Sun-soaked beaches with long stretches of white sand are the calling card of Queensland’s Gold Coast but there’s so much more to do than just hitting the surf and riding roller-coasters. From gliding over the verdant rainforest in a hot air balloon to tracking down topnotch brisket at a night market and teeing off at a world-class golf course, we’ve rounded up the best things to do in this idyllic region.
Image credit: Village Roadshow Theme Parks
Hack the theme parks1/21
Once the kids know a Gold Coast holiday is on the cards there’s no way to avoid their pester power – you’re going to the theme parks, Warner Bros Movie World, Dreamworld, Sea World and Wet ‘n’ Wild. During school holidays there’ll be wall-to-wall crowds but if you’ve timed your visit for the off-season, weekdays are likely to be fairly low-key. To plan your day around bathroom breaks and food stops, download maps from the parks’ websites before you set off.
Sleep in a rooftop cabin in the city2/21
Perched on the rooftop of design haven QT Gold Coast, qtQT boasts six coastal-chic cabins for two, kitted out with hanging egg chairs, a home theatre projector and loads of board games. And more fun can be found outdoors when the hotel’s dedicated Curator of Sunshine creates your dream itinerary, from saluting the sun with an early morning Pilates session to surfing masterclasses and stargazing sessions.
Sleeping koala at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary3/21
A 35-minute drive south of the city brings you to Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, home to more than 50 koalas, as well as red pandas, wombats and more. Take the Twilight Tour and get close to the sanctuary’s nocturnal residents (including Tasmanian devils), feed kangaroos and spot crocodiles in the dark. Or pop in during the afternoon for a Grazy Arvo with Koalas and enjoy a “pat and chat” hosted by the koala keepers before tucking into a grazing platter, glass of wine in hand.
Image credit: Geordie Torr
Fly to brunch in a balloon4/21
What could make watching the sun rise over the ocean from a gliding hot air balloon even better? The team from Hot Air will pick you up from your accommodation, take you aloft to those views – expect ocean, rainforest and even kangaroos bounding through the pineapple groves – then ferry you to O’Reilly’s Grand Homestead & Vineyard in the hinterland for a champagne brunch. Afterwards, a coach will deliver you back to the coast.
Image credit: Danita Delimont Creative
Keep an eye out for koalas on a cliffside walk5/21
A tranquil 30-minute stroll between Tallebudgera Creek and Burleigh Heads, the Oceanview Walk in the Burleigh Heads National Park trails through a corridor of rainforest, eucalyptus and pandanus groves with Pacific Ocean glimpses at every turn. Tumgun Lookout gives you a front-row seat in whale-watching season (humpbacks migrate from June to October) and the terrestrial wildlife isn’t shy, either – expect diverse birdlife, lizards and maybe even a koala.
Image credit: Amaroo
Charter a luxury yacht6/21
Forget zooming across the water on jet-skis and powercraft – Amaroo is a 17-metre luxury yacht that accommodates up to 10 guests for half a day of smooth sailing. With morning or afternoon departures, voyages depart from the marina in Sanctuary Cove and cruise down the Coomera River to Broadwater before dropping anchor.
Image credit: HOTA Gallery
Visit a state-of-the-art gallery7/21
The six-storey gallery, cinema, theatre and outdoor performance space make HOTA (Home Of The Arts) Australia’s largest regional gallery, its primary-coloured jigsaw façade wrapped around a permanent collection that includes celebrated Aussie artists such as Ben Quilty and William Robinson. In 2024, the gallery will showcase Italian Renaissance Alive – a multi-sensory exhibition that celebrates Italian masters of the arts, spanning Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Caravaggio and more.
Image credit: Kiyomi
Book the best restaurants8/21
The seafood-focused Japanese set menu at Kiyomi, within The Star Gold Coast, is one of the region’s most sumptuous fine-diners. In Burleigh Heads, there’s a very good reason Rick Shores makes every “best restaurants of the Gold Coast” list – the Moreton Bay bug roll is a fixture and its only real competition is the restaurant’s mesmerising beach view.
Check in at a luxe family-friendly hotel9/21
There are chic interiors, poolside cocktails and a full-service day spa for the adults, sushi-making and craft classes for the kids and a saltwater lagoon pool flanked by waterfalls and filled with live tropical fish (pack your snorkel) that’ll impress even the coolest teen. After a $35-million renovation, the J.W. Marriott Gold Coast Resort & Spa in Surfers Paradise ticks every box, and is easily one of the best places to stay on the Gold Coast.
