Gold Coast, Queensland travel guide and things to do: 20 things that will surprise first-time visitors

1. They don't drink XXXX

They used to, but these days the Gold Coast is in the running to be the craft beer capital of Australia. There's a distinct Gold Coast feel about them too. Like Balter Brewery, a conglomerate of surfers including world champs Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson, whose XPA became the number one tasting craft beer in Australia (it's since been sold). Most breweries are within a walk of the waves. Don't miss Lost Palms Brewery (www.lostpalms.com) or Burleigh Brewing Company (www.burleighbrewing.com.au).

2. It's not a cultural wasteland

sunjun23goldcoast gold coast food ; text by Craig Tansley ; SUPPLIED via journalist ; It's hard to believe the Miami Marketta is set amongst mechanics in an industrial zone - pic - Miami Marketta

Set along side mechanic workshops: Miami Marketta. Photo: Tourism Queensland

There's more to the Gold Coast than theme parks and beaches. There's art galleries and studios and arts precincts popping up across the region. The best examples are the Home Of The Arts (hota.com.au), a 17 hectare $365 million art precinct behind Surfers Paradise, soon to be home to Australia's largest regional art gallery; and the Miami Marketta (miamimarketta.com) – a warehouse amongst mechanic workshops converted to an open-air market with food trucks, boho fashion designers, art studios, pop-up bars and touring bands.

3. Its name was once considered derogatory

The Gold Coast used to be called the South Coast, but the inflated prices of real estate and of goods and services in the region led to the nickname 'The Gold Coast' being used from the late 1940s. Despite protests from locals, the title stuck and was officially changed in 1958. The town of Elston, meanwhile, had a name change a few years before that… you might know it as Surfers Paradise.

4. It has its own wine region

Vineyard, Tamborine Estate Mandatory credit: Tourism and Events Queensland

Vineyard, Tamborine Estate. Photo: Tourism and Events Queensland

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Drive half an hour west from Surfers Paradise and you'll find Australia's least heralded wine region. The Gold Coast Hinterland – from Mt Tamborine to Canungra – is full of boutique wineries and vineyards, some operating out of historic homesteads with gourmet restaurants. The best varieties are Chambourcin, Verdelho and Semillon. Tours take guests to the best of them, though it's just as easy to plot your own course.

5. Come for the trees

Natural Bridge,  Springbrook National Park, Gold Coast, Queensland. Photograph by Tourism Queensland. SHD TRAVEL JUNE 10 GOLD COAST.

Natural Bridge, Springbrook National Park, Gold Coast. Photo: Tourism Queensland

While it's best known for its beaches, don't forget the rainforests. Drive west of the coastal strip and you'll find three World Heritage Listed national parks in the Gold Coast Hinterland, listed within the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia (the oldest rainforests on Earth). There's over 25,000 hectares of protected parks, over 500 waterfalls, over 1000 kilometres of walking trails and some of the country's oldest eco-retreats.

6. Locals don't like public transport

Buses operate up and down the Gold Coast Highway (which runs parallel to the coast) – but few locals use them. Gold Coasters love their cars - this is the LA of Australia - ask most locals and they won't be able to tell you where the nearest bus stop is. There's light rail now available on the northern end of the coast (it cost hundreds of millions to build), but you're going to have to hire a car (or bring your own).

7. But they like riding bikes

Locals mightn't care for public transport, but they love a good bike ride: and the Gold Coast has arguably the best coastal bike path in Australia. There's over 1000 kilometres of bikeways in the area, but the best of all is the 48-kilometre-long Darren Smith Memorial Route – which runs from Point Danger on the border to Paradise Point in the north, following the coast most of the way.

8. It's Australia's best public golf course destination

There's only two private courses on the Gold Coast – unlike Sydney and Melbourne, any golfer can play the very best courses (most courses in Sydney and Melbourne are reserved for members only). There's over 35 courses - all within a 40 minute drive, and only a handful cost over $100 a round. And yet these include some of the country's highest rated public courses, designed by the likes of Greg Norman, Peter Thomson, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer (you'll find his only Australian designed course here).

9. The best placed bars are surf clubs and RSLs

Bondi has Icebergs and North Bondi RSL built right on the beach, but the Gold Coast has RSLs and surf clubs on the very best vantage points across all 57 kilometres of its iconic coastline. So you'll always get cheap drinks and cheap meals –but you better like 1980s-era marine-coloured carpet… and racing on TV, and the TAB.

10. Locals don't wear shoes… even in winter

Thongs or bare feet are the footwear of choice. And a chilly winter evening doesn't stop that (it's not unusual to see locals in ski jackets and jeans - matched with thongs). Mind you, there are two types of thongs around here: the beach thongs, and the dress-up thongs. You'll be hard pressed to find a bar or restaurant that won't let you in with either type on.

11. Peak hour isn't when you think

There's more people working in the trade industry than in offices on the Gold Coast, so peak hour isn't when you think it should be (although aside from the constant traffic on the M1 to Brisbane, traffic is pretty quiet). You're more likely to find traffic between 6am and 7am then 8am and 9am; and between 2.30pm and 3.30pm than 5pm and 6pm. Though the worst traffic comes at school drop-off and pick-up time – remember, Gold Coast people don't do buses, even their kids.

