Most days it takes a super human effort to venture out beyond the confines of my highly distracting local neighbourhood of Prahran. I’m like a dog overwhelmed by all the new smells, having to stop at every tree I pass for a good sniff. And by trees I mean Chapel Street’s shops, cafés, galleries and bars.
Last week, I was determined to find some new smells and, moving in concentric circles out from Prahran, spent the day in St Kilda – the Melbourne suburb that has a perennial party vibe.
Once a hideout for hookers and junkies (and still the case in some shady pockets), a now gentrified St Kilda is where you’ll find an eclectic mix of people: backpackers sporting a United Nations of accents, daytime drinkers, pale-skinned people in search of some sun and Melbourne’s suits hoping for St Kilda’s relaxed vibe to rub off.
Perhaps this is why, to date, I’ve only ever had memorable experiences in St Kilda. Like the time the screaming banshee chased my friend Ali and I out of Acland Street (you can read about that bizarre experience here), and the time a cabbie drove past with Mariah Carey blaring louder than my 13-year-old hairbrush-turned-microphone-wielding self.
While the night scene in St Kilda is largely flash and trash, during the day it’s a vibrant, beachside suburb, with lots to do, even if it’s just people watching. Here are a few more suggestions:
1. Brunch at Fitzrovia
First stop was to line the stomach with something of the egg and bacon form. And with no plan except heading in a general navigational direction towards the coast, I stumbled across Fitzrovia – a popular little provincial English, all-day dining spot on Fitzroy Street.
Decked out with old typewriters, eclectically-stacked bookshelves and wooden crates of lemons, fennel and apples dotted about the place, it’s the perfect, homely spot to start the day. It also reinforces one of the reasons why I love living in Melbourne: you’re always discovering some quirky new place where to eat eggs.
Predominantly using all local produce, my scrambled eggs, smashed avocado with feta and bacon was on the top end of the sliding scale that can be scrambled eggs. Fitzrovia also has a cake display of the delicious variety. I bagged a raspberry, peach and ricotta slice for later.
Alternatively, if you didn’t want to dine in, you can pick up a Fitzrovia gourmet picnic hamper* full of goodies, for a picnic in the St Kilda Botanical Gardens.
* Unfortunately, this won’t suit the unorganised – you need to place the picnic hamper order with Fitzrovia at least 24 hours in advance.
Fitzrovia | 2/155 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, Victoria
Phone: (03) 9537 0001
2. St Kilda Botanical Gardens
Although not remotely in the same league as the Royal Melbourne Botanical Gardens, of which I’m quite a fan, St Kilda’s iteration of a botanical garden (established in 1859) is indeed a nice, quiet place to bask in the glow of Mother Nature.
And while my uneducated plant eye thought it was a lovely ‘park’, I read that there are 810 mature tree specimens (eight of which are on the significant tree register) within the grounds, making the St Kilda Botanical Gardens a cut above your standard neighbourhood park.
With a playground, rose garden, giant chessboard, pond with a rain man fountain, gazebo and glasshouses, St Kilda Botanical Gardens is surprisingly big, making it easy to find a patch of grass to claim as your own and spread out the picnic rug in preparation for that Fitzrovia feast.
St Kilda Botanical Gardens | St Kilda Botanical Gardens is bounded by Blessington, Tennyson, Dickens and Herbert streets, St Kilda, Victoria
3. Luna Park, Melbourne
With its white roller coaster dominating St Kilda’s skyline, it’s hard not to notice Luna Park, which has been a long-standing resident of St Kilda since 1912.
Personally, I find the rickety-looking roller coaster, that’s as old as Luna Park itself, a little scary. Fortunately, the day I visited it was down for maintenance, so I didn’t have to look like an A+ wuss when I refused to ride it.
Despite it being a cold day, Luna Park was heaving with screaming children as they lined up ready to be thrown into the air on the likes of the Twin Dragon, Coney Island Top Drop and Pharaoh’s Curse. I didn’t join them, but I did enjoy just strolling around the grounds and soaking up the carnival atmosphere.
You don’t have to pay to enter through the toothy grin clown gates, you just fork out for rides, so unless you plan on riding amusement rides until the sun sets, Luna Park is a great free, and easy to cross off St Kilda bucket list experience.
Luna Park | 18 Lower Esplanade, St Kilda, Victoria
Phone: (03) 9525 5033
Cost: entry is free. Ride tickets range from $4.95 for a single ride (0–3 years) up to $46.95 for an unlimited ride ticket (13 years +). Family bundle options are also available.
4. Walk the St Kilda Pier and have afternoon tea at the kiosk
You can’t visit St Kilda and not take a stroll along the Melbourne institution that is St Kilda Pier. It would be like going to Vegas and not playing roulette. While here grab a coffee or ice cream at the very familiar-looking kiosk. A sight most frequently seen on Melbourne-themed post cards and calendars.
If you time it right, you can introduce yourself to St Kilda Pier’s local residents. Around dusk, a local penguin colony, who have randomly decided to call this metropolitan man-made marina home, come out to play.
Alternatively, you can also stop for something of the sugar-laden variety at one of Acland Street’s famed European cake shops. Or you can just stand on the pavement and drool at the window displays.
5. St Kilda beach vs homewares shopping
St Kilda Beach is a popular respite for wind surfers and those wanting to throw down the beach towel, but personally, for those of the relaxation-seeking sort (of which I’m very well educated), I think Melbourne has better strips of sand than St Kilda – I’m looking at you Brighton.
6. Dinner at Mr Wolf
There are lots of places that will feed you in St Kilda, from the cheap and cheerful to the St Kilda stalwarts, such as Cicciolina.
With a craving for pizza, I sniffed out Mr Wolf, which offers over a dozen possible, authentic pizza topping decisions. I opted for a delicious combo of tomato, mozzarella, parmigiano, salami, peppers, olives and chilli.
Unpretentious and simple, it is a great place to bring kids. However, I hadn’t realised that there was a bar next door. If sans kids, I would definitely ask to be seated in there – it’s much trendier.
Mr Wolf | 9–15 Inkerman Street, St Kilda, Victoria
Phone: (03) 9534 0255
7. A wine and cheese flight at Milk the Cow
Combining two of my first loves – wine and cheese – you have yourself a wine and cheese flight at Milk the Cow. (You can read a full post on Milk the Cow over in this corner).
At this European-style fromagerie, immerse yourself in a tasting journey of four wines perfectly paired with four cheeses, all for around $20–$35. If wine isn’t your thing, you can choose from a beer, cider, fortified, dessert wine, whiskey or sake cheese flight instead, making this a good boyfriend-friendly activity.
Alternatively, settle in with a cheesemonger’s choice cheeseboard, cheese fondue pot or just admire the 150+ displayed artisan cheeses.
With a licence until 1am, Milk the Cow is a great place to top off a fun day out in St Kilda with a nightcap. And make sure you box up some triple brie to take home for later.
Milk the Cow | 157 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, Victoria
Phone: (03) 9537 2225
St Kilda is a super close seven kilometres from the Melbourne CBD – a very easy tram ride (routes 96, 112, 3a and 16) away.