Seeing Brighton Beach Melbourne is a must if you’re visiting the city. The Brighton Beach Huts aren’t the best publicised of Melbourne attractions and they’re not the easiest place to reach. But they’re among the most iconic, most photographed places in Australia, especially the hut painted with the Australian flag. We decided to make the 13 km trip down Port Phillip Bay to give our son a run on the beach. Visiting Brighton Beach turned out to be one of the best things to do in Melbourne with kids that we found. He was enthralled by the place.
It’s not difficult to see why many rate Brighton one of the best beaches in Melbourne. The beach huts provide a wonderful splash of colour, and you can safely paddle and swim in the water there. If you walk out to the shoreline or to the end of the beach you also get a view of the spectacular city skyline.
As well as being one of the most fun things to do in Melbourne, the beach was a welcome change of pace for the Little Man. Sometimes he found the bustle and intensity of the city a little too much.A couple of hours at the beach was just what he needed. The beach huts were also one of the most enjoyable things to see in Melbourne for us too.
Brighton Bathing Boxes – A Short History
Beach huts or bathing boxes have their origins in the 19th century. Back in Victorian times a respectable lady wasn’t going to attempt a quick bikini change wrapped in a towel in a car park. One required somewhere one could maintain one’s modesty. In the UK and Europe, bathing machines were developed. The user could hire a machine for a certain length of time (usually 30 minutes). The machine was essentially a caravan-hut, pulled to the water’s edge by a horse. Once the vehicle reached the water, the user would step out into the sea to bathe for a short time. By the early 20th century wooden beach huts were built instead of these cumbersome contraptions. They provided privacy for changing and shelter and shade from the sun.
The Brighton beach boxes date from earlier than their counterparts the other side of the globe. There are records of a dispute over bathing boxes as early as 1862. They were built elsewhere along Brighton Beach, to the north around Park and Wellington Streets. In 1934, with the Great Depression continuing to bite, a foreshore promenade was to be built under a State-sponsored works scheme. This resulted in the remaining Brighton beach huts being removed to their present site at Dendy Street Beach. Some of the huts you see today are well over a century old.
The huts are licensed annually to local residents by Bayside City Council. They and the Brighton Beach Box Association impose guidelines on the colours of the huts. The local council in Burano, home to the colourful fishing cottages near Venice, have similar restrictions.
The huts aren’t connected to any water or electricity supply. Nonetheless, at the time of writing, the record price for a Brighton bathing box is a whopping $337,000 (that’s US$239,000). The older huts rarely come up for sale – those that are sold are newly built.
How to get to Brighton Beach in Melbourne
Brighton Beach is pretty straightforward to reach by public transport – if you follow our route.
We caught the Sandringham line train from Flinders Street Station in Melbourne CBD, and alighted at Middle Brighton station, on Church Road. Faye was recovering from recent surgery so she went in an Uber, while I took the Little Man and his stroller.
Brighton Beach is also known as Dendy Street Beach. Despite Dendy Street not being the most direct route on the map, it’s by far the most practical.
We followed some signs to ‘Brighton Bathing Boxes’, and ended up on Park Street, which we followed to The Esplanade. We had already gone some distance out of our way by this point, and then we had to walk along The Esplanade. This is a busy four lane road with a lot of loud traffic – and few safe places to cross. Note that no buses run along The Esplanade.
We ended up walking down to the nearest crossing, on the corner of Dendy Street. After crossing there, it was a 200 metre walk to the beach car park and the main path to the beach huts.
You can also get to the beach huts via Brighton Beach station. We asked a couple sitting in one of the huts which station was easier to reach. They screwed up their faces at the mention of Brighton Beach station. ‘No mate, stick to Middle Brighton,” they said emphatically.
Brighton Beach Melbourne Things to Do
Going to the beach is one of the best free things to do in Melbourne, and Brighton is the best one close to the city. The beach is a great spot, but the main reason it attracts visitors is the line of around 80 beach boxes. The huts are among the most Instagrammable places in Melbourne, and this is what most visitors to the beach came to do. They tended to photograph each other, mainly outside the hut painted with the Australian flag. They would have a wander along some of the other huts, then have an ice cream and move on.
If you arrive at the main car park you don’t have to go far to find this particular hut. It’s Number 2, the second hut you see as you look down the beach along them. You may have to wait a little while for your shot, as some people shoot a selection of selfies before moving along. Ironically, this is the hut most in need of a new coat of paint.
It takes ten to fifteen minutes to walk from one end of the huts to the other. As well as the Aussie flag, there are many other eye-catching designs. These range from delightful pastel stripes to paintings of a Space Invader and a boxing kangaroo adorning huts.
There are all the essential facilities required at Dendy Street Beach, including toilets and drinking water. And, of course, an ice cream van in the car park.
Our Little Man absolutely adored the beach huts. He loved the myriad bright colours which brightened up a cloudy afternoon. He insisted on posing for pictures outside several of the huts, before settling down to improvise some castles out of the soft grainy sand.
Sam loved his ice cream, but not as much as the beach huts. He spent nearly two hours practicing his long-jumping skills, jumping between the wooden platforms at the front of each hut. Besides, we could take him to just about any beach on the planet. As long as there’s sand and a bucket to build a castle with, he’s happy.
Visiting the Brighton Beach Huts is definitely up there with the best things to do in Melbourne for families.
Other Things To Do in Brighton Melbourne
We didn’t get to spend much time exploring the rest of Brighton, but there’s plenty more to see and do.
We would have loved to have spent more time exploring Church Street, the main shopping street and cafe strip. It has several enticing cool cafes to stop for a while. It’s an affluent area with a typical Melburnian bohemian feel.
There is also plenty more to see along the seafront. You can get a shot of the beach huts with Melbourne skyline behind if you walk to the park at Green Point.
In the opposite direction, to the north, you can take a dip in Brighton baths. They’re the only sea baths in Melbourne, and one of only two in the state of Victoria. Beyond there, Brighton Dog Beach is close by, and there’s a fine beach in the next suburb, Elwood. After that, you’re into St Kilda, home of the iconic Luna Park fun fair.
David Angel is a British writer and photographer who has been travelling and photographing the world for over 25 years. His work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the BBC, the Guardian, the Times and the Sunday Times. His images are frequently used throughout the world by tourism bodies such as Visit Britain and Visit Wales.