A local’s guide to the Gold Coast’s best beaches
You’d be forgiven for thinking the Gold Coast was just one endless stretch of sand, broken up by a few forested headlands, blue-water estuaries, and plenty of bronzed lifeguards.
This much is true, though it also comprises a whole string of beaches and adjacent neighbourhoods, each with their own character and quirks.
While Surfers Paradise is the poster child, we want you to venture further out and experience all the pockets that make up this stunning holiday destination.
To help you in your mission, here’s a round-up of some of our favourite spots to throw down a towel – all rolled into this handy guide to the Gold Coast’s best beaches.
Decidedly more mellow than Surfers Paradise, its attention-hogging neighbour to the south, Main Beach is fringed by sand dunes and some glitzy sprawling resorts. This expansive stretch of white-sand continues all the way north to the Spit, with glimpses to South Stradbroke Island.
The city’s 36-kilometre-long Gold Coast Oceanway also starts here, perfect for walking and cycling. If you’re swimming, patrolled sections are sparse and the surf can get treacherous on occasion, so always seek out the red and yellow flags!
Eats Nearby: Grab cheap and cheerful takeaway fish and chips from the historic bathing pavilion or, a block back from the beach, nab a sidewalk table at Lark Café for a casual breakfast or lunch.
Seeking something more fanciful? Marina Mirage is the crown jewel with absolute waterfront restaurants overlooking bobbing yachts (try Glass or Pier), and some swanky shopping boutiques if your credit card is itching for a work out.
It’s the beach and tourist hub that put the Gold Coast squarely on the map internationally. And despite the backdrop of mega high-rises, arcade halls, ice-cream shops, and the inevitable shadows that fall by 3pm, the view here will never get old.
Pandanus palms and Tamarisk pines perfectly frame your holiday snaps and there’s plenty of sand for everyone, even on busy weekends. A wide, paved boulevard lines the entire stretch, ideal for walking, biking, skateboarding, or roller-blading, and free outdoor gym equipment is sprinkled along the track if you’re feeling guilty about any recent overindulging.
Pay parking is available all along the beachfront, but be patient as spots fill up fast when the sun is out and, as always, listen to advice from your friendly lifeguard and swim between the flags.
Eats Nearby: Gosh, where do we start? There’s no end to the choices in this holidaymaker hotspot, but separating the goodies from the tourist traps can be tough.
We recommend seeking out Surfers Sandbar for craft beers in the sunshine, Elston for brunch, or head a few blocks further back for seriously tasty (and cheap!) eats from Betty’s Burgers or anything selling in the trendy The 4217 complex.
Still with a glitzy – though slightly less high-octane – high-rise hotel backdrop, Broadbeach has ample glistening sand to throw down your towel. Shade is sparse so pack your sunscreen and umbrella, or head to Pratten Park with its large playground for the kiddies and free BBQs to partake in this fave Aussie pastime.
All beached out? Pacific Fair Shopping Centre is a 10-minute stroll from the water and is certain to impress even the most discerning of shopaholics.
Eats Nearby: Similar to Surfers Paradise, choices here are extensive, though you might find yourself dining alongside a few extra locals over lunch.
For a quick and easy meal try The Lamb Shop or Brunch & Co. or, further away from the main drag, a local fave for brunch, Elk Espresso. For one of the liveliest bars and eateries on the strip, The Loose Moose will make you smile.
Mermaid Beach to Nobby Beach
It might be branded “Millionaire’s Row” but you don’t need a fat bank account to have a taste of the good life.
Backed by the Gold Coast’s most exclusive address, Hedges Avenue, Mermaid Beach itself is actually a near-empty stretch of sand that can be enjoyed by all. Park in a side street, or at Ken Mansbridge Park, and stroll along sand so fine it squeaks between your toes.
To the south, Mermaid Beach blends into local’s hangout, Nobby Beach and Miami, with the knob of Miami headland offering a sweet stair climb and 180-degree views in both directions.
Eats Nearby: It’s mostly residential along the beachside stretch of Mermaid, so we suggest you scoot five minutes down to the hipster pocket of Nobby Beach where there are eating options a-plenty.
Ask any local and they’ll tell you Burleigh is where the magic happens.
Gold Coast’s answer to Byron Bay, this bohemian-slash-surfy pocket is backed by lush Burleigh Headland, fringed by majestic Norfolk pines, and anchored by much-loved shopping strip, James Street. Oh, and the beach is to die for too. Patrolled and often well-protected from a southerly wind or swell, this right-hand point break is popular with the surfing crowd.
