The Insider Guide to St Ives
There aren’t many British seaside resorts that manage to be quaint and cool at the same time but St Ives ticks all the boxes. As well as its famous white sand beaches, turquoise sea and golden light, this artists’ mecca has a thriving foodie scene, good surf and miles of breathtaking, nearby coastline to explore.
Ditch the guide book and make a beeline for these local favourites.
This award-guzzling seafood restaurant is right on the beach at Porthminster, with mesmerising views across St Ives Bay to Godrevy Lighthouse. Housed in a light-filled Art Deco building, it’s relaxed and unpretentious despite the classy food and welcomes kids. Aussie-born exec chef Michael Smith brings Asian and Mediterranean flavours to the menu, in lush dishes like monkfish curry and crab linguine.
Not to be confused with Porthminster Kitchen with equally lovely views, this time over the harbour, and an emphasis on healthy options, or Porthgwidden Beach Cafe, also from the same team, over at, you’ve guessed it, Porthgwidden.
One Fish Street opened in July 2019 and quickly gained a reputation for serving up innovative and interesting seafood – offering just one tasting menu each day, depending on season and availability.
At the quieter end of Porthmeor Beach you’ll find West, a little cafe run by some of the team who used to be at Canteen in St Agnes. Tucked in a white building it sits alongside beach chalets that you can hire (perfect for stashing your deckchairs and beach gear in) serving up breakfasts, lunches and sourdough pizzas – in new Covid-friendly socially distanced timed slots that you can book online, or grab a takeway coffee and drink on the beach. Tables outside the cafe are seagull free thanks to some nifty wire work which puts them off – take your own risk on the beach!
On Fore Street and just a stone’s throw from the harbour you’ll find the Sea Food Cafe. Pick your fresher-than-fresh seafood, meat or poultry from the counter, choose your sides (roasted garlic and rosemary new potatoes for me, thanks) and they’ll rustle up a plate for you.
About 45 minutes walk outside St Ives in the quiet countryside is a favourite Sunday lunch spot. Halsetown Bar and Restaurant is a cosy and characterful pub, under new management for 2020. Local produce stars on the creative pub menu and Cornish ales and a host of gins will wash it down nicely.
Back to nature – St Ives Glamping
If you prefer to avoid the bustle of the town centre, which can be especially busy in summer months, this gorgeous glamping site offers a quiet retreat, about half an hour’s walk from the centre of St Ives. The bijou shepherd’s huts and cosy hobbit houses are simple but have everything you need and there’s also a 2-bed barn conversion and beach chalet that sleeps six. Enjoy waking up to panoramic views and birdsong and sink into the woodfired hot tub under the stars at the end of the day.
Contemporary self catering – Sail Lofts
If you’re travelling with kids, self catering is often the easiest option and these luxurious, contemporary apartments, minutes from Porthmeor, are just the job. The amazing location, beautiful modern interiors, private parking, concierge service and spa are some of the things guests talk about in the multiple five-star reviews. Plus your guest host can arrange Cornish food hampers and baby sitters to help make your stay even more effortless.
Seaside sophistication – St Ives Harbour Hotel
The Harbour Hotel St Ives is a luxury hotel and spa situated looking out over Porthminster Beach and moments away from postcard-perfect St Ives Harbour.
The Victorian building was fully renovated in 2018, and with jaw-dropping views out to sea from many rooms, this 52-room gem is also now rightly considered one of Cornwall’s best boutique hotels, making it an idyllic seaside getaway.
Beachside living – Una St Ives
A five-minute drive from St Ives (and speaking of cars, there’s ample parking on site – good news because the town itself can be a nightmare for parking!), Una St Ives has 29 chic family and dog friendly eco lodges that sleep between two and eight people, a stylish bistro (Una Kitchen) and impressive spa and leisure facilities.
All-day coastal epic – St Ives to Zennor (6 miles one-way or 12 mile circular walk)
Pick up the South West Coast Path from Porthmeor beach and head towards Zennor, along one of the most spectacular stretches of the Cornish coastline. Take a break in Zennor at The Tinner’s Arms (worth the walk in itself) then either head back the way you came or follow the in-land countryside route know as the ‘Coffin Path’. There is also a bus, which will take you straight back to St Ives.
Easy amble – Carbis Bay to St Ives (2 miles or 4.5mile circular walk)
For more of a gentle stroll, this 2-mile walk from Carbis Bay packs a lot in. Start your walk from Carbis Bay train station and follow the path all the way to Porthmeor Beach, which is home to Tate St Ives and an excellent beach cafe too. You can extend it when the tide’s out by walking along the sand to Porthgwidden or make it a loop and head back to Carbis Bay in-land, via Trelyon Downs and Steeple Woods nature reserve.
Historic hike – St Michael’s Way (12.5 miles)
St Michael’s Way runs from Lelant (just outside St Ives) all the way to Marazion on the south coast. A historic route taken by traders and pilgrims, the walk takes in five churches, four holy wells, two hill forts and two standing stones. Plus you get the most incredible views, both back towards Penwith and down to St Michael’s Mount and Mounts Bay. I’m dying to do this walk and will be sure to update you with a full blog post when I get around to it.
