Not usually known for being a shrinking violet, the Gold Coast surprisingly tends to eschew hyperbole when it comes to selling itself. But armed with some intel on the city’s hidden bars, quirky restaurants, breakfast spots and favourite beaches, you’ll be living like a local in no time.
Burleigh Co-op, in a backstreet just across the road from the popular Paddock Bakery (which strangely claims a Miami postcode), opened early this year with an uber-casual and highly social vibe; think barefoot, boards, babies, dogs, newspaper-studying singletons and rambunctious groups.
The fit-out blends seamlessly into the streetscape – a rough wood and corrugated iron shed-like structure with an umbrella shaded terrace.
Inside, it’s all light-filled bleached driftwood white. The all-day menu features the usual healthy options – acai bowls, and avo on toast, but there’s some appealing outliers too, like zucchini waffles with egg, chili, sour cream and parmesan “snow”, or “Brick Lane Bombay” – spicy fried potatoes with spinach, egg, coriander and spring onion.
The miles on the coffee are negligible, with beans sourced from nearby Social Espresso.
In all probability you’ll already have tasted Burleigh Baker Geoff’s wares – his long fermented, artisan breads, made from organic, unbleached flour appear on a growing number of local restaurants’ menus. As well as loaves in all shapes and sizes, there are flaky-topped pies, quiches and sourdough plain and almond croissants at the James Street store and cafe – perfect with a cup of Brissie outfit Wolff Roasters’ coffee.
Almost next door, tucked into a re-invigorated 70s arcade is the always lively Social Brew. The décor plays into the ‘old is new again’ aesthetic with curved pine high backed booths lining the centre of the arcade beneath a jungle of hanging potted ferns. Drinks have names like “beta balance” and “fat blaster” and there’s a certain skew towards healthier breakfasts, with lots of gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian options, but there’s plenty for the breakfast traditionalists, too.
In the same Burleigh arcade, Canteen Coffee’s gun baristas produce precision-made house blend and single-origin coffees.
At Mermaid Beach in a residential area just a block back from the sea, The Milkman’s Daughter is another local favourite. Small and quirky, with booths set under white painted brickwork archways as well as a handful of tables on the footpath, it’s aimed at vegetarians and vegans, but only the most hardcore of carnivores is likely to miss the bacon and sausages when there are plenty of satisfyingly carby options, like lemon ricotta pancakes with custard and toasted walnuts, or corn fritters with cumin yoghurt. Lattes come in a rainbow of colours and flavours including regular brown for the conservative coffee connoisseur.
The Gold Coast has more than 50 kilometres of beaches, but not all were created equal. The tourists’ beloved Surfers Paradise, for example, suffers from afternoon shadows thanks to the looming skyscrapers, as well as challenging parking.
Explore a little bit further and you’ll find where locals hang out. Like the silver swathe of Nobbys, frequented by surfers, cyclists, joggers and families. There’s parkland all along the foreshore.
Keep walking south and you’ll come to the famous Miami headland staircase, which you should climb for the panoramic coastal views.
With a laid-back inclusive vibe, sheltered north-facing beach and mostly low-rise accommodation, Rainbow Bay feels gently retro. It is a mecca for families and those who prefer more gentle waves.
Bookended by the headland and with views all the way to the high-rises of Surfers, Burleigh Beach is popular for a reason – it’s patrolled and well protected from a southerly wind or swell.
Walk across the national park headland from here and you’ll reach the idyllic Tallebudgera Creek, a crystal clear and calm bluewater estuary perfect for kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding.
Want to be alone (well almost)? Try Bilinga or Tugun beaches at the southern end of the coast – but swim only in patrolled areas.
And if you’ve brought your furred friend on holiday, join locals at one of the best and loveliest dog-friendly beaches on the coast at Palm Beach.
High-vis Bar Hellenika shines like a beacon from the Gold Coast highway and is bound to induce a sense of FOMO if you’re driving past, because everyone always seems to be having such a marvellous time. Above the restaurant of the same name, it looks like it’s been lifted from the cliffs of Santorini, open-sided, gleaming white and packed no matter the hour. There’s a range of classic cocktails, bottled beer and cider, and wine appreciators can dip into the into the 500-odd bottles on the restaurant’s list.
