Canberra Like a Local: A City Guide

Canberra Like a Local: A City Guide

This article was first published on Lean and Meadow, the blog of Lean Timms, Gingerfinch's talented photographer. It was written by Sophie Mico, and all photographs are Lean's. I have reproduced it faithfully for my Gingerfinch peeps because this is hands-down the best guide to Canberra. It's produced by two women who love this city as much as I do. Canberra was voted number 3 in the Lonely Planet's Top City to Visit in 2018 guide - and we know why! We can't wait to see you here this year. xx

Canberra Like a Local: A City Guide

This is a humble, itinerant project born out of a simple love of Canberra. As locals, Lean and I are privy to a mounting feeling of excitement that’s currently pervading the city; a sense of being on the cusp of something. It’s only very recently that Canberra has been pinpointed as a ‘destination;’ as a point of call, as a desirable place to be. It’s our privilege to already be aware of the richness of this city’s offerings, to share in a community pride and to have investment in what this unfolding moment means. Through this and a series of subsequent posts, we want to partake of Canberra’s new imaginative disclosure by sharing our perspective of it. The stories, guides, observations and images to follow are offered as self-consciously curated pieces of a patchwork; a collection of different experiences and perspectives woven together to create something which is simultaneously personal and transmissible. To curate means to take care. I’m taken with the softness of this meaning, the way it implies not ownership but consideration; a tender tending to, or treatment of. This then, is our treatment of Canberra. We offer it out in the spirit in which it’s been created, with thought and with love.

Pt. 1: Here.

My memories of growing up in south suburban Canberra are wrapped in a starched and ironed quiet. They’re part of a nowhere place, at a nowhere time and the only roads in and out are lined with roadkill.

I grew up between colourbond and Greeks, two sets of bogans and a family from the Middle East. My brother and I would pretend desert islands in the front yard when it rained. We would make magic potions of mud and rub them into our shoulder blades, believing it would help us sprout wings. We would walk down to the local shop, just us and pocket change, for sherbet and maybe some milk for Mum. We ate arrowroot biscuits and watched afternoon television, or played handball or wrestled. Mount Taylor went up in flames one dark dusty night and Mum packed the photo albums while Dad fought off embers with the hose.

The stillness of my childhood gave way to the rattle of my late teens. I envied school friends who had moved away. They would be living glamorous velvet lives in Melbourne, Sydney - some in New York - while I was still kicking around in the Can. This place was strange; it’s design and internal quirks arranged in a weird series of non-sequiturs. An anti-poem. The city and town centres, separated by expanses of bushland cut with road. The Action buses that roamed the Avenues and Parkways like tin-can dinosaurs. Crusted pastural vistas. Telstra Tower. The man-made lakes. The Brutalist architecture. The suburbs. The light. All the intensity of late adolescence seemed to echo constantly off surfaces; the feedback left me feeling often as in a dream.

Canberra’s contrived beginnings and its conflation with politics and government has worked to solidify a sterile image of an ugly, lifeless city. I have no doubt this was something I’d internalised growing up as a Canberran. My coming to love this place has been the result of an evolution of feeling, gained through the inestimable benefits of travel and a still modest experience.

Canberra has none of the viscosity of bigger cities. There is a clean linear undercurrent to the air, whatever the season. Growing up, this felt like a lack of stickiness; the atmosphere itself a form of isolation that had a way of confirming me to myself in a strange, resonant way; as if it were a chasm and I an echo. I realise now that this effect of the air is one of its most tremendous qualities; the way it makes life so brazen, so unavoidably real.

Being in Canberra means being enfolded in the dynamism of natural cycles; something that involves submission as equally as celebration, and both as cause for joy. The crescendos and attenuations of four distinct seasons subject the people who live and visit here to their individual exigencies. The winter nights bite, but they urge repose. The birch trees snow and tulips grow in spring. Summer thaws the air before it burns it up, and autumn brings an antithetical relief on its other side in a cool and flush of colour.

Through and amongst all this gathers the increasing thunder of a roaring creative community; a fierce design and hospitality scene thickly tangle to form its beating heart. It passes a life blood through the veins of a city coming of age; a pride and delight, a strengthening community identity and spirit. There is playfulness and deferential located-ness that undergirds so much good practice here. A sense of history, an awareness of the surrounding bush, farmland, and the seasons, provide inspiration for many of those who are coming to structure a new Canberra imaginary; one that is based on cultivating a unique sense of localism. The best bagels will always be in New York, but if you want to experience what it means to feel like a local, somewhere else, Canberra is where you should come.  

