Last updated 9 August 2023
The Gold Coast is not all about surf, sand, and sunshine although they’re three very good reasons to visit Australia’s sixth-largest city. I’ve written about my love for the Gold Coast hinterland, but mid-way through last year over 36 hours, I discovered a few hidden gems on the Goldie – a couple friends told me I must visit, others I’m now telling them they must visit. I indulged my taste buds, with casual dining overlooking the ocean, through to fine dining in an award-winning two Chef’s Hat restaurant. Apart from the superb cuisine, I packed in culture, nature, and viewed a variety of accommodation choices including a sneak peek through the Gold Coast’s newest luxury hotel (just before it opened.) I also discovered a fun way to view all these places without the hassle of driving yourself, but I’ll get to that shortly.
As I welcome the new year, it’s about time I share the places on the Gold Coast I highly recommend you add to your list for your next visit.
(Please note this post contains some affiliate links – should you choose to book via them it helps me continue with what I love doing – sharing stories about my experiences.)
As the second largest city in Queensland behind the state’s capital (Brisbane) many are familiar with the Gold Coast either as a holiday destination – memories of family holidays filled with visits to theme parks and endless hours of beach time. Or as the location for Australia’s TV Week Logies Awards and most recently, where they’re filming Season 10 of the Australian Bachelor series.
Living in Brisbane, I’m very spoilt as the Gold Coast is an easy 60-minute drive down Highway M1 from my home. Interstate visitors can either drive into Queensland or fly into Coolangatta Airport (which welcomes domestic and international flights.)
Gold Coast Climate
The Gold Coast is well-known for year-round sunshine and warm weather. Summer (December to February) has a daily average temperature range of 21°C – 29°C (70-83F). January to March the days are warm, occasionally a tropical storm completing the day brings a cooler respite to the evening temps. Winter has a daily average temperature range between 12°C – 21°C (54-70°F). The hinterland rainforests offer a retreat from the heat, often four degrees cooler in the summer. Places like O’Reilly’s can be crisp in the winter with days averaging around 16°C (61F).
Away from the Beach
It took me a year or two before I took myself to Brisbane’s GOMA (Gallery of Modern Art). The same can be said for the Gold Coast’s HOTA (Home of the Arts.) The $60.5 million HOTA Gallery, opened to the public in May 2021. But despite what many think, that brightly coloured building, based on a three-dimensional geometric pattern called a Voronoi – a cellular-looking web laid over the entire HOTA site – does not represent all of HOTA.
HOTA is a cultural precinct encompassing 17 hectares of parkland where you can experience live music, opera, comedy shows, and theatre throughout the year. There’s plenty of space for picnics and watching outdoor events on the stage in the amphitheater. It’s also an easy 15-minute walk from the heart of Surfers Paradise (or you can take the ferry from Surfer’s).
HOTA is a vertical gallery. You can start on the ground and work your way up to the sixth level or vice versa. The panoramic views of the HOTA precinct and the Gold Coast are impressive from level six. The gallery has 2,000 square meters of exhibition space, making HOTA Australia’s largest public regional gallery. Initially, the gallery owned around 2000 pieces of artwork, but over the years this has increased to almost 5000, through generous benefactors, philanthropists, and local collectors. You can view where they store the collections that aren’t on display, through a giant glass window on the Juliet Balcony. Several curated racks are pulled out for viewing
This large collection, valued at around $32 million, allows HOTA’s team of curators to come up with continuously evolving exhibits, as well as host of smaller and temporary exhibitions from Australia and around the world.
You choose how long you wander the galleries (entry is free.) I was drawn to indigenous art and photography. Tracey Cooper-Lavery, Director, of Gallery and Visual Arts at HOTA was kind enough to show us around the gallery and when we came to William Robinson’s “The Rainforest”  – we all took a close look, as this painting influenced the building colours.
A visit to HOTA would not be complete without a stop at the rooftop Exhibitionist Bar, with spectacular 360-degree views of the Gold Coast skyline, Nerang River, and hinterland. If it’s late afternoon, I highly recommend staying for a cocktail and watching the Surfers Paradise high-rises shimmer and sparkle from the sunset.
After cocktails, we were lucky to dine at the two-hatted Palette Restaurant. The space is stylish, contemporary, and intimate, with glossy timber floors and lighting that reflects the Voronoi shape. Restaurant Manager Letizia Cockburn seats our small group on one side near a window overlooking the precinct.
“You can expect all the great aspects of fine dining, fresh local high-quality produce with amazing provenance, knowledgeable staff but without any stuffy bow ties or waistcoats,” Dayan Hartill-Law Palette’s Executive Chef is quoted on their website. Dayan is all about sourcing ingredients locally, and seeking out the region’s best producers.
