McLaren Vale is world famous for its wineries, but it’s also close to sweeping beaches where you can drive along the endless white sand, then park and stroll among enormous sand dunes, wetlands and forests in a wildlife-filled conservation area. Unmissable culinary experiences are never far away, either – from the elevated seafood dining of a revamped surf club to classic “Oztalian” pizza in the heart of wine country.
Here's our guide to hitting the road on a classic South Australian day trip.
Dal Mare Coffee Brew Bar
A corrugated iron shed on a country road in McLaren Vale, just 40 minutes’ drive from Adelaide, is the unlikely location for a seriously good boutique coffee roastery and cafe. Dal Mare sources the finest coffee beans from ethical suppliers and hand-roasts them on-site to create premium Arabica blends with harmonious flavour profiles. There’s a huge selection of single origin from Colombia, Ethiopia and Peru, plus the hyper-local “Vale” blend full of chocolate and caramel notes – just what you need early in the road trip.
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Grab a country breakfast of fresh bagels to keep you fuelled up. Fillings range from smoked salmon and cream cheese to a sweet blend of Nutella and banana. Or go all out with a pizza bagel – with Danish salami, pepperoni, barbeque sauce and three cheeses. The roastery cafe is only open on the weekends, which makes it the perfect stop to perk up your senses before venturing deeper into McLaren Vale and beyond.
Hit the road and head 15 minutes south to the pristine sand of Aldinga Beach. This vast, windswept beach feels utterly remote, but is only minutes from McLaren Vale wineries and less than an hour from Adelaide. It’s also unique in that you can drive onto the sand (just like beaches in New Zealand) – you’ll just need to pay an $8 ramp fee to the friendly volunteers at the beach ramp. Cruise down the firm-packed sand and watch the waves roll in, then park up and go for a swim. Or snorkel or scuba dive off the limestone reef that fringes Aldinga Beach, home to dazzling marine life including incredible, colour-changing cuttlefish.
If your beach excursion has worked up an appetite, you’re in the right place. Located inside the refurbished Aldinga Bay Surf Lifesaving Club at the end of Norman Road, Silver Sands Beach Club was launched in 2022 by Mark Kamleh and Nick Stock. It has nautically themed, modern decor, and expansive views across the beach and distant rocky headlands. The Mediterranean-inspired, seafood-centric menu is flush with fresh fish, squid, mussels and prawns. The beer-battered Coorong is always a winner, and the grilled swordfish with kohlrabi dauphinoise (think potato bake) and roast tomato sugo pretty much qualifies as fine dining. But it remains a casual beach club at heart, which means you can order pub classics like a chicken schnitzel, cheeseburger (with beef patties from a local butcher in McLaren Vale) or pizza, and wash it down with a craft beer or a glass of wine from a locally curated wine list.
Situated just behind Aldinga Beach, the 340-hectare Aldinga Conservation Park is protected area with an ephemeral freshwater wetland, large sand dunes and fragile coastal vegetation. A myriad of walking tracks makes exploring the park easy, and you’re guaranteed to spot wildlife, including echidnas, lizards and birds, plus rare plants, especially around the saltmarsh and lagoons. It’s an area hugely significant to the Indigenous Kaurna people, and is part of the Tjilbruke Dreaming Trail.
The coral lichen circuit takes under an hour, starting from Dover Street carpark and leading along sand tracks into the coastal shrubland to a viewing platform overlooking a colony of rare lacy coral lichen. This remnant patch of sclerophyll forest is a lasting link to the coastal vegetation that would have stretched all along the coast prior to European settlement. The wetlands see migratory birds arrive from as far away as Japan, and is nationally listed as a wetland of high ecological importance.
It’s only 20 minutes back inland from the coast to Pizzateca in McLaren Vale, where you can fill up on some of SA’s finest pizza and authentic southern Italian antipasto before setting course back to the city. The Mitolo family emigrated from Italy’s Abruzzo region, launching this buzzing eatery in 2016, and dubbing their pizza style “Oztalian.” Whatever you call it, the pizzas are amazing, with the dough shaped by hand the traditional way, and cooked in a wood oven (imported from Naples), all within a white-washed, wooden cottage among the gum trees.
Pizzas here are designed to be shared, eaten the Italian way with a knife and fork. One of the secrets is in the sugo (sauce), made according to a family recipe, using South Australian Roma tomatoes. Order a classic margherita or a spicy diablo, with salami, dried chilli flakes and house-made chilli honey. Fungi fans will love the earthy flavours of the bianco, featuring portobello mushrooms, garlic, basil, parmigiana, cracked black pepper and truffle oil. The salsiccia is packed with homemade pork, chilli and fennel seed sausage, and there’s a tasty vegan pizza option as well.
Wash it down with a glass of local beer or cider, or choose from a huge McLaren Vale wine list, with a strong emphasis on Italian varieties, including drops from the Mitolos’ Oztalia label. Whoever’s driving can enjoy a lyrebird spritz or Crodino, a non-alcoholic Italian bitters.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with the new Ford Everest, the perfect partner for exploring scenic destinations out of the city.