Gold Coast Expert's Guide: Local Secrets & Top Picks

15 March 2015
Read Time: 8.4 mins

Whether you’ve visited ‘the Goldie’ before or you’re heading there for the first time, this guide will give you the insider tips on where to stay, eat, play and shop.

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The Gold Coast: Famous for Fun

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With signs pointing to places like Miami and Florida Gardens, you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve set foot in the lower United States. This is the Sunshine State, but there’s no 20-hour flight or ’gators round these parts.

The Gold Coast is Australia’s favourite summer playground; a sprawling region that stretches 56 kilometres down the Queensland coast, crossing paths with New South Wales on the runways of the Coolangatta airport.

You’ve probably heard the buzz about the theme parks, the surf beaches, the mega-clubs and the high-rise hotels, but what about the organic markets, the Hinterland eco retreats and the hatted restaurants?

There’s more to the Gold Coast beneath its shiny surface – you just have to know where to look!

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xBSom2Awrg[/embed]

Gold Coast Weather

Temperature (avg °C) Rainfall (max mm)
J - 27 J - 128
F - 29 F - 169
M - 28 M - 112
A - 26 A - 129
M - 23 M - 116
J - 21 J - 117
J - 21 J - 51
A - 22 A - 57
S - 24 S - 43
O - 25 O - 96
N - 27 N - 124
D - 28 D - 137

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GETTING THERE

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 The Gold Coast skyline in the distance, spied from Burleigh Heads (Image: Ashton Rigg)

The Gold Coast Airport (OOL) is a bit of an anomaly, straddling the border between Queensland and New South Wales. For visitors from Sydney, this means you will depart and arrive in the same state!

This small, international airport welcomes around three million visitors annually and is well connected to cities across Australia, Asia and New Zealand. The Gold Coast is serviced by daily flights from most Australian hubs and is an easy one-hour road trip from Brisbane.

Flight Information:

  • Average flight time - 1 hour 20 minutes from Sydney and 5 hours from Perth
  • Daily flights from - all Australian capitals and most regional hubs
  • Major airlines - Virgin Australia, Qantas, Jetstar

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GETTING AROUND

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 The G:Link tram even has surfboard racks! (Image: Ashton Rigg)

Car

While a stroll along the esplanade is pleasant enough, you probably won’t want to travel Broadbeach to Burleigh on foot. Hiring a car is an easy option, especially if your accommodation offers complimentary parking. Having your own set of wheels also means you can visit the theme parks and hinterland at your leisure.

Tram

The G:Link light rail system is a welcome new addition to the Gold Coast. Rambling along a 13-kilometre route from the University Hospital to Broadbeach South, the super-efficient tram runs every 10–15 minutes from 5am until midnight and later on weekends.

Bus

Buses and trams on the Gold Coast use Translink’s gocard system – a prepaid card where you tap on and tap off. While you can still buy paper tickets on board most buses, a one-day unlimited go explore card is much better value. You can buy gocards at tram stations, 7-Eleven convenience stores and online at translink.com.au.

Did you know...? The Gold Coast boasts 300 sunny days a year, meaning the odds are in your favour if you’re hoping for good beach weather!

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WHERE TO STAY

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 One of five pools at the Hilton Surfers Paradise (Image: Ashton Rigg)

The Gold Coast goes well beyond Surfers Paradise, although there’s good reason many visitors choose to base their stay here: Surfers Paradise is both party central and family-friendly.

The next suburb along is Broadbeach – a hot spot dining destination for gourmands – followed by the chilled-out surf mecca Burleigh Heads. The southernmost town of Coolangatta bears an apt Aboriginal name meaning ‘place of good view’.

If you’re keen to cuddle a koala, a stay in Currumbin is your best bet, while Main Beach at the region’s northern end is perfect for Sea World encounters.

For rainforest walks, waterfalls and wineries aplenty, head inland to where the green meets the gold. There are charming villages scattered throughout the Gold Coast Hinterland across Mount Tamborine, Springbrook and Lamington National Park.

Our top picks

Hilton Surfers Paradise »

The high-rise Hilton hotel brings 5-star sophistication to the heart of Surfers Paradise. Sidled alongside the legendary Cavill Mall, the Hilton Surfers Paradise has everything you would expect from this global brand, including top-notch dining at Luke Mangan’s Salt grill, panoramic ocean views, luxurious multi-room Residences and an exclusive executive lounge.

QT Surfers Paradise »

Stepping inside QT Surfers Paradise takes you back to the Swinging Seventies, with Pop Art bursts of colour and mini bars stocked with all sorts of unconventional goodies, like underwater cameras and emergency bow ties. Recently voted as having the best breakfast and best buffet in Australia at Bazaar restaurant, QT Surfers Paradise is accurately self-described as 'nostalgic surfer chic meets Miami catwalk cool'.

Jupiters Hotel & Casino »

A Gold Coast icon on Broadbeach Island, Jupiters is ideal if you like to be in the heart of the action. Grab a private cabana and a cocktail at the freshly revamped rooftop pool, or sip sundowners at the stylish on-site restaurants before retiring to your guest room, which starts from around $207 a night.

