Gold Coast Itineraries
A seaside long-weekend escape
Famous for its swell, sand, and skyrises the Gold Coast is one of Queensland’s most recognised residents. It’s also one of the Sunshine State’s most popular destinations, as Australia’s largest non-capital city. But despite its size, getting a taste of the 57 kilometre stretch of golden beaches along the southern coastline doesn’t take long. In fact, the seaside stretch of suburbs can be explored in a long weekend, as this itinerary planner of 3 days in the Gold Coast goes to show.
Hit the waves for a morning surf session - a must inclusion for any itinerary planner for 3 days on the Gold Coast, considering it’s home to one of the world’s most beloved surfing competitions (the Corona Open Gold Coast), as well as a handful of pros. Surf schools are thankfully commonplace here for those who want to learn. On the northern end of the Gold Coast, on Main Beach is the family-owned Walkin’ On Water Surf School which offers group or private lessons at Main Beach in the mornings and afternoons. Further south, closer to the border at Currumbin Alley, you’ll find another cluster of surf academies.
Post-surf session refuel at one of the Gold Coast’s many brunch spots. There’s a booming cafe culture in these parts, with acclaimed venues scattered from Burleigh to the Southport Spit. Brunch is the region’s specialty, with stand-out venues including Cafe D-Bar in Coolangatta, Commune in Burleigh and Elk Espresso in Broadbeach. Conveniently the coffee is equally as good.
Bag a bargain in Harbour Town. Australia’s largest outlet shopping centre can be found just a 15-minute drive away from Surfers Paradise and is open daily Spend the afternoon wandering your way around the 240 boutiques, which house many a discounted designer label, stopping to take a break at one of the eateries interspersed throughout, or with some movie time at the 14-screen cinema. First timer? You’ll be further tempted with a free tourist discount card available at the Harbour Town Tourism Lounge.
Grab your date and toast to your long weekend with a tipple at one of the Gold Coast’s many specialty bars. Bask in the balmy weather with a visit to a rooftop destination, which make the most of the endlessly sunny days on display. Or saunter your way closer to the beach front - there’s no shortage of drinking dens nudging the sand, from the laidback Rainbow Bay Surf Life Saving Club to the bustling Rick Shores and neighbouring Burleigh Pavilion.
See the Gold Coast from new heights with Sea World Helicopter Tours. Sitting a breezy five minutes from Surfers central, the airborne tour operators will introduce you to some of the Gold Coast’s most famous sights from the sky.
There are five scenic flight routes to choose from, ranging in distance and price to cater to different budgets; opt for the five minute round trip from the Southport Seaway to the tip of Stradbroke Island, or settle in for the lengthier cruise south to Tweed Heads, across the Gold Coast Hinterland and back again.
No itinerary planner of 3 days in the Gold Coast is complete without mentioning Burleigh. The blossoming suburb has long been a favourite for surfers, and now has an edible offering to match as a growing hub of outstanding eateries. Before dinner, make like the locals do and gather on the much loved Burleigh Hill (with beers and snacks on hand) to watch the surf and the sunset.
Those with energy still to burn can first make for the nearby Burleigh Headland National Park. Wander your way along the five walking tracks here, which range in fitness level. The most popular is the scenic Ocean View Walk, a favourite for spotting the whales migrating north from Antarctica from June.
While famous for its beaches, the Gold Coast isn’t shy of a rainforest or two. Head inland and you’ll greet the Gold Coast Hinterland, a luscious region within which Tamborine Mountain resides. Explore the natural wonder and its 12 walking tracks solo, or arm yourself with an experienced guide courtesy of Eco Safaris Queensland, which will see you led by 4WD.
Though it’s not just the adventurous who will be entertained by a stint out here - there’s plenty to do outside of physical exercise, the Mount Tamborine Wine Tasting Tour and Tamborine Mountain Glow Worm Caves included.
