Sorrento is a largely upper-class, seaside resort area, but is also a quiet seaside township in the off-peak months of the year. It was named by the Italian founders after the southern Italian Town.
While many of Melbourne’s elite own homes in the town, Sorrento has a more laid-back atmosphere than its affluent neighbours.Ocean Beach Road is the place to go for shopping and dining. The strip includes major brand ladies clothing stores, the Athenaeum Cinema and the ever-popular Shell’s cafe. For some nightlife spots the Continental Hotel and the Sorrento Hotel are always popular. The Portsea Pub is another option just up the road.
Sorrento can get quite busy during the summer season, when tourists and visitors from Melbourne flock to the area to soak up the sun. Offering the best of both worlds, Sorrento has beaches facing the calm of Port Phillip Bay, and a back beach off Bass Strait for great surf. Those who prefer their entertainment indoors venture further inland to Mornington Peninsula’s impressive wine region, where many cellar doors are open for tastings. Travel to the Bellarine Peninsula also couldn’t be easier; the Sorrento-Queenscliff ferry carries both passengers and vehicles across Port Phillip Bay.
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In 1803, 30 years before the founding of Melbourne, Sullivan Bay in Sorrento became the site of Victoria’s first mainland European settlement. Due to a lack of fresh water the settlement was short lived and subsequently moved to Hobart in Tasmania.
Victoria’s first magistrate’s court, public hospital postal service and government printing office were established in Sorrento. The first Victorian wedding, christening and funeral services were held at Sullivan Bay and the first settlement site overlooking Sullivan Bay includes graves believed to be of first settlers.
Sorrento Post Office opened on 10 January 1871. A horse and steam powered tram which ran between the foreshore and the back beach opened in 1890 and closed in 1920.The town has a number of grand historic homes and hotels which date back to the 1860s, almost all of which have been constructed with local limestone. Mechanics’ Institute, Sorrento was built in 1877 using local limestone and the building, which is now classified by the National Trust of Australia, houses the Nepean Historical Society’s museum. Other notable limestone buildings still standing include: Sorrento Hotel (1872), Anglican Church (1875 nave, 1889 transept), Athenaeum Theatre (1894), Continental Hotel (1875), and Whitehall Guest House (1904).
The Sorrento Park, established in 1870, contains a variety of trees, including an Aleppo Pine grown from the seed of the Lone Pine of Gallipoli.