February 13, 2023
13 mins Read
Located just 90 minutes north of Sydney, the Central Coast has long been a favourite and easy getaway for weekenders and holidaymakers. Aside from soaking up sand and sea at one of the many beaches, visitors can hike through lush pockets of rainforest to reach waterfalls, dine at award-winning restaurants helmed by celebrated chefs, scuba dive around the scuttled HMAS Adelaide, and even shuck oysters to find rare pearls. The region is also certified by Ecotourism Australia as an ECO Destination, meaning a visit here is also a tick for environmentally and socially responsible travel. Here, find the best things to see and do on the Central Coast.
Just as in life, some of the best things are free on the Central Coast.
With an 87-kilometre coastline and 40-plus beaches, the Central Coast is a beach lovers’ nirvana. It almost goes without saying, part of the holiday experience is finding a patch of sand and enjoying the ocean lifestyle, whether that be splashing about with the kids at Toowoon Bay, taking a dip at The Entrance Ocean Baths or hopping about the rock pools at MacMasters Beach or Pearl Beach.
More than half of the Central Coast is made up of natural areas, with many walking and hiking tracks that weave throughout. The Coast Walking Track at Wyrrabalong National Park takes you through coastal scrub to panoramic Crackneck Lookout; Brisbane Water National Park is where you’ll find the cascades of Somersby Falls; Bouddi National Park is home to the breathtaking eight-kilometre Bouddi Coastal Walk that traces an ancient headland; or walk through lush green rainforest and past waterfalls in Strickland State Forest.
The Central Coast’s map is made up of an eclectic mix of towns and villages. Enjoy a languid pace at seaside villages such as Ettalong Beach and Copacabana, combine beach life with sophisticated shopping and dining at the bustling town of Terrigal, or explore urban hubs such as Long Jetty where creatives have settled in droves.
Stroll through Mt Penang Parklands, where 70 per cent of plants are native to Australia, or feel zen at Edogawa Commemorative Garden, which is based on a traditional Japanese ‘shuyu’ (strolling style) garden. The latter also adjoins the Gosford Regional Art Gallery, which is worthy of lingering longer.
From nature-based experiences to creative pursuits, high-thrill adventures to cultural immersion, the Central Coast doubles down on enjoyment for all kinds of travellers.
Who better to teach you how to surf than a former pro? Central Coast Surf Academy is run by former professional surfer Amee Donohoe, with lessons at many locations including Umina Beach – which has safe conditions for learners of all ages – and Avoca Beach, which is known for its perfect point break.
Terrigal Ocean Tours runs year-round cruises to see the incredible marine life around the Central Coast. Summer Fun Tours operate from Hardys Bay (November to April), on which you may spot dolphins, seals and little penguins around Broken Bay, and Whale Watching Tours operate from Terrigal (May to November) to see humpbacks on their yearly migration.
Thrill seekers will love Glenworth Valley Outdoor Adventures, home to quad biking, abseiling, kayaking and more. For a quintessential Australian experience, join the Cattle Drive Ride where you’ll help to muster a herd of cattle through the scenic valley of eucalypt, creeks and pockets of rainforest, followed by a barbecue lunch at the homestead.
The Central Coast is home to thousands of significant aboriginal sites where ancient rock art and middens have been discovered, such as Bulgandry Aboriginal Art Site in Kariong and Warre Warren Aboriginal Place in Upper Mangrove. Discover some of these and more with local elder Gavi Duncan of Darkinjung Cultural Tours, while also enjoying a bush food-inspired morning tea and Welcome to Country smoking ceremony.
The Central Coast is the ultimate family-friendly destination, with endless exciting kid-friendly activities to keep them entertained.
Summon your inner Tarzan or Jane at Treetops Adventure, which has multiple ropes courses and ziplines, or bounce, leap and play at adjacent NetWorld, which is a series of nets and ball pits elevated in the trees.
Home to more than 2000 animals, from crocodiles to wombats to spiders, the iconic Australian Reptile Park has been delighting families for more than 60 years (as well as being involved in important antivenom and conservation work). Catch the daily shows, including feeding Elvis the croc, or book an animal encounter to go behind the scenes.
Amazement Farm & Fun Park at Wyong is a fun-filled day out for tiny travellers, with hedged mazes, friendly farm animals, a ride-on train, a kids’ playground, giant lawn games and pony rides.
Norah Head Lighthouse has been guiding ships safely since 1903. Daily tours are available you can climb its 96 stairs, see the 700-prism light up close, listen to stories of shipwrecks and learn about the role of a lighthouse keeper.
Head to the hinterland on a road trip along Tourist Drive 33 for some unique farm experiences such as pick-your-own fruit sessions. Head to Peruch Avocados in Somersby to pick avos (from October); Wyuna Farms in Kulnura to pick oranges (from January); and The Giving Farm in Jilliby to pick blueberries (from October). Or join a Morning Chores tour at Grace Springs Farm, where small children can help with tending to the chooks, ducks, pigs and cows.
Don’t let the little ones have all the fun; enjoy some adult time with these experiences.
