Looking to make the most of your time on the Gold Coast during the Commonwealth Games? Ben McLeay shows you how to experience the city like a local – no tickets required.

Made in Japan

Hidden behind a weathered barn door devoid of signage (look for the red paper lantern swinging in the breeze) is Etsu Izakaya, a rabbit hole-style Japanese bar and eatery in Mermaid Beach. Behind its modest exterior is an intimately lit wooden “cave” with a menu for sharing, true to izakaya style, that includes Wagyu and kingfish carpaccio, crispy-skin chicken teriyaki, miso scallops and housemade Wagyu beef gyoza. There’s an impressive range of Japanese beers on tap, as well as sake, shochu (a distilled spirit made from rice, sweet potato, barley, buckwheat or sugar cane) and umeshu (a liqueur made from ume fruit). Word to the wise: it’s standing room only after 6pm on a Saturday night. 

The Best Things to See and Do on the Gold Coast During the Commonwealth Games

Home sweet home

You can’t visit the Gold Coast and not set foot in a Queenslander (house, that is). Tick it off your list at the same time as kickstarting your day at Paddock Bakery, a 70-year-old weatherboard cottage converted into a café-cum-artisan bakery. Tucked away on an unassuming street corner near Miami Beach, it’s a favourite with locals for its creative all-day breakfast and lunch menu. Meals are served in recycled, biodegradable cardboard “dish” trays and all are under $16. The signature dippy eggs – presented in an egg carton with sourdough soldiers, diced bacon, organic labne and parsley – is a must, as is the woodfired muesli. Stroll in and seat yourself in the tree-shaded yard or at the giant communal table fashioned from a 100-year-old railway bench. Short on time? In the side garden there’s a vintage horse-float peddling takeaway coffee, fresh bread and cakes.

Cathedral of light

A pop-up inflatable “luminarium” to be installed in Kurrawa Park during the Games, Arboria is a sprawling, child-friendly labyrinth of archways, tunnels and cathedral-like domes that glow kaleidoscopically, thanks to sunlight. With the central dome soaring to 10 metres, it’s one of the biggest such structures built by its British-based creators, Architects of Air. As you explore Arboria’s twists and turns, sounds from the Ecuadorian cloud forest transport you far from the bustle.

Beach brew

Just two streets back from Burleigh Heads Beach is the laid-back, simply furnished taproom at Black Hops Brewing. Try a house-brewed beer from one of the eight taps or a tasting paddle to share. There’s no kitchen but you’re encouraged to BYO food.

The Best Things to See and Do on the Gold Coast During the Commonwealth Games

Up and Away

In a blessing of topography, the Gold Coast is situated between pristine beaches and dense rainforest. There are any number of walks, hikes and drives that you can take to explore incredible Lamington National Park but none communicates the sheer scale of the rainforest as well as The Tree Top Walk at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat. Not for the faint-hearted, the walk consists of almost a kilometre of rope suspension bridges strung between the treetops 16 metres above the ground, giving those who dare a view usually reserved for birds. Just over an hour’s drive into the hinterland from the centre of the Gold Coast, the walk is free and open all day.

American Exceptionalism

The Gold Coast is an unusual place to find American barbecue and brews but Lester & Earl (1097 Gold Coast Highway, Palm Beach; 07 5598 2889), inspired by America’s Deep South circa 1950s, is full of surprises. The aroma wafting from the kitchen offers the first hint of what’s to come: beautifully tender Tasmanian beef brisket and pulled pork smoked to perfection. Big groups would do well to choose from the enormous barbecue platters, such as those piled high with said brisket, honey mustard potato salad, tangy coleslaw, cornbread and pickle. Because meat is the hero here, the bar – created from upcycled barrels – even slings bacon-infused vodka (there are craft beers and spirits for the less adventurous). Add to the mix a wraparound verandah with sweeping views of Palm Beach and you’ve got yourself the perfect long lunch.

The Best Things to See and Do on the Gold Coast During the Commonwealth Games

Play date

Unleash your inner child with Impulse, an interactive installation taking over a patch of Surfers Paradise Beach for the entirety of the Games. Ride one of the 15 enormous seesaws that light up and emit noises according to your movements; every participant contributes to a symphony of colour and sound. It’s Impulse’s first visit to the Southern Hemisphere after touring several countries and it operates every evening until 11pm.