12. You can sit at the bar – just like America

sunmar18covergoldcoast gold coast queensland ; text by Craig Tansley SUPPLIED The Collective Palm Beach staff at bar making a cocktail

Cocktail-ready: The bar at The Collective Palm Beach. Photo: Tourism Queensland

Every bar on the Gold Coast used to look the same. Now they're as friendly as Melbourne's – because they've discovered the wonder of sitting at the bar. No more must you order drinks and go straight back to your seat. Now, patrons sit on stools by the bar… and talk to each other: perfect strangers mixing… imagine, in Queensland? Sit at the bar of St Helens (sainthelens.com.au) in Kirra, the Scottish Prince (thescottishprince.com.au) and Suga in Palm Beach, Justin Lane (justinlane.com.au) or Harry's Sports Bar (harryssteakbistro.com.au) in Burleigh Heads.

13. There's farms and farmers' markets

There's at least one organic farmer's market every day of the week, except Mondays. On the weekends, there's five on Saturdays and eight on Sundays. There's also farms you can visit at destinations like Currumbin Valley. Freemans Organic Farm (freemansorganicfarm.org), offers breakfasts Saturday to Monday on a 105-year-old family farm with views across the mountains of the hinterland.

14. Restaurants are better than you'd think

sunjun23goldcoast gold coast food ; text by Craig Tansley ; SUPPLIED via journalist ; Sydney chef Alex Munoz moved north to the Gold Coast to open hot new eatery, Restaurant Labart – pic – Restaurant Labart

Sydney chef Alex Munoz moved north to the Gold Coast to open Restaurant Labart. Photo: Supplied

It wasn't long ago the best meals on the Gold Coast came served with batter and chips. Now some of the country's best young chefs are setting up shop, offering more innovative high-end dining options than either Noosa or Byron Bay. Asian fusion restaurant, Rick Shores (rickshores.com.au), has one hat with the Good Food Guide and was rated in the Australian Financial Review's Top 100 Restaurants for the past three years. The Coast's other stand-out, Restaurant Labart (restaurantlabart.com), was opened by former Cirrus Dining and Monopole head chef, Alex Munoz.

15. Burleigh is the new Melbourne

Burleigh Beach Mandatory credit: Tourism and Events Queensland

Burleigh Beach. Photo: Tourism and Events Queensland

Surf hamlet Burleigh Heads has become not only a magnet for foodies and hipsters (with the opening of The Pavilion, a beach club built right above the waves), it's now the Gold Coast's answer to Melbourne, with new bars, cafes and restaurants opening down secret laneways and beside hidden car parks which take some finding. Expect restaurants with hidden entrances, bars requiring a texted entry code, and secret lounge bars.

16. There's two Gold Coasts

Comparing the southern Gold Coast to the northern Gold Coast is like comparing two entirely different destinations – don't do it. There's a cultural divide which kicks in around Burleigh Heads. Most southern Gold Coasters don't go further north than Tallebudgera Creek (just south of Burleigh). Ask any southern Gold Coaster and they'll tell you they share more parallels with their neighbours in the NSW Northern Rivers than their northern counterparts.

17. It's a World Surfing Reserve

sunmar18covergoldcoast?gold coast queensland ; text by Craig Tansley SUPPLIED - Destination Gold Coast Quiksilver Roxy Pro , Snapper Rocks

Surfing is in the blood: Visitors watch on at a surf competition. Photo: Supplied

So you know the waves are great on the Gold Coast – and that there's a World Surf Tour event held annually at Snapper Rocks, on the southern Gold Coast? But bet you didn't know the Gold Coast is the eighth World Surfing Reserve (joining the likes of Malibu in California). Since 2016, 16 kilometres of beach and adjoining land from Snapper Rocks to Burleigh has been protected from any coast development as a result.

18. There's more to fashion than Quiksilver and Billabong

There's a burgeoning fashion scene on the Gold Coast. Like Dylan Kain (dylankain.com) – created by six-time world champion surfer Steph Gilmore's sister, Bonnie Davis (with help from her superstar sister), whose accessories are now used by Margot Robbie and Kendall Jenner, Peony Swimwear (peonyswimwear.com) whose boho nostalgic swimwear styles have swept the globe, and Outland Denim (outlanddenim.com.au) whose profits go towards training and employing women saved from sex trafficking.

19. Gold Coast locals never go to Surfers Paradise

sunmar18covergoldcoast gold coast queensland ; text by Craig Tansley
SUPPLIED - Destination Gold CoastBreakout : Surfers Paradise

Where the locals don't go: Surfers Paradise. Photo: Destination Gold Coast

While it's the place most people associate with the Gold Coast, very few locals ever go to Surfers Paradise (with the exception of teens and 20-somethings out for late nights). Even though it too has undergone a metamorphosis in recent years with openings of new breweries, restaurants, bars and hotels, most Gold Coast locals haven't been anywhere near it in years.

20. The Tweed Coast is only 10 minutes away

For those staying in Burleigh Heads or south, consider going beyond the border. The Tweed Coast is home to 40+ kilometres of deserted coastline with quiet surf villages like Pottsville and Cabarita, full of innovative cafes and restaurants, like Pipit Restaurant (pipitrestaurant.com), and coveted Halycon House (haylconhouse.com.au) and its two-hatted restaurant, Paper Daisy. There's also four world-heritage national parks 25 minutes south, outside Murwillumbah – get there via Currumbin Valley on Tomewin Road for views of the region.

Craig Tansley is a Queensland resident.

See also: The new spots to eat, drink and visit in the Gold Coast

See also: It's Hawaii-meets-Miami chic at this Gold Coast resort

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