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N J English
Created byN J English

St Kilda 101: Your Starter Kit to Melbourne’s Sweet Spot

Perhaps Australia’s most diverse city, Melbourne is a haven for the travellers who relish uncovering cities’ quirky enclaves and little-known dives. St Kilda is the perfect place to start your quest for the alternative Melbourne: a few kilometres south of the city centre, the beachfront suburb is known for its amazingly broad range of activities and demographics.

The area’s rollercoaster history is responsible for its diversity. While many wealthy families made St Kilda their home after Melbourne was settled, a local economic depression in the 1890s led to many of the mansions being subdivided into apartments for the working classes, and nearby entertainment venues changed accordingly.  A sizable Jewish community arrived as the area rebounded and became more affluent, while bohemians, artists, criminals and prostitutes moved in during the Great Depression in the 1920s.

The economic yo-yoing has left St Kilda an area of sharp social contrast, populated as much by homeless people, backpackers and low-income labourers as it is by the upper class. Entertainment options are resultantly just as varied, and your options range from dingy music venues to palatial theatres and everything in between. As Michelle Nichol of St Kilda’s Tourism Association puts it, “St Kilda hosts just about any pursuit that could interest you. It’s been both an underground and high society playground since the day dot, and it’s utterly characterized by change, diversity, art and music.” 

Here, I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of St Kilda’s dining and nightlife scenes, but take wing, dear reader! Check out these sites to get you started, and settle in for all of Melbourne’s best bits condensed into one very funky burb. Play on.

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St Kilda Botanical Gardens

St Kilda is teeming with green spaces for an afternoon nosh, but the botanic gardens are truly beautiful. Grab some takeout or a rotisserie chicken (the dogs are on leashes) and find a spot among the ponds, gazebos and greenhouses.

Sacred Heart Op Shop St Kilda

Hunting for bargain “pre-loved” clothing is a great Australian tradition, but the Sacred Heart Op Shop is the apex. Not only does it feed four hundred destitute people every day, but it variously puts on art shows, concerts and charity drives. The décor is cute and zany, and there’s a beautiful...

The Kite Republic

Victoria’s only affiliated centre of the International Kiteboarding Organization (which we guess is a thing), Kite Republic offers a safe yet extreme way to enjoy the seaside. Photo courtesy The Kite Republic.

The Astor Theatre

This beautiful single screen theatre is well known for both its commitment to vintage cinema and its constant struggle to avoid being bulldozed by land developers. Every schedule is different at the Astor, but with a film library that spans from Casablanca to Indiana Jones, this beauty is well...

Jewish Museum of Australia

Did you know that before Israel was founded in 1948, a patch of the Australian outback was considered for a new Jewish state? This and countless other fascinating facts can be found in this wonderful, modern museum that is a great introduction to Australia’s oft-overlooked Jewish history....

Pure Pop Records

Owned and run by the illegitimate love child of AC/DC’s lead singer, Pure Pop is a record store, a bar and a showcase for live music.

Acland Street Cake Shops

Melbourne’s is widely known as Australia’s culinary capital, and Acland Street is the sweet spot. Start at Continental Cakes and, if you’re game, move on to Chimmy’s, Europa, Le Bon, Monarch Cakes, Il Fornaio and Baker D Chirico. You might think it best to just pick one store – we dare you to try....

Linden Centre for Contemporary Art

A unique not-for-profit gallery, The Linden Centre showcases contemporary and sometimes controversial art in an informal and accessible way.

St Kilda Cycles

Anyone can beach stroll, but cycling is a lot more fun than you remember. There are separate paths for walkers, cyclists and rollerbladers, so rent a pair of wheels from St Kilda Cycles and explore St Kilda the zippy way.

Palais Theatre

Australia’s largest theatre and almost certainly its most beautiful, the Palais attracts everything from ballet to children’s theatre. Check out their upcoming shows (http://www.palaistheatre.net.au/whats-on.htm) for more information.