The Insider’s Guide to St Ives

St Ives is an old Cornish fishing town like no other. Its sandy beaches and crystal-clear blue waters are the kind you’d usually have to get on a plane for, all accessorised with pretty cafes and buzzing restaurants. Like many other quaint harbours in Cornwall, St Ives brilliantly combines nostalgia and style but with a creative twist – it’s packed full of artistic and cultural offerings. St Ives’ unique vibe is sand, surf and culture. Kids can get their bucket and spade fix, teenagers can sunbathe or surf and grown ups can wander galleries to their heart’s content. But with so much to choose from, where do you start? Follow our insider’s guide to St Ives to uncover the best places to eat, drink and play.

Eat: everything from pasties to tapas

There is something for everyone on the food front. For such a far-flung spot, you’ve got everything from fish and chips, pasties and burgers to tapas and seafood platters. Try the buzzing Porthmeor Beach Cafe for great seafood, which you can eat in heated eating pods complete with blankets. For an array of traditional and trendy baked goods, your best bet is the old-fashioned independent St Ives Bakery on Fore Street. The Seafood Cafe, also on Fore Street, offers interesting small plates, including lots of vegetable dishes such as beetroot bhaji, as well as seared scallops and Porthilly oysters. For high-end fare – lobster thermidor anyone? – head to the light, airy and sophisticated Loft Restaurant on Norway Lane. The Balcony Bar, down on the Wharf, does a mean eggs benedict and fab sea views.

Drink: arty bars and trendy cafes

St Ives’ arty vibe means it’s not short of cool cafes and trendy bars. Little Palais on Barnoon Hill is a neighbourhood bar and bottle shop serving an eclectic collection of wines and cocktails. You can book the private workshop for a small group and listen to a curated playlist on the vintage hifi while you enjoy the concoctions. Gin aficionados should head to the Searoom on the Wharf, home of St Ives Gin, for cocktails, a relaxed vibe and coastal scenery. Nestled on the waterfront overlooking the harbour, the Yallah Coffee kiosk serves takeaway coffee, freshly made doughnuts and a selection of teas and cold-pressed juices. 

Beach: a family beach day out and the best surf spot

Beach fans are spoiled for choice in St Ives. There are five pebble-free playgrounds to choose from. Porthminster, Porthgwidden, Harbour, Porthmeor, Lambeth Walk and Bamaluz are all within an easy walk of the town and are mostly sandy. For all-day family fun, head to Porthmeor, where you’ll also find the best waves for surfing and bodyboarding. Here, you can hire all the kit you need, plus enroll in surf or paddleboard school, with the highly regarded salt water specialists at St Ives Surf School.

Walk: from easy ambles to longer treks

Want to maximise your quota of light, sky and sea in St Ives? Try the St Ives Bay Line. Hugging the craggy coast, take the train for a three-minute ride from St Ives up the track to Carbis Bay, then walk back down a winding, shaded path to Porthmeor beach. Retire to the beach cafe for lunch then wander around the Tate St Ives. When the tide’s out, walk along the sand to Porthgwidden or loop back to Carbis Bay via Trelyon Downs and Steeple Woods nature reserve. For a longer walk, set off from St Ives head, along the South West Coast Path to Zennor, where you can reward yourself with a drink at the Tinners Arms, a meal at the Gurnard’s Head or a Moomaid of Zennor ice cream. To gain some perspective and peaceful contemplation, visit the Island, the big hill overlooking the town, west of the Tate. On one side is the small sandy beach of Porthgwidden and the coastline down to Newquay, while on the other side lies the Atlantic where, if you’re lucky, you can spot seals and dolphins.

Shop: sustainable and stylish boutiques

St Ives offers your usual utilitarian seaside shops peddling buckets, spades and lilos as well as an eclectic mix of independent boutiques. Magpie & London on St Andrews Street is a collection of gorgeous jewellery, accessories and homewares. On Fore Street, bring back a little something to remind you of your holiday from upmarket gift shop St Ives & Co, which celebrates the best bits of St Ives and the surrounding area, or browse hard-wearing, stylish and sustainable outdoor lifestyle brands at the Common Wanderer

Play: keep the kids entertained

Let’s face it, Cornish weather can be iffy so you need some rainy day activities up your sleeve for when you can’t hit the beach. Coco Kitchen on Tregenna Place offers workshops suitable for children of all ages, where you can mould, design and decorate a selection of chocolate treats. Irreverent, fun and entertaining children’s theatre shows (that adults will enjoy too!) can be booked at Kids R Us on Lower Stennack Street – current productions include two musicals, Disenchanted! and the Greatest Show. Head to the brand-new St Ives skatepark on Penbeagle Lane to blow off some steam.

Art: galleries, gardens and collectives galore

Art and culture is a St Ives hallmark. You’ll all have heard of Tate St Ives, but don’t miss the Barbara Hepworth Museum on Barnoon Hill, where there is a permanent installation of her monumental sculptures in the subtropical garden. Try your hand at working with clay at Leach Pottery in Higher Stennack or wander around the museum and exhibition space and learn all about pottery and handmade, sustainable crafting. For contemporary art and a hipster vibe, head to Porthmeor Beach to wander around the Holan Collective, a pop-up gallery, events space and all-round magical little spot by the sea.