The Canberra I know is beautiful: a beauty that is not a need, not something I yearn for or aspire toward out of an absence, but rather something that exists - hotly, flagrantly - here, right now. The beauty of Canberra does not preclude its imperfections or its strangeness, but corresponds to its ability to generate a rapture of immediate feeling; a hounding sense of being, exactly,


A. Baker:
Austere industrial interior. Rotating menu with some obscure ingredients. Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner.
Unit 2, New Acton Pavilion, New Acton ACT, 2601

Barrio Collective Coffee:
The place you go if you really love coffee and want to feel like a local. Stocks a variety of signature coffee roasts, a curated selection of quality condiments, and a range of droll Barrio brand T-shirts.
28 Lonsdale Street, Braddon, ACT 2612

Bar Rochford:
If you like unpretentious seasonal food, leftie wines, classic cocktails, vinyl, quality design features and irony you should just come here and never leave. We are unashamedly biased. It’s our favourite place in town. Go fall in love:
1/65 London Circuit, Civic, ACT 2601

Bitten Goodfoods:
Brand-new wholefoods café/supermarket. With a menu that is quite literally Rock 'n' Roll
Unit G17, Palko Building, 27 Lonsdale Street, Braddon ACT, 2612

A once upon a food truck, now brick and mortar. Best burgers in town.
11 Wentworth Avenue, Kingston, Canberra Australian Capital Territory 2604

Old world style French fare makes for a fancy feast.
18 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600

Capital Brewing Co.:
Quality brews from quality bros.
1 Dairy Road, Fyshwick, ACT, 2609

If a restaurant was the popular guy at school. Banoffee Pie dessert rocks worlds.
Crr. Elouera and Lonsdale Streets, Braddon ACT, 2612

Frugii Dessert Laboratory:
Off the chain ice-cream and sorbets for palates both conventional and adventurous.
30 Lonsdale Street, Braddon ACT 2612

Contributing to the emerging city laneway culture, Meadow is currently delivering a soft opening menu full of lip-smacking, simple fare. Seven seeds coffee. Brightside produce. “Come eat, drink and be merry”.
51/55/57 Odgers Lane, Civic, ACT 2601

Mocan and Green Grout:
The O.G of New Acton’s food and design scene. Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner.
1/19 Marcus Clarke Street, New Acton, ACT 2601

Monster Kitchen and Bar:
Curiously situated within the lobby of Hotel Hotel -one of Canberra’s most boundary pushing, award winning interiors- Monster has a consistently delicious menu, with an emphasis on all things seasonal and local. A great place just to chill or debate the aesthetics of polarising art pieces.
25 Edinburgh Avenue, New Acton, ACT, 2601.

Cool colonial vibe. Tapas. Wine. Cocktails. They also do an oyster / gin and tonic special in the warmer months that goes down a treat, especially when enjoyed on the patio.
16 Kendall Lane, New Acton, ACT, 2601

Pulp Kitchen:
A longstanding Canberra restaurant, reconceived by the guys who brought us EightSix. Well executed homestyle fare.  
1 Wakefield Gardens, Ainslie ACT, 2601

Red Brick Espresso:
Relaxed vibes, quality coffo.
Shop 4/35, Curtin Place, Curtin ACT, 2605

Rye Cafe:
Scandy feel café. 5 Senses Coffee. Copenhagen street dogs. Fire place in winter.
9 Lonsdale Street, Braddon ACT 2612, ACT, Canberra

Another O.G. Arguably the best sourdough loaf in town…
36 Giles Street, Kingston ACT, 2604

Teddy Pickers:
Awesome hearty brekkies. Grab some pickles or a smoothie on your way out.
Unit 53, 65 Constitution Avenue, Campbell ACT, 2612

Spanish themed restaurant with a rotating seasonal menu. Quality, local produce. Good wine. Also open for brekky and lunch.
15 Moore Street, Civic, ACT 2601

The Knox Made in Watson:
Easy going café with an alternative vibe. Great for a hefty and healthy Saturday after-market brekky.
1/13 Watson Place, Watson ACT, 2601

Three Mills Bakery:
Artisan bakery and café. These guys supply most of Canberra’s quality venues with their sourdough breads and pastries.
5 Lancaster Place, Majura Park ACT, 2609

Tilley’s Divine Café:
Tilley’s is a Canberra institution like no other. Nothing beats it for ambience. Come here if you’ve got a good book, if you like the Andrews Sisters, and if you don’t mind shit coffee.
Crr Brigalow and Wattle Streets, Lyneham ACT, 2602

Dark, brooding, film noir interior matches a sleek food and wine list.
Shop 3/48 Macquarie Street, Barton ACT, 2600

Asian fusion restaurant with an amazing bathroom soundtrack.
16 Iluka Street, Narrabundah ACT, 2604  


Go Boat:
Danish designed picnic boats. They’ve only just landed in Canberra in the past month or so, and just in time for summer. Amazingly, alcohol and pets are also permitted on board. No boat licence needed. Toot toot.  
Trevillian Quay, Kingston ACT, 2604

Mount Ainslie and Black Mountain Nature Reserves:
The calm and quiet of the bush on either doorstep of the inner north. Perfect for walking or running. Views for days.  

