Adelaide is blessed with beaches, many of which are quite close to the State capital. If you’re not a local, it’s likely that you have only heard of Glenelg beach, which can be reached by tram. While it is a palindrome, which is cool, it is not actually the beach that the locals prefer. So what are the best Adelaide beaches?
To collate this list, I asked my family and Adelaide friends who have kids which beaches they recommend and why. Everyone had their favourites and there were some interesting overlaps, especially in the ones that were definitely at the bottom of our list.
Without further ado, here are the best Adelaide beaches for families, as judged by locals. They are not necessarily in order of preference.
Just for clarification: Obviously, with the Coronavirus spreading like wildfire, we are not suggesting that you visit these places right at this moment. However, once there is no longer any need to isolate and travel bans lift, these businesses would definitely welcome your custom. I know some people are only getting through these difficult times by carefully planning their next trip. Think of this post as travel porn or wanderlust inspiration, not as a recommendation to mingle with others now.
Best suburban beaches
The Adelaide suburbs – or Adelaide metropolitan area – stretch from the Fleurieu Peninsula and Sellicks Beach in the south to Gawler in the north and between the Gulf St Vincent and the Mount Lofty Ranges (Adelaide Hills) in the east. The suburban beaches are any beach to the west this metropolitan area along the coast of Gulf St Vincent. The best suburban beaches are therefore the best Adelaide beaches between Largs Bay in the north and Sellicks Beach in the south.
We love West Beach. It was a beach that my family frequented as children because our grandparents lived just a few streets back from the beach so it definitely had to be included in any list of the best Adelaide beaches.
The beach is the closest to Adelaide airport, so we often go there while waiting for a plane to arrive or to have dinner on the beach and watch the sunset before going to the airport to fly back to Germany.
The beach is large and water is smooth. You normally have to go out quite a way before it gets deep, which makes it a good beach for small children. It also has quite a good playground, which Miss M enjoys.
In Summer, West Beach (near the caravan park) also often hosts giant slides, trampolines, waterslides, etc. which are great for older kids.
This is another one with strong family connections. Much of Dad’s family lived in the area and certain buildings still carry the signs of the shops they owned.
The beach is stunning – white sand with low dunes and clear water. The jetty provides some shade as it stretches into the sea. It is another beach that is great for little kids, but also for older kids who want to go kitesurfing or windsurfing. It is also wheelchair accessible, with an access mat.
The foreshore is a hive of activity, with a large grassed area. In Summer you can play minigolf, go down waterslides or ride on the miniature steam train. You can also ride the vintage carousel, the largest in Australia, which just celebrated its 80th birthday in Semaphore.
One of my favourite buildings is also on the Semaphore foreshore: the Palais, in beautiful art deco style. What is now a beach bar and bistro – with quite yummy salads and burgers – started its day as a beach kiosk, bathing pavilion and dance hall. My Grandma still remembers kicking up her heels there. Miss M remembers the large playgrounds on both sides of the Palais.
We had some mixed reviews about Henley Beach.
It is a lovely beach – smooth waters, good for small kids, connects by bus with Adelaide. It is wheelchair accessible with beach mats used from Thursday to Sunday between October and Easter each year, mobi mats for wheelchair parking on the sand and beach wheelchairs available for hire.
Henley Beach Square has a number of cafes (good coffee) and a pubs and places to buy fish and chips. Grab some food and watch the sunset! In the middle of the square is a large fountain – if you have little kids, take extra clothes because they are bound to get wet. We have caught up with family members there on a number of occasions and like it for the option and the wheelchair accessibility.
The problem is that Henley Beach is great so that it is extremely popular. Every man and his dog and his kids are there, all looking for a car park and a place to put their towels at the same time.
If you prefer a quiet beach visit, Henley Beach is probably not the beach for you.
Southport Beach, Port Noarlunga
This is one I haven’t been to for many years, but it was recommended by two of my best friends, so I know it definitely deserves to be included in the list of best Adelaide beaches. Stunning was the word used to describe it.
Port Noarlunga beach has red sandstone cliffs, a long jetty and a reef, which make it one of the best diving destinations in the state. Swimming, kayaking, snorkelling, diving and fishing are all popular.
My friends recommend the area close to the mouth of the Onkaparinga River and the jetty breakwater is good for snorkelling with kids.
Best beaches on the Fleurieu Peninsula
We couldn’t have a list of the best Adelaide beaches without including a number of beaches that are located on the Fleurieu Peninsula. As we already looked at them, we’ll keep it brief here.
Aldinga and Sellicks Hill
Both of these beaches are loved because you can drive onto them (restrictions may apply; see the signage at the entry onto the beach).
Like Port Noarlunga, the waters off Aldinga Beach are brimming with marine life and a reef formation that make it it one of the areas best dive spots.
Don’t forget to try some of the local wines! The historic Aldinga township is also emerging as a great little place for cafes, boutiques and festivities.
Port Willunga Beach, with the remains of the jetty, is one of the most photographed beaches in Adelaide. Golden cliff faces, crystal clear waters and soft white sands that squeak between your sands when you walk on it: it is a lovely beach. Interestingly, the beach is often almost empty and ready for you to enjoy.
