From resorts and cruises to shopping and surfing, this is the best the Gold Coast has to offer.
1 Rock star cabanas
Now you don't have to be staying at the Palazzo Versace to get yourself some private cabana action - the white curtains around the famous day beds have been thrown open to non-house guests for rental. Shell out $270 and two of you can lounge around the "water salon" (they don't say "pool" at PV) drinking your bottle of Veuve, picking at your picnic and sipping mineral water, Italian of course. palazzoversace.com.au.
2 Hellenika restaurant
We hear restaurateur Simon Gloftis is now something of a celebrity around town after the huge success of his first restaurant venture at Nobby Beach, offering up a modern Greek menu. Locals partial to his former cafe Three Beans followed him here and now visitors are hearing how popular it is. Book for weekends and if you want the roast lamb, give them a day's notice. 2235 Gold Coast Highway, Nobby Beach. (07) 5572 8009.
3 Dreamworld tigers
Magnificent Sumatran tigers star in this year's headline act at the 30-hectare fun park about half an hour's drive from the coast. Though born in captivity you can see the 200-kilogram cats demonstrate instinctive in-the-wild behaviours like scaling trees, leaping huge distances and standing on hind legs - towering over their trainers - in the twice daily 15-minute show. Memorable, especially given their dwindling numbers. dreamworld.com.au.
4 Great new bars
Adding an urban edge to the surfside burbs are two new bars down the coast from the main tourist precincts: Cambus Wallace at Nobby's (drop in before dinner at Hellenika), which was born last Boxing Day after 10 friends decided to open a big city-style bar (0414 787 011). And Justin Lane at Burleigh, with a bar menu, pizzas and a lovely Italian buzz. (07) 5576 8517.
5 Kurrawa Surf Club
Book in advance to score yourself a coveted balcony table and tuck into old faves like surf and turf just metres from the sand. Voted the best club on the Goldie last year, this popular Broadbeach bistro is family-friendly and reasonably priced. Moonlight on the waves and a crashing surf soundtrack are thrown in with every meal. Bistro open seven days for breaky, lunch and dinner. Old Burleigh Road, Broadbeach. (07) 5527 5660. kurrawasurf.com.au.
6 Oracle Avenue
Twelve months ago, this trendy strip between the two soaring Peppers Broadbeach towers had empty retail spaces yet held good, quiet potential. Now it's buzzing with cool and crowded coffee shops, restaurants, bars and boutiques. Eat your way around the world with South American, Bavarian, tacos and pizzas available. Stand-out for return-worthy food? O-sushi Japanese tapas. osushi.com.au/broadbeach.
7 The Marriott Hotel
All the rooms at the family-friendly Marriott Hotel have had a face lift but L-plate snorkellers need not fret as the giant saltwater pool filled with tropical fish is still the same. And it's also still the case that you need to book at the hotel's extraordinarily popular teppanyaki restaurant Benihana's as locals will beat you to a table if you're not careful. marriott.com.au.
8 Marina Mirage dining
Grab a front row seat for sunset, pour your wine, then imagine your alternative life aboard one of the big, shiny boats moored next to your table. This relaxed yet upmarket array of 17 waterfront cafes and restaurants nestled in the heart of the Southport Broadwater has summer holiday dining sussed: fresh seafood, eating outdoors and a dress code where you get away with shorts and quelle horreur, thongs! Seaworld Drive, Main Beach. marinamirage.com.au.
9 Harbour Town outlets
You'll need a car but this is a real find with bargains galore at Queensland's answer to Sydney's DFO outlets. Get really great discounts on Nike, Speedo, Simone Perele, R.M. Williams, Witchery, Mimco, Lisa Ho and Coach. It also has bearable cafes and a cinema. Talk hubby into taking the rugrats to a movie so you can shop in peace. Corner Gold Coast Highway and Oxley Drive Biggera Waters. harbourtowngoldcoast.com.au.
