Whether you're looking to splash out or keep to a budget, our insider's guide has an excellent itinerary full of both classic and unique experiences on Australia's Gold Coast.
Gold Coast: Things To Do
For meals in Surfers Paradise, try the little Asian eateries found down dodgy alleyways everywhere Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, you name it. And the food is the real deal they are not catering to tourists, but to the many Asian students who live and work in the area. Cheap and delicious.
Nerang Street, next to the Cecil Hotel and Railway Street in Southport, both have amazing, Asian cheap student eats as well.
The tiny Hare Krishna restaurant, Govinda's, in Centro Surfers Paradise is yummy, healthy and sooooo cheap the ginger drink is addictive! Also, try Teriyaki Paradise in the same complex the Okonomiyaki is divine!
Still on my favourite topic eating! Word is Da Pinos at Worongary (07 5530 2044) is cheap, quirky and delish. A lethal combination in my books!
For a bit of Queensland "cultcha", the Southport Surf Club has an amazing secret little museum, which gives a unique glimpse into one of Australia's oldest surf club's histories. Open by appointment; call the club (ph: 07 5591 3895) to arrange a viewing.
For some Gold Coast history (and if you like walking!), try the Labrador Heritage Walk. It's a great way to see a very local part of the coast. Or you can stroll around Burleigh Heads National Park (very nice boy-spotting here, especially if the surf is pumping).
Shopping can be expensive. And while Harbour Town Outlet Shopping Centre is pretty well known, not all of its secrets are. The Lisa Ho store has the best bargains ever $50 pants that were once $600! And though David Jones is huge, if you go to the back, you will find amazing pieces by designers that would die if they knew their creations were going at these prices. Sometimes you can snag great bargains at "family and friends" discount nights at some of the big name stores, such as Nike.
If you need a haircut (to go with your new clothes), Konk (07 5531 2211) at Chirn Park, beautifies a long list of in-the-know locals. Not cheap cheap, but John does a very good hair cut! Call well ahead for an appointment.
While you are in the Chirn Park neck of the woods, you must try a hot chocolate at Madam Tojos (07 55322874), one hundred metres up the road. There are no surprises that it attracts an arty crowd given that owner Antoinette Edmunds is a local artist of some renown. Friday night is tapas night, so just sit back and gossip with friends whilst delectable delights are brought to our table.
Gold Coast: Our One Week Itinerary
Beach day. Bring your bling caftan (at last, somewhere legit to wear it!), a book and sunscreen. Spend the afternoon indulging in a snooze/massage/pedicure/manicure, or combination of the four. Chill on your balcony with a bottle of wine and a pizza from Marie's.
Head to Byron Bay via brekkie at Twisted Sista (4 Lawson St, ph: (07) 6685 6810). Check out the Cape Gallery and then go up to the Lighthouse after a detour to Wattegos's Beach. Lighthouse parking can be iffy, so be prepared to walk.
The Bryon Bay Farmer's Markets are on Thursdays and Saturdays make sure your visit coincides. Your stomach will be thankful!
Have lunch at the Bangalow Hotel in Bangalow, then roam around the boutiques, antique shops and to-die-for bookstores in this quaint town before heading home.
Repeat your beach day. You came for sunshine, didn't you?!
Wineries, pubs on cliffs, gallery walks, four-wheel driving tours, rainforests, hang-gliding and more await you in the mountains. Have lunch at the famous Songbirds of the Forest, or the equally famous (yet low-key) St Bernard's Hotel. Check out the hang-gliders taking off various cliffs, or have a go yourself!
Bushwalking is also a great idea, especially in summer. Check out Lamington National Park, Binna Burra or O'Reilly's Rainforest Guest House to find the right bushwalking option for you and yours.
Today is the day to properly experience Bris Vegas. Take the Vulture Street exit and follow it to Boundary Street, West End. Here, make a pit stop at The Avid Reader bookstore for coffee and cakes (the lemon tea cake is amazing). Just try to resist a literary purchase!
Next on the list is GOMA, The Queensland Art Gallery. While on the educational kick, visit the State Library and the Queensland Museum as well. The various gift shops are all fabulous if you're looking for a keep-sake.
