Lauren and I are huge fans of Sorrento.
Nestled away at the bottom of the Mornington Peninsula, this iconic small town has been attracting visitors for a very long time. The first place in Victoria to be settled by Europeans (and yes, it is named after the famous town on the Italian coast) these days, it’s a bustling tourist destination that’s popular with both weekending Melburnians and those from further afield.
It’s only a 90 minute drive from the middle of Melbourne, but when you’re lying on the sand or dipping your toes in the ocean under a perfect blue sky, it feels much, much further away. In our eyes, that’s exactly what makes it such a perfect weekend getaway option.
Last week, we bundled our family into several cars and set off down the coast for five days of blissful Sorrento goodness. We had a fantastic time — hiking and swimming and eating far too much ice cream — and can’t wait to start sharing all of our favourite things to do in this brilliant town.
While you’d be forgiven for not wanting to do much more than sunbathe and work your way through a good book, the town has plenty more to offer than that! With impressive eating and drinking spots, lovely hiking trails, diverse beaches, and a national park that’s right on its doorstep, there’s no excuse for running out of things to do in Sorrento. The hardest part is narrowing them down!
Today, we’re going to help you do exactly that.
Laze Away the Day on Front Beach
Undoubtedly Sorrento’s biggest attraction, the off-white sands of Front Beach hold an irresistible pull for holidaymakers. With sailboats bobbing on the horizon under perfect blue skies, it offers up an idyllic scene, and at nearly a kilometre long, there’s plenty of space to spread out, even at peak times.
The sheltered bay is very calm and extremely shallow; you can often walk out a hundred metres or more and still be barely up to your waist! This makes it perfect for anyone with young children or for those who aren’t confident swimmers, since there’s almost no chance of a rogue wave knocking you off your feet.
Our seven-year-old nephew had a fantastic time in the water, and so did we, as we didn’t have to worry about him getting swept out to sea.
The water is remarkably clear in this area, so it’s one of the best things to do with the kids in Sorrento. It’s definitely worth throwing some snorkels and masks in the car before you leave home, so you can make the most of your time in the water. Likewise, if you’ve got a kayak or a standup paddleboard, definitely bring it with you!
Due to Front Beach’s proximity to the main shopping street, the most popular section of the beach is at the southern end, near Sorrento Park and the pier where the Queenscliff ferry arrives and departs several times a day.
If you’d like a bit more room to yourself, then, stroll further north, past the long fishing pier and Sorrento Baths restaurant.
As an added incentive, on summer weekends, look out for the Peninsula real fruit ice cream truck (their location is marked on Google Maps). Home to the best ice cream in town; they even have vegan options. We recommend the boysenberry, but the strawberry and passionfruit were big hits with our family, too. What better way to take the edge off the heat?
Smell the Ocean (and the Money) on Millionaire’s Walk
Millionaire’s Walk is a roughly one kilometre stroll along the clifftops between Portsea and Sorrento. The name refers both to the “million dollar” views out over Port Phillip Bay, as well as the large, expensive houses that line the path — although this is Australia: you’d need a lot more than a million dollars to buy any of these properties!
If you’ve only got time and/or energy for one walking trail in Sorrento, this is the one to go for.
Each and every one of our family members, from the seven-year-old to the 72-year-old, were delighted by the views, and it wasn’t too challenging, either. It takes less than half an hour to walk one-way, even if you dawdle, and your reward will be some of the best ocean views on the peninsula.
Private jetties amble out from the beaches below, and there’s easy access down to Point King Beach on the southern end, where you can swim, jump off the old jetties, and dream of owning one of the small bathing boxes sitting right there on the sand.
The houses on the other side of the path are equally spectacular in their own right, and I was particularly envious of the property with an infinity pool overlooking the ocean! Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the owners have taken measures to screen themselves off from the gaze of curious onlookers, so don’t expect an unobstructed view into the lives of the Peninsula’s wealthiest residents.
Speaking of that, while the gates and signs do their best to give the impression that the path is private property, it definitely isn’t: don’t be afraid to wander at your leisure. If there’s a sign asking you to close a gate, then do so, but don’t worry about walking through it first!
You can park at either end of the trail, on Point King Road or Lentell Ave, both of which are short gravel roads off the main Point Nepean Road. Note that both have limited parking spots available, especially the latter, so be prepared for a quick change of plans if needed at busy times.
Millionaire’s Walk is part of the Sorrento-Portsea Artists’ Trail, which we describe below, and arguably the best section.
Get Inspired on the Sorrento–Portsea Artists’ Trail
Unsurprisingly perhaps, the dramatic coastline and stunning views at this end of the Mornington Peninsula have provided inspiration for many artists over the years. Some of them, like Sidney Nolan and Sir Arthur Streeton, have gone on to become household names in Australia and beyond.
