, and anyone seeking a peaceful beach getaway. Its unique natural attributes and the surrounding area’s beauty make it a top choice for a memorable coastal experience.

Interested in Jervis Bay?

2. Shelly Beach, Manly – Score: 89/100

Shelly Beach, image by Dick Lyon

Shelly Beach, nestled in the heart of Manly, is a sanctuary of marine biodiversity and a haven for snorkelers and divers.

Scoring Criteria: 

  • Cleanliness: 9/10
  • Water Quality: 10/10
  • Safety: 9/10
  • Amenities: 8/10
  • Accessibility: 8/10
  • Local Community: 9/10
  • Natural Beauty: 10/10
  • Activities Available: 9/10
  • Accommodation Quality: 8/10
  • Food and Drink Options: 9/10

Shelly Beach is celebrated for its exceptional water clarity and commitment to environmental preservation, offering a spectacular setting for underwater exploration. The beach is part of a protected marine reserve, which ensures a rich diversity of marine life, making snorkelling and diving here a truly remarkable experience. The surrounding area is equipped with excellent amenities, including barbecues and picnic spots, enhancing its appeal for family outings. The Cabbage Tree Bay Eco-Sculpture Walk provides an educational journey along the beachfront, combining art with nature conservation. Shelly Beach’s proximity to Manly means visitors can enjoy a wide range of dining and accommodation options, catering to all preferences and budgets.

Recommended for families, marine enthusiasts, and anyone interested in exploring the underwater world, Shelly Beach offers a perfect blend of natural beauty, community spirit, and environmental consciousness. Its pristine conditions and rich marine biodiversity make it a standout destination on the NSW coast.

Interested in Manly?

1. Crescent Head, Crescent Head – Score: 92/100

Crescent Head, image by Felix Dance

Crescent Head is renowned for its long, rolling surf breaks, stunning coastal walks, and a relaxed, friendly community.

Scoring Criteria: 

  • Cleanliness: 9/10
  • Water Quality: 10/10
  • Safety: 9/10
  • Amenities: 9/10
  • Accessibility: 9/10
  • Local Community: 9/10
  • Natural Beauty: 10/10
  • Activities Available: 9/10
  • Accommodation Quality: 9/10
  • Food and Drink Options: 9/10

Crescent Head offers an unparalleled beach experience, with immaculate conditions and a wide range of activities for all ages. The town is characterised by its laid-back lifestyle, welcoming atmosphere, and commitment to preserving its natural beauty. The surf here is legendary, attracting surfers from across the globe, while the scenic walks offer stunning views of the coastline. The local amenities, from charming cafes to comfortable accommodations, ensure a pleasant and convenient stay for visitors.

Crescent Head is perfect for surfers, nature enthusiasts, and anyone looking to immerse themselves in a tranquil and friendly coastal community. Its exceptional scores across all criteria solidify its position as the top beach destination in NSW for 2024.

Interested in Crescent Head?

How I Scored Each Beach

In the following sections, you’ll gain insight into the methodology behind the scoring of each beach. This approach is designed to offer a comprehensive and fair assessment of what makes a beach truly stand out.

Cleanliness

Cleanliness is a crucial aspect of any beach experience, reflecting the health of the environment and the respect of the community for their natural resources. A beach scoring a perfect 10 in this category would be virtually litter-free, with clear sand and water, and efforts in place for regular cleaning and maintenance. An example of a beach and town that could score a 10 on cleanliness, outside of our top 10, is Seven Mile Beach in Gerroa. This beach is known for its immaculate conditions, thanks to active local conservation efforts and community engagement in keeping the area pristine.

Water Quality

Water quality is essential for ensuring the safety and enjoyment of beachgoers, indicating the beach’s suitability for swimming, surfing, and other water activities. A top score is awarded to beaches with crystal-clear water, free of pollutants and regularly tested to meet high environmental standards. An exemplary beach in this category would be Jervis Bay’s Greenfield Beach, famous for its turquoise waters and exceptional clarity, making it a haven for swimmers and snorkelers alike.

Safety

Safety measures at a beach, including lifeguard presence, signage, and availability of first aid, play a vital role in protecting visitors. A beach scoring a 10 would have highly trained lifeguards, clear safety information, and designated swimming areas to prevent accidents. Tathra Beach in the town of Tathra is an example where comprehensive safety measures are in place, ensuring a secure environment for all beachgoers.

