A local’s guide to the southern Gold Coast
Stretching 20 (or so) sun-kissed kilometres from Mermaid Beach to Coolangatta is a string of surf-side ‘hoods pumping with good eats and good vibes, each with its own quirk and character and each deserving of its own Aussie getaway.
Still relatively unknown to outsiders, this is the southern Gold Coast – where the sand kisses you good morning, the waves throw a light spray of welcome and caffeine-scented air awakens your senses.
It’s as much home for sunrise surfers and active early-risers as it is for night owls and social butterflies. And it’s populated with a community of friendly characters who know just the place to go, no matter the occasion. And I’m one of them.
So follow in my footsteps, read on, and let me take you on a deep dive into my home, a place that lives beyond the icons of Surfers Paradise.
Long gone are the days where an above-average cup of morning brew can only be found in a metro city laneway. The southern end of the Gold Coast has proven itself as a top-notch dining destination, with brunch at the helm of its specialities.
Start at Mermaid Beach, and you’ll find my favourite eatery bustling with naughty-but-nice baked goodies.
Bam Bam Bakehouse is best for coffee, an eggs benedict-filled croissant (with a side of halloumi cubes), or a triple baked chocolate almond croissant. Even the city’s golden girl Margot Robbie has graced its modern industrial interior, likely eyeing off the neighbouring grassy stretch which makes for a perfect spot to unfurl the picnic blanket.
Lunch is best served with a side of salty sea breeze, and The Collective Palm Beach is all that and a jug of Rose Sangria (which is rosé, Aperol, peach, strawberries, orange, ginger and lemonade – you’re welcome).
Dine alfresco in this 300-seat, jungalow-style urban marketplace, where you’ve got five cuisines to choose from: Mexican, Italian, American, Asian and modern Australian, plus two grand bar areas.
With share-style dining in mind, there’s no place for food envy. (Tip: try the Poke Bowl, Agave and Chipotle Glaze Pork Shoulder Taco and Al Tartufo pizza.)
I love an acai bowl, and willfully travel the length of the coast for my favourite, especially if it’s bordering Insta-worthy views. The Salt Mill in Currumbin is just that place, adjacent to the beach in a hip haunt where the hinterland meets the sea.
Also joining the sweep of Palm Beach gems is Balboa Italian; its industrial glam décor is worthy of a Grand Designs episode (think exposed brick meets vintage armchairs and crystal chandeliers).
Indulge in pasta made fresh daily by hand and woodfired pizza that will transport you to a summer evening in Naples.
Where there’s space for a prime view on the southern side of the Gold Coast, there are drinks of some sort flowing nearby. While the sun’s shining, see the health food guru’s at BSKT Café – a stone’s throw from the sand in Mermaid Beach – for a freshly-squeezed juice or Down to Earth Organics in Palm Beach for smoothie bowls.
Stop. Coffee time. Though not in red Hammer pants, but kaftans and above-the-knee boardies, as you stroll into Café Dbar. Straddling the Queensland and New South Wales border, this foodie/caffeine haven and gallery is the definition of #views *insert raised hands emoji here*, looking down the lineup (that’s surfer lingo for a wave queue) from NSW beaches Duranbah to Kingscliff.
The best place to soak up a mellowing sky is with a beer paddle of local crafts from Lester & Earl overlooking Palm Beach.
If an Amaretto Sour is more your speed, Justin Lane Establishment in Burleigh Heads shake and stir the southern GC dining scene with a coastal chic rooftop bar, and their much-loved pizzeria below.
Take in the stunning beach views in a raft of retro family-friendly accommodation. Bujerum Apartments in Burleigh Heads boasts million-dollar views right across from the sixth best beach in Australia, as dubbed by the 2017 TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice Awards.
Rockabilly fun meets sleek modern interiors at La Costa Motel where the mint green, 1950’s-inspired exterior is lined with cute beach umbrellas. Here, vintage bikes and beach chairs are hired out by friendly staff who love to share the real southern experience.
Rule numero uno on your golden getaway is that at least half a day is spent belly-side up on the beach, under a brolly with a book in hand (parents, watch the kids splash in the shallows a few metres away).
Make like the locals do and get active – stand-up paddleboard along Currumbin Alley at sunrise, learn to surf with Walkin on Water surf school at Greenmount Beach or take a leisurely bike ride along four kilometres of beach from Miami to Burleigh Heads.
Immerse yourself in nature with a ‘Heart of the Gold Coast’ half-day tour and journey through Burleigh Headland with a local Aboriginal guide from the Jellurgal Cultural Centre, discovering the importance of local flora, before stopping for a jaw-dropping view of Palm Beach to Coolangatta.
Next, kayak along the Tallebudgera Creek wetlands with Kayak the Gold Coast, and arrive on the banks of wildlife’s front door for encounters with koalas, kangaroos, platypus and nocturnal creatures at the David Fleay Wildlife Park.
No time to ponder needs verses wants, the southern end of the coast brims with shops. Spend an hour or two on James Street in Burleigh Heads and get your mitts on an original print from local photo-genius Sean Scott at his eponymous boutique, or kit yourself in a new cossie from Anuk Boutique or Bikini and Me.
Two kilometres north is Miami’s Trader Trove where you can unearth handpicked homewares sourced globally and often boasting a vintage, middle-eastern influence.
A Sunday afternoon picnic on Burleigh Hill is a locals’ rite of passage and the best place to soak up a Sunday sunset with a cheese and dips platter and your nearest and dearest.
Foodies take heed: twice a year, Burleigh is home to a one of a kind fair known as ‘Feast Under a Tipi.’ an outdoor, five-course dinner party under a fairy-light-filled canopy. Getting the invite is tougher than a ticket to Adele.
When to go
Thought this coastal town couldn’t get any better? Well, we’re sorry (not sorry), but it does.
With roughly 300 days of sky as blue as Melania Trump’s Inauguration Ceremony dress, even the sunshine on the coldest winter day breathes life into your chilly bones.
Getting there and getting around
Fortunately for holidaymakers, the Gold Coast Airport is in Coolangatta and no more than 20 minutes from any of the cool places listed above. Alternatively, it’s a 90-minute drive to Brisbane Airport, where you can connect to most domestic and international airports.
To get around, get your local on; the southern Gold Coast is an active community, so consider hiring a bike or walking. The bus service is also easy to navigate and very regular, or it’s cheap to scoot around in a taxi or an Uber.
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