Burleigh Pavilion re-opened after a $9.1 million overhaul late last year, and boasts what is probably the best beach views on the coast. Join locals who rack their boards outside, brush the sand off their feet and sit at the umbrella shaded terrace with a cocktail or beer. If wine’s more your thing, there are about 50 on the list to complement the casual surf club-style menu.
The Gold Coast is not just all about the beach though, another relative Burleigh newbie, Rosellas taps into a completely different vein, taking inspiration from retro Australiana and native produce. The drinks list is strong on natural wines (including a rare appearance of a handful of pétillant naturel), craft beer, and contemporary cocktails, featuring native herbs like lemon myrtle, lillypilly and bush tomato. Bar snacks include a Vegemite, cheddar and wattleseed butter jaffle, a ‘bug sambo’ and ‘roo carpaccio.
The Scottish Prince too, further south at Palm Beach and named for a local shipwreck, breaks the ‘bright and beachy’ stereotype. Slide into a booth in the moodily lit, nautically inspired bar and order from a list of about 200 whiskies and a handful of whisky cocktails.
Broadbeach’s, Nineteen at The Star on the 19th floor of the Star Casino epitomises Gold Coast glitz, with plush blue velvet, statement lighting and floor to ceiling glass framing ocean views. Chef Kelvin Andrews was formerly at The Fish House, so knows his seafood, peppering the contemporary Australian menu with dishes like freshly shucked oysters with a Ruinart vinaigrette poured at the table, rock lobster bolognaise and grilled Patagonian toothfish with miso and toasted nori. Push out the boat and have your yellowfin tuna sashimi with smoked oyster topped with Beluga caviar, order the live lobster for your main and choose a bottle from the premium cellar collection. A 2004 Krug Clos du Mesnil perhaps?
You could do worse than staying in Burleigh if you want to be walking distance of some of the Coast’s favourite restaurants. The southern suburb has deftly tapped into the dining zeitgeist, delivering up exactly what locals and visitors want. Exhibit A: Queensland’s most highly awarded seafood restaurant, The Fish House, practically royalty in these parts. Overlooking a swathe of Burleigh beach all the way to the towers of Surfers, you should book as soon as your feet hit Gold Coast sand to ensure getting in. Premium fish is sourced from wherever it’s best, glistening and clear-eyed, put on display at the back of the restaurant. Service is efficient but warm, making it a locals go-to for date nights, impressing visitors, or just ‘what the hell, it’s Wednesday’ dinners.
Almost directly across the road, the much-loved Rick Shores’ popularity hasn’t waned either despite some flashy new neighbours moving into the ‘hood. The old Oscar’s site above it has become The Burleigh Pavilion with the left side facing the ocean transformed into The Tropic. It shares Rick Shores’ famed beach views, with the option to sit out on a large terrace. Inside, it’s smart and slightly tropical, with a cheeky touch of Gold Coast retro. The menu, under former ‘The Cottage’, Sydney chef Guillaume Zika requires some serious decision-making time – wood-fired calzone or a fig salad with camel curd, pistachio and basil oil? Ocean king prawns in an aerated dry vermouth and shellfish oil sauce or slow cooked lamb with zucchini salad, goat’s curd and pickled apricot? It’s a convivial and very comfortable spot and you’ll likely find yourself there much longer than you anticipated, with a full belly and glass of wine still contemplating that view.
Chef Alex Munoz Labart formerly of Monopole and Cirrus Dining in Sydney, also chose Burleigh when he moved north to open his own place. Restaurant Labart has a fresh European wine bar style fit-out with dusty green panelled walls, soft lighting and chairs and tables in a French-style banquette set up. The open kitchen provides a focus for fascinated food-lovers, and produces an elegant, deceptively simple produce-driven menu that practically guarantees you’ll over-order but leave with a smile and a future booking.
The QT at Surfers Paradise, within walking distance of Surfers beach and nightlife manages to pull off a perfectly pitched mix of kitsch and glamour. Both public spaces and rooms from about $189 per night are bright and fun, some with panoramic ocean views.
There are just 56 suites at The Darling at The Star Casino, within walking distance of the beach at Broadbeach. Suites go for between $1000 to $5000-plus per night. More modest digs can be found at The Star Grand, part of the same property with very comfortable freshly renovated rooms starting about $286 per night.