Adelaide: From City to Bay

As the region’s capital city, Adelaide is the ideal jumping off place for an 8- to 12-day exploration of South Australia. It’s worth at least one full day of exploration, but three would be a whole lot better.

From Los Angeles, it’s a 14-hour overnight flight to Sydney (read: two or three movies, a long nap and breakfast), a 1 ½ hour flight to Adelaide, and a ten-minute cab ride to the center of town. You get in, you get settled, you’re sitting at a great little sidewalk café by noon.

Just as distinctly Australian as larger, more touristy Sydney and Melbourne with half the crowds, Adelaide offers history, modernity, a relaxing pace, amazing food — and a killer stretch of the Southern Ocean.

If you cut Australia into six pieces, South Australia is at the bottom of the center; Adelaide is on SA’s far southeastern coast.

Adelaide still feels like the fancy frontier town it once was, with a lot of mid-1800s architecture trimmed in ornately wrought iron. The city’s most popular tourist attraction, Rundle Mall (a long portion of Rundle Street that runs between Hindley and Pulteney Streets) turns this aesthetic on its head, filling remodeled arcade facades with entirely modern shops, clubs and restaurants.

As a first-time visitor, it’s advisable to stay near this area to avoid the need for a rental car.

To stay both central and quiet in the evenings, I’d suggest the Mall-adjacent Majestic Roof Garden Hotel; an Executive Suite is all the room you’ll both need. There’s a unique Japanese screen between the fast-filling bathtub and the firm-yet-cozy king size bed, and several channels of uniquely Australian TV to explore. (Another country’s music videos at the end of a long day of sightseeing? A little slice of heaven.) In-room broadband’s not free, but be assured that the front desk staff are helpful, easygoing and knowledgeable about the city. Take advantage of happy hour, where you can purchase a glass of Barossa bubbly in the lobby, then bring it up to the romantic little roof garden for a lovely view over downtown and the Adelaide Hills.

An Executive Suite at the Majestic Roof Garden Hotel, and a view from said roof garden

When it’s time to wander out to dinner, walk out the front door of the hotel, take a left, and at the first stoplight, turn right and cross the street; you’re a whopping block from a slew of Rundle Street bars and restaurants, from Indian to Argentinian. If I had my crack at another evening in town, I’d hop between sidewalk tables, designing a cocktail, appetizer and dessert crawl-for-two until nightfall.

Enjoy the sidewalk cafe culture along the eastern end of Rundle Street

For breakfast or lunch one day, be sure not to miss the Adelaide Central Market. It’s a semi-long walk from the hotel, through half of Rundle Mall to Beehive Corner, then over to the left a few blocks at King William Street. If you want to save time or energy, hail a cab, which will cost about $8 AUD/US. Or, just start ambling along Rundle Mall and wend your way there…leaving at least a few minutes to explore the home-grown Haigh’s Chocolates Store at Beehive Corner.

Haigh's Chocolates, at Beehive Corner on Rundle Mall

The Central Market can be toured with a professional chef like Mark Gleeson (who owns market stall #66, a gourmet specialty store called Providore), or just nibble your way through the stalls. There are bakeries, butchers, cheese aplenty and more from around the globe. Chances are, you’ll have rarely seen such enormous, healthy and unique produce. (Beets as large as a human hand? Why, yes.) For a sit-down meal, try the almost insanely fresh European sandwiches and salads at Zed’z Cafe, with a hibiscus soda on the side.

Adelaide's Central Market (Thanks to Mike Richard of Vagabondish for lending a...hand.)

After you’ve gotten your fill of the market, head to the beach to walk off your excesses. Head back to King William Street to catch the City to Bay Tram at the Victoria Square Tarndanyangga station. You’ll want the free-of-charge tram to Glenelg — not only an anagram, but also Adelaide’s most popular beach town. Centered along Jetty Road parallel to Holdfast Bay in the Southern Ocean, the party at Glenelg has been around for ages, with mid-1800s architecture peppered amidst modern clubs, shops, eateries and more. After taking a walk, you might want to go for a sunset sail, have dinner at (the sublime) Good Life Modern Organic Pizza, or hear some live music. To return to the Majestic, take the tram back to Victoria Station, then switch to the downtown tram headed for Rundle Street.

Holdfast Bay in the Southern Ocean, and a bit of Glenelg's charm along Jetty Road

Back in the central city, Adelaide is a surprising mix of every culture imaginable, but makes efforts to honor its First Australian roots. To explore this more fully, have Haydyn Bromley from Bookabee Tours show you around his version of the city, including the Australian Aboriginal Material Culture Gallery at the South Australian Museum (free admission) and the adjacent Adelaide Botanic Gardens (free admission). Haydyn, a bright and friendly half-Caucasian, half-Aboriginal 40-something, can jump-start your study of Aboriginal culture by sharing his family’s personal stories, as well as the meanings of traditional totems and symbols (like, for instance, the rock wallaby in his company’s logo).

For over a hundred years, Australians of European descent kept a detailed anthropological record of Aboriginal people, ostensibly to prove that they’re sub-human; this was the official word on the matter until 1967, when the global community successfully forced Australia to change its racist ways. In a wry twist of political fate, this anthropological record now forms the basis for Aboriginal land claims, as well as a spectacular array of artifacts. Many of the latter are on display in the Gallery, in addition to modern artworks and emotionally moving video testimonials.

The South Australia Museum and one of the largest gum (eucalyptus) trees at the Adelaide Botanic Gardens

At the 41-acre Gardens, Haydyn will show you trees that have long served as native homes, farms and even pharmacies. At both the Gardens and the Gallery, which are large and not wholly-focused on Aboriginal details, be sure to leave yourself extra time to do some exploring on your own.

While you’re in central Adelaide, also try to:

– visit the gorgeous Art Gallery of South Australia (next door to the South Australian Museum)
attend a wine tasting at the ultra-modern glass-and-wood National Wine Centre of Australia (beside the Botanic Gardens)
– try the Seriously South Australian menu at the Hilton Adelaide’s Brasserie, which uses products from all around the region.


My trip was sponsored by the South Australia Tourism Commission and Qantas Airlines, but all opinions are my own.


See also
Discovering Down Under: South Australia
Flying High Above South Australia
TWT Travel Binder: Australia


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