Port Stephens is home to some of the best beaches in the state, from the calm ocean waters in the bay to the surf along the Stockton Sand Dunes, and let's not forget for those who are old enough to remember the 2006 Tourism Australia commercial featuring Lara Bingle asking "So where the bloody hell are you?" at the stunning crescent shaped Fingal Beach.
So whether you are looking for the best surf, accessibility, somewhere patrolled, or calm waters for the little kids, there will be a beach that is just right for you.
Aerial view over Post Stephens with Zenith Beach and Fingal Spit to the left, with Shoal Bay Beach on the right
A must visit beach for both families seeking tame waves for the kids, and surfers looking for swell, Fingal Beach ticks all the boxes and made it, not only the number one spot on our list, but to the number 12 spot on the Tourism Australia's Best Australian Beaches of 2020.
The crescent, almost circular shape, of the 2.7km wide-sand beach that stretches from Fingal Spit in the northeast, down to Barry Park to the south, with plenty of room for everyone, even in the height of summer. The clear waters here, especially to the south of the bay, are mostly calm because of the protection offered from the flanked entrance between Point Stephens and Fingal Head.
The beach is one of the most popular spots in Port Stephens for both advanced and beginner surfers, and you can find them, along with the bodyboarders, to the north of the Surf Club where the waves are higher. It is recommended that families with younger children swim between the flags or towards the southern end of the beach where the waves are smaller.
Another one of the best things about Fingal Beach are the facilities you will find there. Next to the foreshore parking area you will find a children's playground, BBQ facilities, and a shared cycleway that goes from the village shops of Fingal Bay to the base of Mt Tomaree, plus the Fingal Beach Surf Life Saving Club and volunteers patrol the beach in the warmer months from September to April. Grab a bite to eat at the Longboat Cafe and kiosk, or enjoy the ocean views with a seafood share plate and cocktail or beer at the Saltwater Restaurant.
Those with accessibility needs can access the beach when patrolled via the Mobimat, and there are beach wheelchairs for hire from the Surf Life Saving Club that can be used at any of Port Stephens' beaches, but we recommend booking these well ahead of time in peak holiday seasons so that you don't miss out.
If you get the chance, head to the beach in the early hours for a stroll and check out one of the amazing sunrises.
Fingal Beach looking towards Fingal Spit and Fingal island
Probably the most photographed beach in Port Stephens, and for good reason, this beach may be small in size, but it certainly has the wow factor in bucket loads. Nestled between 160m Mt Tomaree and 140m Stephens Peak, this beach can often feel like a hidden gem often shared with only a surfer or two, although it tends to get quite busy around the holidays.
Zenith can be accessed from the parking spot near the base of Mt Tomaree Summit Walk, with just a short and relatively easy walk to the beach itself, and those with the vigour to do the steep summit walk to marvel at the most spectacular views of Port Stephens, may want to save the trip to Zenith as their reward.
The waters here are part of the Port Stephens Great Lakes Marine Park, as is the entire stretch of coastline from near Forster in the north to Birubi in the south, with Zenith Beach falling into a sanctuary zone to be used only for recreational purposes that do not involve harming any animal, plant or habitat to maintain the areas biodiversity.
Please note that the beach is not patrolled and not recommended for swimming, especially if visiting with children. There aren't any facilities at Zenith Beach, so visitors are asked to leave the beach as they found it and take their belongings and any rubbish with them.
Zenith Beach and Stephens Peak with Fingal Spit in the distance
Another family favourite, the 1.3km One Mile Beach (simply referred to as Anna Bay to local surfers) lies to the north of Boat Harbour is a popular spot for families, bodyboarders, beginner surfers, and pretty much everyone else.
Equipped with Surf Life Saving Club and patrolled beach from the end of September to the end of June at the southern end, bathroom and shower facilities, BBQ area, and playground for the kids, One Mile becomes a busy spot in the summer holiday season and on weekends and is a favourite for both locals and tourists to the area.
If you are wanting to find a surfing lesson when visiting the region, then Port Stephens Surf School run private and group classes at One Mile. They also operate a SurfGroms learn to surf week-long intensive in summer for the 5-12 year olds.
Just a word of advice when planning a day at One Mile, some people may want to avoid the northern end that adjoins Samurai Beach as they may be in for a little surprise (read about Samurai below).