If you don’t feel like you’ve quite “discovered” a place until you’ve rubbed shoulders with the residents, well, you’ve found it. ‘Cause Burleigh Hill is a local’s weekend ritual for socialising in the sunshine.
No picnic basket? A piping hot order of fish ‘n’ chips from Fish Mongers will have you blending right in, in no time.
Eats Nearby: Okay, this is a tough one, in the best possible way. Life in Burleigh is made for the beach, so there’s no end to the ridic selection of places to refuel.
For coffee and brekkie, we’ve never been let down by beach-front Borough Barista or, a little further along James Street, the Middle Eastern-inspired eats by Canteen Kitchen. Simply made for summer, Kiss the Berry is a recent addition that’s specialising in nothing but acai bowls (pronounced ah-sah-ee for the inexperienced).
Don’t be put off by the name, Tallebudgera Creek is one of the Coast’s most-loved blue-water estuaries where you can sun worship and swim without fear of getting tumble rolled by a vicious wave.
Forming a physical divide between Burleigh in the north and Palm Beach in the south, you’ll find ample parking on the Palm Beach side of the creek (this beach is also patrolled by lifeguards and is perfect for young families), and a handful of car spots on the northern side.
Better yet, for a truly take-your-breath-away introduction, park the car at Burleigh Hill and walk 15 minutes around the headland along this easy trail where the idyllic creek and beaches first greet you through the trees. Yep, we told you you’d adore the Gold Coast.
Eats Nearby: Tallebudgera’s appeal is its remoteness from the masses, lying adjacent to a forested national park. On occasion, you’ll find a pop-up coffee cart plying the carpark on the Palm Beach side, though we highly recommend a short-ish meander along the old highway to Espresso Moto for one of the best eggs benedict on the Coast and effortlessly friendly service to boot.
Hungry mid arvo? Try new joint Wildernis or, once you’ve slipped into some more respectable clothes, a beer and oysters on the open-air patio at 8th Ave. Terrace.
In the words of world champion surfer and local boy, Joel Parkinson, Currumbin probably has the most country small town feel of any other suburb on the Gold Coast. Proof why we love it so damn much, and you will too.
The entrance to family-friendly Currumbin Creek is a dream scene as it spills in and out to the Pacific Ocean. This is one of your best options if you’ve ever wanted to try your coordination and patience with stand-up paddle boarding. A handful of operators hire SUP boards daily; try The Boat Shed below Thrower Drive bridge, and choose your direction depending on the wind and tide.
Got the surfboard in tow or eager to learn? Currumbin Alley, as it’s affectionately known, is a mellow right-hand break to suit all abilities. Did someone say party wave?!
Eats Nearby: Compared to bustling Burleigh nearby, Currumbin is decidedly more residential, which is also part of its charm.
Our pick for coffee and brunch is hole-in-the-wall joint The Salt Mill or, if you’re on the Palm Beach side of the estuary, Dune Café for something more substantial.
Remember Balter Brewing, ‘cause this beer brand is soon to be a household name. The brainchild of four local pro surfers, Balter HQ can be found less than five minutes drive away in the Currumbin industrial estate. Open Friday through Sunday afternoons, there’s no finer tank to tap to pint glass experience.
Coolangatta to Rainbow Bay
If you’d not already made up your mind to pack up and make a permanent sea change, a visit to Coolangatta and Rainbow Bay could very well seal the deal.
This whimsical beachside postcode is our absolute favourite area to spend a lazy Sunday, made famous by Snapper Rocks, one of Australia’s most reliable point breaks and home to world champs Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson. While we don’t recommend you head out to surf among the experts (it can be ruthless), the shallows and Greenmount are more suited to learners.
Once you’ve been for a dip, take a stroll from Point Danger viewpoint, past Froggies Beach, around Greenmount, along the esplanade at ‘Cooly’ and right through to Kirra – easily one of the Coast’s prettiest walks.
Eats Nearby: No visit to the southern end is complete without frosty beverages and a cheap pub lunch at the characterful Rainbow Bay SLSC.
Other top picks include Café DBar on the headland or, back in Coolangatta proper, Griffith Street Larder, Beach Burrito Company, or the best burgers of your life at Eddie’s Grub House, chased with Australia’s best desserts by Gelato Messina, naturally.
What do you think are the best beaches on the Gold Coast? Let us know in the comments below!
*This post was originally published in 2016 and updated in March 2018.