We suggest to Letizia after eating too much during the day we could not follow up with a heavy dinner at the early(ish) hour of 5.30 pm. So, Letizia walks us through the tasting menu. It sounds perfect.
We start with Burleigh Baker Charcoal sourdough. I pass on the Hervey Bay Cuttlefish, but the seafood lover in our group indulged and loved it. We all oohed and ahhed over the Borrowdale Pork Belly melting in our mouths, the side a piece of art I thought looked too pretty to eat!
We indulged in a couple of vegetarian dishes. Palette offers an extensive vegetarian menu, including starters with whimsical names, Vegan Clouds, Beetroot tartlets, and Oxheart tomato tartare as well. And Dayan, I’ll have to return to try your native tamarind, lemon myrtle, and grilled oyster mushroom glazed in mushroom miso purslane. Mmmmm that sounds good!
Kerry knew of Palette’s signature dessert and with a little gentle persuasion, we were treated to their iconic Voronoi Little Cocoa Chocolate with flavours of Jaffa. Its arrival at our table was pure theatre and without any battery left on my phone, I can only describe it. The plates arrive with plumes of smoke wafting from the colourful tower sitting in the centre. I’d say Executive Chef Dayan Harthill-Law, drew on his time spent in the kitchen of Heston Blumenthal, the smoking plate (a trick with dry ice). I’ve seen a few of Heston’s dishes on Masterchef to recognise this is similar. It was almost a shame to crack through the white chocolate exterior which perfectly replicated the Voronoi pattern of the HOTA building (in miniature.) But crack we must as we had to discover what was inside!
Miso ice cream, layered toffee, and banoffee flavours. Southport chocolatier Alicia Chapman of Little Cocoa collaborated with Dayan to produce the delicious chocolate. Please request this dessert experience to complete your visit to HOTA.
Whale Watching with Sea World Cruises
During whale watching season (running from June to mid-October) an estimated 35,000 whales travel up the East Coast of Australia on their way north to give birth in the warmer waters of Hervey Bay. Later in the season (September to mid-October) they return south with their newborn calves.
The Gold Coast is the perfect location for whale watching, with plenty of boats easily accessing – within 20 minutes of leaving the marina – the underwater corridor known as the ‘Humpback Highway’. It was an early rise for this not-a-morning gal – a 5.40 am meet in the Dorsett lobby. SeaWorld offers a ‘Wake up with the Whales’ experience – available on the weekends with additional departures during peak periods.
The two-hour whale-watching cruise with Sea World Cruises – departs at 6.30 am to greet the sunrise over the water. We arrive at the marina and the smell of a barbecue cooking greets us. Even though we didn’t think we could fit anything in after our incredible meal at Palette the night before, we line up for hamburgers.
Within 15 minutes of leaving the marina, the sun rises as a golden yellow orb across the calm ocean. A magnificent sight to behold – especially for this gal who rarely gets out of bed to see many sunrises!
These creatures roam in a vast ocean, so there are no guarantees you will see whales, but Sea World Cruises have a 100% whale sighting guarantee. If you don’t come across any whales on your two-hour journey, you’re guarantee entitles you to re-book at another time. Fortunately, we came across a mother and her calf, and followed them around for a while watching them blow water as they surfaced – a whale burp – our Captain said!
Watching a fun-loving pod of dolphins ride the boat’s swell on the way back was another highlight.
Tip for winter cruises: Because our tour started early morning in June (winter), I suggest you take something warm to wear. Bring sunglasses. And you don’t have to move around the boat to get the best view as the captain maneuvers the vessel, for everyone to observe these magnificent creatures swimming freely.
Sea World Cruises Terminal
130 Seaworld Drive
Main Beach, Queensland 4217
Jet Boating at Surfer’s Paradise
If you want to take being on the water up an adrenaline notch or two try Gold Coast Paradise Jet Boating. Before heading out on the water, a brief safety instruction is given where you must remove all ‘loose’ belongings like caps, and mobile phones, closely followed by instructions on how to don your life jacket.
The boat traverses the Broadwater and once out in the open waters of the Moreton Bay Marine Park, the throttle is increased! As the boat does a 360 turn, we spin and become airborne. It’s a 55-minute ride,but not every minute is at a high-octane pace. The boat slows, cruising past some Sea World attractions.
Gold Coast Paradise Jet Boating also offers a shorter 30-minute ride – the Jet Blast Ride (comes with plenty of salt water splashes.)
Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary
As a kid, mum and dad would take the family to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. I’ve a vivid memory of holding my plate of bird food to the rainbow lorikeets and being inundated with these brightly coloured birds. And during school holidays spent at the beach, I recall a few visits on our way home to Brisbane via the sanctuary, to drop off injured birds we’d found at the Wildlife Hospital.
Last year, 2022 marked 75 years since Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary opened to the public (it was originally called the Currumbin Bird Sanctuary). The daily Lorikeet feeding remains, as does the miniature train that takes you around the park. And they have continued their passion for wildlife conservation, with the Wildlife Hospital. But the Rock Shop has gone, as have the mini-cars my brothers and I used to hurtle around and bump into each other. There are new attractions like Lost Valley, with five acres of rainforest replicating the ancient Gondwana continent. The Lost Valley is home to unique wildlife like lemurs, red pandas, cotton-top tamarins, free-flying birds, and reptiles. The Extinction Trail is an education about the dinosaur, and the Splash Zone is for kids up to the age of 12 to cool off under a range of waterfalls and water jets.
For the second year in a row, Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary has won the title of Queensland’s Best Major Tourism attraction, at the annual Queensland Tourism Industry Council awards. So, if you have a young family, or if you like seeing wildlife in a sanctuary setting, I recommend a visit to the Gold Coast should include a trip to Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary
Where to eat
After checking into our overnight accommodation at the Dorsett Gold Coast we were ushered upstairs for morning tea in the Executive lounge on the 19th floor. Much of the morning tea was supplied by BamBam bakehouse a popular Mermaid Beach bakehouse. They create mouth-watering pastries baked in the traditional French artisan style. Everything is handmade from scratch, and I can reassure you these pastry treats and croissants are as tasty as they look in the pics!
According to their website Bam Bam Bakehouse came to life back in 2015 and since then its talented team of bakers, pâtissiers and chefs have turned the Mermaid Beach bakehouse into a go-to pastry destination and cafe. Just take a look at the salted caramel éclair, it would not look out of place in a Parisian café!
BamBam Bakehouse 2519 Gold Coast Highway Mermaid Beach
Siblings at Kirra
Nothing beats strolling from the beach, shaking the sand from your feet and entering a beachside restaurant. That’s exactly what we did, leaving Kirra Beach drawn by the sound of conversations and laughter from patrons inside the popular Siblings Restaurant. We enter knowing we have a booking (Phew – that’s a relief as there’s hardly a spare table in sight!)
The old Kirra Pavilion has been renovated. Inside the 200-seater restaurant is a combination of soft hues of lime green, peach and orange juxta positioned against natural Australian timber and rattan. The ocean-side tables have uninterrupted beach views. Siblings are all about coastal chic and casual dining without compromising on the gourmet factor.
The menu draws on local producers including fishers whose catch of the day appears regularly on the menu. Choose from small plates like chargrilled kings prawns, seared scallops, and Baja fish tacos, or freshly shucked oysters and butternut pumpkin risotto. Don’t like seafood, well there’s Black Angus sirloin for meat lovers.
Leave room for dessert: my faves are the cheesecake panna cotta (with creaming soda jelly) or the Siblings Sundae with cookie vanilla bean ice cream.
An alternative to driving yourself is to book a Kiff & Culture Tour
Young entrepreneurial South-African- born Australian, Drew Campbell created Kiff & Culture Tours. Kiff translates to “cool” in South Africa. Kiff & Culture offers a variety of discovery tours – essentially guided day tours – around Tamborine Mountain, Tweed and Byron Bay regions, and Brisbane. Kiff & Culture sources partners from local and ethical supply chains. They’re essentially a clever combination of local culture mixed with some of these regions’ best drink and dining experiences.
Today, Drew is joined by an old schoolmate (Ipswich Grammar lads) and Gold Coast local Alex Baker, a digital content whizz and passionate surfer and our driver (he’s also Kiff & Culture’s Managing Director). They pick us up at the Dorsett hotel and on the way to lunch, they discuss their business ethos.
I’ve turned down invites to this popular Gold Coast foodie icon Rick Shores, for a couple of years – it just hasn’t been the right timing. Jumping onto Kiff & Cultures Eat and drink Gold Coast experience meant it was time to discover why everyone keeps coming back to one of the Goldie’s most popular restaurants.
You could not be any closer to Burleigh Beach, with front tables overlooking one of the most popular Gold Coast surf breaks. We were seated at a large table adjacent to the sandy beach. Meters from where swimmers and surfers entered and exited the surf. We peruse the menu to select a cocktail (Castaway, Ruby Negroni and Rick’s Martini). Then the phones came out. The stunning beach backdrop is a golden insta-worthy moment.
