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Your Definitive Guide To The Gold Coast, From Retro Motels To Top-Notch Eateries

Your Definitive Guide To The Gold Coast, From Retro Motels To Top-Notch Eateries

There’s always been a buzz about the Gold Coast and for good reason. Sunny weather, excellent eateries, sparkling ocean, and lush hinterland make it a perfect Queensland destination for any visitor. But the region’s slew of retro motels and hotels now add a nostalgic cherry on top of tasty holiday cake.

Australia’s favourite playground since the 1950s, holiday goers used to rent shacks along the beachfront or stay in roadside motels. Since the Gold Coast began its modern evolution the past few years, some of those very buildings have gotten a refresh, connecting and celebrating the best of old and new — and isn’t that what a jaunt to the Goldie is all about?

Whether you’re flying into Coolangatta or buckling in for a classic road trip, these are the places that will ensure a great time.

Where To Stay On The Gold Coast

Our top pick: Right on the iconic Gold Coast Highway in Palm Beach, The Mysa Motel (pronounced Mee-sa) is a sustainable self-service boutique motel offering restrained luxury with a retro twist.

Owners Jason and Eliza Raine purchased the Palm Trees Motel in 2019 and spent two years transforming it – using recycled materials, no less – into a serene Palm Springs-like space awash in pastel hues with a beaut neon sign and breeze-block walls.


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There are seven rooms, each kitted out with restored vintage furniture, Terrazzo floors, and mod cons like smart TVs, but I’m impressed by often overlooked details like blackout curtains, double-glazed windows, filtered tap water, and all-inclusive snacks.

Sustainability-wise, rooms are powered by solar, while rainwater services the toilets and garden. Guests also have use of the old-school kidney-shaped swimming pool, which has been converted into a magnesium mineral pool with restored original fibreglass loungers. Prices start from $220 per night.

Honourable Mentions:

Tessa’s on the Beach Boutique Hotel: This space, built in the 1960s, has been renovated into newly opened Palm Springs-inspired accommodation. All whitewashed walls, cacti in the garden and tropical themed rooms, it’s right on the beach in Billinga with a magnesium pool to boot.

The Pink Hotel: Another restored mid-century hotel, this Coolangatta spot is brimming with bold art, retro neon signage and velvet furniture. There’s a laid-back rooftop bar and pink beach cruisers available for hire.

Blue Heron Motel: Located 200m from Mermaid Beach, this 1970s motel stakes its claim as the “very first boutique motel on the Gold Coast” to blend modern amenities with a retro past. Rooms are simple yet stylish, bicycles are free and there’s a pool with vintage beach umbrellas.

Crystal Pacific Palm Beach: This completely redesigned original 1970s building has been transformed into your quintessential coastal haven in Palm Beach, now offering six two- bedroom apartments. Light and bright interiors are accented by neutral tones and custom furniture. Of course, as seems to be the done thing on the Goldie now, there’s a mineral magnesium pool with sun loungers and umbrellas.

La Costa Motel: For a real trip down memory lane, this family-run motel is a true blast from the past. While there is no pool, you’ll get a complimentary brekkie basket and free use of the vintage bicycles while being 50m to the beach and a stone’s throw from the airport.

What To Eat On The Gold Coast, From South To North

The first place that’ll make you realise how much the Gold Coast has changed since you were last here, much-anticipated Sibling’s Kirra finally swung open its doors in early 2022. Located at the iconic site of the Kirra Beach Pizza Hut, the new venue is now a stunning eatery from the well-known Cianci family, who ensured elements of the building’s 1920s glory were retained.


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A bite to eat at Stable Coffee Kitchen in lush Tugun is a must. Part of Cornerstone Stores – a serene mixed-use community space with boutiques, services and great food – the design is thanks to Richards & Spence (the architects behind The Calile hotel). Red brick, concrete, and overflowing greenery set the scene for a cafe with an ex-Gwinganna executive chef.

On the beachfront by Currumbin you’ll find Barefoot Barista’s second location (the first is in Palm Beach), offering up delicious dishes for brekkie, brunch or lunch in a sweet seaside spot. Also in a prime spot opposite the glittering waters of Currumbin is Tommy’s Italian, a double storey eatery decked out with red striped umbrellas, ideal for long lunches in the sun.


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Out in the lush Currumbin Valley, Pasture & Co is a good stop on a morning road trip to visit the Currumbin Rock pools and Cougal Cascades.

The Dust Temple is a cool venue that doubles as a café and art space, and also happens to turn into a bar at night. We have it on good authority this haunt is popular with the local creative community, plus there’s a beautiful shop next door called Gather.

A buzzy newbie on the Palm Beach scene is Scott’s Luncheonette & Bar, serving up “cocktails, sangas and wine” all day from their classic deli with white-tiled walls and Terrazzo flooring. This isn’t your usual sandwich shop, though – in addition to delish gourmet sambos, you can spend the afternoon drinking pet nat while munching on deli boards or steak frites.

Goldie institution Espresso Moto serves up great coffee and tasty eats in both Palm Beach and Mermaid Waters.

Right next to Tallebudgera Creek, Custard Canteen has the monopoly on fresh Portuguese custard tarts made in new batches every 30 minutes. The coffee is great too.