Follow the art

Beyond its beaches, bars, restaurants and theme parks, the Gold Coast also has a thriving arts scene. Escape the flurry of the Games at 19 Karen Contemporary Artspace, at Mermaid Beach, where there’s a free exhibition of work by classically trained Italian artist Gola Hundun. He uses street art to explore the connection between humanity and the natural world, often integrating sculpture and performance art into his pieces.

The Best Things to See and Do on the Gold Coast During the Commonwealth Games

Knock on Wood

If you wander down Justin Lane in Burleigh Heads, you’ll come across a single red door. It’ll be locked – until you text the phone number on a plaque out the front to obtain the secret code. You’ll then be escorted through red velvet drapes into the area’s newest speakeasy, Lockwood Bar. The appeal of this Prohibition-inspired venue lies not only in its cloak-and-dagger entry ritual but also its staggering collection of more than 160 different spirits (some exceptionally difficult to get hold of in Australia), about 100 of which are whiskies. Pull up a stool at the nine-metre polished concrete and Tasmanian oak bar and try as many as you’re game to, either as part of the classic cocktail list or served with soda.

Social status

If you’re at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre in Broadbeach for the netball or basketball, it would be remiss not to dine at Social Eating House and Bar. As the name suggests, it’s all about breaking bread over share plates of confit pork belly, tuna sashimi and fresh scallops as you work through the extensive roster of domestic and international wines. For a conversation starter, order the one-kilogram saltbush lamb shoulder slow-roasted in sheep’s-milk yoghurt.

The Best Things to See and Do on the Gold Coast During the Commonwealth Games

Gold roast

Conveniently close to the swimming and hockey venues in the budding Chirn Park area and consistently voted one of the best cups of coffee in town, Daark Espresso Bar has your morning triple-shot long black and afternoon ice-cold pour-over covered. With beans supplied by Yatala-based Supreme Roasters, Daark’s smooth but strong concoctions will pass muster with any serious caffeine-lover. A range of teas, cold-pressed juices and hot chocolate provide solid choices for non-coffee drinkers, too.

The Gold Coast's Best Coffee and Where to Find It

Lounge Act

Roosevelt Lounge on Surf Parade in Broadbeach is a cosy venue that, by its own description, caters strictly to the “over-thirties crowd” with a dress code that speaks to the sophisticated clientele it seeks to attract. Settle in to one of the plush velvet booths backlit by flickering candles, order a drink from the world-class selection behind the bar (the first-pour vodka is Belvedere Black) and give yourself over to the glamour of old-school New York – on the Goldie. Who knew?

Cocktail Hour

Watching world-class athletes at peak performance is thirsty work and after a day at beach volleyball on the Coolangatta Beachfront, you deserve a cocktail or two. Drift across the road to popular tapas bar Bin 72, where they know a thing or two about mixing the perfect sunset tipple. Go for the Guava Jalapeño Margarita or the Coconut Margarita with optional chilli. Feeling peckish? Easy share plates such as prawn-stuffed zucchini flowers hit the spot.

The Best Things to See and Do on the Gold Coast During the Commonwealth Games

To Market

Every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday night, an open-plan warehouse in the Miami Beach arts district comes alive with food, drink and music. Miami Marketta hosts an array of stalls and food trucks that serve everything from American barbecue and Vietnamese dishes to gnocchi, ramen and traditional Greek desserts, accompanied by live music and a fully-fledged wine and cocktail bar where a good glass costs less than $10.15

The Best Things to See and Do on the Gold Coast During the Commonwealth Games

Stars Above

The all-suite The Darling is the hottest new hotel in town. But you don’t have to book in to be part of the action; head to the rooftop, where Nineteen at The Star restaurant and bar opens onto an infinity-edge pool with sweeping views. Soak up the vibe as the bartenders concoct classics – Martinis, Margaritas, Caprioskas – then make your way to the restaurant area for head chef Kelvin Andrews’ rock lobster bolognese. It’s going to be busy so take co-manager Simon Gloftis’ tip: “Get in early, nab a spot in the bar and wait for a table in the restaurant.” Sounds like a plan. 

SEE ALSO: 20 Restaurants Making Waves on the Gold Coast


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