A local’s guide to the Sunshine Coast’s best beaches
The challenge: To find your perfect patch of sand from over 100km of pristine coastline.
Now that’s a whole lotta ground to cover here on the Sunshine Coast, and depending on the wants and needs of your beach mission (whether that be hanging ten or rounding up the kids for some splish splashin’ *cough ridiculously safe cough* fun), chances are you’re setting off with a particular kind of experience in mind.
To help you work out where to point your GPS – particularly if you’ve well worn in the route to the main jaunts of Noosa Heads and Mooloolaba – we’ve rounded up the best beaches on the coast by experience.
If you’ve got the kids in tow
KINGS BEACH, CALOUNDRA
Fringed by a long, grassy foreshore dotted with playgrounds, a water park, and many-a-BBQ for a sausage sizzle (take that, Bunnings), Kings Beach in Caloundra is the go-to for salty family broods, with a gentle beach break, patrolled swimming spots, and decent surf if you want to whip the boards out.
If your littles one haven’t mastered the waves yet, they can also get their ocean-fix in the free beachfront salt water rock pool, decked out with shade sails, a 25m seawater lap pool, and children’s swimming pool and wading area with disabled access.
Kings Beach is also the home of the annual Caloundra Music Festival.
Eats nearby: The token lunch-grub is takeaway fish ‘n’ chips from De Lish Fish at the southern end of Kings on Levuka Ave, followed by some creamy goodness at the gelato shop next door.
For a healthy sweet fix, give your munchkins a taste of fresh local goodness with an acai bowl or juice from Frocals, opposite the amphitheatre on the corner of Ormonde Terrace and the Esplanade.
If you’d prefer more of a sit-down-and-eat-it cafe experience – or you need to keep yourself caffeinated to keep up with the young ones – Beau’s has your back (banana pancakes with ice-cream and maple syrup should keep the kids quiet for at least five minutes while you skol your boutique-blend specialty coffee).
A lot more mellow than the Esplanade, the Mooloolaba Spit down on Parkyn Parade is ideal for families with its shady parklands and calm waters year-round thanks to the rock wall.
Keep in mind you’ll need to get here early if you want to secure a prime spot, because it’s still just as popular as the main drag come summer with its soft sand and killer views stretching all the way to Cotton Tree.
If the kids start getting restless, grab the rods and reels and take them to the end of the rock wall along the coastal pathway for a spot of fishing, or keep the ocean-theme going at SEA LIFE Mooloolaba, where they can get up close and personal with much-loved underwater creatures (whether that be admiring from outside the aquarium walls or jumping in to come face-to-fin with a shark or ray).
Eats nearby: You’re basically on the doorstep of the largest trawling fleet in the region, meaning fresh seafood all day, erry day.
For a casual affair, grab a serve of fish ‘n’ chips from any of the seafood cafes – you seriously can’t go wrong. (Tip: Order to go and plonk yourself on the beach at sunset to watch the golden light dip behind the Esplanade).
If you’d prefer fine dining, swap the thongs/flip-flops for something a little more fancy at Fish on Parkyn or Sakana Sushi Bar (the teriyaki salmon is to die for).
And let’s not forget the best part of summertime – a snow cone mobile doing laps up and down the beach to keep you hydrated and deliciously satisfied.
They say surfing and skating are almost identical in technique and nerve, and if your kids have already worked up a liking for both, then they’ll be in adventure heaven at Coolum Beach.
Located halfway between Maroochydore and Noosa, this massive strip of coastline never feels too crowded, with miles of sand, hidden bays and rock pools (check out First and Second bays) making it easy to spread out with your brood.
Mirroring the beach you’ll find an oceanfront skate park and playground, and then the patrolled beach near the Surf Club, with a gorgeous boardwalk lining the Esplanade all the way up to Point Perry Lookout.
We love its laid-back Sunny Coast feel, with locals preferring barefoot and boardies as standard daily attire.
Eats nearby: The Esplanade strip is packed with dining options, but musts include a start-the-day coffee from Compound Espresso, fresh juice from Raw Energy, Frozen Sunshine ice-block from Coolum Seafoods, and a classic pub-style meal overlooking the beach at the Surf Club.