Relaxed bohemian cafe Next Door Espresso in Burleigh Heads is another goodie. And if you find yourself south of the border, their Tweed Heads location has had a recent revamp.

With sweeping views of Burleigh beach down to the Surfers Paradise coastline, you can’t go past Insta-worthy The Tropic at Burleigh Pavilion for a fresh cold bevvy and a very fine bite to eat. Of course, there’s also a section of the Pav where sandy toes are welcome.


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Baked good lovers must make a pit stop at Tarte Bakery & Cafe, with its New York-inspired interiors and freshly baked treats from sourdough loaves and impressive NY-style bagels to plum custard tarts (of which I am still dreaming). They also do fab coffee and delicious cafe fare.

Fans of Vietnamese will love the modern take dished up by Jimmy Wah’s. Contemporary Vietnamese with an Aussie twist is on offer, alongside a banger wine list. And yes, the name is a nod to Jimmy Wah from the classic ‘80s movie Good Morning, Vietnam.

Also in Burleigh is Maman Bar & Kitchen. French for ‘Mum’, Maman offers a Mediterranean-Middle Eastern menu in a stylish space with Jai Vasicek wall art. Owned by champion Ironman Matt Poole and restaurateur Olivier Frost, it’s a vibey dinner spot with sustainable wine and cocktails.

Restaurant Labart was a coup for the GC dining scene, a 60-seat European bistro from Sydney chef Alex Munoz Labart and his Gold Coast-raised wife Karla. It’s been awarded the best regional restaurant in Queensland by The Courier Mail. Of course, all ingredients are locally and
sustainably sourced.

The local chicken shop is taken to new heights in Freddy’s, serving up an elevated take on classic chicken, burgers and salads. Ingredients are sourced ethically and from local farmers at this trendy new spot.

Another Goldie institution, Commune Cafe in Burleigh is known for its epic coffee and delicious cafe food, in particular the corn fritters.

Fun, modern Asian has arrived in Burleigh by way of Light Years Asian Bar & Diner, which originated in Byron Bay back in 2017. Punchy flavours, a trendy fit out and cool tunes complete the picture.

If there was only one cafe you could visit on the Gold Coast, it would have to be Paddock Bakery in Miami. Situated in a charming weatherboard cottage, there’s oodles of shaded outdoor seating bordered by a white picket fence at this part-cafe, part-artisan bakery.

Nobby’s BSKT Cafe serves up wholesome eats and lays claim as the coast’s #1 health cafe. A stone’s throw from the beach, this well-located spot even has a dedicated acai bowl servery.

Rubi Red Kitchen & Bar in Nobby Beach is another eatery worthy of a top-button pop. This is the creation of one of Australia’s most awarded restaurateurs, chef Michael Lambie, and features a pan-Asian menu influenced by his travels.

Market stall-turned-eatery Cheese Me Baby is located in a converted shipping container (of course). Grab a wine and gourmet cheese toastie or cheese board and chill on the grass.

Bam Bam Bakehouse in Mermaid Beach is from the team behind Paddock Bakery, so you know it’s going to be good. Lovely interiors and a beautiful parkside location only add to the delicious menu full of tasty cafe fare. Obviously top-shelf baked goods are on offer, too.


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Tucked away in Mermaid Beach, Etsu is a Japanese izakaya-style dining room that distils the buzz of a Tokyo bar-eatery. A+ plates are all designed to share and there are cocktails and sake to be had.

Gemelli Italian in Broadbeach brings an authentic Italian trattoria experience to the Goldie, and the packed house seven nights a week is a testament to the food on offer.

At Marina Mirage, La Luna is a beautiful waterside spot for romantic Mediterranean eats with an Aussie twist (definitely try the Moreton Bay bug roll). Plans are in place to build a Greek/Ibizan-style beach club right on the marina, too.

We couldn’t round out a GC food list without an iconic spot to get fish and chips. Peter’s Fish Market is legendary and touted as the strip’s best.

What To Do On The Gold Coast

It goes without saying that you’ll be spending time on the GC’s many bodies of water, namely the myriad beaches and Tallebudgera Creek. But it’s also worth heading inland to Currumbin Valley to explore the Currumbin Rock pools and Cougal Cascades.

HOTA (Home of the Arts) gave the Gold Coast a much-needed artistic injection as the centrepiece of the Gold Coast Cultural Precinct master plan. It’s worth going on a Sunday when the HOTA Farmers & Artisan Markets are on so you have even more to explore.

Ladies, indulge your weary bones at Greenhouse the Bathhouse, a boutique bathhouse and “communal rejuvenation space” by the team that run beloved Greenhouse Canteen. We personally recommend the Signature Massage + Soak package, where you get 90 minutes to submerge yourself in an array of warm and cold magnesium pools in between saunas and sipping on Mayde tea, before enjoying an excellent hour-long massage with intuitive therapists.

If you’re ready to sweep your partner (or yourself) off your feet, then head to Sea World Helicopters. Rides over the Gold Coast are pretty spectacular and if you or your special someone has never popped their chopper cherry, it’s a pretty impressive way to start a holiday. Best of all, it’s pretty affordable with prices starting from $75 per person. We went for the Coastal City experience, which was $129 per person.

Lead Image: Sonia Taylor

The author travelled as a guest of Destination Gold Coast.

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