Image credit: Las Palmas Bar & Restaurant
Sweeten the deal with tropical cocktails10/21
There’s a time and place for moody, sophisticated cocktails but a Gold Coast getaway isn’t one of them. The beach spirit calls for juicy tropical concoctions – the more festive the better. Sip a rum-soaked Tiki Bastard at Las Palmas Bar & Restaurant in Palm Beach or a classic Piña Colada at Miss Moneypenny’s at Broadbeach.
Image credit: Hyde Paradiso
Fix your gaze on breakfast with a view11/21
Image credit: Social Eating House + Bar
Share the spoils at a long lazy lunch12/21
They take the “social” part of their name just as seriously as the “eating” at Social Eating House + Bar, where almost every dish is made to share. The signature slow-cooked lamb shoulder is designed to be pulled apart and divided among a group, while the mixologists behind the bar love to have a friendly fact-finding chat before they create a custom cocktail just for you.
Image credit: Namchetolukla
See an eastern sunset13/21
It’s renowned as a dreamy sunrise setting but east-facing Snapper Rocks is an equally beautiful spot to watch the wide sky reflect a vivid ombre haze as the sun goes down behind the hinterland. In-the-know locals grab a group of mates, a rug and a pizza or two from Francie’s and show up early to snag a prime spot.
Image credit: Maison & Maison
Shop local, shop chic14/21
If your only experience of coastal souvenirs is gaudy starfish artwork and cheesy sunrise photography, the James St precinct in Burleigh Heads will come as a relief. Maison & Maison is a trove of homewares, such as Moroccan-inspired soft furnishings and soy candles, while Emporium on James specialises in upmarket rattan furniture and kitsch décor like brass palm tree door handles and tortoiseshell glass vases.
Image credit: Miami Marketta
Browse a market (or two)15/21
Sample creative street food like the karaage chicken from Kudo Bros or the 12-hour slow-cooked brisket from Brisket Boss at Miami Marketta night market, which is soundtracked by live music every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. On Saturday mornings, join the locals at Burleigh Farmers Market to hang out, shop for fresh produce and polish off brekky baked goods while you wander.
Image credit: Balter Brewing
Take a coastal crafty crawl16/21
A craft brewery has popped up in almost every town from north to south of the Goldie. Balter Brewing in Currumbin, Black Hops Brewery in both Burleigh Heads and Biggera Waters and Precinct Brewing in Miami are a small sample, all of them pouring handcrafted bevvies and serving low-fi eats like pizza and food-truck treats.
Image credit: Links Hope Island
Tee off at a scenic course17/21
Links Hope Island at Sanctuary Cove is considered among the top golf courses in the country and could certainly take honours as the most scenic. Locals love its variety of holes, the care taken with the greens and fairway maintenance and the friendliness of the service in the pro shop. If you’re lucky, you may even share your round with a mob of curious roos.
Image credit: Piter Lenk
Get out of town18/21
Springbrook National Park, in the green and gorgeous Gold Coast hinterland, is a little less travelled than its famous neighbour, Lamington National Park, and home to natural wonders including Goomoolahra and Rainbow falls and Purling Brook Falls Circuit. Treat yourself to a no-fuss homestyle lunch or afternoon tea at nearby Dancing Waters Café while you're there.
Image credit: Soak Bathhouse
Feel virtuous (for a morning)19/21
There’s something about all that fresh air and saltwater that makes wellbeing part of the Gold Coast’s DNA. Dedicate a morning to self-care with a massage and 90 minutes of steam and stress-relief at Soak Bathhouse in Mermaid Beach, followed by a vegetarian brunch nearby Milkman’s Daughter café – the smashed avo with turmeric and almond fetta is radiance on a plate.
Image credit: Bam Bam Bakehouse
Crunch the coast’s finest croissant20/21
Three days work goes into every buttery croissant served at Bam Bam Bakehouse in Mermaid Beach. Order one as it comes – light, flaky and sublime – or amp things up to full-scale indulgence with the “Hey, it’s okay, you’re on holiday” croissant French toast, dipped in vanilla-bean custard and served with maple syrup and Chantilly cream.