If you’ve ever seen images of Australia’s stunning white sand beaches, there’s a high chance some of those pics were snapped at the Gold Coast. While there are oodles of beautiful beaches right around our island nation, the Gold Coast’s hot summers, mild winters, magnificent beaches and lush hinterland have made it a holiday spot for locals and international visitors for decades.
The Gold Coast is largely a tourist town, so among the gems, you will find the usual cheese. That’s why after having lived there myself, I’m going to share my secrets to enjoying the REAL Goldie (as it is often referred) along with a suggested Gold Coast itinerary.
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Getting there and around
Gold Coast has its own airport and is located only an hour’s drive south of Brisbane airport which offers more airline and flight options. Getting from either airport to the Coast is not overly convenient. You will be dependent on a transfer service, rideshare or the SkyBus. I highly recommend you rent a car for your stay, as attractions are spaced at long distances and public transport isn’t reliable.
The G:Link is the Gold Coast’s light rail network, and can be helpful for more localised travel between Main Beach in the north and Broadbeach in the south. It also runs westward to Helensvale, which gets you closer to some of the theme parks like Movieworld and connects with the Queensland Rail service running up to Brisbane.
Where to stay
My number 1, golden rule of the Gold Coast is no matter what the glossy tourist brochure says, do not, I repeat DO NOT go to or stay in Surfers Paradise. It may have been the place to go and be seen in the 1950’s and 60’s, but not anymore.
I highly suggest staying at Broadbeach or below, skipping Mermaid Beach and Miami. The further south you go, the more local it’s going to get. Burleigh Heads is a really nice beach, protected from prevailing southeasterly winds by a generous headland. It has seaside parks, great café culture, boutique shops, and good surf. It’s my favourite – can you tell?! If you’re a surfer, check the map at the end of the post for other surf spots.
Blissful! Most of the time. The Gold Coast is sub-tropical in climate (comparable to south Florida for our US readers), so summer is hot and humid with regular but generally short tropical storms. Winter is mild, sunny and dry. The hinterland area will generally be a few degrees cooler than the coast year-round. Summer sea temperatures range from 25.4 – 27.1°C (77.7 – 80.8°F) and in winter 21.5 – 22.6°C (70.7 – 72.7°F).
Events to schedule for (or avoid)
Apart from Australian school holiday periods, there are several annual events that will draw crowds and make accommodation more expensive. Depending on your tastes, you may want to time your visit for one of these or stay well away. Check event dates here, but particularly note those below.
Magic Millions Carnival (horse racing) – Early to mid-January
Burleigh Pro (surfing) – late January
Quicksilver and Roxy Pro (surfing) – mid-March
Gold Coast 600 Supercars – mid-October
Schoolies (When all the newly graduated year 12 students party – AVOID AT ALL COSTS) – November
What to do on the Gold Coast
Swim, surf, snorkel, scuba, sail, paddleboard, kayak, jet ski, fish… if it happens on or in the water you can probably find it on the Gold Coast. The water is generally clean and you have fewer stingers to worry about than further north. Always, always, always swim in patrolled areas which are indicated by the red and yellow flags. If you’re feeling unsure about the waves, chat to a friendly surf lifesaver about the conditions before jumping in.
Walk the coastline
The Gold Coast Oceanway is a 36km (22.3mi) network of paths that link Point Danger Lighthouse in the south and the Gold Coast Seaway in the north. You can cycle or walk sections of this trail, that will take you through beach, headland, mangrove and dune environments.
Escape to the theme parks
The Gold Coast boasts the largest concentration of theme parks in the Southern Hemisphere. However, if you’ve been to Disneyland or Universal Studios, you’ve probably seen and done it all before. You’d have to be a real thrill-ride fanatic to pay the entry fees. If you do, Seaworld is the only park right on the Coast and serves local marine life, so I suggest going there. Dreamworld, Warner Brothers Movie World, and Wet’n’Wild are all further north and inland in the suburbs of Oxenford and Coomera.
