The Beachside Playground of St Kilda

Beyond the skyscrapers of Melbourne’s central business district lies the beachside hub of St Kilda. With its tempting stretch of foreshore overlooking Port Phillip Bay, this inner-city playground attracts many visitors year round. Day-trippers from the urban sprawl of Melbourne, interstate travellers on a short sojourn and international travellers all come here.

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Visitors have been drawn to St Kilda since Charles La Trobe moored a schooner, called ‘The Lady of St Kilda’, here in 1841. The schooner was allegedly moved to the area from neighbouring Williamstown after a drunken brawl involving the vessel’s crew. La Trobe, while attending a picnic during his stay, pointed to the vessel and declared that the picnic area, then known as ‘Green Knoll’, should be named after it. Indigenous Australians, from the Boon Wurrung clan of the Kulin Nation, inhabited the area and favoured the name ‘Euroe Yroke’ long before European settlement.

Archaeological evidence suggests that Boon Wurrung people held corroborees (ceremonial meetings) here, caught shellfish from the beach and cooked their catches in campfires. From the late 1800s to the early 1900s, St Kilda became a fashionable and popular destination for Melbourne’s elite and they built their mansions to take advantage of the oceanic views. Casual strolls along Grey Street, residential end of Acland Street and The Esplanade can bring visitors face to face with some of these timeless buildings.

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Linking to its historical roots, St Kilda still remains as a desired and fashionable destination for food, shopping, music, relaxation and beachside fun. Families brimming with beach gear and slurping on ice-creams are ferried to the shore in trams along The Esplanade and Fitzroy Street. Cosmopolitan socialites are found sipping coffee along Acland Street where bustling cafés stand alongside the street’s iconic cake shops. Windows are stacked tall with slices and biscuits, crispy profiteroles, and sponge cake cut into individual portions, all sit waiting to be whisked away and consumed.

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On a glorious day like today, St Kilda is buzzing. It’s only 11am and people are already lining up, waiting for Luna Park’s wrought iron gates to open. Luna Park on Lower Esplanade is St Kilda’s 100 year-old fun-park. A towering “moonface” with a toothy smile is the façade for this historic attraction, swallowing people into its gut. Here, they partake on the ornate Grand Carousel, modern-day rides and the original scenic railway from where riders squeal in delight and receive panoramic views of the city.

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The Esplanade is home to rows of palm trees and The Palais Theatre, Australia’s largest seated theatre. This majestic, Art Deco building has stood here since it opened in 1914, hosting theatre, movies and live music over the years. Further along, St Kilda Sea Baths on Jacka Boulevard is another example of the area’s opulent appeal during its elite history. In the 19th century, the baths were a grand swimming haven for bathers as it was prohibited by law to swim at the adjacent beach during daylight hours. The modern-day, extended complex attracts exercising swimmers as well as many seeking out prime seating spots in adjoining bars and restaurants to down an ale and watch the sun set. There is even a spa where some seeking treatments and massages are generously pampered.

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Some visitors opt to wander the boardwalk or the sand along St Kilda Beach with steaming packs of takeaway fish and chips in order to breathe in their sunsets. By the time they reach the end of St Kilda Pier, they find St Kilda Pavilion. The original pavilion acted as a refreshments room once it was built in 1904. In 2003, the pavilion was destroyed by fire, yet rebuilt to its original plans. The cast iron roof is one of the remnants which was salvaged from the ashes and re-used in the reconstruction. On any given day, fishermen dangle their lines into the water from the pier as kite-surfers whoosh by.

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If visitors wander The Esplanade on a Sunday, they’ll discover St Kilda’s Esplanade Market where they can pick up one-off arts and crafts from vendors selling paintings, photography, handmade jewellery and locally made Aussie souvenirs. Against such a historic backdrop, the market’s local designers and Luna Park’s carnival playground punctuate St Kilda’s eclectic spirit.   

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By night, musicians frantically fling their chords into the sky with wild abandon. St Kilda’s bars and clubs, including the Prince of Wales on Fitzroy Street and the 135 year-old Esplanade Hotel, fondly nicknamed The Espy, on The Esplanade, attract anyone in search of a good live band. St Kilda has produced many bands and musicians over the decades, and many famous ones have called St Kilda their home while cutting a path into Australia’s music industry. Well-known band Hunters & Collectors emerged from St Kilda, members of The Birthday Party lived here during the late 1970s as well as other notable Australian musicians and bands such as Paul Kelly, Tex Perkins and AC/DC.

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While St Kilda is cosmopolitan and trendy, it’s the suburb’s edgy undertow that brings out the sunny side from its visitors. You can find it in the swagger of carefree 20-somethings who wander St Kilda’s streets sans shoes but wearing dark tans and sand peppered through their hair. And there’s one quote, from my Melburnian husband that really sums up the sentiment for St Kilda: “It’s outside the city and a little bit different. It makes me feel like I’m on holiday.”

Rooms at Hotel Urban St Kilda start from $99 on weekends for a superior king room. 35-37 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda 03 8530 8888.

Entry to Luna Park is free and an adult ticket for unlimited rides starts from $43.95. Luna Park is open weekends, school holidays and public holidays from 11am. is open weekends and public holidays from 11am to 3pm. 18 Lower Esplanade, St Kilda 03 9525 5033.                            

Prince of Wales is open from noon seven days a week. 29 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda 03 9536 1174.

The Espy is open from noon 6 days a week and from 8am Saturdays. 11 The Esplanade, St Kilda 03 9534 0211