Good vibes + great food: how to spend 48 hours in Coolangatta
Coolangatta is legendary in surfing circles, but you don’t need to be an expert (or a surfer at all) to embrace its balmy holiday vibes.
This sleepy pocket at the very southern end of the sunshine state is often overlooked by its glittering northern neighbour, Surfers Paradise, but it’s here that you’ll find the soul of the Gold Coast – sweeping white-sand beaches with a consistent right-hand surf break, parks framed by Pandanus palms, views for days, a healthy mix of options for eating and drinking, and a pace that’ll quickly have you falling into the groove with the laid-back locals.
So, to help you decide how you’re going to spend a precious 48 hours away from your busy schedule, we’ve curated our fave things to do in Coolangatta in this handy little guide.
Still sitting on the fence with your decision-making? Check out our friends at The Urban List who’ve got you covered for all the best things to eat, drink, see and do across the Gold Coast.
6pm: Set the tone
We want to see your weekend start right, and that means dinner and vinos at one of the best restaurants in Coolangatta. With floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Norfolk pines and Cooly Beach, stroll upstairs at The Strand to contemporary eatery, Bin 72.
Masters of share plates and tapas-style dining, you should head straight for the prawn-stuffed zucchini flowers, sticky soy pork belly, and pulled chilli pork tacos.
Got the kidlets in tow or just looking for something more laid-back and beachy to kick off your coastal vacay? Wander through the towering potted palms out front of The Strand and into the Beach Burrito Company. The only setback is your sunset dinner conversation must compete with the nesting rainbow lorikeets nearby!
7:30am: Wake up, it’s the weekend!
Day one is no time for sleep ins or lazy long breakfasts, swing by local favourite Little Mali Café for a coffee, smoothie or acai bowl to go.
8am: Learn to surf in the home of legends
Coolangatta’s surf breaks are world famous. And while we’re not recommending you jump in for the first time with a board at Snapper Rocks (trust us when we say that’s better left to the experts), closer to the shoreline, the mellow shallows of Rainbow Bay and Greenmount are perfectly suited for beginners.
When you catch your first wave, be proud knowing you’re in the company of royalty; these waves are where local world surfing champs Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson and Stephanie Gilmore got their water wings. For lessons, try Walkin’ on Water or Coolangatta Learn to Surf.
1pm: Hungry. Must eat.
Surfing is hungry work so there’s good chance you’ll be famished by now. Within the vicinity of The Strand shopping plaza, there’s ample choice for eats. If you missed Beach Burrito on Friday night, now’s your chance or swing by Black Sheep Espresso for grab-and-go options.
Want to linger a little longer? Café 28 Cooly, attached to Boardriders surf shop, has comfy couches with your name on them.
3pm: Break up the feasting with a spot of shopping
On Coolangatta’s waterfront, The Strand is a sparkling new complex filled with boutiques that’ll easily while away an hour or more. Appreciate artistic talent and creativity? The Strand hosts a revolving roster of art and photography exhibitions. Or if the kids are proving hard to please, here you’ll find a brand new Strike (disco) Bowling and a movie theatre.
Gents, if this is not up your alley, the Coolangatta Hotel might be calling your name for a mid-arvo local brew or two!
4pm: Taste test Australia’s best gelato
Those hailing from metro centres south of the border will know Messina is the Holy Grail of the dessert world. So you can understand Coolangatta was proud as punch to be chosen as the first, and still the only, Queensland-based Gelato Messina.
For those who’ve yet to have their Messina cherry popped, prepare to have your mind blown. Take our recommendation to visit early in your stay, so you can return several times and work your way through 35 drool-worthy flavours. Our pick? The Salted Coconut with Mango Salsa and the Macadamia Crunch. Bliss.
6pm: Those good vibes come for free
Take a scenic 15-minute stroll north to Kirra where you’ll find good-vibes tiki bar and grill, Tupe-Aloha. This is the kind of establishment that’ll instantly boost your mood; with a vibrantly eclectic décor featuring the personal artwork collection of the young local owners.
The animated crew here will keep you well watered and fed with burritos, tacos, margaritas and everything else we love about Mexican food – Tupe-Aloha is easy going Gold Coast life at its best.
8am: Wake up and smell the salty sea breezes
Café Dbar, with its commanding position at the southern-most coastal tip of Queensland, is not-to-be-missed on a trip to Coolangatta. Serving up some of the best breakfasts and coffee in the south, its style and carefree vibe exemplifies the surf-cum-bohemian culture of the Gold Coast.
Grab a table in the sunroom upstairs or the beachy dining room on ground level, and don’t miss a wander through the darling art gallery and homewares store at the rear.
10am: Swim at secret beach
Froggies Beach is that magical wedge of sand located between Snapper Rocks and Point Danger. Protected from the elements by the surrounding rocky headlands, this hidden pocket is fringed by weeping casuarinas, pandanus palms, and scattered driftwood.
Should the water be too turbulent for swimming, seek out the tiny rock pool just to the north.
12pm: Lunch with a view of the action
We’ve already mentioned Snapper Rocks is legendary in surfing circles. You only need whisper the name and salty types’ eyes will widen recalling tales of epic barrels and long rides that boosted them all the way to Greenmount. And the best seat from which to watch the wave-slaying action is on the wrap around old Queenslander-style deck of the much-loved Rainbow Bay Surf Club.
Its facilities are simple, which is all part of the charm, but its street cred is solid as home to the Quiksilver Pro and only one of 10 international stops on the World Surfing League roster. Pair your visit with a long lazy lunch and a frosty pint, and we reckon you’ll be making plans for a permanent sea change.
5pm: Sunday session with the locals
By now you’ll understand you don’t need to travel far to revel in the surf culture that is synonymous with the Gold Coast. What better way to show how well you’ve blended into the scene than a Sunday session with the locals at their fave surf shop slash café bar, Sunhouse.
Follow your nose to the wafting aromas of slow-cooked BBQ, brisket, pulled pork and finger-licking ribs from a permanent food truck, JR’s Smokehouse. This is our kinda Sunday arvo well spent!
6:30am: Walk on water in Currumbin
Pack your bags the night prior and get up early; your weekend isn’t over just yet, so let’s squeeze in one final waterborne adventure. Jump in the car for a short 15-minute drive north to Currumbin Creek. This blue water estuary is a dream scene with mirror-like azure waters simply made for stand-up paddle boarding.
No prior experience? No worries! It’s the easiest water-based board sport going; even grandma could (probably!) do it. For board rentals, look for the Currumbin Boat Shed.
9am: Refuel and return to reality (sigh)
Dash back to the hotel for a quick shower prior to check out, then swing by Fresh Garden Café to refuel with a supercharged smoothie or acai bowl.
Did we miss anything? What else would you do on a weekend in Coolangatta?
This post was originally published in 2016 and was updated on 5 March 2018.