If you haven’t got time to go to the real outback, an evening at the Australian Outback Spectacular might work for you. I haven’t been myself, but based on good reports from friends it’s a chance to learn a little of our history and culture in a very *ahem* theatrical way. The kids will love it!
Take in the view
The SkyPoint Observation Deck on Level 77 of the Q1 building is the best view you’re going to get of the Gold Coast and surrounds short of a helicopter ride. On a fine day, it’s worth the price tag for the expansive 360-degree vistas. Go in the late afternoon and enjoy the sunset views over the hinterland.
Talk to the animals
Meet local wildlife at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary and David Fleay’s Wildlife Park. Between June and October, you might also go whale watching as the majestic sea creatures make their seasonal migrations up and down the coast.
Places to eat, drink & be merry
Generally, Surf Life Saving Clubs dotted up and down the coast are the best way to get an affordable, fresh seafood meal with a seaside view. You will probably need to book to get a table, especially on weekends.
Surf Parade, Broadbeach has cafe after café of good food to work your way through.
James Street, Burleigh Heads is the local restaurant strip.
On the weekends, Nightquarter is the place to eat further inland, close to the theme parks.
If you venture north of Broadbeach I suggest:
The restaurant strip on Tedder Avenue, Main Beach is great for weekend brunches.
Peter’s Fish Market on The Spit for takeaway seafood. Expect a queue out the door, as this place is very popular.
Southport Pier for their fresh-off-the-trawler crab sandwiches.
Marina Mirage and Southport Yacht Club are your more upmarket options in this area.
Places to visit near the Gold Coast – day trips and overnighters
Attractions and activities accessible as day trips or overnight stays from the Gold Coast include:
Brisbane – The state capital of Queensland. See my local’s list of what to do here.
Byron Bay – Day trip to more beautiful beaches at Australia’s former hippie hub, Byron Bay. There are still a few bohemians, but most of them have been priced out of the location. Now you’re more likely to spot a celebrity shopping or dining in the beachside town.
Gold Coast Hinterland – The name of the mountainous region inland of the Coast. This is where you’ll find endless hiking opportunities in world heritage listed rainforests, with beautiful waterfalls, native wildlife and excellent wineries nearby. A few of my favourite spots include:
- O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat – Known for its birdlife and treetop walk. Make a day trip or spend the night. The nearby Morans Falls Trail is a short walk with amazing views.
- Tamborine Mountain – From boutique wineries to cheesemakers, lavender farms, and chocolatiers.
- Natural Bridge – A beautiful cave where waterfalls through a hole in the roof and glow worms reside. When I was a kid you could swim there, but now access is restricted due to safety concerns.
- Mount Warning – Just over the border in northern New South Wales is Mount Warning, the plug of an ancient volcano which can be hiked. The climb is strenuous but well worth the amazing summit views. Many locals choose to hike to the top in the early morning to watch dawn over the horizon.
Suggested 3-Day Gold Coast Itinerary for first-time visitors
Spend the morning on the beach before the heat of the day arrives.
As the sun gets higher in the sky, find a public bbq for a shady DIY lunch or take to a beachside café.
Scale Q1 for views of the Coast from the SkyPoint Observation Deck.
Leave early for your drive into the Hinterland.
At O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat, spend the day feeding the birds, taking the tree top walk and exploring short hikes in the area including Morans Falls.
Alternatively, take a Hinterland winery tour and indulge in local food and wine while you enjoy the mountain scenery.
Start the day with a surf lesson or a hire a stand-up paddleboard at Tallebudgera Creek.
Have lunch at North Kirra Surf Lifesaving Club.
Walk the 3.5km (approx. 2.2mi) section of the Oceanway from North Kirra to Point Danger, or spend the afternoon at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.
No matter what you end up doing on the Gold Coast, enjoy some warmth, sunshine and vitamin sea.
Peace, love & inspiring travel,