Having a car is almost the only way to travel to and around the Northern Beaches. Hire a car in the city or at Sydney Airport, where there are desks for all the major companies. Avis (www.avis.com.au) also has a depot at Dee Why beach, north of Manly.
Arrive at Palm Beach in style by booking a seaplane fight (www.sydneybyseaplane.com). The 20-minute journey leaves regularly during daylight hours from Rose Bay in the city's eastern suburbs.
The international code for Australia is 61. Northern Beaches: (0)2 (drop the zero if calling from overseas).
Local Nick Carroll is one of the world's most respected surf writers, and his book Visions of the Australian Coast combines great photos with insightful stories. If you don't yet understand the Australian fascination with all things seaside, try Leone Huntsman's Sand in Our Souls: The Beach in Australian History.
Do go / Don't Go
Like most popular beach holiday spots, it's a lot quieter here during the winter months from June to August, and during the week. Unless you're quite brave, it's too cold to swim in winter, but the days are often bright and perfectly acceptable for long walks along the sand. During summer holidays (December and January) it's hard to find somewhere to stay or a spot on the beach.
You'll find the full range of offerings in this region, from great fresh breakfasts to shared plates in bars and even some fine cuisine. In fact, for a small area, you really are spoiled for choice. The proximity to gourmet-hub Sydney no doubt helps.
Manly Warringah Cabs (+61 (0)2 9972 5600) is the local company servicing the area. It's best to book.
It's certainly not expected at pubs and casual eateries, although adding 10 per cent to the bill is always appreciated.
Australian dollars (AU$).
Missoni beach towel, a copy of Hollywood Wives, very dark sunglasses.
Catch the ferry from Palm Beach, across Pittwater, to The Basin in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and follow The Basin Track that takes in an Aboriginal rock art and engraving site. Here you'll see figures of people, fish and kangaroos. The whole track runs for a total of 4.5 kilometres and ends at Mackerel Beach, where you can catch a ferry back over to Palm Beach.
There are just two short seasons each year, but from June to July and then from the end of September to early October, humpback whales come quite close to the shore. Fantasea (+61 (0)2 9974 2411; www.palmbeachferry.com.au) has half-day whale-watching boat tours that depart each morning from Palm Beach at 8.30am.
For a cluster of individual stores, head to Palm Beach. Super-stylish Bow Wow (1093 Barrenjoey Road; + 61 (0)2 9974 1762) stocks fashion by Australian designers Easton Pearson and Ginger & Smart, swimwear, fabric and prints by Mambo designer Bruce Goold and beachy homewares. Take some Aussie beach style home from Les Interieurs (1111 Barrenjoey Road; +61 (0)408 500 400) where you can buy driftwood sculptures and shell lamps. Stock up on the finer things in life at Palm Beach Wine Co (1109 Barrenjoey Road; +61 (0)2 9979 4304), including delicatessen treats and global wines.
Lace up your walking shoes, because the best spot to ogle the area from is the Barrenjoey Lighthouse, a 40-minute walk uphill from Governor Phillip Park at Palm Beach. Once you reach the top, you can see Pittwater in its entirety and right down the coast.
Lots of locals up this way surf and when you see the pumping swell you'll know why. You don't, however, need a board to get your kicks. Body surfing (or body bashing as it's sometimes known) requires some good timing - start swimming before the waves arrive - and a head for fun. Watch what others do, then try it yourself.
March At the North Steyne Ocean Swim (www.oceanswims.com), the main swim takes in a 2.8km course that starts at the clubhouse of the surf lifesaving club at North Steyne. Not one for open-water swims? Watch the intense splashing from the beach. June Manly Beach Soft Sand Classic (www.manlylsc.com.au) takes place at Sydney's Manly Beach, a short ferry ride from the city centre, just south of the Northern Beaches strip. Think marathon runners are tough? Since 1993, about 400 runners each year have braved the 21km-race run entirely on sand between South Steyne and Queenscliff on Manly Beach. October For three days over a long weekend, Manly Jazz Festival brings music to your ears (www.manly.nsw.gov.au). Australia's largest and longest-running community-based jazz fest sees about 60 acts - including funk, soul and R&B - playing free at various locations around the pretty beachside suburb.