Photo: Garry Norris

Perth’s Best Kept Secrets

I moved to Perth a decade ago, this dot on the map I’d never been to and knew nothing about. Back then it was a millionaire’s playground, a place where the dust and dollars of the mining industry ruled the psyche and dominated the news. It’s changed dramatically.

The well-kept secrets of Western Australia have snuck out, with the New York Times describing our capital city as a “hipster heaven” which is “easy, breezy, green and pristine,” and worthy of a top 10 placing in its list of 52 Places to Go in 2014. Two years later, Trip Advisor listed Perth as one of the top 10 hottest destinations for travellers to visit in Australia, while the city’s port town, Fremantle scored the same accolade from Lonely Planet.

I’m thrilled that word is spreading; the whispers about Perth’s epic beaches and cosmo lifestyle need to get out. For when you visit – and trust me, you should – here are my local tips on where to eat, drink and play.

The beaches

It’s impossible to pick just one. If you’re visiting in March, don’t miss Cottesloe Beach and its fantastic Sculpture by the Sea (sculpturebythesea.com/cottesloe) exhibition of giant artworks in the sand. To be honest, anywhere along this stretch is phenomenal. Think water the shade and clarity of a Bombay Sapphire gin bottle. Just south, the sand on Leighton beach is sugar-white, while heading north, Floreat has a lovely café and playground leading to the water. Or, go further up the coast to Mettams Pool, where there’s excellent, easily-accessible snorkelling between the bluffs.

Small bars

Perth’s had an explosion of hip, under-the-radar small bars pop up in the past few years, and I love nothing more than a Friday night bar-hop. I often start at Mechanics Institute in Northbridge, a rooftop haunt accessed via a street art-doused alleyway. It was awarded Best Small Bar in Perth in 2015 and attracts a laid-back hipster crowd. I’ll then wander to Ezra Pound and pop in to see which quirky live act is playing at The Bird, before going around the back of Pleased to Meet You to knock on the secret door at Sneaky Tony’s. You’ll need to jump on their Facebook page for the weekend password to get into this rum-focussed speakeasy. If the weather’s fine, I’ll continue on to The Standard – I love its summery vibe.

Excellent eats

With so much to choose from, it’s hard to pin down just a few. Lalla Rookh is a firm favourite of mine, for its brilliant Italian-meets-West Australian pastas, slow cooked meats and inventive salads. I’ve also fallen in love with nearby Long Chim, a fun, feisty restaurant doing Thai street-food conjured by Michelin star expat chef David Thompson. Sayers in Leederville is ‘the’ place to go for breakfast in Perth so fight for a table before joining the ordering queue. Converted Fremantle warehouse, Bread in Common combines a woodfired bakery with a slick restaurant serving vinegar-licked lamb ribs, duck fat roasted spuds and spice-rub kangaroo. Varnish on King, down the quieter end of haute-couture strip, King St, serves artful dishes in a basement whiskey bar – the menu is something else. Finally, Shadow Wine Bar is a sexy, dim lit restaurant perfect for a sultry dinner a deux.

Cathedral square

There’s plenty to see in this new $700 million precinct of reimagined heritage buildings, but I usually target the food and libations. The founders of Australia’s most successful microbrewery, Little Creatures have opened a hip beer hall, boasting 18 rotating taps of craft beer. It’s called Petition Beer Corner and it sits opposite noisy, fashionable Petition Kitchen, which excels at contemporary share dishes. Post restaurant is connected to the five star, COMO The Treasury hotel, and nails all-day, modern-Australian fare and healthful, organic dishes. The hotel’s fine diner, Wildflower is housed in a giant glass box at its zenith. Finally, velvet seats and punchy cocktails are found in nearby Halford Bar, accessed by a discreet outside door.

Rooftop movies

Now here’s something you probably won’t find on your own. Seven floors up to the top of a city carpark is a wonderland of astro turf, retro caravans, palm trees and garlands of lights. Rooftop Movies shows cult classics, recent releases and box office hits in the open air throughout summer. There’s also a regular family night. Pedestrian access is off James Street, the main drag in Northbridge.

Perth cultural centre

Locals often bring their laptops and sit on a bench beneath the trees in this light-dappled space, which is serviced with free WiFi. The PCC combines art, history, nature and coffee into a prime, heart-of-the-city spot. The Art Gallery of Western Australia – free-entry – sits alongside several excellent cafes and lead into the Urban Orchard, a garden of leafy greens and herbs that everyone is free to pick. It often hosts night markets and turns into a theatre haven-cum-alfresco bar during festival season (January-March). Past a little bar (which does great steak sandwiches) is the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, a haven of modern expression.

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