For a sundowner that will melt into a great night of food and cocktails, head to Canteen Kitchen + Bar, overlooking the beach, or if you’re looking for holier-than-thou raw, vegan delights, New Earth Cafe tucked away in Birtwill Street is for you.
If you want shopping and foodie options
If this were a beach beauty pageant, Noosa Heads would take the crown, tiara and all the dang sashes you could muster.
As well as boasting one of the only north-facing beaches on the east coast (hello glassy calm waters) and most visited national parks, this chic beachside village also lays claim to one of the most popular shopping and foodie strips in Australia.
Hastings Street is a hub of activity year-round, with boutique shopping and top-notch dining tempting visitors from all over the world (including that of celebrity chef Peter Kuruvita, who relocated from Sydney to open the award-winning Noosa Beach House).
While it’s got some serious luxe-vibes going down – from the European feels of the outdoor cafe scene to massages on the beach – it still manages to remain so down to earth (how could it not be when it’s only two minutes from the beach?).
Eats nearby: Oh, where do we even start?
There’s no better way to start the day than with a beachfront brekkie at Bistro C. After a spot of shopping or swimming (or both!), fuel up at the funkiest burger shack ’round these parts, Betty’s Burgers, followed by one of their frozen custard concrete creations if you need a cool down after the burger sweat.
Afternoon cocktails and tunes are courtesy of Miss Moneypenny’s, before going to town on some fresh seafood tapas and crustaceans at Noosa Beach House or fine-dining Italian at Locale.
Before hitting the sack, drop into Massimo’s Gelateria for dessert (you’ll seriously regret it if you don’t!). Just remember, it’s cash only.
Ranking in Australia’s top 10 best beaches in Tripadvisor’s 2016 Traveller’s Choice Awards, Mooloolaba is an all-rounder when it comes to beach offerings – for both water fiends and land lubbers.
It’s one of the safest places for a swim according to Surf Life Saving Australia, and is backed by continuous foreshore with a picturesque coastal pathway wrapping all the way around to the rock wall mirroring Point Cartwright.
But it’s the buzzing beachfront Esplanade that makes this spot a front-runner choice for most, full of cafes, juice bars, alfresco restaurants, boutique fashion, luxury accommodation, and even bars where you pour your own beers.
And with attractions like SEA LIFE Mooloolaba, kayak and jet ski tours, shipwreck dives and swimming with humpback whales all based here, it comes as a no surprise why thousands flock to Mooloolaba Beach each year for their holidays.
Eats nearby: For a healthy start to the day, head to CK Coffee Bar and Wholefoods (try their turmeric latte for an extra health kick) or The Velo Project, hidden away in the back streets (you’ll need a car or an Uber to get here).
Just need a coffee hit? The guys at Good Bean will sort you out with their liquid gold.
Lunch hangry-ness can be cured by a refreshing superfood bowl from Acai Brothers or a chicken schnitty from the Beach Bar and Grill. Want million-dollar views to match? Turn your bellies over to the Mooloolaba Surf Club.
When the sun goes down, the choice gets even more difficult: you’ve got South American BBQ eats at Dirty Moes (washed down with a rum or whiskey, of course), authentic Italian pizzas at Augellos, organic delights of the multi-cuisine Gainsbourg, or everyone’s favourite BYO Thai joint in town, Thai Lotus.
If you want great surf
NOOSA NATIONAL PARK
Noosa, Noosa, Noosa… you never fail to impress.
While the gentle rolling waves of Noosa Heads Main Beach are ideal for beginners (hire boards and surf lessons are available with Learn to Surf and Go Ride a Wave), it’s the first-class breaks edging around the headland of Noosa National Park that are the main drawcard for serious surfers.
They also set the stage for the biggest surfing event in the world by competitor numbers, the annual week-long Noosa Festival of Surfing.
Starting from First Point and growing more challenging as you follow the bays along the coastal track, these beaches aren’t patrolled so only attempt if you’re confident and competent.
(Psst! This is also where you’ll find Instagram favourite, the Fairy Pools.)