The entire Brisbane loop can be done on the City Cat; this is included in your ticket cost if you took the train here from the Gold Coast.
Come lunchtime, head to Paddington where you will be surrounded by restored Queenslanders, funky shopping and so many good lunch spots that it'll be hard to go wrong. Montrechet is a great up-market option.
Finish up at Mt Coot-tha Lookout for a late coffee and awesome city views. Bail Brissy before peak hour, unless you want to jaunt on over to New Farm's James Street for a bit of window shopping and dinner at any number of the neighbourhood's groovy restaurants.
Have breakfast at The Beach Shack cafe (818 Pacific Parade, Currumbin, ph: (07) 5598 2000). Head south past the famous surf spots of Kirra, Greenmount and Snapper Rocks, and up the hill to Duranbah. Grab a patch of grass and a latte, and watch the surfers at Duranbah Beach. Then take lunch at Omeros Bros at Marina Mirage, Main Beach.
Post-posing, walk off lunch at the Seaway Rock Wall. The sea breeze will perk you up and the views back to Surfers and Main Beach are both stunning.
Have dinner at GCI's Yamagen Restaurant the sashimi platter is to die for. Or maybe have a stroll around the Surfers Paradise shops. On Friday or Wednesday nights, the beachfront markets are worthwhile spots.
Have your last drink at the Irish pub above McDonald's on the beachfront, and toast a golden Gold Coast holiday (near the Golden Arches sorry, I couldn't resist).
Gold Coast: Where NOT To Go
First of all, DO NOT COME IN NOVEMBER. Ever. Schoolies, schoolies, schoolies it's horrible. If you must come then, stay at Sanctuary Cove or up in the mountains at a posh health resort.
Also, Surfers Paradise is pretty ordinary. The council hasn't spent a cent on it in years and it's looking very daggy. At night, when the club life kicks in, it can also become a bit nasty. They have cameras everywhere for a reason!
Locals generally come to town for a night of clubbing, and occasionally a meal, but that's about it. Some of the best times to visit Surfers are during Gold Coast 600 and at New Year's Eve, but otherwise give it a miss. Book your accommodation there by all means it's a handy spot to be based but don't plan on spending too much time there except to sleep.
The clubs in Surfers are pretty ordinary. Elsewhere, on Cavill Avenue is the exception, though you need to wear $300 Nike Airs for the privilege of queuing. Melbas at the bottom of Cavill Avenue is where most locals end up, and the restaurant downstairs isn't bad for a celebration.
Quirky pubs, such as The Grand Hotel at Labrador, The Miami Hotel or the surf clubs, are where most of the locals drink rather than in the clubs.
Beware the Coolangatta Hotel, where you'll encounter nasty security and a very violent vibe. If you see a band there, don't hang around for a drink afterwards. Go home and listen to the sounds of sirens all night rescuing those who stayed. The Coolangatta Hotel has been copping flak since security started photocopying each punter's driving licence on entry. It's a worry when bouncers have your home address for a start they know you're not at home! Wised-up locals are now getting over-18 cards. Sadly, it's really the only venue on the coast for bands and they do get some great ones.
The bars of Main Beach can be fun, especially at Gold Coast 600 time and if you happen to bump into the various race teams! Boys, do not underestimate the power of jumpsuits.
Jupiters Casino (or the Big House) is also pretty overrated, unless throwing your money out the window is your idea of fun! Although, the Atrium Bar is not bad for a laugh later on; it's where the singles (or not-so-singles) of a certain age go to pick up. The tasteful exception is Zen, the casino's posh Chinese restaurant, which is amazing.
Most of the touristy stuff on offer is not that bad. Island tours (skip Tipplers unless you're a bogan), hot-air balloon rides, whale watching and the like are all worthwhile, as the market is pretty competitive.
For shopping, Pacific Fair is pretty huge, but filled with the same chain stores you have elsewhere. Marina Mirage is probably the only shopping centre on the coast with "real" shopping on offer; you might be looking at $500 T-shirts, but they are very nice $500 T-shirts!
Got any more Gold Coast suggestions? Have your say using the comments form below.
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