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Broadbeach, Burleigh and Byron might grab the headlines, but ask a South East Queenslander where they’re taking their next beach break and they’ll add another location to the list: the Sunshine Coast.
Over the past couple of decades, the loose-knit collection of towns from Caloundra in the south to Noosa in the north has continued to coalesce and urbanise into a single destination. In 2020, it’s full of first-class restaurants, bars, cafes, boutiques and attractions.
What hasn’t changed are the beautiful wide beaches and luscious rainforests of its national parks. And even during holiday periods, the numerous high streets and shopping districts remain (relatively) sedate.
Here’s our guide to the Sunshine Coast – what to eat, drink and do, and where to stay.
Sum Yung Guys
Noosa’s happy habit of producing quality tourist-town restaurants extends south of the heads to Sunshine Beach, where a line of eateries on Duke Street does a buzzing trade during holiday season.
The hardest to get into is Sum Yung Guys, a fast-paced Asian-inspired restaurant from former Masterchef runner-up Matt Sinclair and friends Dylan Campbell, Jeremiah Jones and Michael Rickard. The kitchen sources its food as locally as possible – meaning what’s on the menu changes frequently – but expect local spins on classic pan-Asian dishes such as pork belly with nam jim jaew (Thai chilli dipping sauce), fried garlic and Thai basil; king-prawn toast with Korean gochu mayo and sesame; and hiramasa kingfish with green scud chilli, laksa oil and coconut.
For drinks, there’s an imaginative list of fragrant cocktails based in tequila, gin and rum, which helps offset the spice of the eats.
Sum Yung Guys, though, is mostly a mood, its brightly lit dining room somewhere to lean into holiday mode on your first night away or celebrate before heading home.
Somehow, this schmick Italian restaurant remains a Noosa secret – despite its digs in an airy pavilion with large bi-fold doors; its beautiful, tree-lined location on a canal; and the smooth, attentive service.
It’s the holiday-maker’s loss, because chef-patron Andrea Ravezzani cooks some of the best Italian on the coast. There’s little in the way of gastronomic complexity here – just a focus on house-made ingredients and as much local produce as possible. You might try spaghetti tossed with Tropical North Queensland lobster; tortelli pasta stuffed with Fraser Isle spanner crab; or lamb loin and rib served with a broad-bean puree, potato ribbon and kale.
The food is accompanied by an enormous wine list that ranges across regions and decades, making Noosa Waterfront a cracking occasion restaurant.
Ben Bertei of Same Same and Tom Swapp of Kid Curry in Brisbane, Mark Dobbie from London’s Som Saa – over its 23 years of existence, Spirit House has become known just as much as an incubator of top cooking talent as a terrific Thai restaurant.
But it really is terrific. Walking into Spirit House on the outskirts of sleepy Yandina is like walking into a rainforest retreat, the restaurant arranged around a tranquil lagoon. The service has a light touch in keeping with the zen atmosphere, setting it apart from the bustle of your typical tourist-town eatery.
Chef Aaron Tucker’s menu includes a Wagyu brisket massaman curry; Mooloolaba leader prawns served with tom yum spices, prawn butter and fresh coconut; and a Thai-style congee with shiitake mushrooms braised in master stock, local bamboo, charred cucumber and ginger vinegar. There’s also a celebrated on-site cooking school, if you want to learn how to recreate the magic once you’re back home.
Pro tip: opt for a lunchtime reservation, when you can best enjoy the bucolic surrounds. Otherwise, be prepared to book well in advance.
You’ll find this freewheeling Cali-Mex-inspired bar and eatery on Arcadia Street, one of Noosa’s main hubs away from beach.
Paradise Arcade does some of the best casual Mexican food on the coast – think beef-brisket tacos, grilled-fish burrito bowls and vegetarian Mexican croquettes – but you’re really here for the bar, which stocks 130 tequilas and mezcals, a lengthy Mexican beer list, and a small wine list that goes big on drops from Spain, Chile and Argentina. The spirits are put to good use on a cocktail menu that includes three different Margaritas, with a fourth on tap.
The fit-out is colourful – breezy during the day and neon-lit at night. It’s a good spot to settle in for a long session.
Land & Sea
Land & Sea was an immediate hit when it opened in early 2018.
It’s easy to see why: Tim Crabtree’s smartly designed brewpub is a pleasant place to while away the summer, its open-air seats catching the afternoon breeze before the bar turns into a dimly lit bolthole at night.
The venue’s relative isolation on a Noosaville industrial estate makes it something of a boozy hideaway for Noosa locals. They come for a terrific list of beers, which includes a pale ale, a Kolsch, a fruit-driven IPA, and a zero-carb, mid-strength beer called The Socializer. The brewery’s star beer, though, is a Japanese rice lager that won gold at the 2019 Independent Beer Awards (Land & Sea also won silvers for the kolsch and the Socializer, and bronze for its pale ale).
If hops aren’t your thing, Land & Sea shares its space with Fortune, a distillery Crabtree launched in 2019. It produces vodka, gin and white malt, selling direct to the public and supplying restaurants and bars all along the coast. Fortune offers tours (currently on Saturday mornings only due to Covid), tasting paddles and a short cocktail list.
The twin venues share a nice side focus on sustainability, with rooftop solar providing much of the power and an irrigation system fed by an eye-catching water tank perched out front.
Arguably South East Queensland’s go-to attraction, Australia Zoo backs up its blockbuster reputation with a phenomenal visitor experience.
