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The Sunshine Coast: A complete guide

When I think of Queensland as a holiday destination, it’s the Sunshine Coast that comes to mind first. It’s almost as though some divine travel deity decided to craft a little pocket of coastline to have everything you would want for a warm relaxing getaway.

From Caloundra in the south, to Noosa in the north, the large towns along the Sunshine Coast offer plenty of beaches for swimming or surfing (or just sitting, while you eat and drink). And, as tourist hubs, they all offer plenty of other activities if you want a bit of adventure or exploration.

Esplanade, Mooloolaba, Sunshine Coast, Queensland
The Esplanade in Mooloolaba has a range of eateries with views of the water

Just inland are towns like Maroochydore and Nambour that have a bit more of an urban feel – perfect for shopping, larger attractions, and space for things like breweries and distilleries.

Then there are also the charming villages like Maleny and Montville in the lush hinterland of the Sunshine Coast, where you’ll find artists, farmers, and local producers. Plus the hinterland is full of natural delights with some stunning waterfalls and viewpoints.

Mapleton Falls Walk, Sunshine Coast
Walking near Mapleton Falls in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland

Throughout it all, the Sunshine Coast has also developed into a bit of a foodie’s haven so you can find some impressive meals after a day at the beach – or turn your day into a journey through all the tastes of the region.

Eumundi Markets, Sunshine Coast, Queensland
The famous Eumundi Markets are held every Wednesday and Saturday

The Sunshine Coast may not have the reef or the dramatic rainforests of northern Queensland, but it also doesn’t have the crocodiles, cassowaries, or dangerous stingers. It’s the safe (but still beautiful) environment that has made it such a popular holiday destination for decades!

Where to stay on the Sunshine Coast

Choosing where to stay on the Sunshine Coast is one of the first things you will need to work out. The good news is that there isn’t really a bad option.

Each area of the Sunshine Coast has a good range of accommodation to suit any budget and style of travel. Unless there is a specific hotel or resort you’re interested in, you should be able to find something in any area.

The Big Pineapple, Sunshine Coast
The iconic Big Pineapple was built on the Sunshine Coast in 1971

So then it becomes about what kind of trip you want. If you are planning to focus on the beach and the water, then the coast makes sense. Caloundra or Mooloolaba are good for more relaxed or family coastal holidays. Noosa is also great, but it tends to be a bit more upmarket and can get quite busy.

Consider the Sunshine Coast hinterland if you are interested in doing a bit of exploring. Places like Montville put you right amongst the nature, as well as easy access to incredible dining options.

And you could also base yourself in Maroochydore or even Nambour, both of which put you in the middle of it all, so you can drive to different parts of the coast each day to explore a variety of areas.

Things to do on the Sunshine Coast – coastal

Let’s have a look now at the best things to do on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, starting with the main hubs along the coast. Going from south to north, these are the main areas of the Sunshine Coast and some of my tips for how to make the most of them.

Caloundra

As the closest Sunshine Coast destination to Brisbane, Caloundra has a fair amount of development, yet it’s still got a relaxed holiday vibe.

The water is the main focus here and there are lots of ways to experience it. For some quality time on the beach, head to Kings Beach (although there are half a dozen other options), or grab a kayak or paddle board to go a bit further out.

Heading south from Caloundra, there’s the Pumicestone Passage, a stretch of protected water that goes through some untouched nature (a jet ski is a fun option here!). Or you can go for a stroll on the Caloundra Coastal Walk that goes for 25 kilometres, all the way up to Mooloolaba.

Seeing as Caloundra may also be your introduction to the local producers, try Moffat Beach Brewing Co, or grab a coffee from the popular Pocket Espresso.

Mooloolaba

If you’re looking for a fun beach trip, then Mooloolaba is one of the best places along the Sunshine Coast. Mooloolaba Beach is the focus but there’s also nearby Alex Beach, for a bit of variety.

The path along the coast here is a great way to see a bit of the area and get some exercise. You can walk it or cycle it – EcoTekk rents electric bikes and offers tours of the natural highlights along the way.

