Uncovering local secrets on the Sunshine Coast

Mention Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, and memories of building sandcastles, surfing, and eating fish and chips on the beach will jump to mind. It’s home to miles of beaches dotted with laid-back towns, and plenty of sunshine (it’s all in the name). This idyllic stretch of coastline is a heavenly getaway to relax and reset – an experience made even better by the right Sunshine Coast guide, of course. 

If you’ve visited before, you’ve no doubt done the Champagne brunches, long lunches and sunset cocktails on Noosa’s Hastings Street. Chances are you’ve strolled the coastal walk at Noosa Heads and wandered around Eumundi Markets 

But it’s time to uncover a new side of this much-loved stretch of coastline. And that includes exploring beyond the beach, too.   

From secret beaches to hidden hinterland gems, fantastic restaurants and exciting events, the Sunshine Coast is full of surprisesHere’s how to step off the tourist trail and explore like a local on your next visit.   

Life’s a beach

Mooloolababa Spit | Photo by @emilyminto via IG

Most visitors to the Sunshine Coast fall in love with NoosaA stylish village just steps away from the sheltered waters of Main Beach and its vibrant waterfront – what’s not to love?  

But with over 100 beaches on the Sunshine Coast, why not venture a little further to find your own spot in the sand?  

The beaches of the central Sunshine Coast between Maroochydore and Point Cartwright are the real fan favourites.  

Mooloolaba Spit  

Mooloolaba‘s main beach, with its lively esplanade, is a hotspot that is fast becoming a rival for Noosa. Looking for a quieter spot to spread out your towel? Do as the locals do and head over to Mooloolaba Spit. Besides a lovely beach, there are parklands, shady walking paths and the best places to eat fresh seafood straight off the trawlers (try Mooloolaba Fish Market or Fisheries on the Spit).   

Alexandra Headland  

Alexandra Headland is a top spot for a stunning ocean view from vantage points along the headlands. Grab an outdoor table and order a coffee and breakfast at the Alexandra Headland Surf Club kiosk. We bet you’ll be back here for sunset drinks too.    

Port Cartwright Beach 

From La Balsa Park, follow a pleasant path along the river to a picturesque beach. Here, the scenic rock pools and waves crashing against the breakwater makes a popular photography destination. And when conditions are right, local surfers will be out here catching the break.  

Looking for a spot of humpback whale watching during migration season (generally June – November)? Head to the top of the hill next to the Point Cartwright water tower for the best chance to see them from land.  

Hidden Hinterland

Lake Macdonald | Photo by @ourcoastlife via IG

Beyond the beach, you’ll find the Sunshine Coast hinterland just a short scenic drive away. It’s a landscape of waterfalls, walking trails and the eleven peaks of the Glass House Mountains that tower on the horizon (and can be seen from the coast) 

Most visitors make a beeline for Eumundi Markets and charming Montville, with its storybook setting of cottages, craft shops and galleries.  

But if you’ve been there, done that, and want to explore like a local, follow our guide to the Sunshine Coast hinterland.     

Kondalilla Falls  

Kondalilla National Park is the place to go for walking trails and secret swimming holes.  Looking for a nature escape? Listening to the birds chirping as the sunlight streams through the canopy of Eucalypts, palms and ferns is a great way to start the day.  

For an easy walking trail, Picnic Creek Circuit (1.7km) leads to scenic rock pools, perfect for a dip on a warm day. But if you’re looking for a workout, take the Kondalilla Falls Circuit (4.7km) to the base of Kondalilla Falls.  


Only just starting to attract attention, discover Cooroy‘s timber history on the Cooroy Heritage Walk. Fenwick’s Sawmill Lower Mill Site is a surprisingly well-preserved mill, and relic of the region’s timber milling past. Pop into the historic Butter Factory, which is now an art gallery showcasing the range of local talent. Discover an artisan store stocked with a range of local art and crafts or, if you’re feeling inspired, you can join a pottery class or art workshop and create your own masterpiece.    

Noosa Country Drive 

Get behind the wheel to explore the hidden corners and rolling hills along the Noosa Country Drive. Besides Cooroy, the hinterland towns of Cooran, Doonan, Pomona and Kin Kin have much to offer. 

A short drive from Cooroy, on the shores of Lake Macdonald, is the picturesque Noosa Botanical Gardens. With beautiful water views, they’re a serene place to take a stroll or enjoy a picnic. 

Plan your drive to have a bite to eat at Kin Kin General Store. This café set within a traditional general store is loved by locals – no Sunshine Coast guide worth their salt would let you miss its hearty brunch and lunch farePacking a seasonal menu showcasing local ingredients, the owners are cattle farmers who smoke their own beef to supply to the café. Needless to say, this makes the double-smoked brisket burger a must-try. It’s served on a charcoal bun with bourbon barbeque sauce. Delicious!  

Eat local, like a local

Because what’s a local’s Sunshine Coast guide without letting you in on all the best places to eat? There once was a time when good coffee was hard to find, and eating fish and chips by the seaside was staple fare (although, with these awesome fish and chips shops it’s still a much-loved option) 

These days, the best restaurants on the Sunshine Coast are the ones that create menus around produce from local farms or straight off the fishing trawlers, with a fusion of flavoursHere’s our favourite local picks: 

Rice Boi 

Located in the redeveloped Mooloolaba Wharf precinct, Rice Boi serves mouth-watering Asian-inspired street food. The decor is a contemporary version of an Asian street cafe: think cool wall murals and props to make you feel like you’re somewhere in Asia.  

Kandanga Kitchen 

Tucked into the Mary Valley hinterlandKandanga Kitchen is a destination in itself, and well worth the detour from Noosa. The owners of this farm café are supporters of the Slow Food movement and meals are prepared with chemical-free local meat and produce from within 10km of the restaurant. The menu changes with the seasons, and it’s the spot for a quick paddock-to-plate lunch that doesn’t cost a fortune. 

Copperhead Restaurant Brewery 

Book a table at Copperhead Restaurant Brewery, one of a growing list of brew pubs on the Sunshine Coast that brew craft beer on site. Sip a cool Summer Ale (grapefruit and white peach), a rich Chocolate Stout or, if you can’t decide, order the Copperhead Tasting Paddle ($13) and taste five of their most popular beers. The restaurant dishes up country-sized meals in a sophisticated setting, so come with an appetite.  

If you’re staying a little longer, keep well fed with our Sunshine Coast guide to the best restaurants.

Local picks: Events to add to your calendar

The Curated Plate

Photo by @thecuratedplate via IG

When’s the best time to visit? Each year there are a host of events and festivals on the Sunshine Coast worth putting on your to-do list.  

The Curated Plate  

New in 2019, The Curated Plate is a four-day food festival on the Sunshine Coast – and it’ll be back in August 2020 

The festival’s focus is on regional produce and there’s an impressive roll call of international and Australian chefs who cook up a storm around the Sunshine Coast.  Meet the producers during farm visits in the hinterlandjoin a food trail for a culinary adventure, and bee-line to the Food Fair in Maroochydore which has a huge lineup of masterclasses, cooking demonstrations, food stalls and entertainment. 

Horizon Festival 

The coast’s premier arts and culture event, Horizon Festivalfalls over ten days in August/September. Visual art displays, music, performances, film and creative workshops are held in various locations across the Sunshine Coast. It’s a great way to connect to local and international artists.