Palm Beach (Gold Coast) has roots as a 1960s holiday home dream and a somewhat shady rep, but it’s now having its time in the sun with new developments and an emerging dining scene.
There was a time when you would have had absolutely no reason to stop as you drove through Palm Beach. Sitting like the forgotten middle child between Coolangatta – on the Gold Coast’s southern border with New South Wales – and its hip older sister, Burleigh Heads to its north, Palm Beach was at one time known more for its needle exchange site than a buzzing cafe scene.
Straddling both sides of the Gold Coast highway with a numbered system of street names that’s more Santa Monica than Queensland, ‘Palmy’, as it’s affectionately known, was always a bit rough around the edges, even in the 1870s when the area was designated pastoral land. The South Coast railway didn’t even stop there until 1922, when it was still part of Elanora.
A subdivision by the Palm Beach Company Ltd was what led to the beachside ’hood gaining its own name and subsequently, fibro holiday homes started sprouting along Jefferson Lane. It was the affordable dream – in the early ’60s The Truth newspaper in Brisbane advertised ‘holiday homes for the working man’ with blocks of land up for sale, with ‘whatever deposit suits you’.
But within the last few years, this suburb has been gentrified quicker than you can say “Range Rover” and a new wave of discerning young residents has washed in. New luxury apartment developments are taking over corner blocks and real estate prices are skyrocketing.
That’s what’s led to a spate of openings within the past 12 months, so many, in fact, that you’ll be hard pressed to fit everything into a weekend.
Start with these local haunts and see how you go.
1. Wildernis: cocktail and breakfast
Is it a cafe serving cocktails or a bar serving breakfast? It’s both! Local tradies Josh Bailey and Andy Canfield decided to rip out the adjoining office space that came with the lease on what was once Little St Kilda Cafe and lifted the roof to drink in one of Palmy’s best assets: its ocean view.
Now running as a cafe downstairs serving healthy eats and smoothies, it’s the rooftop that steals the show, opening for weekend brunch and Sunday sessions, with a sneaky little laneway linking the two. Local ales are on tap, and there are house cocktails and Ink Gin from nearby Husk Distillers too.
2. Mr Bengel: Burleigh brekky
With a pedigree built in Burleigh Heads (with popular restaurant and rooftop bar, Justin Lane, and Harry’s Steak Bistro & Bar) the guys behind Mr Bengel have injected a very GC vibe into this Gold Coast Highway spot. You’ll find rainbow and green breakfast bowls brimming with kimchi and sauerkraut, and loaded with avocado, greens, smoked salmon and free-range eggs.
3. Little Maisy: Instagram shopping
What exactly is an Instagram store? That’s the question asked most in the adorable new kids’ boutique, Little Maisy. Stocking over 45 ‘Instagram brands’ – all handmade and Australian-owned products, previously only available via Instagram – expect trendy silicone teething chews in the shape of pineapples and teepee tents, Rubz & Lolli leather shoes and hashtag slogan tees.
4. The Craft Parlour: Workshops for you
“I’m not into up-and-coming places, everything I’ve done is organic,” says Rachael Valentine, the girl behind the cutest house in Palm Beach, filled to the brim with plants, crafty creations and op-shop finds. There’s no denying she was ahead of the game, though. After organising workshops at Miami Marketta, Rachael chose Palm Beach to bring The Craft Parlour to life permanently and now holds 15 workshops a month in everything from macrame and resin art to meditation.
5. 8th Ave. Terrace: foodie views
Capitalising on cracking views over the Pacific Ocean, this two-level bar and restaurant from the owners of Espresso Moto feels like a luxury castaway’s playground with timber flooring, brass bar tops, and thick wooden beams overhead. Hanging pots spill over with greenery and binoculars hang ready for action on one of the walls. Head here for sundowners and bar snacks, or book ahead for one of its wine dinners. 8thaveterrace.com.au
6. The Collective: street food with table service
The Collective takes the concept of street food markets and food trucks and amps them up with table service and one menu that allows you to choose from five kitchens. Offering everything from poke to pizzas, tacos to baos, and chicken ‘n’ waffles to jugs of Pimm’s, this two-level space heaves on weekends; arrive early if you’re in a group.