Mooloolaba Beach, Sunshine Coast, Queensland
Looking out across Mooloolaba Beach from one of the rest areas

Mooloolaba is a tourist haven and, along much of the coastline here, there are good restaurants, bars, and cafes. It’s all quite casual but there are also more stylish options.

It’s the kind of place where you can grab an excellent coffee by the sand in your bikini, have a healthy brunch on the esplanade, or find a top chef running a restaurant. A good dinner spot is Spice Bar, which has an impressive tasting menu.

Maroochydore

At the heart of the Sunshine Coast is Maroochydore, the most bustling that this holiday region gets. It feels bigger and busier because it has large shopping malls and even some office buildings… but it is still coastal Queensland, so don’t expect a huge CBD.

Earlier I described Maroochydore as slightly inland because it does feel that way – most of the development is along the river, rather than the coast. But it still stretches out to the ocean and Maroochydore Beach is great for a swim.

But it is worth exploring the river too, where you can get a stand-up paddleboard or kayak. There is also the Bushland Botanic Garden.

But for a lot of people, Maroochydore is about the shopping, the clubs, the cinemas, and other attractions like bowling alleys. The new ropes course called Next Level at Sunshine Plaza is also a highlight – it is the largest in Australia.

Coolum Beach

If you are looking for quiet, I think Coolum is the best place on the Sunshine Coast for that. Even in a region full of people relaxing, it is noticeably calmer. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of things to do.

The best thing to do in Coolum literally towers above you – Mount Coolum. Climbing up to the top of the 208-metre-high peak takes about 45 minutes and some of the track is very steep. But it is worth it for the incredible views in every direction.

Climbing Mount Coolum, Sunshine Coast
The view from the climb to the top of Mount Coolum

Elsewhere in Coolum, the focus is normally on the beach. There are some awesome surf spots here, but there are plenty of calm spots along the sand for swimming and families.

Noosa

And then, at the northern end of the Sunshine Coast, you’ll find Noosa, one of the gems of the region.

Noosa is one of the most popular areas of the Sunshine Coast – and for good reason. The beach is beautiful and it’s bordered by the gorgeous Noosa National Park, which has kilometres of trails you can walk.

And at the heart of Noosa is Hastings Street, a strip with top-notch restaurants, bars, and cafes serving the kind of food and drink you would find in the coolest suburbs of any capital city. The Noosa Beach House Restaurant Peter Kuruvita is one of the best places to eat and, for drinks, there is Moonstruck or Miss Moneypenny’s.

Things to do in Noosa: Hastings Street
Hastings Street is full of restaurants, bars, and boutique shopping

But all of this means that Noosa gets very busy (the terrible traffic is notorious) and tend to be more expensive than other parts of the coast. However, avoid central Noosa Heads and it gets much more relaxed.

I have a whole story about the best things to do in Noosa, which includes a thrill boat ride and the stunning Noosa Everglades – a real natural wonder but not that well known by visitors.

Things to do on the Sunshine Coast – hinterland

The beaches are just one part of the Sunshine Coast. Although the name of the region makes you think of the waterside towns – sunshine and coast do tend to conjure up images of beaches – the Sunshine Coast Hinterland is just as interesting.

There are lots of things to do in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland including exploring the nature, tasting the local produce, visiting the heritage and art of the towns. Let’s have a look at the different areas, from south to north.

Beerwah

The town of Beerwah just scrapes into the Sunshine Coast. It’s quite a small town and probably wouldn’t be on the tourist radar if it wasn’t for two very important attractions.

The first is Australia Zoo, the large wildlife park made famous by Steve Irwin. It has been going in some form since 1970 and has dozens of species on display from Australia and around the world.

The other attraction is much older – the Glasshouse Mountains. These 14 mountains were formed by molten rock more than 25 million years ago and each have a distinctive shape. There are walking trails around and up some of the peaks.

Glasshouse Mountains Lookout, Sunshine Coast
The view across some of the peaks from the Glasshouse Mountains Lookout

The national park here is one of the best in SE Queensland. To give yourself time to explore it, you can stay at the Glasshouse Mountains Ecolodge.

