The port city of Fremantle is a jewel in Western Australia's crown, largely because of its colonial architectural heritage and hippy vibe. Freo (as the locals call it) is a city of largely friendly, interesting, and sometimes eccentric residents supportive of busking, street art, and alfresco dining. Like all great port cities, Freo is cosmopolitan, with mariners from all parts of the world strolling the streets—including thousands of U.S. Navy personnel on rest and recreation throughout the year. It's also a good jumping-off point for a day trip to Rottnest Island, where lovely beaches, rocky coves, and unique wallaby-like inhabitants called quokkas set the scene.
Modern Fremantle is a far cry from the barren, sandy plain that greeted the first wave of English settlers back in 1829 at the newly constituted Swan River Colony. Most were city dwellers, and after five months at sea in sailing ships they landed on salt-marsh flats that sorely tested their fortitude. Living in tents with packing cases for chairs, they found no edible crops, and the nearest freshwater was a distant 51 km (32 miles)—and a tortuous trip up the waters of the Swan. As a result they soon moved the settlement upriver to the vicinity of present-day Perth.
Fremantle remained the principal port, and many attractive limestone buildings were built to service the port traders. Australia's 1987 defense of the America's Cup—held in waters off Fremantle—triggered a major restoration of the colonial streetscapes. In the leafy suburbs nearly every other house is a restored 19th-century gem.