Is it possible to find a non-touristy souvenir in Sydney?

Here's where to dodge the ubiquitous Harbour Bridge coathangers and find the least tacky memento of the Emerald City.

Souvenirs from Sydney aren't always tacky
  • Dilvin Yasa
  • April 2019

After putting the word out to my friends about the task of helping my in-laws fine the best non-touristy, yet oh-so-Sydney souvenir, the suggestions come in thick and fast. “Eye-wateringly expensive active wear the wearer has no intention of doing exercise in,” says one. “A framed parking ticket after a day at the beach,” says another. And finally: “[Aussie acting legend] Bryan Brown bundled in the backseat of your car.” But at Smart Dollar, Potts Point, a bargain store filled with traditional souvenirs – think Harbour Bridge key racks and kangaroo fridge magnets – my father-in-law seems most interested in a “Totally koala-fied to party” T-shirt. In the words of hip hop great Cypress Hill, “We ain’t goin’ out like that” – and the real search begins…

 Think outside the box when buying souvenirs from Sydney.
Think outside the box when buying souvenirs from Sydney.

MCA Store, The Rocks

Located amongst a smattering of opal stores and designer boutiques in Sydney’s most historic district lies one of my favourite places to visit with out-of-towners: The Museum of Contemporary Art opens in new window and its narrow on-site gift shop. It’s filled with fun and quirky items, such as Snot Block tissues for AUD $2.95 and the Cat Chaos Card Game for AUD $19.95 but I’m thrilled to stumble across a book titled Alphabetical Sydney for AUD $24.99. The colourful book doesn’t just look at the icons, it covers our way of life with “R is for Renovation” and “I is for Ibis”. My mother-in-law is just as thrilled to discover a Nanoblock Sydney Opera House set for AUD $24.95. Take that, Lego.

The MCA Store has plenty of fun Australiana books and toys
The MCA Store has plenty of fun Australiana books and toys.

Sydney Opera House Shop, Bennelong Point

Like all good tourists visiting our glorious city, my parents-in-law wish to check out the Opera House. What better place to mine for souvenirs than its chic gift shop? While the store stocks the usual printed tea towels, I feel rather triumphant when I clock a Monopoly Sydney Opera House opens in new window Collector’s Edition board game for AUD $80 and a CD of late Indigenous artist Gurrumul performing with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra for AUD $35. My mother-in-law clearly goes one better because within minutes I hear her shrieking, “AUD $600 for a Lego Expert Sydney Opera House set? I might as well remortgage my house!” Cue our swift departure.

Bondi Wash, Bondi

On a 40°C summer’s day, we stumble down to the city’s most iconic beach only to discover every other person within a 100-kilometre radius has had the same idea. Leaving the one-kilometre golden stretch to the eager and the sunburnt, we go in search of the quintessential Bondi product – preferably stocked in an air-conditioned store. We find it at Bondi Wash opens in new window, a brand that’s all about creating beautiful fragrances and products from native botanicals. My pick? A AUD $25 yoga mat spray, so you can be reminded of Sydney every time you downward dog.

Bondi Wash makes bath and beauty products using Australian botanicals
Bondi Wash makes bath and beauty products using Australian botanicals

David Jones, Sydney CBD

It’s a quick pit stop in this Australian icon of a department store opens in new window after I have a Florence Broadhurst-related brainwave. Florence was an Australian wallpaper and fabric designer whose murder in 1977 in her Paddington studio was never solved. Her well-known prints (with prices averaging AUD $59.95) can be found across various homeware products, such as bed linen sets and luxurious cushions.

Dinosaur Designs, Paddington

As my father-in-law begins speaking fondly about that “koala-fied” T-shirt, it becomes clear we need to take our search to a place where kangaroo scrotum purses can never find us. We head to Paddington’s Oxford Street and straight into the stylish Dinosaur Designs opens in new window. Established in 1985 up the road at the iconic Paddington Markets, the brand’s resin jewellery (bangles start from AUD $55 each) and homewares have long been synonymous with Sydney design and craftsmanship. But I’m dismayed when I hear my mother-in-law ask the lady behind the counter if they “have anything in rose gold?” Fail.


Kinokuniya, Sydney CBD

While the last few purchases have been unique, I’m still at a loss for that quintessentially Sydney souvenir. I’m about to give up, having perused a website selling a Sydney Opera House Barbie Doll, and proceed to yell at my laptop – “What is it that all Sydneysiders love more than anything else?” Suddenly, the answer becomes clear as my gaze drops on an old cookbook by local food legend, Bill Granger. We love to eat. Racing down to my fave bookstore, Kinokuniya opens in new window, the choice is obvious. The Broadsheet Sydney Cookbook  for AUD $49.95 features recipes from the city’s best-loved eateries – The Apollo, Ester, Three Blue Ducks – allowing tourists to enjoy Sydney living over and over again in their own kitchens. Even my Old Blighty visitors are sold.

 Take home the ultimate guide to modern Sydney cuisine
Take home the ultimate guide to modern Sydney cuisine.

Of course, to have the full Sydney experience, they’d have to photograph the dishes endlessly and only eat them once they grow cold. I - and my visitors from Old Blighty - can think of no better ‘non-touristy’ souvenir to purchase. Sold!