Maleny

The small village of Maleny is set amongst fertile land that has long been used by farmers. Once it was mainly dairy, but now there’s a whole range of produce. You can ind some of it at Maleny Food Co, which is particularly famous for its cheese and ice cream.

Maleny Food Co, Sunshine Coast
Kate Scott, co-owner of Maleny Food Co, with some of the gelato

Much of the nature is untouched and you can see waterfalls in the region, with Gardners Falls being one of the easiest to visit. There’s a rainforest walk and spectacular views at the Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve.

Part of the charm of these hinterland villages is just exploring, and you’ll find some charming cafes and shops along the main street of Maleny – perfect after a bit of a hike in the mountains.

Montville

Montville is a bit larger than Maleny and has an even wider range of shops and cafes to explore. There are a few good art galleries here, showcasing the works of local artists (with pieces available for sale).

There is also good dining here and you’ll also find the region’s only winery, Flame Hill Vineyard, where you can do a tasting and stop for a bite to eat at the restaurant with impressive views across the region.

Montville, Sunshine Coast Hinterland
The charming village of Montville feels like Bowral or Leura

From Montville, it isn’t too far to more waterfalls and there is also the recreational area around Lake Baroon. It’s here that the Sunshine Coast Great Walk begins, a 58.5-kilometre trail that is designed to be done over four days with campsites along the way (although it’s possible to do shorter segments).

One of the region’s best accommodation options is in Montville – Spicers Clovelly Estate, which has French-inspired architecture. Here you will also find one of the top restaurants, the Long Apron.

Nambour

There are so many wonderful things to do in the Sunshine Coast that Nambour, traditionally a bit of an industrial and urban centre, was often overlooked. But it has changed in recent years and it’s now got quite a bit of action happening.

In the centre, a collection of street art shows a shift to creativity. And that’s exemplified at Stalwart Brewing, where an old pub has been given a new lease of life with some modern ales.

Stalwart Brewery, Nambour
The Stalwart Brewery in Nambour was opened by Adam Tomlinson in 2020

Nearby, there is the site of the Big Pineapple, which is still good for photos although most of the tourism infrastructure around it has closed down, pending a redevelopment. But behind it there are some new businesses, including the Sunshine & Sons distillery.

Eumundi

There’s a vibe in Eumundi that makes the village feel like an artist retreat. It probably comes from the famous Eumundi Markets, which are held here every Wednesday and Saturday. They attract local producers and artisans from across the region and there are hundreds of stalls.

Eumundi Markets
Some of the hundreds of stalls at the Eumundi Markets

But there is more to Eumundi than just the markets. It has a laidback feel and I recommend just taking your time to try the beers at the local brewery, explore the Ginger Factory (for the kids), and visit some of the galleries and heritage buildings.

There are quite a lot of things to do in this northern end of the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, and Eumundi can be quite a good base to see them all.

Pomona/Kin Kin

There is a string of little villages at the very north of the Sunshine Coast that are well worth visiting. Two of my favourites are Pomona and Kin Kin.

Both of them are much quieter than Montville or Maleny – but not in a bad way. They are just a bit further from the coastal tourism hubs so a lot of people don’t make the effort to visit (or perhaps don’t even know they exist). What you’ll find when you visit is one of the strongest collections of heritage on the Sunshine Coast.

In Pomona, there is a heritage walk that includes the Majestic Theatre from 1921, plus there is a challenging hike up Mt Cooroora. When you have done them, you can relax with a drink and a meal at the new (and very cool) Pomona Distilling Co.

Pomona Distilling Co, Sunshine Coast Hinterland
The outside dining (and drinking) area of the Pomona Distilling Co

Over at Kin Kin, the pace is even slower and the village is even smaller. It was once a hectic centre for the timber and agriculture industries, but now you can enjoy the heritage without the crowds. The corner pub is quite a site, but the best food in town comes from Black Ant Gourmet.

There are lots of other spots to explore in this part of the Sunshine Coast – the town of Cooroy, the Everglades, and other little villages. Turn the driving tour into a day trip and see what you can discover.