Amenities

The availability and quality of amenities such as showers, toilets, and changing facilities significantly enhance the beach experience. A score of 10 in this category means the beach offers well-maintained, clean, and accessible amenities. Broulee Beach in Broulee would be an example, with excellent facilities that cater to the needs of families, individuals, and groups, making beach visits comfortable and convenient.

Accessibility

Accessibility refers to how easily people can reach the beach, including parking, public transport options, and access for those with disabilities. A beach scoring a 10 would offer ample parking, good public transport links, and well-maintained pathways and ramps. Mollymook Beach, located in Mollymook, excels in accessibility, providing easy access for all visitors, including those with mobility challenges.

Local Community

The vibe and support of the local community can greatly impact the overall beach experience. A score of 10 in this category is given to beaches where the local community is welcoming, and there are community-led activities and initiatives. The beach at Brunswick Heads is an excellent example, known for its friendly locals and community events that create a warm and inclusive atmosphere.

Natural Beauty

Natural beauty is what draws many to the beach, with aspects such as scenic views, clean sand, and clear water being key. A beach that scores a 10 would boast breathtaking natural landscapes, unspoiled by overdevelopment. Seal Rocks in Myall Lakes National Park is renowned for its stunning beauty, offering secluded beaches and crystal-clear waters surrounded by lush greenery.

Activities Available

The range of activities available, from water sports to beach games and nature walks, adds to the appeal of a beach. A top score indicates a wide variety of well-organised, accessible activities suitable for all ages. Lake Cathie Beach, near Port Macquarie, offers everything from fishing and kayaking to picturesque walking trails, making it a perfect score candidate.

Accommodation Quality

The quality of nearby accommodation options can extend the enjoyment of a beach visit. A beach scoring a 10 provides a range of high-quality accommodation, from luxury resorts to cosy beachside cottages. Hawks Nest Beach, located in Hawks Nest, is adjacent to accommodation options that boast high comfort and excellent service, catering to both luxury seekers and budget travellers.

Food and Drink Options

The availability and variety of food and drink options contribute to a memorable beach experience. A beach with a score of 10 boasts a selection of eateries ranging from casual cafes to fine dining, offering fresh, local cuisine. Cabarita Beach, in the town of Cabarita, stands out for its gourmet offerings and beachfront dining experiences, encapsulating the best of local Australian fare.

In Conclusion

In my exploration of the best beaches and their towns across New South Wales, I’ve traversed a diverse landscape of coastal treasures, each offering its own unique allure. From the serene and pristine sands of Hyams Beach in Jervis Bay, to the vibrant and iconic shores of Bondi Beach in Bondi, my journey has showcased the best of what NSW has to offer. Notably, Shelly Beach in Manly, scoring 89, stands out for its marine biodiversity, while Crescent Head, is revered for its long, rolling surf breaks and stunning coastal walks.

Here is a summary of the beaches and their towns, highlighting their scores for quick reference:

  1. Crescent Head, Crescent Head – Total Score (92/100)
  2. Shelly Beach, Manly – Total Score (89/100)
  3. Hyams Beach, Jervis Bay – Total Score (88/100)
  4. Palm Beach, Palm Beach – Total Score (86/100)
  5. Merewether Beach, Newcastle – Total Score (84/100)
  6. Manly Beach, Manly – Total Score (82/100)
  7. Bondi Beach, Bondi – Total Score (80/100)
  8. Byron Bay Beach, Byron Bay – Total Score (78/100)
  9. Avalon Beach, Avalon – Total Score (76/100)
  10. Thirroul Beach, Thirroul – Total Score (73/100)

Each destination has been carefully evaluated against criteria that consider cleanliness, water quality, safety, amenities, accessibility, local community, natural beauty, activities available, accommodation quality, and food and drink options. These beaches are not just stretches of sand but gateways to vibrant communities and natural splendour, offering something for everyone, from serene retreats to hubs of activity and culture.

Whether you’re a local resident seeking a weekend getaway or a visitor looking to explore the varied coastline of New South Wales, these beach towns offer exceptional experiences that cater to a wide range of preferences and interests.

And for those considering making a more permanent move to one of these picturesque locales, or simply looking for a holiday home near the water, the expertise of a buyer’s agent can be invaluable. A professional residential buyer’s agent can provide tailored advice and assistance, helping you find a property that suits your needs and preferences, ensuring you’re as close as possible to these stunning beaches and vibrant communities.

Join our email list to receive our latest listings and sales reports