Southeast Queensland’s Gold Coast has a reputation as a gaudy family friendly holiday destination with theme parks, beaches and wild nightlife.
While it is indeed all of those things, for those that venture outside of the usual tourist hotspots, it has so much more to offer, from great food to endless outdoor activities.
Locals feel that just by living here, it’s like winning one of those giant American lottery jackpots – there’s a reason so many Aussies move to the Gold Coast, though it’s not for the typical tourist haunts!
Check out our list of things to do on the Gold Coast beyond the theme parks and Surfers. You may find that you’re the next person wanting to move!
How to Have an Epic Time on the Gold Coast (Without Theme Parks or Surfers Paradise)
Walking in the Hinterland
A beautiful drive up a steep hill will take you to Springbrook, where gorgeous walking tracks take into the heart of nature on the Gold Coast. Waterfalls and lookouts (don’t miss ‘Best of All Lookout’) are everywhere here, throughout World Heritage Listed rainforest.
You won’t find cafés and restaurants out here, so pack a lunch, some water and hit the trails. There are tracks for everyone, from short lookout walks to advanced hikes for the more seasoned veterans.
Lamington National Park is broken up into the Green Mountains and the Binna Burra sections. While a number of trails do see a steady stream of tourists, the Picnic Rock Walking Trail of the Green Mountains is a good way to enjoy a bit of the rainforest to yourself.
The trail branches off from the main Border Track and can be accessed easily by using the public car park located at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat. The hike out to Picnic Rock is roughly seven kilometres return, half of which will be along the Border Track.
Enjoy the nearby waterfalls and scan the area for birds like the Albert’s lyrebird, wompoo fruit dove, and regent bowerbird. After some lunch, walk down to get a better view of Elabana Falls and maybe even take a swim in the waterhole which is allowed. The detour to the falls is less than a kilometre and will only take you about 15 minutes.
You can find almost any cuisine you like on the Gold Coast, the range is quite astounding, and the quality excellent.
We recommend checking out local favourites Rich Shores, Labart and The Fish House at Burleigh, Omeros Brothers at Marina Mirage, Social and Kiyomi at Broadbeach and The Little Truffle in Mermaid Beach.
Something you probably won’t find anywhere else in the world though are the Gold Coast’s famous syringe donuts!! You’re served with an actual plastic syringe and can pump it full of extra sugary goodness!
Roasting and grinding their own beans, Blackboard Coffee is known for its delicious morning caffeine kick-starters, however they also offer up guilty pleasures in the form of injectable donuts.
Push aside the açaí bowls and smashed avo for donuts where you get to add the filling. Usually finding a syringe in your food would be a bit unwelcome, but when it’s filled with salted caramel, chocolate, or nutella, things are a little bit different!
For those that love a frosty local brew, the Gold Coast has you covered. It’s home to Burleigh Brewing, Lost Palms, Fortitude and award winning breweries, Balter and Black Hops.
Belgian style micro-brewery Madocke can also be found on the coast, and despite the small premises (a suburban garage!) you can find their beer locally in bottle shops and pubs, or you can buy it direct on-site.
These breweries are pumping out some highly regarded beers and your only problem will be deciding who’s driving! Hop on Brewery Tours could be the answer you’re looking for; they’ll pick you up, get you fed, take you to multiple breweries and drop you off.
Tweed Heads Bowls Club
For something truly local, ditch the tenpin to feel the grass beneath your feet as you join locals for free barefoot bowling – lawn bowls are played at Tweed Heads Bowls club every Sunday night.
Simply rock up between 3PM and 6PM to enjoy fun under the sun on the four outdoor greens. Unlike tenpin bowling, the object isn’t to knock down pins with your ball, rather to land it as close as possible to a smaller ball called a Jack.
A game that can be played by anyone aged 9 to 99, lawn bowls is played in over 40 countries. If you can’t catch free bowls on Sunday, you can book to play during the week and need no experience.
The club offers free coaching lessons to all new bowlers and you can play a game and rent equipment for around AUD $15. If the weather isn’t that great outdoors, check out their world-renowned international indoor bowling facility.
After a game, be sure to visit one of the club’s restaurants for a bite to eat and check out free live local musicians every week from Thursday to Sunday. There’s also often raffles and bingo going on.
Thankfully Melbourne doesn’t have the monopoly on coffee culture these days; it’s a big deal on the Gold Coast too, and there are exceptional cafes everywhere.
It wasn’t always the case, but these days fierce competition has made sure you’re never far from a quality cup of black gold. Cafes serving up sub-standard coffee don’t tend to last long here, so you can be sure your favourite drink is never far away.
A personal favorite, the decor of Skull & Bones Espresso may feature a number of glass human skulls and artworks, but the business is all about sustainability and nourishing life when it comes to the environment.
Biodegradable coffee cups and takeaway containers are used and their leftover used coffee grounds are donated to local gardens where they act as fertiliser and help attract worms. Ingredients used for their breakfast and lunch offerings are sourced locally which helps the community.
Be sure to try their Bulletproof coffee which is blended with coconut oil and organic unsalted butter. They are also known for their delicious bagels, something rarely found in Australian cafes.
57 Kilometres of Immaculate Beaches
It seems strange to choose to visit a crowded tourist beach like Surfers Paradise when the Gold Coast boasts almost 60 kilometres of world class beaches.
Because it’s spread over such a long area, it’s easy to find a quiet spot on a Gold Coast beach. And they’re all magnificent, with fine, clean sand and renowned surfing breaks.
From Coolangatta near the New South Wales border, to all the way up the length of the coast, it’s easy to find a plenty of space to yourself on a patrolled beach. Read this post we wrote on the beaches in the Gold Coast.
After a scenic hinterland drive and a hill climb, you’ll find yourself on Mount Tamborine. There’s no such thing as a bad view up here, and facing east you can see the entire coast all at once.
Soak up the village feel and take a walk down Long Road. Check out the restaurants, cafes, and famous Tamborine Fudge (the lemon is life-changing). Fortitude Brewery is here too, serving up great local craft brews.
While you’re up here, it’s an absolute must to check out the St Bernards Hotel. It’s a country pub that’s over 100 years old, with sweeping coastal views and is home to a couple of friendly (and massive) St Bernard dogs.
For food with stunning hinterland scenery get to The Polish Place. It’s perched on the western side of the mountain and serves excellent traditional food (the roast duck for two is pretty special).
If wine’s your passion, then Tamborine is the place to be, boasting heaps of quality wineries. There’s no need to drive either; tours are available that will pick you up from and drop you off to your accommodation.
The Broadwater is a large estuary protected from the open ocean by South Stradbroke Island. Because of its sheltered location, the water tends to be very calm making it a great spot for boating, house boating, jet skiing, fishing and swimming.
On the shores of the Broadwater lies the immaculately maintained Broadwater Parklands, which offers tonnes of great facilities. It has an enclosed Broadwater ‘pool’, playgrounds, walking and bike tracks, barbecues, shelters, a café, and it even shows free outdoor movies.
A lot of people don’t realise it, but the Gold Coast is synonymous with golf. There are tonnes of courses to try.
Sanctuary Cove, The Glades, Royal Pines and Palm Meadows are all top courses, but even the lesser knowns are well worth a round, including the Boomerang Farm, located in the Hinterland.
Hopefully we’ve busted the myth that the Gold Coast is all thrill rides and nightclubs! Once you get away from the usual tourist traps, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what it has to offer.
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