Name: Lara Howes
Position: RACV event coordinator
Years in Melbourne: Six
Why She loves it: You can go out to brunch every weekend and never have to go back to the same place.
Absolute favourite? Relaxing at the quiet end of Hampton Beach.
Melbourne beaches are definitely under-rated. One of the nicest is Hampton Beach, a lovely expanse of golden sand between Brighton and Sandringham, about 10 kilometres from the CBD. There’s a sheltered little spot at the top of the beach set between stone sea walls, with shallow water. I like to go there because it’s quiet and never very crowded. Further down the beach is Hampton Life Saving Club, which is popular with families. Of course, the sea is chilly ’til mid summer but you’ve just got to jump in.
When the weather is warm, it’s fun to go to the Rooftop Cinema, right on top of Curtin House (252 Swanston Street, city). Sitting on the deck chairs and bean bags on astro turf is more relaxing than going to the cinema. You can eat at Cookie downstairs or have yummy snacks and drinks from Rooftop Burger Shack. If the lift is full it’s quite a trek climbing up the seven floors. You’re definitely thirsty by the time you get to the top but you can always stop by at the little bars and eateries on the way up. Other outdoor cinemas in the city include: Moonlight Cinema, Botanical Gardens; Saint Kilda Beach open air cinema; and Lido Rooftop Cinema, Hawthorn.
Good coffee is one of the best things about Melbourne. Pillar of Salt is a cool place to hang out. The menu is really good – they do a great chilli scrambled egg – but the coffee is amazing. There’s a sheltered, shaded courtyard at the back. I love all the different cafe options in Melbourne – you can go out every weekend and never have to go back to the same place. 541 Church Street, Richmond.
When my friends or family visit, I take them to Chinatown. There are people everywhere and the smells bring back memories of Asia. Someone is always playing the erhu (Chinese violin), which gives the street great character. Spicy Fish is a very authentic Chinese restaurant. It’s great if you go with a group and order a bunch of things to share. They stagger the delivery so you’re not bombarded with everything at once. Softshell crab with chilli is my recommendation – if you don’t mind a bit of spice. 209 Little Bourke Street, city.
The Yarra River with its refreshing breeze is the heart of the city. Walking by the river is great for people-watching and the street performers are worth stopping for. You can wander from Princes Bridge, near Flinders Street Station, towards Docklands. If you get thirsty, there are plenty of watering holes at Southbank (Left Bank and the Meat & Wine Co are two of my favourites). Ponyfish Island, just off Southbank pedestrian bridge in the middle of the river, is a quirky bar best visited in summer. Arbory Bar & Eatery, beside Flinders Street Station, has great views of Southbank.
Albert Park Lake
Not far from the CBD, Albert Park Lake is a really pretty spot. It’s a man-made lake surrounded by parklands and sporting facilities, and is popular with dog owners, walkers and runners. I live up the road and I like going for a run or a walk around the lake – the track is about 5km. It’s great for a picnic or barbecue and the trees have lovely shade. You can learn to sail at the Albert Sailing Club, swim at Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre or play golf at Albert Park Golf Course – that’s a lot of options in a small area.
Though it’s not the cheapest, Prahran Market is the place to shop for special occasions as the quality of the meat, fresh produce and flowers is second to none. I always shop there for king prawns or steak. Everyone is friendly, it’s a good size and the range is impressive. After the market, it’s worth calling into the Essential Ingredient for some spices or treats such as truffle oil. Market Lane Coffee at the back of the market has top-class coffee and beans.
On the quiet
Jungle Boy is a hidden cocktail bar on Chapel Street. You enter through Boston Sub, a tiny sandwich shop known for subs and poutine (fries with gravy and cheese). The bar is behind a coolroom door at the back of the shop and they only let in a few people at a time. It’s dimly lit, with hanging plants and exposed brick. I like the novelty of a secret bar, the cocktails are good and the staff know their stuff. 96 Chapel Street, Windsor.
Summer isn’t summer without ice-cream or gelato. One of the best places is Messina Gelato on Chapel Street, which has more than 35 flavours. My favourite is the dulce de leche, an Argentinian-style caramel. Visit after lunch or dinner, order a gelato then stroll down Chapel Street and watch the crowds drift by. 171 Chapel Street, Windsor. Also at Fitzroy and Richmond.
Melbourne always has different shows to see. You can choose from comedies, performing arts, cabaret and musicals. The art galleries and museums are also a good place to escape the heat on a 40-degree day.