Melbourne is the first city that I’ve lived in that’s far enough away from the beach (and I mean real beaches, not where water meets sand, bayside), that a big chunk of the population ups and migrates to the coast for the summer. It reminds me in a way of the Manhattan glitterati decamping to the Hamptons. But probably not quite as highfalutin.

This summer I joined the madding crowds for about a week, spending a few days each in Flinders and Barwon Heads. Just outside of Geelong on the Bellarine Peninsula, Barwon Heads is a relaxed town that seems comfortable in its own skin. Satisfied with its mix of new, architecturally impressive developments and old beach shacks, it’s not hung up on trying to impress anyone – what you see is what you get.

A bit more low-key than its holiday-town peers a short ferry ride away on the Mornington Peninsula, Barwon Heads has loads of appeal. Its surf beach is great, keeping swimmers and body surfers happy, as well as landlubbers who can beachcomb for eight seaside kilometers from Ocean Grove all the way to Point Lonsdale.

The main street is wall-to-wall with resort wear boutiques so the holidaymakers can stay on-trend throughout their stay, and plenty of cafes for hungry tummies. At the Heads is a restaurant and bar – smack bang on the beach next to the jetty – that makes the most of its beachy vista with plenty of big windows, and touts itself as being a bit of an icon. A hot favourite on the main street is Annie’s Provedore. Annie’s seems to be open all day every day, and is always busy. Refuelling the hoards for breakfast, lunch and dinner with totally delicious, innovative eat-in options, they are also jam-packed with exciting provisions for you to take home and create you own.

Oh, and there is also a brilliant, step-back-to-the-’70’s Chinese restaurant, Ming Terrace. Go there.

At the Heads, Barwon Heads
At the Heads, Barwon Heads

89 km south of Melbourne on the tip of the Mornington Peninsula, the tiny town of Flinders has an official population of 900, but in summertime it swells as it becomes a seaside outpost for holidaying Melburnians.

Flinders is a bit more about the who’s who keeping up with the Joneses, but has a great villagey feel about it and enough going on to keep everyone happy. Kids are kept busy by their parents (or maybe it’s the other way around?), rushing about between sailing and Nippers, there are coastal walks, galleries, cafes, and the peninsula is brimming with vineyards and plenty of cellar doors, so if wine is your thing, you won’t run out of things to do.

The Flinders General Store is a mainstay in the community and has been trading since 1866. It has everything from grocery essentials to artisanal produce, barista-made coffee, and fishing licences!

If you lose your dog while visiting Flinders, check the general store – if locals come across an owner-less pooch wandering around they’ll tie the little hobo up outside. What a fantastic thing to do!

Neither of these beachside towns are anywhere near as hectic or showy as Sorrento or Portsea in the summer holidays, and make a fantastic retreat from the city. I recommend a visit. Let me know what you think.