Make way for the ancient Lamington National Park. A part of the World heritage-listed Gondwana Rainforests, this eye-catching area is a haven of forest, walking trails and waterfalls. It’s also home to O’Reilly’s Tree Top Walkway, a 180-metre walk consisting of nine suspension bridges.
Wander your way along the tree tops until you greet two observation decks above the walkway, hovering 30 metres above the ground. Post-adventure quench your thirst and grab a bite to eat at the Canungra Valley Vineyards before making your way back to the bright lights of the Gold Coast.
Three days on the Gold Coast
Hire a cruiser bike from Beach Bikes to explore the Gold Coast's string of beachside neighbourhoods. From Surfers Paradise it's a 20-minute ride north to Main Beach. Stop for a swim or book a surf lesson with Get Wet Surf School. Main Beach is popular among local surfers for its open surf break. Afterwards wander down Tedder Avenue, home to cafés, restaurants and boutiques. Refuel with a typical Australian breakfast and coffee at Lark Café.
Hop in a taxi for the 30-minute drive to Burleigh Heads. Relax on the beachfront grass beneath rows of pines and palms, or follow one of the walking trails through Burleigh Heads National Park. After checking in to your Gold Coast hotel, grab a bite in the up-and-coming neighbourhood of Palm Beach – we recommend Balboa Italian for a scrumptious pizza and wine.
DAY 2: HEAD TO THE THEME PARKS FOR THRILLS AND SPILLS
There’s good reason the Gold Coast theme parks are big draw cards for families. Ride the highest inversion ride in the Southern Hemisphere at Dreamworld, swim with dolphins and get up close to seals in Sea World, or cool down in the giant wave pool at Wet ‘n’ Wild. Shear a sheep, pat a koala and taste bush tucker at Paradise Country or hang out with your favourite characters at Warner Bros. Movie World. If you want to visit more than one park, look into a Mega Pass, which gives you entry to Wet ‘n’ Wild, Movie World, Sea World and Paradise Country. Tickets for Dreamworld can be purchased separately.
After the morning's excitement, you deserve some rest and relaxation. Indulge in a soothing spa treatment at one of the Gold Coast's best day spas before perusing the Surfers Paradise Beachfront Markets (Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, 4pm-9pm). Dine at one of the area's top restaurants before heading back to Surfers Paradise to hit up the neon-lit nightlife. Stop in at Elsewhere, a hot spot for live music, or House of Brews to sample its impressive list of craft beers.
Join a four-wheel-drive eco tour to the World Heritage-listed rainforests of the Gold Coast hinterland, an hour drive west of Surfers Paradise. Walk among the rainforest canopy on O’Reilly’s Tree Top Walkway in Lamington National Park or step inside a cave to see the cascading waterfall of Natural Bridge in Springbrook. Afterwards, pick up a gourmet picnic basket from O’Reilly’s Canungra Valley Vineyards and enjoy lunch by the creek.
Return to the Gold Coast and watch the sun set over Rainbow Bay, overlooking the famous Snapper Rocks surf break. Eat a delicious dinner with epic views at Rick Shores then take your pick from 40 freshly churned flavours of gelato at Gelato Messina (hint: salted caramel is the biggest seller).
9 Days of family fun
It’s the quintessential Aussie beach holiday destination and the scene of happy childhood memories for many, but the Gold Coast offers so much more than beaches and theme parks for next gen travellers.
And while the headliners will always attract a crowd, it’s the lesser-known finds dotted throughout this iconic stretch of Queensland coastline and in its ancient Gondwana rainforest backyard that keep families coming back year after year.
Whether you’re visiting for the first time or 15th, let this itinerary be your guide to the Gold Coast and the holiday the whole family will talk about for years to come.
DAY 1: GOLD COAST AIRPORT TO CURRUMBIN BEACH
Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, Currumbin, Queensland © Tourism and Events Queensland
- Drive time: 10 minutes
There aren’t many places in the world where you can find yourself surfing long right-handers or SUPing on a crystalline creek within 10 minutes of stepping off the plane. Which is why Currumbin Beach makes the ideal first stop, especially if the kids want to skill up with Currumbin Alley Surf School.