On the clifftop overlooking the beach is the Star of Greece restaurant and kiosk, with tasty food and wonderful views along the coast. The prices reflect the view. The local tip is to buy your fish and chips at the Shack and take them to the beach to eat.
The Star of Greece is named after a nearby shipwreck, which came to grief in 1888. At low tide you can see parts of the wreck from the shore and it is a popular diving spot.
Normanville and Carrickalinga
One of my friends has a family holiday house down at Carrickalinga, so it is naturally a favourite.
Hours have been spent on these beaches building sandcastles, swimming, doing cartwheels and taking long walks. The sand is soft and the water is clear. Normally, both beaches are relatively calm with only light swells, which make them perfect for small kids.
Overlooking Normanville beach is a lovely grassed area with trees that is perfect for a picnic or dinner sans sand. A pontoon has now been anchored 75 metres offshore for swimmers to access.
The Bluff at Victor Harbour
This is perhaps the smallest beach on this list and is one that we spent hours on as children.
The beach is surrounded by rocks that you have to climb down to reach the sand (there are steps). There are enough spaces between these rocks for small children to build little cubby houses.
While the beach space is not large, it is relatively protected, which is good for small children. You can also go crabbing in the rock pools on the side of the beach (the crabs are only a couple of centimetres wide).
Of course this is one of our favourites – it’s where we got married!
While parking can be an issue, the combination of protected beach, a lawn area with a playground and a small jetty make it a favourite with many families. With the Flying Fish directly on the beach, you can order your fish and chips or ice cream, then find a patch on the sand or the lawn to enjoy.
Goolwa is a great beach, especially for older kids or those learning to surf. The beach is wide and sandy, and does not normally have a lot of seaweed. It can be a little rough for little ones – supervision is essential – and is prone to strong winds and rips.
You can see (and walk) all the way to Middleton and even on to Victor Harbour in one direction and to the mouth of the River Murray in the other direction.
If you don’t want to go swimming, you can take a walk on the sand dune boardwalk to the viewing platform or take your kids cockling to gather pipes or cockles.
Goolwa beach is great place to watch the sunset – we love to grab some fish and chips and enjoy the view, knowing it’s not that far to get home to the Adelaide Hills.
Other notable mentions
These additional beaches deserved a special mention and inclusion in the best Adelaide beaches list, although they are a little further away from the city – and one is not technically a beach. Perhaps these are for the ‘Best South Australian beaches’ list?
St Kilda – mangroves
While not technically a beach, at least not one for swimming, the St Kilda mangrove trail and mangrove forest at Barker Inlet is definitely worth a visit.
The 1.7 km loop through the salt marsh flats and mangroves takes you to where the forest meets the sea. Around 200 species of bird call the mangroves, saltmarsh and adjacent lagoons home, and many fish species use the mangroves as nurseries. Look out for these animals, and for the bottlenose dolphins that call the inlet home and like to swim under the boardwalk at high tide.
While you are in St Kilda, don’t miss the chance to go to the adventure playground – 4 hectares of fun on the seafront with a shipwreck, wooden castle, submarine, maze and slides galore. There is definitely a reason why it was named best playground in the state!
Stokes bay on Kangaroo Island
A Kangaroo Island favourite and one of the best Adelaide beaches. Weave through the labyrinth of caves to emerge onto the whitest sands and clearest water in Australia. Its unique natural pool that protects it from the pounding surf makes it perfect for families.
Vivonne Bay, Kangaroo Island
Voted best beach in the world in 2003, postcard perfect Vivonne Bay is the perfect spot for a quick dip, picnic or a spot of fishing with its crystal clear waters and white sandy shores. Watch out for the locals: dolphins and Australian sea lions like the beach as much as we do.
Salmon hole, Limestone Coast
Close to Beachport, the Salmon Hole is a 600-meter long curving beach that is sheltered by a rock reef. The calm lagoon with its turquoise waters is perfect for swimming and snorkelling. Go sandboarding on the adjoining sandhills, too.
Almonta Beach, Eyre Peninsula
The glassy waters and pillowy sand dunes of Almonta Beach at the southern tip of Coffin Bay National Park make it a wonderful place to swim. At low tide, a lagoon forms and rock pools surface that are great for snorkelling. Don’t be surprised if some of the friendly locals join you on the beach – kangaroos, emus, goannas and birds enjoy the surf.
Dolphin Beach, Yorke Peninsula
Also at the southern tip – this time of Yorke Peninsula – in Innes National Park lies Dolphin Beach. Turquoise waters, white sand and dramatic cliffs – I sense a pattern! The picturesque bay is one of the safest spots to swim on the Peninsula. As the name suggests, playful dolphins are often spotted frolicking in the surf while kangaroos bathe in the sun on the beach.
The best Adelaide beaches – according to the locals
Now that you know which beaches are the best Adelaide beaches for families according to locals, what will you pick? Whether it is turquoise waters, long jetties, pristine sands, rugged cliffs, or even cafés, playgrounds and local wildlife that have you hooked, there are so many Adelaide beaches to choose from that you are bound to find one you like.