Surfer at One Mile Beach
She might be the smallest of the Tomaree beaches at only 50m, but don't let that stop you from visiting as Wreck Beach is not to be missed and just as impressive as its better known neighbour Zenith.
Hidden away from the town of Shoal Bay by the Tomaree National Park, Wreck is a little oasis and the best beach to head to if you are trying to get a spot all to yourself. With generally calm waves, and like Zenith, also located within the sanctuary zone of the Port Stephens Great Lakes Marine Park, it is the perfect place to take a dip, however visitors need to be mindful that the beach is not patrolled and there are no facilities nearby.
To get there, park on Verona Road, unless walking there all the way from Fingal to the south or near Mt Tomaree to the north, and then it is just under a one km trek until you reach the sheltered cove through the lush coastal angophora forest.
Wreck Bay Beach looking towards Stephens Peak and Mt Tomaree
What needs to be said? Stretching out for 32km towards Newcastle, Birubi (or 'Golden Bite') certainly possesses that wow factor with its incredible Stockton Sand Dunes of the Worimi Conservation Lands, the largest moving coastal sand dunes in the Southern hemisphere, making it a must add to your Port Stephens Itinerary.
Located at Anna Bay, the access point to the beach is a the northern end of the beach where you will find the Birubi Point Surf Life Saving Club who patrol the beach with the help of volunteers on weekends from September to April.
A popular beach for surfers (who locally refer to it as Stockton Beach), along with those who enjoy 4x4 driving with 19km of beach and dunes that are accessible with a permit.
While you are visiting Birubi, make sure you spend some time discovering the dunes. There are a range of local tours and experiences you can book including sand boarding, quad bikes, camel and horse rides, and 4WD safari tours, or simply explore on your own via foot.
Sunrise at Birubi Beach with the Stockton Sand Dunes to the right
We are honestly surprised that this one doesn't make it onto more Port Stephens best beach lists. It may not have the surf of Fingal or One Mile, and the beach isn't patrolled by Surf Life Saving, but the clear aqua waters and view of Mt Tomaree across to Yacaaba Head to the northeast, and the Nelson Bay Lighthouse on the headland to the west, make it visually stunning and worth the visit.
Possibly the best beach to break out the stand up paddleboard or enjoy a tranquil kayak, the calm waters and white sands sit just across the road from Shoal Bay's bustling cafe and restaurant strip that boasts some of the best views of the bay.
There is paddleboard and kayak hire from Shoal Bay SUP who give you a standup paddleboard lesson with every first hire included in the price, or you can join a standup paddleboard tour.
Sunbake, swim, paddle, and then finish the afternoon off with a bite to eat and cocktail at the Shoal Bay Country Club for a truly unbeatable afternoon.
Sunset at Shoal Bay Beach looking towards Mt Tomaree and over to Yacaaba Headland at the northern entrance of the bay
Between Nelson Bay and Shoal Bay, you will find the best beach in Port Stephens for both families with young children and wheelchair users.
The serene waters are great for toddlers if you are looking for a spot without the waves, and there are two jetties that you can fish from, one of which is completely accessible, giving those with mobility needs direct access to the water.
Bring the family kayaks, standup paddleboards, fishing rods, and settle in for a day at the beach the kids are going to love.
There is a grassed foreshore perfect for the picnic rug, BBQ area, and fantastic children's playground, plus all the amenities you would need to enjoy the whole day here. Little Beach truly deserves to be added to the must visit list.
Sunset at Little Beach
Maybe not our pick for its family friendliness, but Samurai Beach makes the list for being Port Stephen's designated clothing optional beach, so if you are someone who likes to get their kit off for a skinny dip, or to tan without the lines, this is the beach for you.
Positioned to the north of the more popular One Mile Beach, the Samurai can either be accessed on foot from the sands of One Mile by navigating around Samurai Point, the walking trails from the Big Rocky area to the north, or you can drive all the way there with a robust 4WD as vehicles are allowed on the beach, and unlike Stockton, you don't need a 4WD permit here.
*Please note before heading out that it can be tricky to exit the beach due to high soft sands, so make sure your vehicle is powerful enough to navigate them as you could get stuck.
4WD tracks in the sand