The zoo boasts more than 1200 animals over a sprawling 700 acres, with numerous shows and exhibits to check out. What to see? There’s the Tiger Temple, which is Australia’s only tiger enclosure with the opportunity to view the big cats underwater; the park’s open-range Africa exhibit, where safari shuttles take you right through the middle of roaming herds of giraffe, rhinos and zebras; and the iconic 5500-capacity Crocoseum, where the Australian Zoo team uses a clear-water pond to demonstrate how crocodiles behave in the wild.
It’s big budget (and big crowd) stuff, but like its animated founder Steve Irwin – whose presence continues to be felt in the park – Australia Zoo never neglects its central mission of conservation. You’ll leave the place similarly energised.
Visit the Blackall Range and Glass House Mountains
It would be a mistake to confine your Sunshine Coast trip to the beaches. If you head west you’ll find some dramatic mountain escapes, including the Glass House Mountains and the Blackall Range.
The Glass House Mountains get all the glory – and it’s easy to see why. These monolithic volcanic plugs tower over the surrounding state forests like unearthly giants, an eerie presence on an otherwise flat coastal plain. Spend the day discovering the area’s numerous walking tracks. The most dramatic is a climb up the almighty Mount Tibrogargan – it’s hard work but the reward at the 364-metre summit is spectacular views up and down the coast.
Further north, the Blackall Range is a popular retreat for Brisbane and Sunshine Coast locals. It’s well worth a drive up the range from historic Landsborough to picturesque Maleny with its wide, ascending high street. From there, a dramatic range-top road takes you further north to the more touristy Montville and, finally, sleepy Mapleton.
In Maleny, drop into Shotgun Espresso for slap-up breakfasts, Maple 3 Cafe for some of the best pies in South East Queensland, and Brouhaha for exceptional craft beers. In Montville, check out Little May for terrific espresso.
Surf or swim at a huge variety of beaches
This, ultimately, is why you’re here. And it helps that up and down the coast, there’s a beach for everyone.
For surfers, perhaps the best stretch is from Mooloolaba through to Mudjimba, seven or eight kilometres up the coast as the crow flies. Point Cartwright in Mooloolaba is the pick for serious riders, but there are more sedate, longboard-friendly waves towards Alexandra Headland. Mudjimba is all about Old Woman Island, about 700 metres offshore. Getting out there is a mission, but it’s worth it when conditions are right.
Noosa can be inconsistent for surfing, but when the right swell arrives you’ll be gliding along in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. The town’s real virtue, though, is its variety of beaches for swimmers, from the iconic Noosa Main Beach to the tiny, exquisite Little Cove. Just be careful if you’re tempted to go beyond the heads to Sunshine Beach – an offshore trough and a gnarly rip can catch out the newbies.
Book a tour with Epic Ocean Adventures
Not many visitors get north of Noosa to Great Sandy National Park, but this undiscovered treasure is well worth a 45-minute zoom up the beach. Once there, you’ll feel a world away from the buzz of Hastings Street.
Tyron van Santen and Sean Permezel’s Epic Ocean Adventures offers a bunch of different tours to the park, including surf lessons, bottlenose-dolphin kayak tours, and stand-up paddleboard tours around Honeymoon Bay. Along the way, the guides will explain the ecology of this dramatic and isolated spot.
There are two styles of tour available: Rainbow Beach tours, which are half-day trips, and Noosa tours that last the whole day. Opt for latter, if you can – they take you through Noosa North Shore and along the spectacular 51-kilometre stretch of Teewah Beach all the way to Double Island Point.
Spicers Clovelly Estate
Try to tie in a couple of nights at this retreat in the cool-climate hinterlands as a mountain alternative to your beachside getaway.
Set among rolling hills just outside of Montville, Spicers Clovelly Estate is a 16-suite lodge with an adjacent three-bedroom cottage. The entire property is decked out in a French-inspired design with crisp white walls, rich fabrics and marble-floored bathrooms.
The hotel gets you in the hinterland within striking distance of mountain towns such as Maleny, Montville and Mapleton, where there are plenty of specialty shops, markets and cafes. But you should also make time for a day in: the estate boasts its own spa and a terrific fine diner, The Long Apron, along with 22 acres of grounds and numerous walking trails to explore. Limited guest numbers mean nothing’s ever too much trouble for the staff, either.
It’s not cheap, but it’s worth it.
Luxury Rainforest Retreat Noosa
Wedged between Noosa National Park and Roses Cove, Luxury Rainforest Retreat sets you down in a sleepy Noosa nook you’d never discover if you didn’t know where to look.
Accommodating up to eight people across three floors, this beautiful modern edifice of concrete, pine-timber floors, VJ-board walls and great sheets of glass lets the rainforest in on all sides. It has the feel of a secluded bush retreat – rather than a holiday house a mere 15 minutes’ walk from Hastings Street.
In the other direction is the national park, which has no shortage of walking tracks to explore. Your local swimming spot is Little Cove, a beach so tiny and secluded it might as well be private.
This is the pick if you’re travelling in a group.
Hale Douglas Tiny House
Perched in a private back garden in Sunshine Beach, this fun-size residence is one of the most distinctive stays on the coast.
Carefully decked out with a Hawaiian surf theme, Hale Douglas Tiny House is all weatherboard exteriors, exposed beams, louvred windows and a cosy loft sleeping space. You’re not doing it rough, either; the house includes a well-equipped kitchen and bathroom, and a protected deck with a hammock.
Looking for an unfussy getaway with your favourite plus one? This is it.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Tourism Australia. Whether you’re seeking a quick getaway, a lazy holiday or an epic trek, Australia is a land of endless adventures. There’s never been a better or more important time to get out and explore. Take a holiday here this year.