After a lunch perched above the waves at the Currumbin Beach Vikings Surf Life Saving Club – or around bowls of açaí from The Salt Mill – spend the afternoon at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. It’s not just the riotous rainbow lorikeets and cuddly koalas that keep visitors flocking. For curious conservationists-to-be, a tour of the Animal Wildlife Hospital allows you to witness potentially species-saving work in real time.
DAY 2: BILINGA TO CURRUMBIN VALLEY
- Drive time: 20 minutes
Switch the sand for the dappled-light greenery of nearby Currumbin Valley, and enjoy a swim at Cougal Cascades in Springbrook National Park. The sealed hike to the falls is only 1.6 kilometres (one mile) return, so you can do it with a pram. You’ll also find a disused sawmill from the 1940s along the trail.
Stop in at Ground Currumbin on your way back to eat at Pasture & Co. They serve organic coffee from nearby Byron Bay and wine from Tamborine Mountain alongside their all-day brunch menu (you’ll also find some great trees for climbing if there’s still energy to burn).
DAY 3: BILINGA TO BURLEIGH HEADS
- Drive time: 15 minutes
Jump in the car and head inland from Bilinga Beach to start the day by splashing into the sparkling blue of Tallebudgera Creek, a calm estuary framed to the north by Burleigh Heads National Park. The icing on the cake is a breakfast of still-warm pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tart) from Custard Canteen.
The Yugambeh people know this place as ‘good fish’, and a walk into the national park with one of the Indigenous guides from Jellurgal Aboriginal Cultural Centre is the best way to understand why. See if the kids can spot the basalt ‘fingers’ of Jabreen – the Aboriginal Dreaming God who formed the mountains, rivers and hills – before you do.
DAYS 4 AND 5: BILINGA TO LAMINGTON NATIONAL PARK
- Drive time: 1.5 hours
Wind your way up the ear-popping escarpment to the eco-certified O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat, enveloped by the Green Mountains section of Lamington National Park. But before you do, picnic with fluffy alpacas by the creek at Mountainview Alpaca Farm in Canungra.
The Tree Top Walk and Glow Worm Tour are must-dos during your stay at O'Reilly's, but for something different, join a Segway Tour (12 years and over) and test your centre of balance along the track that climaxes in a stunning view over Morans Falls.
DAY 6: O’REILLY’S TO OXENFORD
- Drive time: 1.5 hours
From glow worms to Tasmanian devils, head towards Paradise Country in Oxenford for a farm stay experience close to the coast. Besides bonding with native dingoes, emus and wallabies, mini humans will love cuddling the baby lambs and going for a pony ride. The taste of the bush continues with sheep shearing and a stockman show while the whole family can pan for gold and dig for opals.
Stay: After the gates close for the day, life on the farm plays on in your eco tent at Paradise Country Farm Stay. Relax on the hill at sunset with lawn games and wine tasting, roast marshmallows over the campfire and rise at sunrise to feed the animals and milk the cows.
DAYS 7 TO 9: OXENFORD - SURFERS PARADISE - GOLD COAST AIRPORT
- Drive time: about 25 minutes to Oxenford and 30 minutes to the airport
End your road trip on a high note in the skyscraper end of the ‘GC’. Immerse yourself in The New Atlantis – a land of highly-charged rides like the Vortex – at Sea World, after meeting the seals, penguins and polar bears, of course.
If you’re visiting between June and October, head out with Spirit of Gold Coast to spot breaching humpbacks on their great migration.
After you’ve exhausted the family with as much sandcastle-making, beachfront cycling, and rounds of golf at Holey Moley as they can take, check what’s on at Home of the Arts (HOTA) or take a trip back to the ’50s at the Yatala Drive In.
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