We just returned to Vancouver after our 3-week trip to Australia. While everything is still fresh in my mind, I wanted to 1) share the details so that they might benefit others planning a trip to Melbourne with kids and 2) record the memories so they don’t flit out of my feeble brain like feathers on a breeze.
Overall, we had an amazing trip. I had no idea Melbourne was such a big, beautiful, culture-rich city. People always compare it to Vancouver. Vancouver is no Melbourne. Maybe it’s Vancouver’s tatted up, coffee-fuelled, handsome and wise older brother with a sexy hipster beard. It has gorgeous 1800s buildings adjacent to (beautifully) graffitied cafes. Tropical, pristine, lush gardens every few blocks. Bustling restaurants everywhere you look. Stunning countryside and coastal drives minutes from the city. Totally fell in love.
We stayed close to Melbourne as we were there to visit family – especially the newest addition to our extended family, my sister-in-law Achu’s sweet new baby Anika. Although we would have loved to see the rest of Australia and also New Zealand, being in one spot for so long meant that we got to really know the city and surrounding areas.
Returning to regular blogging next week, for now just saying hi and sharing a bit of a travel guide. Thanks for following my trip on Instagram, had so much fun! xox
Things to do in Melbourne with kids + Four Fabulous Day trips
Day Trip #1, Yarra Valley:
– Drive an hour from the city and you’ll find yourself surrounded by hills dotted with happily-grazing sheep and cows and beautiful wineries. A gorgeous road trip. Here are the stops you should make.
– Healesville Sanctuary – a wonderful place to become intimately acquainted with Aussie wildlife. Kangaroos (very up close and personal – they’re very friendly!), koala bears, wallabies, dingoes, snakes, emus and beautiful birds.
While in Healesville, spend an hour in the town. Essenza café had amazing coffee and the croissants, danishes, muffins and Portuguese tarts were all top notch. (Great thing about traveling with kids is that you can order one of each without looking like a pig). Stop in at The Kitchen & Butcher, an amazing shop for cheese, wine, charcuterie and a plethora of regional gifts and specialty foods. I was in heaven.
– Wineries – we had the kids in tow, so we limited ourselves to two winery stops on the day trip. The first was winery, which had the most beautiful scenery and a restaurant/tasting area with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the vineyards. They are famous for their rosé, which was sold out when we got there. An friend said their vanilla slice is the best, but we were all out for the day. Try both and please report back! It was POURING rain when we were there, hence the lack of photos. We asked the friendly staff what their #2 winery would be, and they recommended Maddens Rise, which made our next stop. Another beautiful place to enjoy a tasting.
– Cheese – stop at Coldstream Dairy on the drive home. They make beautiful cheeses with dairy from their own cows that you can watch wandering the fields, and they do tastings so you can try before you buy. They had three varieties, and I bought them all. So good.
Day Trip #2, Mornington Peninsula:
– Another one-hour drive from the city, and some of the most breathtaking scenery you can imagine. Schank Lighthouse – our goal destination for this day trip – is perched on a cliff in the Mornington Peninsula National Park. The walk from the parking lot to the lighthouse is stroller friendly, and the lookout is incredible. There is a 2.6 km walking trail for stroller-less and shorter (but still beautiful options) for those with little ones.
– Mother’s beach – a beautiful bay on the drive from Melbourne to the lighthouse, with a fabulous playground just the street from the (stroller-friendly) path down to the beach. Gorgeous views, clear, shallow water and very safe.
-Fish & Chips – we grabbed a variety of battered and fried local fish from Go Fish, on the main street, and carried it to Mother’s beach for a picnic.
– Mornington Chocolates – this is on every tourist brochure, but frankly is very expensive and really not that good. Skip it.
Day Trip #3, Great Ocean Road:
– To do the complete trip from Melbourne to the stunning Twelve Apostles is about 4 hours in each direction. Unless you drug your children or can play the Frozen loud enough to drown out screaming without losing your mind, I recommend going half-way, to Eastern View, then turning around. You’ll still have the incredible ocean road experience with astonishing seascapes and vistas that will be forever etched in your memory.
