The crowd parts on the promenade revealing three samba dancers wearing little more than feathers, sequinned fabric swatches and tans.
Under sunny skies onlookers move to the Latin beat, being careful not to make eye contact with the girls for fear of being pulled into the dance.
On the beach, surf lifesavers practise drills alongside several soccer pitches marked into the sand for a tournament featuring police officers from around the state. The friendly police presence extends to the foreshore lawns with officers letting kids and young women sit on highway patrol motorbikes and in a Porsche decked out in cop colours that ironically attracts the attention of local rev heads.
It’s a typical sunny Sunday at Coogee.
This beautiful Sydney beach suburb doesn’t share the fame or pretentiousness (by Sydney standards) of nearby Bondi, but it isn’t exactly a sleepy hollow either.
The bustling village provides an interesting balance in being upmarket while still proving popular with backpackers, families and day- tripping locals young and old.
On any warm day the shady foreshore lawns are packed with people of varied ages and cultural demographics, yet the beach itself is big enough to find your own place on the sand.
I must confess to preferring the proverbial long walks by the sea to laying on the beach, and there’s no shortage of those here, whether in the form of a stroll along the promenade or a more energetic hike to neighbouring beaches along the famous Bondi to Coogee Walk.
This six-kilometre cliff-top path has stunning views of the ocean, bays and beaches including Tamarama, Maroubra and Bronte.
It’s also an interesting route for people- watching, with joggers weaving their way between family groups, couples and chatty women in trendy fitness gear.
A medium-grade walk with some steep gradients and steps, it’s doable for most fitness levels, though if you need a breather there are plenty of places to stop, from benches and beaches to bars and cafes. One of the more intriguing segments of the trail is through Waverley Cemetery, which would have to be one of the most scenic graveyards in the world.
While Bondi and Coogee beaches are big stretches of sand and surf, there are a few small protected inlets in between, such as Gordons Bay and Clovelly Beach, which provide an opportunity for other activities such as snorkelling and stand-up paddle boarding.
Dining options galore
Away from the water, Coogee has a host of bars, cafes and restaurants ranging from the big and boisterous Coogee Bay Hotel to hip little joints off the main drag.
Seeking the latter, we were happy to heed a recommendation to book a table at Café de France on Havelock Street. This little place is a relaxed cafe by day and elegant French bistro in the evening (Thursday to Saturday) with authentic Gallic cuisine.
We were served by the owner herself, French ex-pat foodie Rafaele Yon, who read out each menu item in a way that made us want to try the lot.
We settled on sharing the 800-gram rib-eye steak (pour deux) – beautifully pan fried and tender and served with roasted vegetables. It was more than enough for the two of us, so much so we opted to share dessert: the rich, sublime chocolate mousse.
The prices here are very reasonable, with main meals averaging around $30.
Be sure to book for dinner and check if they have their liquor licence yet to save you the run down to Coogee Bay Hotel’s bottle shop.
I look forward to having brunch there some day, though there are plenty of options including Ms Yon’s original establishment Le Petite Café and The Little Kitchen, a cute place with nice big rustic benches and a full view of the galley that gives this place its name.
As well as great coffee, they do nice breakfast fare with a good balance of fancy and healthy options and the ever popular bacon and eggs. It is also open for lunch and dinner.
For pub grub we tried out Five O’s, which serves up decent nosh at bargain prices, making it popular with backpackers. Score a balcony table here, to gaze out over the beach and catch the ocean breeze.
It’s a good place for a drink if you prefer something quieter than the Coogee Bay Hotel or Coogee Pavillion, with a decent range of beers and wines. You have to order food to have a drink here; a bowl of chips does the trick.
A place to stay
Accommodation options abound in Coogee. In the mid range is the Dive Hotel, which fortunately doesn’t live up to its name.
This boutique family-run hotel is perfectly situated on Arden Street across the road from the beach with prices ranging from around $200 to $320 per night depending on the room and view.
It’s an old building but the rooms are nicely renovated with bright contemporary beach house décor.
The king-size bed in our airy ocean view room (one of three with such views) was very comfortable and if there wasn’t so much to do outside you’d be forgiven for just chilling in there all day.
Continental breakfast is included, which provides a good opportunity to speak with the owners, who are long-time Coogee residents and full of advice about things to see, do and eat. It’s a lot more welcoming than chain hotels and quite a few of my fellow patrons were return customers.