Over the next hour and a half, we enjoy a five-course Asian-Australian seafood banquet lunch – with lots of laughter and storytelling. Drew says what’s important in his business is connecting his guests with exceptional local experiences.
By injecting their unique sense of fun and a laid-back style, he hopes Kiff & Culture tours create many memorable moments for their guests.
Rick Shores’ signature dish arrives – Moreton Bay Bug Rolls. They were consumed quickly. But if you don’t eat seafood, (like me) they provide delicious alternatives, including a red curry Szechuan roasted duck breast (that was to die for!)
In between courses, a palette cleanser arrives – blueberry and Szechuan pepper! Who would think to combine those two?! But it worked a treat! The palette cleansed, was ready for the next course!
Reluctantly leaving Burleigh, we climb back into the air-conditioned van for the next stop up the road to Lemana Lane, in Miami and home to Granddad Jack’s Gold Coast Distillery and Gin Tasting.
Granddad Jack’s Craft Distillery claims to be the first craft Gin, Vodka Whiskey, and Liqueur distillery on the Gold Coast. A transformation has taken place in what was once an industrial area of Miami – think mechanic’s workshops and warehouses. Entering Grandad Jack’s tasting room feels like I’ve wandered into a saloon in New Orleans.
This family-owned and operated business, has re-created old family recipes in memory of their legendary Grandad Jack, in comfortable surroundings where guests can sample and hear a few family stories.
Grandad Jack, aka David Goulding, who was born in 1919 in a small town on New Zealand’s south island, has an interesting history. It’s a long (ish) read, but I highly recommend you check it out.
From the website: Granddad Jack passed away at the ripe old age of 93 and, up until then, had enjoyed a whiskey neat every day. We’re sure he still does up there.
Everything we do is guided by his memory and our spirits are named and inspired by his life and stories. Granddad Jack’s spirit indeed lives on through the generations and we’re excited to bring you along for the journey.
Walk to the back of the tasting room and you’ll see the stills. On the weekend they run tours explaining the production process. They also offer an experience where you can make your own bottle of gin with their Head Distiller.
We enjoyed a Gin and Tonic on arrival, followed by a tasting of three gin and tonic concoctions, beautifully served on a tasting paddle.
Since opening in 2018 Grandad Jack has been awarded several national and international awards and were recognised in 2022 by Tourism and Events Queensland as a “Best of Queensland Destination.” (They also have a tasting room in Brisbane at Albion.)
Craft Brewery, Precinct
Even though we feel like we could not fit in anymore, the last stop is a short stroll around the corner into Christine Street, to a popular Craft Brewery, Precinct.
Another old workspace has been transformed into a hip open communal area with polished concrete floors and long tables, perfect for those who like catching up over a locally brewed beer, or a hazy ale or sours (for non-beer-drinkers like me.)
There is a full working brewery onsite and a restaurant offering share plates, gourmet pizzas and hearty meals. unfortunately, our tummies could not fit another bite of food in!
Where to stay
Dorsett Gold Coast
My overnight accommodation is at the Dorset Hotel Gold Coast
Located on Broadbeach Island adjoining The Star Gold Coast and the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre, The Dorsett Gold Coast opened on Boxing Day 2021.
The 4.5-star hotel with 313 rooms over 13 floors delivers five-star style luxury at a four-star (reasonable) price. It’s only 700 meters from Kurrawa Beach and 30 minutes from the Gold Coast Airport.
My room has hinterland views. The dusty pink and rose gold-toned hues and a palm frond carpet are elegantly stylish. The king bed was comfortable. There is a flat-screen TV for entertainment. Elemis toiletries in the ensuite bathroom with a rose shower. Power points in easy-to-access places and plenty of USB ports. A simple scan of a QR code offers room service from the Star’s nine restaurants. Uber eats delivers to the room.
Executive Panoramic King Balcony Rooms have access to the Executive Lounge on Level 19 (complimentary canapes, and drinks, and your choice of bespoke buffet breakfast, with both hot and continental options to choose from.)
The Azure spa Spa & Fitness offers massages, hot stone treatments, facials, and skin-smoothing scrubs.
The Isoletto Pool Club on level six features a stunning pool with an impressive 12-metre-long viewing wall overlooking Broadbeach. The pool looked so inviting I had to try it. The water was warm enough to swim in July (the water was slightly heated). There are plenty of cabana sun lounges around the pool deck as well as ‘wet lounges’ built into the pool. You can order a cocktail or if you’re feeling hungry, snacks at the Isoletto Pool Club Bar.
For those who like a gym workout, the Dorsett Gold Coast has a state-of-the-art fitness centre, featuring an extensive collection of technogym equipment.
