It may be best known for its sky highs, smashed avo and surfboards, but Cabana's Sydney is full of color, charm, antiques and eccentricity. Australian writer and photographer, Conor Burke, shares an insider's guide for anyone travelling down under.



The Little Black Shack © Luisa Brimble, courtesy of Boutique Homes.


Where to Stay

The Little Black Shack: When I’m traveling somewhere I often daydream about what it would be like to experience the place in an earlier time. That daydream feels real at this stylish but simple little beach shack (pictured, top and below) on the shores of Mackerel Beach. Located an hour or so from the city and accessible only by ferry from Palm Beach, The Little Black Shack feels like another time and place.

Capella Sydney: A short stroll from the harbor, the historic sandstone structure that once housed the Department of Education stands out among the surrounding towering offices and is well positioned to take in some wonderful restaurants (Le Foote, Restaurant Hubert, Mr Wongs for starters) and major sites (the bridge, major museums, botanic gardens and opera house are all within walking distance). Rooms are expansive, beautifully detailed with just enough personality coming from a genuinely eclectic and interesting selection of art, objects and books.


The Little Black Shack © Luisa Brimble, courtesy of Boutique Homes.

The Ace: Sydney has never had much of a hotel lobby scene but this recent addition changed that quickly, it's a good spot to bank on for an after dinner cocktail. The compact and comfortable rooms are high on value and style. The design by Melbourne’s Flack Studio feels like a much more grown up take on the Ace vibe, with an artful embrace of color and materials alongside great vintage pieces and Australian art. Dinner at Kiln on the 18th floor should also be on your agenda, everything that came out of the wood-fired kitchen was delicious.

Park Hyatt Sydney: Jutting into the water across from the Opera House and with the Harbor Bridge just over your shoulder, you’re staying at the Hyatt for the views and service, both of which are hard to beat in this city. The rooms are expansive and tasteful in a safe, neutral way that keeps the focus on the water and opera house sails. I’d choose the beach over a pool at any time, however the rooftop pool and terrace here makes a good argument otherwise.

What to See and Do 

Elizabeth Bay House: Despite living down the street for years, it wasn't until recently that I made it inside this grand harborside house museum and was struck by how modern the sparseness of the colonial home felt. Built during the 1830s at a great cost by colony secretary, Alexander May, who ran out of funds before fully realizing the Regency style villa, it might be considered the genesis of Sydney’s obsession with extravagant real estate. One of a handful of house museums run by the Museums of History NSW, my other picks would be nearby Vaucluse House (a gothic style farmhouse) and, further afield, Rose Seidler House (a mid-century modern home by Harry Seidler).

Rock Pools—the Coogee to Bondi coastal walk: Winding alongside cliffs and taking in some of the city’s best beaches (and a Victorian-era cemetery with eternally good ocean views), this trail is a wonderful way to get a feel for how key the ocean is to Sydney’s way of life. From the buildings that lay claim to one of the city’s most coveted assets, a view of the Pacific ocean; to public pools carved into the rocks of headlands where you’ll see locals swimming laps from sunrise. Walking the full distance isn't necessary but there are plenty of pubs (like the Coogee Pavilion) and cafes if you do.


The Art Gallery of New South Wales: The permanent collection in this gallery is the perfect way to become acquainted with Australia’s art history, from its origins with Indigenous works to getting a look at local interpretations of international art movements and paintings that capture the australian landscape from outback to. I particularly love the domestic scenes of Margaret Preston’s woodcuts and the work of Australian potter, Anne Dangar, with its modernist motifs.

Walking Routes: My next swim is always on my mind in Sydney so, after visiting the Art Gallery of NSW, I’d plan to walk down nearby to Andrew Boy Charlton Pool. Or, keeping on the subject of art, walk through the botanic gardens taking the paths that will lead you to the Opera House, then follow the harbor around to the Museum of Contemporary Art to get a feel for where the local art world is at now.