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WHERE TO EAT & DRINK

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 Chew with a view at Ristorante Fellini (Image: Ashton Rigg)

Once you’ve ticked off the mandatory fish and chips on the beach, the Gold Coast’s food scene goes well beyond the catch of the day.

Thanks to a flourishing small bar scene, you can experiment with a deconstructed mojito at Fix Cocktail Bar, sling a Peach Smash at Stingray Bar or grab a brew with a view at Seventy7 Cafe & Bar.

Casual foreshore cafes are met with a slew of hatted fine-dining restaurants, while thumping, pumping nightclubs are balanced with the quiet reprieve of Hinterland cellar doors.

Be sure to pop in for a drop at O’Reilly’s Canungra Valley Vineyards or the Tamborine Mountain Distillery, before hunting down the region’s best scones with jam and cream at Teavine House, Tallebudgera.

Our Top Picks:

Ristorante Fellini
Level 1, Marina Mirage, 74 Seaworld Drive, Main Beach

For 19 years this Gold Coast mainstay has brought a slice of la dolce vita to Main Beach. Clink glasses as you watch yachts bobbing on the marina and rub shoulders with the glitterati. Perfect for couples, families and long business lunches, Ristorante Fellini offers classic Italian with a modern twist, from prosciutto-wrapped figs to twice-cooked duck ragu.

Social Eating House + Bar
Shop 137-138 / 3 Oracle Boulevard, Broadbeach

Social by name, social by attitude. This Broadbeach ‘eating house’ combines tasty tapas and plenty of social lubrication in a modern setting. The charcuterie cabinet is stuffed with jamon, prosciutto, and salumi, sitting alongside bar snacks such as braised lamb empanadas and small share plates such as Asahi-battered whiting. Just remember: sharing is caring at Social.

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Eat Like a Local

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 An epic Chee-Ze burger at Ze Pickle, Burleigh Heads (Image: Ashton Rigg)

Ze Pickle
Cnr Park Avenue and Connor Street, Burleigh Heads

Burgers and the beach – it’s a match made in heaven! Sniff out the burgers at Ze Pickle, set in a garage-esque corner store with menus tacked on to licence plates. Burgers range from the simple Chee-Ze to the 3AM piled with maple bacon, cheese sticks and guac, and the Pablo Escoburger spiked with corn chips and pulled pork.

BSKT
4 Lavarack Road, Mermaid Beach

Hipster haven BSKT proudly rides the clean-eating bandwagon, its menu laden with generous servings of organic, vegetarian and gluten-free eats. These include super berry cacao pancakes for breakfast, paleo pasta, green goji salad and plenty more superfood-focused fare. The coffee, too, is organic, while onsite yoga ensures peak inner wellbeing.

Black Coffee Lyrics
Level 1, 3131 Surfers Paradise Blvd, Surfers Paradise

When Gold Coast locals yearn for their morning pick-me-up, they head to Black Coffee Lyrics. Whether you ‘Just Want Eggs’ for brekkie or are committed to a five-course degustation dinner, BCL has you covered. Crumbed brie with marmalade, smoked beef brisket or jerk chicken pizza take your fancy? This kitschy all-day eatery doesn’t disappoint.

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SHOPPING

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 Stop and shop at The Strand, Coolangatta (Image: fontsinuse.com)

If you’ve packed only sandals and forgotten the stilettos or suddenly need to suit-up for a night on the town, the Gold Coast has you covered. Beyond the beach-front shops selling emergency sunscreen, thongs and ice cream, there are endless places to splash your cash.

Bargain lovers should make a beeline for outlet heaven Harbour Town, while big spenders can peruse the high-end boutiques of Paradise Shopping Centre and High Street Surfers Paradise.

More luxury threads can be scoped out at Marina Mirage – a waterfront design and dining destination – while the king of them all is Robina Town Centre, home to 350 retailers, including Queensland’s flagship Zara store.

Hinterland shopping is mainly reserved to craft cottages and edible souvenirs from cellar doors and gourmet pantries.

Our Top Picks:

Pacific Fair
Hooker Boulevard, Broadbeach

Retail therapy doesn’t get much more convenient than ‘Pac Fair’, sitting just behind the light rail terminus and bus station of Broadbeach South. Beat the heat and while away a few hours in this resort-style retail emporium, home to Australia’s favourite brands, from Country Road to Myer. A three-year, $670 million revamp is set to add an extra 100 shops.

The Strand
72-80 Marine Parade, Coolangatta

Spruiking itself as the heart of beachside, shopping, The Strand at Coolangatta is your last opportunity to stop and shop before you cross the border into New South Wales. Browse the boutiques, catch a flick at the cinemas, or chew with a view at Bin 72 – a tapas and cocktail bar with sister establishments in Burleigh and Mermaid Beach.