Grab a coffee and freshly-baked croissant at the Jin Café & Bar on the ground floor in the lobby area.
The Dorsett Gold Coast offers direct connectivity to The Star Gold Coast, which is home to an active food & beverage promenade, providing an array of drinking and dining options, including Nineteen at The Star, Kiyomi and Cucina Vivo.
My stay was too over too quickly! As travel writers we usually fit many experiences in our day and lingering longer in our accommodation, unfortunately, is often not one of them. Although I was in bed at a reasonable time on Friday night, the early start the next morning for the Sea World Cruise meant no lingering in my comfortable king bed (I do love a sleep in.) As mentioned above, I did fit in a quick swim in their gorgeous pool and enjoyed a chai latte from the Jin Cafe & Bar (while admiring all the old Gold Coast photos on the wall.)
The location is central to everything on the Gold Coast and access is easy once you recognise where the turn is off the Main road. The staff are very efficient and friendly, there is a car park below for guests. And access to the Executive Lounge allowed us to indulge in a nightcap before bed and a scrummy breakfast after the whale watching cruise. I definitely will return to stay for longer and take the time to relax and enjoy more of the amenities. (In other words, one night was NOT enough!)
Dorsett Gold Coast 1 Casino DriveBroadbeach Queensland 4218
Tessa’s on the Beach Boutique Hotel
Palm Springs is a two-hour drive east of Hollywood and in the 1920s this little beach enclave became the place for celebrities to hang out. Tessa’s on the Beach feels like it’s been removed from the old Palm Springs and transplanted at the southern end of the Gold Coast. The 15-room beachside motel has been lovingly renovated and each room takes on a different theme. The front rooms have beachside views from your bed. You can hire SUP or bikes from reception the latter can be ridden on the beachside path right outside the front gate. There is a magnesium swimming pool should the ocean not appeal. At just two kilometres from the Gold Coast Airport and restaurants a mere 5-minute drive away – Tessa’s on the Beach is beachside accommodation with retro swag.
Book Tessa’s via Booking.com (affiliate link)
281 Golden Four DriveBilinga 4225
The Langham Gold Coast – beachfront luxury
Opening in June 2022, this luxury hotel situated between Surfers Paradise and Broadbeach has 339 rooms and suites – including 170 serviced apartments. There are uninterrupted ocean views from all angles, Surfers Paradise beach is a short stroll across the sand dunes.
For years I’ve strolled along the beach past the trio of eye-catching soaring towers lining the shores of Surfers Paradise, wondering what they were and when they would open. After a few ownership changes, the Hong Kong-based hotel group opened the Langham Gold Coast in June 2022 within the tallest (the centre) of the Jewel towers, determined to offer the level of service and attention to detail that is synonymous with the Langham brand.
We were given a sneak peek of the luxury hotel, with Nick Clark the day before its opening in June. Entering the lobby the eye is drawn to the stunning display of orchids of every colour. Nick introduces us to the Hotel’s General Manager, John O’Shea, who has been with the Langham for 10 years and amazingly looks very calm pre-opening! Following Nick, we view the sprawling pools, both indoor and outdoor. The 20-metre-long outdoor lagoon pool has white sand and a swim up bar and the indoor pool (also 20 metres) has commanding ocean views on the second floor.
The fitness studio also overlooks the ocean, and the Chuan Spa, a holistic wellness spa offering bespoke Traditional Chinese Medicinal treatments practices, (I’m curious about what this entails!)
Nick shows us a room on the 16th floor. It oozes coastal chic: the textured linen-look wallpaper, light floors and pale rose gold timber wall paneling feel very inviting. As did the deep oval-shaped bathtub with freestanding tapware, with a small marble table to hold a glass of bubbles. (A separate rain shower with a hand-held nozzle adjacent.)
The hotel has seven restaurants and bars, ranging from casual eats to fine dining.
If you’re after the iconic Langham Afternoon Tea, head to Palm Court near the Lobby Lounge. We walk through the T’ang Court restaurant and I can only imagine what it will be like to sit at one of these tables and enjoy fine dining. Nick says the dining experience here will mirror the experience at the three Michelin-starred restaurant with the same name at The Langham Hong Kong.
Book a room at the Langham Hotel (Affiliate link)
We managed to squeeze in a fair amount over 36 hours. Sharing some of the Gold Coast’s bespoke businesses and cultural experiences adds to the allure of the Gold Coast beyond the long stretches of white sandy beaches and many surf breaks (including patrolled beaches) that we’re all familiar with.
The writer was hosted by Tourism and Events Queensland for many of the mentioned experiences. All opinions expressed are her own.