The Gold Coast is a 30 kilometre long stretch of coast that covers about a dozen different beaches of special beauty.This is Australia’s only beach destination with enough activities, attractions and lifestyle to have become globally famous, drawing visitors from scores of countries. Surfers Paradise, whose dramatic skyline of high-rise buildings forms the heart of the Gold Coast, has become the global icon for this beach and lifestyle destination, attracting the biggest number of visitors.

Yet the many other beaches here are not to be forgotten. Big differences exist between them – in geography, density of habitation and atmosphere – ensuring that a wide range of tastes and budgets are readily satisfied. Most visitors to the Gold Coast remain Australians, many from nearby Brisbane, with others from colder cities in the south like Sydney and Melbourne who come seeking winter warmth or summer fun.

As the beach maps here testify, the Gold Coast offers surprisingly little true beachfront accommodation, and all that we do find here is in the form of holiday apartments designed for family living. Most of the beachfront land is occupied by private homes, forcing hotels back into the side streets. See more about the hotels and holiday apartments here.

Expansive beaches with sand so soft it squeaks underfoot and steadily rolling waves of exceptional clarity are the hallmarks that first attracted people to this coast. Despite the huge transformation that this area has seen in recent generations, the beaches themselves remain little changed and are still ideal for board and body surfers, children on boogie boards, paddle boarders and all others who just love to splash in the waves or swim. Come winter, the water falls to a chilly 19 C degrees – too cold for most locals though visitors from colder climates, including Australia’s southern states, are often seen diving right in. Also, the keenest of board surfers don wet suites to beat the cold and head out into the waves, providing winter entertainment for those sitting in beachside cafes with warm coffee or tea.

Lifeguards plant flags in designated swimming zones and keep watch through the day – so visitors are constantly extolled to always swim between these flags. Virtually every beach has a surf life saving club, an old and venerated Australian institution that provides a home for the beach lifeguards and their equipment. These have restaurants and bars with competitive prices and are open to the public. Some offer ‘pokies’, or gambling machines, and despite adult pursuits most are very family-oriented with family lounges and play areas for children. The better clubs are directly on the beach, offering the top ocean views while making them ideal places for relaxed dining and just hanging out by the beach with a cool drink. Surf life saving clubs have thus evolved into the major social centre for each respective beach – and are ideal for foreign visitors eager to experience typical Australian lifestyles.

The Gold Coast offers much more than beaches. An hours’ drive to the back takes one up into lush mountains clothed in stunningly beautiful rainforests, with quaint dairy farms occupying the valleys. There are waterfalls and scenic lookouts. Several mountain retreats offer lodging with forest and wildlife experiences quite different to anything down by the beaches. Restaurants and tea houses integrated into their forest and mountain environments cater to the passing day-trip traffic. A visit to this exceptional hinterland is well recommended, and surely worth renting a vehicle for those who arrive by air.

Casual visitors who venture out along the Gold Coast will surely see something of the labyrinth of waterways and canals that dominate the landscape a short distance back from the beaches. At Surfers Paradise they start just 300 metres from the beach, and run along the main highway. Here we see million-dollar mansions overlooking their private stretch of water, some with a luxury yacht moored in front. Homes in these plush, modern suburbs are among Australia’s most desired addresses.

Today all Gold Coast beaches are well-protected, and as natural and beautiful as ever. It’s the backdrop that has seen dramatic change, with the height and density of buildings distinguishing each beach and telling us much about its ambience. In contrast to the pulsating, international vibe in downtown Surfers Paradise, places like Palm Beach are positively laid-back and sleepily urban.

Since several beaches have no true beachfront accommodation at all, they miss being mapped in this site. Some of those, however, are of real interest for other reasons, and we include info and photos of them in the travel guide pages. We tell why Currumbin Beach is surely the most family-friendly beach on the whole coast. Burleigh Heads is one of the most picturesque of beaches here, but a road runs along its entire length, cutting off the possibility of the many holiday apartments here being qualified as beachfront. Coolangatta, which marks the Gold Coast’s southern end, has double headlands enclosing a pretty beach, lots of parklands and stunningly beautiful views.

by John Everingham