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The Best Local Markets

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 All the cool kids visit the Village Markets (Image: The Village Markets)

The Village Markets
Burleigh Heads State School + Paradise Point Park

After six years keeping the Gold Coast’s pretty young things looking schmick, The Village Markets have become a local institution. Throngs of emerging designers showcase their wares on the first and third Sunday of the month at Burleigh Heads State School, and the fourth Sunday at Paradise Point Park until 1pm.

The Gold Coast Organic Market
2205 Gold Coast Highway, Miami

The Gold Coast’s very first growers market is your one-stop shop for fair dinkum organically grown fresh produce, including sweet treats with no nasties! The Gold Coast Organic Market is held at Miami State School every Sunday until 11:30am.

Surfers Paradise Beachfront Market
The Foreshore, Surfers Paradise

You can’t miss the Surfers Paradise Beachfront Market if you’re strolling down the foreshore on a Wednesday, Friday or Sunday night after 5pm. Some 120 stalls back on to the beach at this lively night market, with live tunes keeping the night young.

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TOP ATTRACTIONS

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 Looking out to the Q1 from the Hilton Surfers Paradise (Image: Ashton Rigg)

Theme Parks

You can sum up the Gold Coast in two words: theme parks. There are world-class playgrounds for all ages: Sea World, Wet’n’Wild, Warner Bros. Movie World, Dreamworld and WhiteWater World. There’s an assortment of amusement on offer, from Dreamworld’s BIG 9 Thrill Rides to Sea World’s leaping dolphins and the epic Australiana-inspired Outback Spectacular.

Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary

One of few places in Australia where you can actually cuddle a koala, the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is home to the world’s largest collection of Australian native animals. From the Free Flight Bird Show to hands-on ’roo feeding, a heart-pumping High Ropes course and Segway Safari, Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is the Gold Coast’s hub of family fun.

 The ethereal Natural Bridge in the Gold Coast Hinterland (Image: TEQ)

The Natural Bridge

This is one for the photographers – the Natural Bridge in Springbrook National Park is worth taking a detour for (take Exit 69 off the highway). The arch was formed by water spilling through the basalt cave roof for millions of years, forming an incredibly beautiful, somewhat hidden waterfall. Visit at night for a guided glow worm tour.

Q1 SkyPoint

Until 2011, Q1 held the title as the world’s tallest residential building. It may have lost its crown, but there’s still no better view of the Gold Coast than at Q1’s SkyPoint. Channel your inner superhero and climb the exterior of the building, or simply enjoy the 360-degree views from the observation deck or Seventy7 Cafe & Bar.

Tamborine Rainforest Skywalk

While the rainforest is usually viewed by craning our necks upwards, the Tamborine Rainforest Skywalk allows you to stroll among the treetops, some 30 breathtaking metres above the ground. This 45-minute, self-guided walk combines forest floor trails with bridges suspended in the rainforest canopy.

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SHHH... INSIDER SECRETS

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Theme Park Combo Pass
If you’re planning to visit more than one of the theme parks, consider purchasing a theme park combo pass. A VIP Magic Pass will get you three for the price of one for $109.99, while a Super Pass awards you 28 days of unlimited fun at Movie World, Sea World and Wet’n’Wild. For the extra keen, there is a Discovery Passport that grants you 12 months’ unlimited entry to the Big 3 for $149.99.

When NOT to visit
The Goldie doesn’t really have an off season, but some dates are certainly busier than others. Steer clear of the crowds and avoid planning your holiday during Schoolies Week (late November to early December), when high school leavers fill the hotels, beaches and streets with revelry. The Magic Millions weekend in early January is also particularly frenzied.

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MORE OF QUEENSLAND

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 Hit the road and visit capital city Brisbane!

While there’s more than enough to keep your attention on the Gold Coast, the region is also the perfect base for day-tripping around South East Queensland. Consider factoring in a day or two to squeeze more Queensland into your holiday.

Brisbane »

The Sunshine State’s capital is so close to the Gold Coast, it’s often hard to tell where one ends and the other begins! Around an hour on the motorway will bring you to Brisbane. Forget what you think you know about this city: a youthful wave has swept through, bringing with it underground bars, high-end boutiques, endless live music gigs, farmers markets and laneway pop-ups.

The Sunshine Coast »

The ‘Sunny Coast’ is about an hour’s drive north of Brisbane and often referred to as the Gold Coast’s low-key sister. Much like the Goldie, there are beaches aplenty and a lush, emerald Hinterland. At one end of the Sunny Coast you have Caloundra; at the other, Noosa. Inland, poetic townships like Montville, Maleny and Mapleton are primed for high tea and antique shopping.

Southern Queensland Country

This region may not be on your radar, but it should be. About two hours inland from the Gold Coast, Southern Queensland Country is laced with foodie trails, dairy farms, sunflower fields and crisp apple orchards. It’s also home to the Granite Belt wine region, with tonnes of cellar doors worthy of a swirl, sniff and sip.

Ashton Rigg

When I'm not at home in Brisbane, you’ll find me wanderlusting around hipster bars, eclectic boutiques and arty nooks. From bagels in Brooklyn to strudel in Salzburg, I believe the best way to experience a destination is by taking a bite! Tweets & 'grams at @AshtonRigg