Opened in 2004, the Sorrento-Portsea Artists’ Trail commemorates these talented individuals, and currently has fourteen stops spread out across both sides of the peninsula between these two small towns. Each stop is marked by an information board with a reproduction of a painting of the area, sited as close as possible to the original location.
While you can check out many of the stops on foot from Sorrento, you’ll likely need a car if you plan to cover the entire trail in a day. It’s broken up into a few different sections, with instructions available online on the best places to park for each section and where to go from there.
If you don’t feel like doing the whole trail — and you probably won’t unless you’re really into your art — stick with Millionaires Row: it’s easy, beautiful, and particularly rewarding.
Brave the Waves on Back Beach
If Front Beach is all about lazing around on the sand and wading in the calm, shallow waters, well, Back Beach couldn’t be any more different.
Wild and rocky, this long stretch of sand runs all the way from Sorrento to Portsea, changing names to match the towns along the way.
It’s the place to go for body boarding and surfing, but don’t underestimate the power of the waves: it’s not a swimming beach, and if you’re not confident out there in the surf, you’re better off watching from the shore. The beach is patrolled by lifeguards on summer weekends and holidays, and for good reason!
A number of large rock pools cry out to be explored at low tide, and if you’re more of a walker than a beachgoer, you’ve got plenty of options there too.
We tackled the walk from Sphinx Rock, at the Sorrento end, to London Bridge, on the edge of the Point Nepean National Park; a three kilometre stroll along the sand that provided a particularly delightful way to spend an afternoon.
Alternatively, opt to take the short track over to Ocean Beach via Coppins Lookout for some glorious ocean views. It was cloudy when we did so, but no less spectacular.
Car parking is available at Ocean Beach, London Bridge, and a couple of different areas in the middle of beach beside the Portsea surf lifesaving club.
Avoid the Crowds at Diamond Bay
There’s usually plenty of space on Sorrento’s beaches, but even so, things can feel a little hectic at busy times of year. If you want to get away from the crowds, make like the locals do and head for Diamond Bay, on the ocean side of the peninsula. This is one of our go-to spots in Sorrento.
Accessed via the graveled Diamond Bay Road, there’s a small car park at the end with room for eight or nine vehicles. Head up the paved path on your right and down the wooden stairs on the other side, and you’ll find yourself kicking back on the sand within a matter of minutes.
With rocky cliffs curving in on both sides, this small inlet tends to be noticeably calmer than the other ocean beaches in the area. It’s all relative, though, depending on the wind and tides: it’s not unusual to get some good-sized waves breaking on the beach, so do pick a wind-free day to visit!
Because of the limited car parking and relative distance from the village, it’s very rare for Diamond Bay to be busy. We’ve visited on three separate occasions during the summer months and never seen more than a dozen people on the sand or paddling in the water.
Rock pools at one end provide endless entertainment for the kids (and adults!), and there’s often a bit of shade from overhangs at the back of the beach if the sun gets too intense.
Once you’re done working on your tan, be sure to take a stroll on one of the trails that run alongside the beach. A dirt path climbs from just above the car park to St Paul Lookout, which provides great views over the ocean in one direction — and the peninsula and national park in the others. Give yourself about half an hour to walk the loop; we stopped often for photos.
Amble Along the Tuckey Track
If you’ve been eating your way around Sorrento as much as we always seem to do, you’re likely looking for a lovely little walking trail to help you get your steps in.
Allow us to introduce you to the Tuckey Track: a signposted 2 km path that cuts across the top of Sorrento, from one coast to the other.
You’ll find the start point towards the top of Front Beach, beside the sailing boat club (look for Sorrento Sailing Couta Boat Club on Google Maps). From there, you’ll follow the signs along Calcutta Street to the Tuckey Track Reserve. This is our favourite part of the trail; a pleasant patch of green space that’s often filled with birdlife.
From here, you’ll continue walking over Melbourne Road and down Ivanhoe Street, before climbing up a dirt track to finish at St Paul Lookout near Diamond Bay.
It’s a fabulous little walk, taking you from calm seas to wild ocean, and taking less than an hour to do so.
Lace Up Your Walking Shoes for the Mighty Coastal Walk
Lauren and I love our long-distance walks, so you can imagine how brightly our eyes lit up when we discovered the existence of the Mornington Peninsula’s Coastal Walk.
This 30 km trail runs along the ocean side of the peninsula between Cape Schanck and the Point Nepean National Park, and is itself part of the 100 km Mornington Peninsula loop walk. Plan for it to take anywhere from seven to nine hours to complete, depending on your walking pace.
You can walk along the Coastal Walk in either direction, but if you’re starting from Diamond Bay, I’d recommend heading west for two reasons: the views are better heading that way, and you’ll end up on Sorrento’s main street or in Portsea, both of which are great places to stop for refreshments!
