Beyond the Gold Coast’s stunning beaches, theme parks and nightlife, there’s a lot more going on than you may think.
Let’s start with the cool cafes, innovative eateries, sparkling waterways, elite designer shopping malls and local markets, and further afield — mountain retreats and waterfalls thundering down into rainforest pools. For everything you know about the ‘glitter strip’, there’s even more you still need to discover!
Decide on your style of holiday and make a plan. Whether you’re dining in view of the beach, learning to surf, or enjoying a music festival, you’ll have the time of your life.
Here are ten of the best things to do on the Gold Coast.
The Gold Coast has 57 kilometres of golden sand to enjoy, but don’t just visit the beach as a spectator. Be a participant! You can walk along Burleigh Beach at sunrise, take the challenging path from Rainbow Bay to Point Danger to try and spot whales, or learn to surf from a pro at one of the surf schools at Surfers Paradise, Currumbin or Coolangatta. Take home action shots of you hanging ten in one of the world’s ten official surfing reserves.
3. Buddy up with the wilder locals
Close encounters of the animal kind aren’t exclusive to Sea World; you’ll also meet plenty of critters at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. The free lorikeet feeding daily at 8am and 4pm is a noisy rite of passage for first-time visitors. Book the Koala Experience for a ‘behind-the-scenes’ introduction to this iconic native animal, and have a professional photo taken of you holding a koala. Photo sessions are also available with snakes, wedgetail eagles and barking owls (but be sure to book!).
If you’re visiting Currumbin in December or January, you might be able to score a ticket to a Twilight Tour. You’ll be ushered into the experience with Dreamtime stories, before enjoying a campfire feast of damper and bush lemon iced tea. And you’ll get to see our incredible wildlife in a whole new light.
Currumbin also operates a busy wildlife hospital. You can book a tour, or if you visit in February, attend the hospital’s Open Day.
4. Get a bird’s eye view of the region
The Q1 tower stands tall and statuesque amongst the skyscrapers lining the Gold Coast’s foreshore. At the top of the tower, the glass-fronted SkyPoint Observation Deck offers panoramic views of the Coast by day or night, its suburbs extending back from the beach and crisscrossed by roads, bridges and waterways.
For the more adventurous visitor, the 90-minute SkyPoint Climb scales the outside of the tower to a height of 270 metres. It’s Australia’s highest external building climb, and can be done day or night. Needless to say, this bird’s-eye-view experience is not for the faint-hearted!
5. Check out the back doors of the rich and famous
The Gold Coast’s canals are lined with multi-million-dollar mansions, and the best way to get a sneaky peek inside is from the water. Choose a cruise according to your budget and timetable. There are morning tea, buffet lunch, sunset and dinner options, all of which offer a lovely and leisurely sightseeing experience.
These waterways are also a convenient way to get around. Purchase a Hop On Hop Off Day Pass for the Hopo Gold Coast Ferry and hop on or off as you want at stops along the route. Catch a show or movie at HOTA (Home of the Arts), walk along Broadwater Parklands, shop, wine and dine at Marina Mirage, or spend the day at Sea World.
There’s nothing more romantic than dining by the beach. Feast on prawns and lobster sliders in Burleigh Heads at award-winning Rick Shores or the Burleigh Pavilion, your toes almost touching the sand. Take in the montage of activity below you: people surfing the famous breaks, paddling and building sandcastles.
You can achieve the same effect regardless of your budget. Order fish and chips at the Rainbow Bay Surf Club or enjoy a picnic on Burleigh Hill.
Every destination has its own unique cultural vibe, and none more so than the Gold Coast. Check out the Miami Marketta for live music and street food, hear emerging and established musicians at gigs across the coast (check the Blank street press gig guide), or visit HOTA for theatre and art. Institutions like Dracula’s or The Pink Flamingo cater for lovers of cabaret and burlesque.
Pacific Fair and Robina Town Centre are giant lifestyle shopping centres equal to the best in Australia. Browse for luxury and chain brands, and enjoy great family dining, theatres and play areas. Savvy shoppers also head for Harbour Town — a massive outlet shopping centre, where you can buy those same luxury brands, but often at far more competitive prices.
A short drive from the dazzling beaches is the ‘green behind the gold’ — the Gold Coast Hinterland — encompassing Mount Tamborine, Springbrook and Lamington National Parks, and the wider Scenic Rim region. Get off the beaten track on rainforests walks, see plunging waterfalls, and visit tranquil mountain resorts. The region is renowned for the production of niche artisanal products, fine wines and award-winning coffee.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best things to do on the Gold Coast? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Cover image: Tourism and Events Queensland. Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Marj Osborne has been reviewing restaurants for over 20 years, formerly for Mietta’s Eating and Drinking in Australia, and more recently for her own blog — Good Food Gold Coast. Her work has also been published in Cafe Culture, Cove Magazine, the Gold Coast Bulletin and Blank Gold Coast. A researcher, teacher-librarian and former hospitality educator trained in vegetarian cooking and wine appreciation, Marj believes in positive living and thinking, and spending time enriching the body, mind and soul. She finds joy on country road trips discovering hidden gems.