Spots include: Little Cove, Nationals, Boiling Pot, Tea Tree Bay, Granite Bay, and Alexandria Bay (also known as A-Bay), before reaching Sunshine Beach.
Additional shout outs go to…
If you want to bring your pooch
What is life if you can’t enjoy the outdoors with man’s best friend?
Let your fur babies run wild at these off-leash dog beaches:
TWIN WATERS NORTH SHORE
We’re calling it: Twin Waters North Shore is pooch nirvana.
Starting from access point 132 and extending all the way down and around to the Maroochy River mouth past Pincushion Island (accessible at low tide), your four-legged friends get the best of both worlds here: a long, uninhabited beach with sand hills and rolling waves on one side; the other, a calm inlet to wade about in.
Even though it’s a popular jaunt for most dog owners (and anyone who’s obsessed with dogs and being near dogs *cough me cough*), it never feels too crowded since there’s seemingly endless miles of sand to stretch – and fetch – about.
Eats nearby: While there’s not too much going on in the immediate vicinity, you’ve only got to drive five minutes for a decent coffee and delish treat.
In Mudjimba, pick up a cold brew and Van Wegens Bakery pastry at The Island Surf and Espresso or grab an outdoor table at High Tide for lunch and tuck into a steak sanga.
Back towards the highway, Pacific Paradise’s Bean There Done That Espresso is serving up a laugh-out-loud ambience (the lads here are hilarious, as are their daily anecdotes on their chalk-board sign) along with their homemade cakes and coffee.
POINT CARTWRIGHT RESERVE
Situated right at the end of Kawana Beach, Point Cartwright Reserve is, hands-down, one of the most Instagrammable locations on the coast.
With its rocky headlands, high cliffs, grassy slops – perfect for picnics with jaw-dropping views of the coastline – and the iconic lighthouse overlooking all, you can bet sunset strollers flock to this spot like a moth to a flame (if you’ve never been here to watch the sun dip behind Mooloolaba, then you’re doing life wrong).
But aside from the scenic natural views, another reason why this spot is so dang fabulous are the pooches absolutely loving life as they roam the parklands and swimming nooks of the reserve.
Off-leash from 4pm to 8am, your dog can go nuts sniffing and exploring while you take in the surroundings or go for a dip yourselves at the unpatrolled surf beach towards the base of the headland.
Eats nearby: If word hasn’t reached you from the local grapevine about La Balsa Park, we recommend stopping into Kawana Shopping World (or the Kawana Waters Farmers Market if it’s a Saturday morning) to pick up some nibbles for a picnic spread as you watch the boats float in and out of the Mooloolaba Marina.
For those who can’t be stuffed with DIY, One on La Balsa has your brekkie and lunchtime sorted while your fur babies get in some social time with other poochy patrons on the grass outside, or a little further back from the beach, stop in to Little Miss Saine for great coffee and a surprising laneway cafe vibe.
If you’ve got more of an adventurous doggie who loves to roll about in waves and run (and run, and run), then Sunshine Beach is your go-to.
Starting from access point 27 and running all the way up to Noosa National Park’s southern headland, this mass expanse of protected off-leash coast is a heaven for hyperactive dogs who just never seem to run out of energy.
The entrance to the beach can be reached via the small car park on Seaview Terrace, with a path that runs alongside a small stormwater creek providing a natural division between the off-leash section and the rest of the main beach.
Eats nearby: Basically a cafe precinct for dog lovers, you’ll find a variety of eats in the main village on Duke Street providing shady spots with water bowls for your beloved furry friends, including the award-winning Costa Noosa Espresso who allow dogs to accompany their croissant-eating humans on the lower-level deck and selected spots on the top level.
If you want calm waters
GOLDEN BEACH, CALOUNDRA
The most southern stop on the Caloundra Coastal Walk, Golden Beach is one of the (gloriously) more milder beaches on the coast, thanks to the protection of Bribie Island which forms the northern starting point of the Pumicestone Passage.
Calm and sheltered, this small patch of patrolled coast is a salty dreamboat for those who can’t deal with dumping waves (rest assured you will NEVER find those pesky things here).