10 Coolangatta surf mecca
Still considered the GC though right on the NSW border, Cooly has a distinct village vibe compared with the more touristy precincts further north, with holiday flats much more common here than hotels. (Our pick: the 2011-built schmick Nirvana by the Sea with gym, lap pool, barbecues and private cinema). Known as a surfing mecca, the Quiksilver Pro is on at local Snapper Rocks this year March 2-15. nirvanabythesea.com.au, eventsgoldcoast.com.au.
11 Events central
More than 30 major events are the calendar for 2013 not counting the local pastime of Bernard Tomic spotting (the local boy now ranked No.43 after bowing out in round three of the Aussie Open). Highlights include the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships, Blues on Broadbeach and the Armor All Gold Coast 600 V8 supercar race. eventsgoldcoast.com.au.
12 The Constrictor slide
Hang on to your speedos - Wet'n'Wild's new corkscrew waterslide sends riders on rafts through an enclosed tube at speeds of up to 30km/h. Opened four months ago, the 18-metre tall, 166-metre-long slide has 360-degree coils, which the park claims are the highest banking tubes in the world. Warning: expect long lines of thrill-seekers. wetnwild.com.au.
13 Black Coffee Lyrics
This funky and frankly, very Melbourne cafe-bar is indicative of a movement not just to raise the bar when it comes to getting good coffee but to create cultural meeting places and cool events around the cafe scene. Popular with southern-state holidaymakers who must have their daily hit, the place has live music four nights a week and a modern crowd. Open Tuesday to Friday 5pm until late, weekends 8am until late. blackcoffeelyrics.com.au.
14 Broadwater Parklands
This three-kilometre, activity-packed waterfront recreation precinct at Southport will easily suck up an afternoon. Check out the under-five-friendly rockpools, rain showers and fun water squirting gadgets; its giant netted swimming pool; huge kite-friendly park; flying fox, jumping pillow, train rides and bike track. Happily there's a coffee shop as mums and dads will be there for the long haul. gcparks.com.au.
15 Stingray Bar, QT hotel
Like it's sister in Sydney, the QT continues its retro-groove approach this time with a Gidget-meets-Elvis movie vibe. Since opening a year ago, Stingray has quickly become the bar of choice for fashionable locals, with a royal visit last month from fun-loving princess Zara Phillips boosting its buzz as the hottest night spot on the strip. Good food, cocktails and eye candy behind the bar doesn't hurt either. qtgoldcoast.com.au.
16 Dinosaur Island, Sea World
Our eight-year-old dino-phile rated the new walk-through experience "awesome", with the velociraptor his pick of this mini-Jurassic Park exhibit. This collection of 14 giant prehistoric lizards includes models of a fearsome 18 metre T-rex, stegosaurus and triceratops. Some have moving parts, all have respectable roars. seaworld.com.au.
The Tap Dogs will be stomping their way offstage at the end of this month after a smash hit season but they'll be making room for the troupe from Momentum, a 100-strong singing, dancing and acrobatic outfit which has tumbled its way from Broadway to Buenos Aires before landing on the GC. jupitersgoldcoast.com.au.
18 Ice skating
A jumper, long pants and gloves wouldn't normally make it into a suitcase bound for south-east Queensland but that was before Planet Chill opened last month. The coast's first permanent ice rink is available only to guests staying at Zagame's Paradise family resort but hopes are high, among teens anyway, that they'll open it to non-paying guests before long. paradiseresort.com.au.
19 Broadwater cruises
If you fancy a spot of lunch and a stroll around the upmarket shops of Sanctuary Cove but don't have a car to make the 20-minute drive, now there's the High Life Day Cruise to get you there. Launched in November, the five-hour guided day out on a $3.5 million catamaran includes commentary, lunch with a wine, beer or soft drink and a two-hour stopover at the Cove Marina. $79 an adult. seaworldcruises.com.au.
20 Cavill Mall
Six million big ones have been spent tarting up this famous shopping, eating and general posing hub in the heart of Surfers Paradise. While the cheap souvenirs and off colour T-shirt shops remain, the new paving, mod furniture and new lighting help bring the vibe more in line with the beautifully upgraded foreshore boardwalk across the road.
The writer was a guest of Sea World and the QT hotel.