What do you think when someone says Frankston? Sand sculpting? Olivers Hill? The end of the train line?
For years it was regarded as the place where Melbourne stopped and the Mornington Peninsula started, and a lot of its traffic was just passing through.
But thanks to the opening of EastLink in 2008 and Peninsula Link in 2013, Frankston is more easily accessible, and it’s shedding its once dubious reputation to become a bayside hotspot. The bucks are starting to stop here.
Home to about 135,000, the city of Frankston attracts families seeking a seachange. Property in the Frankston High School zone fetches well above reserve and the recent addition of the Peninsula Aquatic Recreation Centre plus a revamped waterfront, library, arts centre and hospital make it an appealing place to take – and raise – a family.
But it’s the long-time locals who seem to be enjoying the city most. Not only have they seen their hometown refurbished in recent years, they also relish its hidden gems, the classics that they love just the way they are.
While hordes of visitors go to Olivers Hill lookout and the famous foreshore – voted Victoria’s most popular beach in 2011 and twice named Victoria’s cleanest beach – you will likely find the locals elsewhere. Those who enjoy the outdoors visit Sweetwater Creek Lower Nature Reserve (Fenton Cres, Frankston South). Walking tracks and boardwalks follow the creek as it winds through 13ha of bushland. Even closer to central Frankston, George Pentland Botanic Gardens (Williams St, behind the hospital) has barbecue and picnic spots, playgrounds, walking tracks, outdoor gym equipment and an ornamental lake.
Frankston foodies recommend family-owned The Pizzeria on Norman (46 Norman Ave, Frankston South), and Cosy & Tasty Dumpling restaurant (489 Nepean Hwy).
Sofia (on the foreshore at the pier) attracts visitors looking for an alfresco caffeine hit, but it’s coffee at Creatures of Habit (435 Nepean Hwy) that has residents talking.
When it comes to fine dining with a view, Waves on the Beach (2/1 Long Island Dve) is a stand-out. A meal of seafood and a glass of Peninsula wine under the acacias in The Boathouse garden (368 Nepean Hwy) is just as stunning.
The sport and fitness culture in Frankston is hard to miss. The most popular walking, running and cycling trails are the foreshore boardwalk and the 600m rapid incline of Olivers Hill. But it’s the towering stairs from the foot of the hill, near the corner of Liddesdale Ave and Nepean Hwy, which get the heart pumping.
In the water, distance swimmers can be seen year round, many training for the IRONMAN Asia-Pacific Championship in Frankston each March. Those who go snorkelling and stand-up paddle-boarding often see dolphins.
The $50 million Peninsula Aquatic Recreation Centre on Cranbourne Rd opened in 2014. Its water playground and AquaSphere family raft ride are fun for the kids.
Redevelopment is underway at Frankston Park (Plowman Pl), home to the Frankston Football Club, as well as at the Frankston Yacht Club and waterfront precinct.
In winter, the town doesn’t go into hibernation. The Frankston Arts Centre theatre seats 800, and in July you can see everything from Legally Blonde the Musical to an Elvis tribute. Next door, the creative arts space Cube 37 has exhibitions of emerging artists, workshops and youth arts projects. With school holidays upon us, there’s something on almost every day.
And there are always amazing things at McClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park (390 McClelland Dve).
The days of a once-peaceful fishing village are long gone. Frankston Pier where James Oliver first cast his fishing nets in the 1850s, is still the cornerstone of the town. But it’s what has evolved around it that demands your attention now.