When you don't like theme parks...
Reputation: theme parks filled with kids.
Why you should go: great beaches, with plenty of beach to go around. Year-round warm weather. Good shopping. Lots of things to occupy the kids.
A quick note about getting around on the Gold Coast: attractions tend to be spread out so we recommend hiring a car. Check out your preferred rental car company - they're bound to have a branch here - and keep an eye out for deals. Most people hire a car from Brisbane Airport, the arrival point for most visitors.
Enjoy the golden beaches
Beaches here stretch for miles. And miles. Surfer's Paradise, Main Beach, Broadbeach. One flows into the other. So go surfing, lie in the sun, swim, stroll, jog, have a picnic, play beach volleyball, dig a hole, play in the sand...
The beaches can get crowded during school holidays and the stretch at Surfer's Paradise can be particularly busy. If beachy solitude is what you're after, a short stroll in either direction will reveal a private patch of sand.
Meet the locals
David Fleay Wildlife Park has crocodiles, kangaroos, wallabies and other native animals in a setting that closely resembles their natural habitats. The park is relatively small and can be covered in a couple of hours. Plenty of shade makes it comfortable to explore even in full sun. The park tends to be less crowded than other local attractions.
There's a café onsite but we recommend taking a picnic instead. An entry fee applies and there's free parking available. The park is located at Burleigh Heads, about 25 minutes drive from Surfer's Paradise, and is suitable for people with mobility issues.
Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is a great place to meet koalas, dingos and other native animals. You can even feed the kangaroos for a small additional fee. There are various places to eat that should keep you going through the day. Tickets are pricey ($A49 for adults and $A35 for kids) so keep an eye on its website and local tourism magazines for specials.
The sanctuary is located in Currumbin, about half an hour from Surfer's Paradise, and is mostly suitable for people with mobility issues although some tracks are quite steep. Parking is available onsite for a small fee or you might be lucky enough to snap up a free park nearby. There's also a shuttle from town.
Hit the shops
The Gold Coast has a reputation for cheap and cheerful wares but a wide range of goodies can be found in the stores here. The most popular destination is Pacific Fair in Broadbeach, which has over 200 stores such as Uniqlo, H&M, Mimco, Christian Louboutin and a couple of department stores. Parking is horrible so we recommend walking if you're staying nearby or jumping on a bus.
If markets are more your thing, head to Carrera Markets for an eclectic mix of fresh produce, fashion and souvenirs. The kids will like the reptile show, pony rides and mini golf (who doesn't like mini golf?!). The market is theoretically open from 7am every weekend, however when we visited this early many stalls were yet to open. It closes at 3pm. The markets are a short drive from town and can be reached by public transport.
The Gold Coast is also known for its outlets. For great prices on surf brands (think Quiksilver, Roxy and Billabong) and fitness gear, head to Ashmore Factory Outlets, just out of Surfer's Paradise. There's free parking onsite.
Do something that's waaay more fun than it sounds
This falls into the category of 'don't-knock-it-til-you've-tried-it': Tropical Fruit World. It has the world's largest selection of tropical fruit in one location. A tour of the park takes you on a tractor ride through the orchard, a jungle cruise in a flat-bottomed boat, animal feeding and fruit tasting. A few families report that their kids enjoyed this more than the theme parks.
An entry fee applies so look out for discount vouchers in local tourism magazines. Tropical Fruit World is in Duranbah, about 45 minutes from Surfer's Paradise, and has free parking (and great directions on its website). It's not suitable for people with mobility issues as you need to climb on a tractor and into a boat.
Enjoy the sunshine
After all, it's why you're here. Our favourite parks include:
- The cycle-pedestrian path and grass next to the beach along much of Surfer's Paradise. Here you'll find a playground literally every couple of hundred metres, picnic tables, BBQ areas and toilets.
- Kurrawa Park down the road in Broadbeach is a fully fenced 'all abilities' playground with equipment specifically designed for kids with special needs and mobility issues. The park is also very popular with able-bodied kids. The park can get busy, so an early morning or evening visit may be best for kids who prefer to play in a quieter environment.
- Cascade Gardens, also in Broadbeach, is a lovely, quiet and shady spot away from the beach – perfect for escaping the hustle and bustle of the beach. The wide open grassy spaces away from the street make this a great spot for family picnics. There's a small playground with a liberty swing (a swing with ride-on access for wheelchair users).
- John Laws Park is located at Burleigh Heads, near the David Fleay Wildlife Park, and has fantastic views towards Surfer's Paradise in the north, as well as actual surfers nearby. It is the starting point for a couple of walking trails within the Burleigh Heads National Park (approx 2.5-3km or 1.8 mile round trip). The trails are not accessible to wheelchair users due to steps and the narrowness of the paths. Parking is available but be prepared for it to be very congested.
Parks on the Gold Coast generally feature ample shaded areas, which makes visiting during the heat of the day much more comfortable and sun smart.
Chow down on some delicious 'fast' food
Guzman y Gomez, a chain of fresh and tasty Mexican restaurants, will keep you fed while you're out and about. Their 'little guy burritos' are a hit with kids and small eaters. Dishes come mild or spicy and can be further spiced up with the addition of salsas. All menu items are available as vegetarian options, so this should keep everyone happy.
My Gelato on Oracle Boulevard in Broadbeach has a tasty range of gelato and sorbets.
Brunch & Co on Charles Avenue in Broadbeach does decent coffee, tasty chocolate brownies and a range of counter food. It's great for early-birds as it opens at 6.30am.
If you try just one theme park...
Try Sea World. If you take away the rides and shows you are left with an aquarium. There's a large underwater viewing area, penguins, polar bears, a stingray touch pool, rock pools, and dolphin and penguin encounters.
Make sure you take sun screen and drink plenty of water – there isn't much shade so it's easy to get dehydrated. Ticket prices aren't cheap (about $A80 per person) so keep an eye on its website for specials. Great for people with disabilities: see the Sea World website for details.
Where to stay
The Gold Coast is full of cheap holiday apartments but some are a bit dodgy. We stayed at Ultra Broadbeach, a great apartment complex close to beaches, shops and public transport. There are one, two and three bedroom apartments available, and the complex includes a pool, BBQ area, mini cinema and tennis courts.
If you need baby gear and don't want to bring it with you, we like Hire For Baby for car seats, cots, high chairs and toys. They charge about half of what the car rental company quoted for car seats. The hire cost included installation, which was all completed before we picked up our car from the airport.
To make sure this page loads quickly we've popped the photos on a separate page.
Contributor: Fran Schofield
Updated: 6 January 2018