When the weather is nice, it’s great to head outside of Sydney on a day trip. Just like you, I always love to bring my dog along, so it’s awesome when you find places that are dog-friendly. This day trip to the Northern Illawarra is perfect for sunny days (although not too hot a day), as it combines an outing to the beach with stopping at some dog-friendly scenic points along the coastline and of course dog-friendly lunch options.
Getting to the Northern Illawarra
Drive south of Sydney along the A1 and get onto the M1 freeway just south of Waterfall. Head 21km south along the freeway, then exit to head down Bulli Pass. At the bottom of the pass, turn left to head to Thirroul. All up, it takes just over an hour from the centre of Sydney.
At the moment, dogs are still not allowed on trains in the Sydney rail network, otherwise, it would be possible to do a shortened version of this itinerary by train.
Hit Up a Dog-Friendly Beach
My favourite dog-friendly beach in the Northern Illawarra is McCauley’s Beach. I grew up close by, and it’s always great to return to the area. Especially as dogs are allowed off leash 24 hours around the clock!
The best way to access it is from Corbett Avenue in Thirroul, at the northern end of the dog-friendly stretch. It’s also possible to enter from the Bulli side (just head right at the bottom of the pass).
Make sure you pay attention to the maps showing the dog rules, as the section of beach immediately north is only on-leash in the evening, plus the rock platforms at Sandon Point and the main beach in Thirroul don’t allow dogs.
Another alternative is Sharkies Beach in Coledale, just before the shops. There’s a decent sized carpark right along the beach. Coledale is about 4 kilometres further north from Thirroul.
Enjoy a Dog-Friendly Lunch
My favourite dog-friendly dining spot in the Northern Illawarra is the Scarborough Hotel. This historic hotel is perched on the cliff top of Scarborough, with a large beer garden with large tables for dining at or just enjoying a cold drink. Scarborough is about a 10 minute drive north of McCauley’s Beach.
It can get quite busy at the Scarborough Hotel, so it’s advisable to book. This is possible on weekdays outside of school holidays at lunchtime, although on weekends and during school holidays its only possible for groups of a least six and with a minimum spend. Alternatively, try to arrive before midday to get an outdoor table.
If visiting with a dog, walk past the main entrance and use the gate to the right hand side, to directly access the garden. Feel free to ask for a water bowl for your pooch, but remember they need to stay on a leash. The lunch menu features typical Australian pub food, with mains around $25. Note that this pub is only open during the day, not for dinner.
Another alternative dog-friendly dining spot is Honest Dons cafe in Thirroul. Located across the road from a handy carpark, this cafe may lack the views, but still has a chilled ambience. Snap up one of the outdoor tables (which might be tricky on summer weekends) and order a puppychino for your pup, with part of the profits going to a local rescue group.
My favourite selections on the menu are the breakfast options (it’s open from 7am on weekends, if you want to head here before the beach), although they also do burgers and similar fare at lunchtime. Most mains are between $15 and $20.
Stop Off at a Soaring Bridge
One of the landmark attractions in the Northern Illawarra is the Sea Cliff Bridge. Opened in 2005, the bridge was required due to the repeated landslides that regularly closed the coastal road that previously hugged the cliffs. These days the bridge soars out over the water and rock platforms and has been featured in countless car commercials. It’s less than two kilometres north of the Scarborough Hotel.
The best car parking spots are just before the bridge, but on the side heading south. Either head north over the bridge, turn around at the other end, then park just after you cross back over the bridge. (Also an excuse to drive more than once over the bridge!) Alternatively, stop at the small carpark next to the playground, before the start of the bridge.
I recommend getting out and walking along the 665m-length of the bridge. Naturally dogs are allowed, as it’s just a regular footpath. Just be aware it can get quite hot with virtually no shade in summer time, so it’s better to do during the cooler months of the year.
Enjoy a Final Vista at Bald Hill Lookout
After checking out the bridge, continue further north for under 10 minutes to Bald Hill Lookout in Stanwell Park. At the top of the hill after Stanwell Park, turn right towards the Royal National Park. The main carpark for the lookout is accessed through the roundabout intersection.
The spot is most famous as the location where local Lawrence Hargrave made early experiments in flight, plus as a launching spot for hang-gliders these days. But it also offers great views heading south along the coastline you just drove along. Most days there’s an ice-cream and hot-dog van operating next to the carpark, perfect for buying a soft-serve while holding onto your dog’s leash.
Afterwards, turn left out of the carpark and head back to the freeway. Skip heading through the Royal National Park, as dogs aren’t allowed in national parks in Australia.