Its mellow conditions – which mimic the laid-back retire-y feel of beachgoers in these parts – also makes it a prime spot for exploration via dinghy, kayak or SUP (you can rent water toys from Golden Beach Hire on the corner of Gregory St. and Esplanade).
Bring your picnic blankets and fold out chairs and set yourselves up for the day under the giant trees of Andrew’s Way Park, which provide plenty of shade along the grassy banks of the foreshore.
Eats nearby: Bring your fishing gear because come summer time, golden trevally and flat head are popular catchings from Fraser Park Jetty. And with multiple fish cleaning stations and BBQs along the esplanade, you can cook up your freshly-caught fish straight away!
Otherwise, head one street back to Landsborough Parade where you’ll find a strip of eats to satisfy your hangry, from Thai and Chinese to homemade cakes at The Bean Shak.
BULCOCK BEACH, CALOUNDRA
Like its neighbour, Bulcock Beach offers the same calm and patrolled conditions BUT with a lot more to offer on the side.
While the main beach boasts a larger patch of sand to spread out on, it’s the addition of a bustling (and well-equipped) Esplanade, huge grassy parkland – with wooden pirate ship and castle for little ones to play in – and gentle surf break at Happy Valley which make up the icing, cherry, and sprinkles on top of this beachside getaway.
(Psst, don’t know how to surf? Caloundra Surf School offer private and group lessons at Happy’s Point.)
Throw in a jet-ski safari if the mood strikes – you can literally hop on straight off the Esplanade – and a stroll along the coastal boardwalk at dusk, starting from Kings Beach and working your way south so you can see the sun set over the jagged Glass House Mountains. That’s your
love beach affair with Bulcock cemented.
Eats nearby: Grab yourself an authentic Italian espresso to complement your beachfront brekky at La Docle Vita. Then, after a drool-inducing burger from Hello Harry’s at lunch, head three stops down to the recently opened Gelato Rumba for their freshly-made creamy creations.
Finish up with drinks and live tunes at Drift and that’s your Bulcock palate sorted (until next time).
If you want the best of both worlds
Flanked by the sandy banks of the Maroochy River to the north and the white silica beaches of the Pacific Ocean to the east, Cotton Tree is a first-class double act tucked in slyly between the Maroochydore CBD and sweeping coastal hill of Alexandra Headland.
Ticking off all bases of the watersport spectrum here, you’ve got the still waters and sand islands of the river inlet side-by-side with the lapping waves of the main beach; think surfing, kite surfing, stand-up paddle boarding, body boarding and kayaking.
Pair that with trendy mainland offerings like Sunday markets, boutique shops, and an al fresco cafe scene, and it wouldn’t surprise us if you wanted to pack up your life and move here stat.
Eats nearby: Anyone who’s ever thought healthy was boring hasn’t been to Get Fresh in King Street, who are nailing wholesome and organic meals made with seasonal and fresh local produce sourced.
Keepin’ on with the healthy and delicious foody train is Harvest Breads + Cafe, which is half eclectic cafe, half bakehouse. They make everything onsite too, from their authentic artisan sourdough breads, to pies, pastries, and their extensive breakfast and lunch menu.
Tea breaks are taken to nek-level at The Silva Spoon tea emporium, where you’ll find a staggering list of premium teas sourced from all over the world to go with your slice of freshly baked cake.
But to top off the perfect day in Cotton Tree, there’s really only one place you need to know about: The Boat Shed. Sitting pretty on the banks of the Maroochy River mouth, you can watch the sun fade from blue, to pink, to golden with tapas plates and a glass of vino under the cotton tree overlooking the water. #bliss
CURRIMUNDI LAKE, CALOUNDRA
As cliche as it may sound, the first time you see Currmundi Lake you’ll feel like you’ve stumbled upon a hidden paradise you weren’t meant to know about.
Tucked into a protected pocket off Westaway Parade, it’s a mass expanse of shallow waters, shaded beach banks and sand islands, perfect for families or those keen to bust out the canoes, SUPs and kayaks.
But then you realise this natural lake is connected to a long, unspoilt surf beach just over the dunes, and boom – it’s as if you’ve hit the natural jackpot.