Harbor Swims: On the harbor side of Sydney’s shoreline it’s a gentler style of swim and the perfect vantage point to glimpse some of the city’s harborside homes. If you ust do one, then Camp Cove is my pick for it’s views of the Sydney skyline, the perfectly-styled beach kiosk (check their great merch), and you can reach it from the city by taking the ferry from Circular Quay - a worthwhile experience in itself.

Where to Shop

The Raconteur: Australian native botanicals like blue cypress, boronia and mint bush are the starting point of Craig Andrade’s scent collection at The Raconteur, that spans candles, perfumes and room scents. Their candles have become my go-to gift for family and friends in Australia and the store is perfectly placed to explore Paddington’s William Street, a great strip of independent designer stores.

Studio Alm: Founder Marjolaine Leray moved her life, gallery and interior design practice from the South of France and has brought to Sydney a wonderful eye for color, as well as unique and collectable contemporary design. There is another much larger location on Woolhara’s Queen street, which sells vintage alongside work from India Mahdavi, Piet Hein Eek and local talent like Trent Jansen. Both spaces have a unique sense of style and vision on contemporary design.

Studio Gardener: A short stroll from Studio Alm will have you at Studio Gardner, a smart, serene showroom from Vogue Living’s Style Editor, Joseph Gardener and his partner, Aaron Wong. European mid-century furniture sits alongside works from local contemporary designers, like ceramicist Tanika Jellis and Henry Wilson, who has translated his cast metal designs into a wonderfully heavy and handsome piece of steel art that I’ve been thinking about since my last visit.

Tamsin Johnson Showroom: Younger audiences didn’t consider antiques so cool when I lived in Australia, in part because the supply was focused on the provincial French style. One person who’s contributed to a shift in stock, and tastes, is interior designer Tamsin Johnson. Her store and studio have encouraged a younger generation to appreciate European vintage, textiles and color. Her store is a jumble of decorative and eccentric pieces discovered during travels in Europe.

P Johnson + P Johnson Femme: Tamsin’s husband, Patrick Johnson, built a reputation with his made-to-measure label that embraced a lighter, less structured style of suiting better fitted to the Australian way of life. A ready-to-wear collection rounds out the offering with everything from denim to court-ready sportswear and beach-ready items. The Femme line is a recent addition and makes a cool case for elegant simplicity.

Where to Eat

PIÑA: Sydney is a breakfast city where people go out early and often for the meal. Most of my mornings start at Room 10 in Potts Point, a hole-in-the-wall cafe that now has a much larger (relatively) sister cafe, PIÑA, across the alleyway. There’s not a bad order on the savory side and judging from all the sourdough pancakes around me, the sweet stuff is good too. If you’re not an up-with-the-sun person, the lunch menu is equally solid (order the fried prawn sandwich with wasabi mayo).

Sean’s: A long lunch at Sean’s is the meal I look forward to most when in Sydney. It’s not just for the cooking, which always feels indulgent and fresh (the produce comes from Sean’s farm in the Blue Mountains), but sitting in that dining room just across from Bondi Beach is a total pleasure. Pack your swimmers for a post-meal swim then walk to the south end of the beach to Icebergs for cocktails (and views).

Flour and Stone: There are a bunch of amazing bakeries in Sydney (AP Bakery is the best of the fresh crop), but Flour and Stone holds strong as my favorite. Their cakes and pastries hit a nostalgic and indulgent note—the best example is their vanilla butter cake layered with mascarpone and berry compote, which feels like a tuned-up version of a cake you’d find at a country bake sale from childhood.

Fratelli Paradiso: A short, delicious menu of creative Italian cooking keeps ordering simple at this Potts Point institution. Consistently delivering the kind of ambience that makes you linger long after your meal. I’m not much of a dessert person but the boozy tiramisu is always part of my order. The waiters deliver impeccable service and a whole bunch of personality. Ask for one of the street facing tables but don't be too worried if you end up inside, the people watching might be even better.

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