Harbour-view Gastrobar – SILCo Searoom
Watch harbour life go by from the stylish haven of this newly refurbed, family-run gastrobar. If a ‘gastrobar’ is a new one on you, think tapas and cocktails, great food without the formality of a restaurant. The SILCo Searoom menu features lots of small plates starring local fish, such as grilled mackerel filet with fresh coconut and peanut salad or Newlyn crab gratin. The family also makes St Ives Gin, with botancials gathered from the Cornish coastline – so a gin cocktail is a must.
We’re not overrun with hip boutiques in Cornwall but some of the best can be found in St Ives. Common Wanderer on Fore Street is an outdoorsy paradise, stocking everything you need to adventure in style. Do we need all these colourful, Scandi-inspired trappings to get back to nature? Perhaps not – but I want it all (even the menswear)!
Then there’s indie fashion and lifestyle boutique Academy & Co (and sister stores Number 8 and Port of Call) where you’ll find a carefully curated selection of relaxed staples and lesser-known labels waiting to be discovered.
Brilliant bottle shop – John’s
The name may be simple but the knowledge runs deep. Mr Muddy literally cannot walk past John’s without stopping in for a half-hour chat about rum, with whichever poor soul happens to be serving that day. From fine wines to spirits, the selection is vast and they have a passion for the obscure and unusual, so you will always find something a bit different.
Best pasty in town – St Ives Bakery
What springs to mind first when I think of St Ives Bakery is the piles of giant meringues in the window but they also make a fine pasty. They are handmade, freshly baked throughout the day and available in shortcrust or flaky pastry. Choose from traditional steak, lamb and mint, chicken, cheese n’ veg and more. And don’t worry if a seagull snatches it right out of your hands – it’s a rite of passage and you won’t make that mistake again.
Modern art mecca – Tate St Ives
Opened in 1993, Tate St ives is housed in a former gasworks overlooking Porthmeor Beach. A small town for a major gallery, St Ives nonetheless played a important role in recent art history, with artists from Patrick Heron to Mark Rothko flocking here to paint. The gallery was extended in 2017, doubling the exhibition space. This has allowed curators to dedicate gallery space to the history of modern art in St Ives, giving key artists a permanent presence here.
Catch a wave – St Ives Surf School
St Ives Surf School has a great rep, as one of the best places in Cornwall to learn to surf. It’s St Ives’ only surf school and is situated on Porthmeor Beach, offering surf instruction, SUP lessons, sea kayaking and coasteering for all ages and abilities. All the friendly and experienced coaches have certificates aplenty and are trained beach lifeguards – some are even surf pros too. All the gear’s included in lesson pricing and discounts are available for groups.
Rainy day fun – Coco Kitchen Chocolate Workshops
On wet days, chocolate is the ideal consolation. This artisan chocolate makers runs workshops for adults and kids alongside their café business. In the seasonal sessions (Xmas/ Valentine’s/ Mother’s day) you can make chocolate gifts for friends and family, and produce more specialist items such as Christmas trees and moulded figures. A Coco Kitchen workshop also makes a brilliant alternative kids party. All ages welcome, from minis to grandparents.
Grab a cone – Moomaid of Zennor
We never leave St Ives without a visit to this little ice cream parlour on the harbour. Moomaid of Zennor ice cream is made just down the road, using Cornish milk and Italian know-how and there are lots of original flavours, you’ve got to try. I almost always go for coconut milk sorbet (why has nobody else thought of this?) but Shipwreck – with sea salt, dulce de leche and honeycomb – also hits the spot.
Spooky town trails – Pirate and Ghost Walks with Shanty Baba
As darkness falls over St Ives, join storyteller, Shanty Baba, as he lights his hurricane lantern to show you the darker side of town. Take a tour of St Ives’ most haunted places, the spooky alleyways where the dead are restless, the graveyards where paranormal and supernatural activity is still witnessed and places where dark deeds have happened. Or for a more family-friendly experience, take your crew on the Pirate Walk with pirate stories, instruction in ‘the code’ and piratespeak, dressing up and tales of St Ives treasure.
The Barbara Hepworth Museum was opened in 1976 and has been managed by Tate since 1980. On show is the largest collection of Hepworth’s sculptures in wood, bronze and stone at the place where she lived and worked until her death. The garden is a particularly inspiring sanctuary, featuring some of the artist’s larger works.
Then, on the edge of town, you’ll find Leach Pottery, often considered to be the home of British studio pottery. Established by 20th century potter Bernard Leach, it is now a museum dedicated to his work and legacy and a working studio, producing a new range of standard ware and training the next generation of St Ives studio potters.
Coffee aficionados – Mount Zion Coffee
An anti-coffee chain, coffee shop with limited seating and a bring-your-own-cake policy. Mount Zion operates out of a 16th century building on one of St Ives’ cobbled side streets off the harbour. Refreshing in its pared-back blackboard menu, they make their coffee slow and are not keen on long milky drinks. Want to master the art/science of the perfect cup? Mount Zion runs accredited Speciality Coffee Association courses.
Coffee and donuts – Yallah Kiosk
Right on the waterfront, one of our favourite locally roasted coffee brands serve their coffee and doughnuts straight out of this green hatch. They’re also working on converting the studio above into a little cafe. We love.
Historic artists’ studios – Porthmeor Studios
Porthmeor Studios is a complex of artists’ studios, with pilchard cellars below. Still used by working artists, they are the the oldest studios of their kind in Britain with a unique heritage of fishing and art. Studios are available for short-let and it’s also home to St Ives School of Painting, which has a varied programme of courses for all abilities, throughout the year.
First published 2018, updated July 2020