Swim With the Sealife
Swimming with dolphins and seals is particularly popular in Sorrento, and rightly so. A local company takes you out from Sorrento pier on their purpose-built boat for a few hours, providing all the gear and expertise you need to swim with seals, dolphins, and cute weedy sea dragons, a relative of the seahorse.
To avoid scaring off the animals you’re trying to swim with, only small groups of up to ten people get into the water at once. This makes for a much better experience for humans and wildlife alike, whether you’re hanging out with the seals or trying your luck with the dolphins.
Pods of bottlenose dolphins are commonly found off the Mornington Peninsula and in Port Phillip Bay between roughly October and April each year, which is when the excursions run. Of course, since they’re wild animals, sightings aren’t guaranteed: if you don’t find any on your trip, you can return for free in the following days and weeks to try again. Click here to reserve your spot on the tour.
Explore the Bay (Without Getting Wet!)
Paddling around in the Front Beach shallows or braving the surf on the ocean side are the most popular water-based activities in Sorrento, but they’re definitely not the only ones. If you’ve got your own gear, everything from snorkeling to stand up paddleboarding and kayaking are great options.
If you don’t have the equipment you need, it’s time to jump on a tour instead. Sea Kayaking Australia has a full-day guided kayaking trip that sees you launching from the beach in Sorrento and paddling your way to and from the quarantine station in Point Nepean National Park. It’s only around 15 km return, but your arms and shoulders will be telling you it was a lot longer by the end of the day!
If you’d prefer to stay dry while checking out the marine life, consider a guided boat tour of Port Phillip Bay instead. Again setting off from Sorrento pier, this 90-minute cruise visits the local gannet and fur seal colonies, then sets off to track down and spend some quality time with the remarkable dolphins that live in the area.
Like the idea of a guided tour that takes a bit of effort, but prefer to use your legs instead of your arms? Jump on one of these unusual waterbikes and slowly pedal your way to and from Portsea, seeing attractions like Millionaire’s Walk (above) in a whole new way. If you’re lucky, a curious dolphin or two might pop up alongside to say hello!
Hit the Village Shops
For such a small town, there’s a surprising amount of shopping available in Sorrento. High-end boutiques abound on Ocean Beach Road, the main street that runs between Front and Ocean beaches, with stores like Saltwater Trading and Herman offering a range of high-end designer clothing, homewares, and accessories.
If you’re looking for more of a beachside vibe (and let’s face it: why wouldn’t you be?), casual retailers like Rip Curl, Ghanda, and Tommy Bahama help ensure you won’t run out of Hawaiian print shirts and brightly-colored thongs.
When you’re after a few specialty food items for a beach picnic or to take back home with you, you’re not short on options there either. The best place to start is Sciclunas, which has a particularly strong focus on quality produce and deli items. Seafood on George has the best seafood selection in town.
Finally, Marlene Miller Antiques is the place to go for collectables, including jewelry, furniture, and one-off items that you simply won’t find anywhere else. The places I’ve listed are just a representative sample, of course: there are plenty of other great options around, well worth an hour or two of lazy wandering with credit card in hand.
Enjoy a Great Coffee, or Something Stronger
While there’s absolutely no shortage of cafes offering flat whites and lattes, as far as I’m concerned there’s really only one place to go for a coffee in Sorrento: Flat Blk. It’s a tiny place in the heart of the village on Ocean Beach Road, but despite its small size, you won’t miss it.
Why not? Well, the restored wooden tram sitting out the front is a bit of a giveaway. You can sit at one of the seats in the tram if it’s free, but if not, there are several normal tables dotted around alongside, or you can grab a takeaway to sip as you shop.
The cafe also has a small selection of bagels and pastries, but it’s the coffee that makes it worth stopping. Having tried several others in town, it’s Flat Blk that I keep returning to.
If you’re looking for something a little stronger, tracking down a good place for a sundowner isn’t hard either. The Continental Hotel (or the Conti, since we’re in Australia) dates back to 1875, and has a wonderful outdoor deck that’s the perfect place to soak up the evening sun with a beer or cocktail.
The Hotel Sorrento was built in the same decade, and often has live music to go with its extensive drinks menu. The beer garden is a great place to relax with a drink or two, and you can always retreat to the wine bar inside if the weather takes a turn for the worse.
Finally, while it’s not technically in Sorrento, the Portsea Hotel is probably my pick of the pubs and bars in the area. A five minute drive from Sorrento’s main street, it has a wealth of outdoor tables, loads of indoor seating, and a large sloping lawn that looks out directly over the ocean.
It’s the perfect place to stop for a cold pint after a few hours walking in Point Nepean National Park (below), and yes, that is based on personal experience!