7. La Costa Motel: ’50s style
While there are no hotels in Palmy (yet) and you’re more likely to rent a place on Airbnb, 10 minutes down the highway you can take a step back in time in one of the original ’50s motels at La Costa. Rooms are simple but sufficient, and let’s face it, it’s all about the location – just a few short steps to the beach – and the cute beach umbrellas and cruiser bikes out front of the weatherboard digs.
8. Espresso Moto: caffeine and bikes
Start your day at the bar and check out the motorcycle workshop inside this cafe on the Gold Coast Highway; the owners flew in a mechanic all the way from Italy to tinker with the tools inside the uncharacteristically clean glass-enclosed space. An industrial theme permeates, while the all-day menu – affixed to Espresso Moto numberplates – is more hipster biker fuel than grease monkey, with dishes like ACai Bircher Muesli with house-made lemon curd.
9. Greenhouse, The Bathhouse: Palmy pamper
Technically just over the ’burb border, it’s still fair to group Greenhouse, The Bathhouse as part of the Palmy crew. Leave your shoes at the door for a massage or facial using plant-based products, or stay for a full session rotating between the whirlpools, eucalyptus steam room, red cedar hot rock sauna, and magnesium plunge pool and sun deck, snacking on vegan eats in between.
You wouldn’t think bread and butter could become an event, but at this new restaurant homemade rye sourdough is served with great cubes of salt and a grater to sprinkle over smears of buffalo or Jersey milk butter. Diners then dive into a menu crafted with local produce from farmers between Byron Bay and Stanthorpe, with most of it organic, and as much butchering as possible done in-house.
11. Bow Wow
This is not a pet store, nor a merchandise store for the rapper of the same name. This little gem actually stocks an eclectic range of pieces from vintage clothing and new styles to beautifully restored furniture.
We spotted a pair of 1940s brass lamps with Bruce Goold Banana Grove lampshades and some cool vintage maps. Swoon.
12. Barrenjoey Lighthouse walk
Start from the beach carpark near The Boathouse; walk north along the narrow stretch of sand for about 200 metres and turn right when you see a sign to the lighthouse.
Another 100 metres will bring you to another sign with two trail options: Smugglers Track, which is a steep 10-minute climb via steps, or the Access Trail, a 15-minute gradual incline. Either way, you’ll get your heart rate going.
At the top the views of the isthmus between the ocean and the bay are spectacular. Turn the other way and you have panoramic views all the way to the Central Coast; from May to August keep an eye out for whales.
There are guided tours of the historic lighthouse every Sunday between 11am and 3pm; $5 per adult, $3 per child.
13. Pronto Creative
Start your day with a hearty breakfast and caffeine fix at Pronto Creative. Located on Barrenjoey Road, this casual cafe has been a locals’ favourite for 35 years, serving up a mean coffee and a healthy menu of freshly squeezed juices, sandwiches and daily baked muffins.
14. Barrenjoey House
This iconic guesthouse, located near Palm Beach wharf, has seven guest rooms above the public restaurant, all painted a fresh white with relaxed coastal styling.
A light breakfast of fresh sourdough and preserves, yoghurt, muesli and fruit is served in the guest dining room, but if you stay in the gorgeous Loft – and we recommend you do – you can enjoy breakfast privately in your own cosy dining nook that looks out to Pittwater.
Choose an accommodation package that includes a three-course meal in the restaurant, a beautiful space with a subtle colonial-Africa ambiance: exposed beams, rustic woods, rattan chairs, and palm-frond prints.
Though the menu certainly lends itself to fine dining, service is sophisticated yet relaxed; dine on the candlelit terrace during summer, or by the fireplace in winter.
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