Australian Adventure: Sophisticated Sydney

After wrapping up our Great Barrier Reef dive adventure, we met my parents, brother, and sister-in-law for a few days in Sydney. Mike and I tend to prefer staying in Airbnbs where we can meet locals and get a feel for what it’s like to live in a city, but my parents enjoy a bit more luxury on their vacations. And since Dan and Betty were footing the hotel bill for everyone, we spent our nights at the Sydney Four Seasons.

The Four Seasons is located in the city’s central business district, which is also home to the famous Sydney Opera House. We walked in and around the iconic building, taking in the views of the surrounding harbor along the way.

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It’s hard not to take typical “tourist” photos when you’re visiting Sydney’s famous attractions. Check the Sydney Opera House off Daniel’s list.

Located next to the Sydney Opera House is the Royal Botanic Garden, which opened to the public in 1816. The 74-acre site features everything from a palm grove and tropical pyramid to a rose garden and glass calyx house, which was hosting a special exhibition on Calyx & Chocolate during our visit. The Royal Botanic Garden is free to visit and open year round.

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Betty and Dan at Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden

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The glass calyx house at the Sydney Royal Botanic Garden

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Because Sydney is a harbor, there is an emphasis on the importance of water in the city’s history. We toured the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium, which is home to more than 13,000 animals in 14 different habitats, including sharks, seals, penguins, stingrays, and dugongs.

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A pirate and mermaid mural at Sea Life Sydney Aquarium

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A swim-through in the Great Barrier Reef oceanarium at Sea Life Sydney Aquarium

The Art Gallery of New South Wales was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon (with the bonus of air conditioning!). Free to the public and open every day but Christmas and Good Friday, the gallery’s exhibits range from Aboriginal and Islander art to Asian and Pacific works, as well as a few Monets, van Goghs, Pissaros, and CĂ©zannes thrown in for good measure.

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“The Offerings of Peace,” one of a pair of statues by Gilbert Bayes outside the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia

In addition to opera, gardens, museums, and aquariums, Sydney has some phenomenal food and drink. Redoak Boutique Beer Cafe topped our list of brew pubs, with a dozen award-winning beers and seasonal offerings on their tap list plus some solid food selections.

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A sampler of Redoak’s award-winning craft beers and seasonal offerings

Our dinners in Sydney included a truly amazing meal at Saké Restaurant at The Rocks, thanks to a reservation Daniel made six months in advance. We enjoyed kingfish jalapeño, teriyaki burger balls, sashimi tacos, and Wagyu dumplings served as shareable small plates. While the guys had Japanese whisky, Shea and I tried the Hattori Hanzo cocktail made from Bombay Sapphire gin and Yuzu saké with fresh jalapeño, cucumber, elderflower, and citrus in a glass rimmed with dried, seasoned flower petals. At $18 AUD each, they were certainly a vacation indulgence!

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A wall of Japanese paper lanterns at Sydney’s SakĂ© Restaurant (photo: Daniel Smith)

Since we were traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday, we swapped the traditional turkey and dressing for roasted chicken, salmon, and Black Angus Oakey Scotch fillet at Chiswick. This incredible restaurant boasts a sizable kitchen garden where they grow their own vegetables and herbs, and it proved to be a lovely and relaxing setting for our family’s holiday meal.

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We also dined at Porteño, an Argentinian restaurant located in Sydney’s Surry Hills neighborhood. The meal started with dried beef empañadas, marinated olives, and vitello tonnato (thinly-sliced Wagyu girello with tuna mayonnaise, preserved mackerel, and a date and caper vinaigrette). These delicacies were followed by grilled beef short ribs, spatchcock grilled chicken, and crispy fried Brussel sprouts with lentils and mint. Dessert was milk flan with cream and dulce de leche. Spectacular!

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Daniel, Shea, Mike, Angela, Dan, and Betty at Sydney’s Porteño Restaurant

To top off our stay in Sydney, we took an afternoon excursion to Bondi Beach, which gets its name from an Aboriginal word meaning “water breaking over rocks.” Just over half a mile long, the public beach features a promenade with cafes and shops, and during our visit, the Royal Croquet Club was hosting an 11-day festival featuring food, live music, and, of course, croquet matches.

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Bondi Beach, located just four miles outside downtown Sydney, Australia

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Sydney was a wonderful place to spend a few days, but it’s a bit too cosmopolitan (and expensive) for our day-to-day tastes. Our next stop was Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula, home to Australian wine country, along the country’s southeastern coastline. Join us!

Today’s expat evaluation: +1 for public gardens and museums, +1 for a gourmet international food scene, -1 for crowds and traffic, -1 for high prices