-Fisherman’s Beach: we stopped at Torquay and visited Fisherman’s Beach, then walked past it for about 5 minutes and stumbled on sandy playground with gorgeous views of the beach below. There’s a strip of cute restaurants if you’re in need of lunch. They have lifeguards in peak times over Christmas, but the surf was moderate. I wouldn’t actually swim there with little kids.
– Bell’s Beach: we drove there and parked, watching surfers, for about an hour. Incredible views, definitely worth a stop, but definitely wouldn’t go there to swim. Enormous waves. Stunning.
Day Trip #4, Puffing Billy:
– An old-school steam train with an hour’s journey (each way) to Emerald lake, a great destination for a picnic! Beautiful and adults can sit on the window ledge and hang their legs out. Bring a picnic, or buy some (mediocre) food from the little at the lake.
– Pack warm clothes, it gets cold on the train trip. The lake was about 10 degrees colder than in Melbourne.
– Melbourne Museum: very cheap ($14/adult and free for kids under 16!) and just so, so awesome. Their children’s gallery is incredible. A wonderland. Really a gift for parents and tots alike. Non-negotiable. There’s an irresistible water table, so bring a change of clothes for toddlers.
– Royal Botanic Gardens: the most beautiful, free public gardens with birds roaming and swans swimming. They have a lovely children’s garden with lots of water features which would be fun in the summer (it was too cold to get wet when we were there April/May). Bring swimwear for kids or a change of clothes if you go!
– Beaches: St. Kilda Beach, beautiful and within the city. The best part? PENGUINS. A little pier with a beautiful, historic restaurant perched at the end and a rocky outcrop that accommodates adorable fairy penguins. No need to drive out to Phillip Island (which is quite touristy, I’ve heard, and penguins only come out at sundown – not ideal for littles). The other beach we visited the city is Brighton Beach. Both are lovely.
– Markets! Oh my god the markets. We visited all of them, I think. The Prahran Market was maybe my . We also visited the Queen Victoria Market and the South Melbourne Market. They’re all bustling with great food (go hungry, try a flatbread) and lots to see and buy. Must gorge on local fruit. The feijoa is delicious (like a kiwi crossed with a passionfruit) and OMG the PASSIONFRUIT will make your toes curl. I bought two jars of local passionfruit curd as souvenirs to enjoy when I got home. Golden kiwis, mangoes – so, so good. Load up while you’re there.
– Other than that, we visited a million cafés, took in the Melbourne Zoo (take it or leave it, it was good, but not a must-do activity), and wandered the promenade that follows the Yarra river through the city. I was also recommended Collingwood Farm, a petting farm right in the city, which looks amazing but we didn’t make it there. Finally, the art gallery, the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) has lots of interesting (and free!) things for kids.
The nitty-gritty details:
– Flights: I chose a direct flight from LA to Melbourne rather than a direct flight from Vancouver to Sydney. I thought it would be easier to handle a layover in the US prior to the long flight rather than in Australia after we’d been traveling for 14 hours. I made the right choice! I only wish I’d done the reverse for our return trip – we had the same layover in LA after our 13-hour flight on the way home and it was much harder.
The flight, like I mentioned briefly before, was shockingly easy. We left at night and the kids slept for 10 of the 14 hours. I actually got more rest on the plane than I would have at home. With the time change, we arrived in the morning Australia time, fresh and ready to start the day. Jet lag was a breeze, too. We just went to bed early (which was Vancouver time) and slept as long as the kids did. As with the flight, it actually worked out to more hours of sleep that usual.
– Accommodations: we stayed in an AirBnB townhouse, which I really recommend doing when traveling with kids, even if only for a weekend. It’s so much easier to have the home feel, to have more space, a full kitchen, and a place to lounge while the littlest nap every afternoon (a hotel room makes that really hard).
– Transportation: we had reserved a car from a rental place at the airport and off we went, on the wrong side of the road (which also was surprisingly easy). There are lines on the road through intersections to guide you, and most high-traffic areas have the directions separated by a wide median. If you choose not to rent a car, there are free trams throughout the city (AMAZING) and a great train system to leave downtown. Tons of tour bus options for stress-free day trips, too.
Thanks for reading, if you’re planning a trip, have a great one! A special thanks to Shea and Rachel on Instagram for all the amazing recommendations, and to my lovely friend Heather for two-page list of things to do. You guys made the trip for us.