Being this doubly blessed means you’ve got both ends of the beach-loving scale to play with – one minute you could be riding waves or kite surfing on the main beach, the next, you’re exploring the 6km paddle trail winding through the lake’s waterways or surfing sand dunes on your boogie board.
(FYI: Don’t sweat it if you don’t have your own waters toys – you can hire them out from Kitethrills at Beach Espresso Cafe.)
Eats nearby: Cafe dining is covered by Coco’s Beach Cafe, who are serving up big hearty brekkies and burgers. If you’d prefer something fast, fresh and healthy for a beach picnic instead, the Beach Espresso next to Kitethrills has you sorted with wraps, fruit salads and bowls, and classic toasties (washed down with a choccie milkshake or ice-cold crush, of course).
If you want that beach village feel
MOFFAT BEACH, CALOUNDRA
There aren’t many coastal towns that can boast a beachside craft beer brewery AND epic surf break point in one, but that’s exactly what’s going down in the vibrant little strip of Moffat Beach.
Typically overshadowed by the popular Kings and Dicky beaches, ‘Moffs’ still has the charm it had 40 years ago (which is baffling considering how many killer foodie options can be found here, but more on that later).
Although the beach is not patrolled, Tooway Creek, which runs out onto the beach is shallow enough to splash about in if you’re not so keen on braving the waves. If you’re heading into the surf, be aware of the deep gutter.
While you’re here, don’t forget to take a stroll up the headlands to check out the sweeping views right up to Coolum (you might even spot some humpbacks during whale season from June to November each year) and if you time your visit right you might catch Australia’s longest-running surf competition, the Ma and Pa Bendall Classic.
Eats nearby: Don’t let the size fool you, because this small strip is packing the good stuff.
The Pocket Espresso Bar have your caffeine cravings sorted with Wicked Guru Cofffee to go with your Watte Seed Waffles (oh yes), or duck around the corner for a fresh smoothie or juice from the legends at Coco Loco Club, whose simple and inventive menu is only outmatched by the bright and cheery interiors.
When the sun goes down, head to Moffat Beach Brewing Co. to sample the local goodness (aka the six-tap bar pouring liquid gold made onsite and from scratch) as you munch on tapas-style share plates and groove to live tunes.
Artisan markets, free beachside concerts, cute boutique shops… seriously, what’s not to love about Peregian Beach?
Similar in style and vibe to Noosa but minus the crowds and half-hour run around to find a car park, Peregian is a gorgeous little village that strongly supports the creative talents of the local community.
To know what we’re talking about, make a trip on the first and third Sunday morning of the month to browse handmade crafts and vintage knick-knacks at the Peregian Beach Market, or soak up the sounds of local musicians at the free outdoor Peregian Originals concert on the second Sunday of the month from 1pm-5pm.
Eats nearby: For those of you with a sweet tooth, prepare to be a body bag for as many eclairs, macaroons and pain au chocolats you can stuff in as you om nom nom through the French patisserie delights of Le Bon Delice.
If you like your dining experiences to take on a Kinder Surprise kind of suspense, opt for the modern Australia cuisine of Pitchfork, who continually change their menu to match the seasons.
But we reckon the best-kept local secret here is Hand of Fatima. Their Middle Eastern menu might be small, but each dish has been thoughtfully curated with amazing flavour combos that will have you coming back time and time again.
If you want the sand and seas all to yourself
Never heard of it? Not surprising considering it’s mainly frequented by locals who live in the area or surfers taking advantage of the consistent beach break thanks to the offshore winds blowing in from the west.
But Wurtulla Beach is a lone wolf’s haven – picture 1km of wide open sands and untouched beachfront with a patrolled swimming area (reached via access point 248) where you’re lucky to see even a handful of souls in sight as you stroll and frolick. #nobull
If you’re feeling adventurous, cycle or walk the smooth route of the coastal pathway through shaded bushland as you stalk the 9km of golden sands that make up the Kawana Beach district.
Eats nearby: There’s not much happening in the direct vicinity, but if you drive seven minutes north – or bike 20 minutes along the coastal pathway – you can tuck into some fresh salads, homemade pies and quiches, and sweet and savoury muffins at Bfresh Cafe and Deli on Nicklin Way in Warana.