Eat Your Heart Out
You won’t go hungry in Sorrento: like many tourist towns, there are far more cafes and restaurants than you’d expect from somewhere this size. The hard part is narrowing down exactly what you want to eat!
If you’re in the mood for some quality pub food, the Portsea Hotel (mentioned for drinks above) is probably the pick of the bunch for dining as well. For upmarket European fare, check out Loquat, while Sardo does great fresh pasta and a range of other quality Italian dishes.
Those keen on Thai cuisine should look no further than Sorrento Thai. It rents space from the local RSL club, so don’t be put off by the decor: it’s run by a Thai family who focus on the quality of the food, not the grandeur of the dining room. Just how it should be!
I haven’t been blown away by any of the brunch options in town, but Smashing Sorrento is the best of the bunch. It’s also a good place to grab one of a wide range of sandwiches (toasted or not), which are tasty, filling, and reasonably priced.
When it comes to ice cream (always important in a beach town!), my recommendation depends on when you’re there. During the week, head to Mubble, an ever-popular spot with a wide range of gelato and sorbet flavours on offer. Tables are in short supply on summer weekends, so you’re better off getting your ice cream to go and enjoying it on the move.
Speaking of summer weekends, however, it’s worth mentioning (again) the real fruit ice cream caravan that parks up on Front Beach on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. With friendly staff and vegan options, it’s a delicious alternative to braving the crowds at Mubble!
Get a Taste of History at Sorrento Museum
While most visitors to Sorrento come for the beaches and sunshine, sometimes that infamous Victorian weather simply has other plans. When being indoors feels like a better option — spot the grey skies in our photo above! — it’s time to check out the Sorrento Museum, found at 827 Melbourne Road, just around the corner from the main strip in town.
It’s a surprisingly great museum, with plenty to learn about, from the origins of the Bunurong People (the traditional owners of the land), to early European settlement, and beyond. The attractive stone building is packed full of artefacts and information, with a large collection of historic photos, and there’s a useful bookstore with works from local writers.
The museum is staffed by volunteers, and as a result, opening times have varied over the years: at the time of writing (March 2023), the museum is only open on Saturdays, between 10:30am and 1:30pm, and is closed in July and August. It does run occasional special events and programs as well, so do check the Nepean Historical Society website for details.
Entry prices are reasonable: $5 for adults, $2 for teenagers, and free for children. Don’t let a rainy day keep you cooped up in your accommodation; spend an hour at the museum instead and come away having learned more about Sorrento’s fascinating history.
See How the Settlers Lived at Watts’ Cottage
Once you’re finished at the museum, pop next door to the Pioneer Memorial Gardens. The flower beds are lovely to wander through for a few minutes, especially in spring, but be sure to also head to the rear of the gardens to take a look at Watts’ Cottage.
The wattle and daub cottage was built in 1869 and is one of the oldest surviving buildings on the peninsula. It was originally built as a residence for the local lighthouse keeper, William Watt, who oversaw the operation of the nearby Nepean Lighthouse.
The door frames were made from kauri washed ashore from the wreck of the “Hurricane”, which went aground further up the peninsula that year, and much of the other timber and roof shingles came from nearby areas.
The two-room cottage was restored to its original state and moved to its current location in the 1980s, and gives a unique glimpse into what life was like in Sorrento 150 years ago. The living quarters are furnished with period-appropriate furniture and household items, and you can take a look inside when the museum is open. There’s a small car park off Ocean Beach Road if you need it.
Explore Point Nepean National Park
One of the jewels in the crown of this part of the peninsula, the entrance gates to Point Nepean National Park lie less than a ten minute drive from Sorrento’s main street. If you’re interested in military and colonial history, or just like to get out for a good long walk in nature, I’d highly recommend a visit.
Park up at the large car park near the information centre, and then decide how you’d like to spend the next few hours. The quarantine station is well worth a look, with over forty buildings sprawled out over a wide grassy area that were built from the 1850s onward to handle new arrivals with influenza, leprosy, and other infectious diseases.
At the other end of the park, at the very tip of the Mornington Peninsula, lies Fort Nepean. Built in 1873 to help guard the entrance to Port Phillip Bay and expanded substantially since, the large guns here are reputed to have fired the first Allied shots of both World War One and World War Two!
There’s plenty to see on the outside of the fort, but the best parts are inside, with several rooms set up as exhibits and accessed via a long tunnel. Give yourself at least an hour to explore the area. You can either walk or cycle up to the fort, or take the shuttle bus from the quarantine station or Gunner’s Cottage ($12/return per adult). The closest car park is at Gunner’s Cottage: there’s no public vehicle access beyond that.
The park has a number of different walking trails (pdf), most of which intersect at various points so you can walk for as long or short a time as you like. On my last visit I largely followed this route, starting and finishing at the main car park and took in the quarantine centre, Fort Nepean, London Bridge, and several other points of interest.
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