National Arboretum:
For the tree lovers. Take a picnic to the cork forest.
Forest Drive, off Tuggeranong Parkway, Weston Creek, ACT, 2601

National Gallery of Australia:
An iconic piece of Brutalist architecture and a world class institution with consistently brilliant featured exhibitions. Past highlights include exhibitions from James Turell and the world first ‘Versailles: Treasures from the Palace’. The gallery also has an outstanding collection of Australian, Asia/Pacific and European art that is worth the trip in itself, as well as a ripper giftshop which is one of the few places you can go to purchase one of Robert Foster’s iconic ‘F!NK’ jugs, as well as other local wares. While you’re here, take a walk through the sculpture garden and spend a bit of time in the James Turell ‘Sky Space’ outside.
Parkes Place E, Parkes ACT, 2600

National Library of Australia:
The National Library is only another short walk from the Portrait Gallery. The bookshop is of particular interest and has a rad collection of Judy Horacek cards and all those quality literary magazines that nobody else seems to source.
Parkes Place W, Parkes ACT, 2600

National Portrait Gallery:
Just a hop skip and a jump away from the National Gallery, the Portrait Gallery has a similarly wonderful standing collection and giftshop. Home to the National Portrait Prize.
King Edward Terrace, Parkes ACT, 2600

Nishi Gallery:
An edgy gallery space in the heart of New Acton. A great place to continue any art debates initiated at Monster.
17 Kendall Lane, New Acton ACT, 2601

Tidbinbilla Reserve
Just under an hour’s drive south from the city. Tidbinbilla offers a range of scenic nature walks and education programs. Start early and bring a picnic. If it’s hot, have a dunk in the river at Point Hut Crossing on your way back into town.
Paddy’s River Road, Paddy’s River ACT 2620

Red Hill Lookout:
A southern lookout with sweeping northern views.  
1 Red Hill Dr, Red Hill ACT 2603


Alison Jackson Jewellery:
Locally designed and handcrafted gold and silverwares from local ANU School of Art graduate. Ali also runs a series of short courses.  

Ainslie IGA, Ainslie Cellars:
The power couple of the Ainslie shops. Take a pilgrimage and get yourself a piece off of IGA’s fabled wall of cheese before popping in to the cellars next door for a local pet-nat.
7  and 9/11 Edgar Street, Ainslie ACT, 2602

Barbell Biltong:
The best freak’n biltong on the market, if you’re about it.  

Locally designed ceramics and glassware. Simple, elegant and functional.  
6/8 Beltana Road, Pialligo ACT, 2609

Capital Region Farmers Market:
Stock up for the week here or just go for the awesome community vibes. Also, you haven’t lived until you’ve tried one of the lamb sausage rolls from the Cuppacumbalong guys. 6-11:30 am every Saturday.
Exhibition Park, Flemington Road, Mitchell ACT, 2911

Endeavour Tea Co. :
Those searching for the perfect brew need look no further.  

Girl Nomad Ceramics:
Wheel thrown ceramics from the inimitable Rachilde Flavel, annother ANU School of Art graduate.

Goodspeed Bicycle Co.:
Locally designed and manufactured steel bicycle frames and custom builds from Myles Chandler. You don’t need to buy a bike, just go and see the shop: You won’t believe it used to be a shipping container.
19 Kendall Lane, New Acton ACT, 2601

Griffith Butchery:
If you eat meat and care.  
10 Barker Street, Griffith ACT, 2603

Hunter The Label:
Established by Sara Wucker, Hunter is a quality, independent Canberra based clothing brand that’s been straddling the line between elegance and playfulness since 2014.

Jasper and Myrtle:
Small scale, locally produced, international prize winning choccy. Great for prezzies.  

Ori Building Boutiques:
Housing a number of independent retailers including eclectic homewares, fresh fashion labels & flowers. We love them all, but don't miss itrip iskip, timber & tailorMoxom and Whitney and Hive.

Canberra’s best independent bookshop which probably has what you’re looking for.
34 Franklin Street, Griffith ACT 2603

Industrial design studio established by Tom Skeehan. Tom’s commitment to an intimate, holistic design philosophy is articulated in pieces which are beautifully minimal, elegant and functional.
16 Lonsdale Street Braddon ACT, 2612

Shop Girl Flower Girl:
Beautifully curated selection of quality clothing, homewares, gifts and flowers.
1/13 Edgar Street, Ainslie ACT, 2602

Underground Spirits:
A local small batch distillery. Their website will tell you that they use a submicron, subzero filtration technique. We have no idea what that means, we just know their gin tastes really good.
2/66 Primmer Court, Kambah ACT, 2902  

Yarralumla Heritage Nursery:
Heaps of plants. Beautiful part of town. 
Weston Park Road, Yarralumla ACT 2600  


Hotel Hotel:
Boutique design hotel with individually curated rooms. For a stay that will inspire and edify.
25 Edinburgh Avenue, New Acton, ACT, 2601.

Little National Hotel:
Quality mid-range hotel with relaxed and functional common areas and surely the comfiest beds ever manufactured. Ask them about the moths…
21 National Circuit, Barton ACT, 2600

*This list isn't by any means comprehensive. It is indicative merely of the places and businesses we love and frequent regularly. Go explore. There's so much more.