Adults with a penchant for good food will be pleased with the culinary offering on the Central Coast. The region is home to six restaurants that were hatted by the Australian Good Food Guide in 2022, including the two-hatted Osteria Il Coccia in Ettalong where dishes are cooked with fire, the intimate and sophisticated Yellowtail in Terrigal, and Wild Flower Bar + Dining at luxe guesthouse Bells at Killcare.
From vintage finds to bohemian clothing, the boutique shopping on the Central Coast is kept interesting by the many local designers and makers. It’s all about relaxed, chic and bohemian-style fashion on the Coast, with Bohemian Traders at Erina Heights, Shadow Bang at Long Jetty, La Boheme Lifestyle in Terrigal, and Antigua Collective, also Terrigal, among the favourites.
If markets are more your style, you’re in luck. The Central Coast has a packed-out calendar of markets, including the long-standing Avoca Beachside Markets (held on the fourth Sunday of each month), Long Jetty Markets on the foreshore (held on the last Saturday of each month) and Woy Woy Waterfront markets (second Sunday of each month). You can read more about the Central Coast’s best markets in our guide.
Clearly, Coasties love their beer, with a handful of craft breweries calling the region home. The OG, Six Strings Brewing, opened in 2012 and has a taphouse at Erina as well as weekend brewery tours. In Gosford, Bay Rd Brewing has a light and airy taphouse with a food truck that changes weekly. Kincumber’s microbrewery, Block N Tackle offers a cheese and beer paddle in collaboration with local cheesemongers Little Creek Cheese. Hawkesbury River Brewing Co is currently setting up shop at Lisarow with a taphouse opening soon, while Goons Brewing is currently, er, brewing up something exciting.
From shucking for pearls to diving naval wrecks, the Central Coast has a long list of unforgettable experiences.
If you’re an oyster lover, this is the ultimate experience. Don your waders and join Sydney Oyster Farm Tours at Mooney Mooney, where you will wade out in the waters where the oysters are grown, learn about the evolution of oyster farming, and then shuck and taste these delicious bivalves straight from the river.
If you think pearl trumps oysters, then Broken Bay Pearl Farm – located on the sparkling Lower Hawkesbury River – should be on your radar. Sustainably growing the rarer-than-diamonds Akoya pearls, the run tours where you can learn about the lifecycle of a pearl, browse the jewellery at the ‘shellar door’, and enjoy some fresh local oysters.
Forget smashed avo at your local café; join the alpacas of Iris Lodge Alpacas in Jilliby for breakfast instead. There are more than 60 alpaca and llama to meet and greet, as well as sheep, cows and horses. Families can also stay overnight at the farm.
Scuttled in April 2011, the HMAS Adelaide is located 1.5 kilometres off the coast of Terrigal and is the largest former naval dive wreck in the Southern Hemisphere. This diverse and complex dive site quickly became an artificial reef thriving with marine life, such as crabs, octopus, sponges, large grouper, turtles, dolphins and seals. Dives can be booked through Pro Dive Central Coast.
The fun doesn’t stop once the sun sets.
Make your way to Tropicana Social Club in Woy Woy for pizzas and tropical drinks with a 1950s vibe, or rewind another 20 years with a drink at Motel Mezza, which is housed in a former 1930s bank in Wyong. Another heritage building brought back to life is that of Long Jetty’s The Savoy; this former 1950s theatre has been converted into a multi-purpose bar and restaurant, complete with regular film screenings. Hotel Gosford has become an iconic watering hole all over again after a huge refurb; its sleek Art Deco style is a nod to its 1920s origins. While in beach town Terrigal, Pocket Bar is an edgy bolthole where inventive cocktails and delicious bar bites are on the menu. Keep reading our guide for more bar-hopping recommendations.
Located at Calga, Australian Walkabout Wildlife Park is a sanctuary for native animals including the Tassie devil, koala and wombat. Once the sun sets, you can bring a torch and follow a ranger as you spot wildlife, such as possums and bilbies, when they are most active, followed by a campfire with marshmallows. If you want to stay overnight, eco cabins are available to book.
Run by the same family since 1948, the historic Avoca Beach Theatre is a charming single-screen cinema with red velvet seats, and a café and wine bar to boot. Come to watch the latest blockbuster films as well as an impressive list of independent films.
If you’re stuck indoors thanks to wet weather, make it fun with these perfect rainy day activities.
Glenn McKimmin is one of the region’s best landscape photographers; see his breathtaking prints on display at his Long Jetty gallery. Another local household name, Grant Molony is the guy behind some of the most recognisable street and wall art featured around the Coast; check out his gallery space Rowsie Lane in The Entrance.
While over at Killcare, Bouddi Gallery exclusively trades in unique arts and crafts produced by remote Aboriginal Art Centres from across the country.
Disconnect from your busy schedule and connect with the ancient land at intimate Bells Day Spa at Bells at Killcare, where native products are used in conjunction with healing techniques inspired by indigenous Australia. At Vie Spa in Pullman Magenta Shores Resort, all-Australian organic products are used for the top-to-toe rituals, in a space that provides Japanese-style zen. Or relax in the luxe Roman Spa at Aztec Skin Clinic & Day Spa, complete with a fruit and cheese platter, followed by a Fiji-inspired treatment.
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