Why the Gold Coast isn't the place we used to know

The Collective at Palm Beach is proof people don't just go to surf clubs to drink on the Goldie.
The Collective at Palm Beach is proof people don't just go to surf clubs to drink on the Goldie.

Resident Craig Tansley reveals the Gold Coast isn't the same place we used to know...

If you thought the Gold Coast was all about theme parks and beaches, chances are you probably haven't been here in a while. Culture is now a lot more important than back-flipping dolphins and the sight of Bugs Bunny.

For all its natural beauty, the 'Goldie' of the past could be a little superficial and empty. But there's an emerging cultural vibe about the region now. It's filled with upscale restaurants, kitsch bars, cool breweries, as well as multimillion-dollar arts precincts. The Gold Coast is all grown up.

Ah, the Gold Coast, it might've changed culturally, but you'd still just go for the beach, right.

Ah, the Gold Coast, it might've changed culturally, but you'd still just go for the beach, right.

I'm driving down a street full of mechanics' workshops feeling slightly lost. I roll down my window and hear music - slow jazz fusion that sounds nothing like the pub rock I used to associate with the Gold Coast. Not a hint of Daryl Braithwaite's "The Horses".

The first stop on our cultural and foodie tour is the Miami Marketta, just off the Gold Coast Highway. Inside an enormous warehouse, a band plays on stage and the cocktail bar is decked out in pink and purple. Food trucks are serving all sorts of international cuisine.

Balter Brewery is part of the Gold Coast's push to a new coolness.

Balter Brewery is part of the Gold Coast's push to a new coolness.

Families wind their way back and forth between the couples and groups of singles watching artists paint and antique furniture designers doing their thing.

Further south, in the industrial confines of Currumbin Waters, a suburb once full of surfboard manufacturers, Dust Temple hides out in a warehouse set-up similar to Miami Marketta. I order a soy latte as a guitarist and drummer softly soundtrack an art exhibition. There is a studio offering art workshops with a bloke whose long, blond locks look more avant-garde than sun-bleached mane.

A few streets east, a Mexican food truck dishes out tacos and burritos at the brewery of Australia's best-rated craft beer, Balter. People in their forties and fifties rub shoulders with early twentysomething hipsters and I can't help feeling - and it's a feeling I have a lot these days on the Coast - that I might be in Fitzroy, or Newtown.

Heading north to the other end of the Goldie, I'm hanging out in a new cultural precinct set on 17 hectares. Home of the Arts (HOTA) is part of a $365 million investment into art and music on the Coast: later this year, a six-level art gallery will open, making it the country's biggest regional gallery.

For all the new arty offerings, this revolution is led by stomachs. Burleigh Heads is foodie central and Rick Shores leads the way. The restaurant is so close to the sea, the floor is concrete to allow for king tides. It lacks the pretence of the old Gold Coast - when diners arrived in limos, wearing white pants and snakeskin shoes.

Miami Marketta was at the forefront of the cultural revolution on the Gold Coast.

Miami Marketta was at the forefront of the cultural revolution on the Gold Coast.

Now, it's just a fun place to eat and hang out - for all ages - while you watch the famous waves of Burleigh Point almost come in the front door. There's a bar in the corner where you'll see everyone from parents with their grown-up kids to famous sportspeople, and everyone in between. And right next door, the owners of Sydney's Manly Wharf just spent $10 million on the Goldie's first beach club, Burleigh Pavilion.

I'm even more taken by the eateries I have to look for. There are plenty of restaurants worth the search in Burleigh Heads. Iku Yakitori & Whisky Bar is so hidden I walk past it twice before I discover the entrance in a laneway out back. Japanese chefs cook over a traditional binchotan-charcoal grill, smoke billowing, and it's like I've arrived in the back streets of Tokyo. Kanpai!

A street further back, Alex Munoz (former head chef of Sydney restaurants Cirrus Dining and Monopole) has an eatery making serious waves. There is barely any signage for Restaurant Labart, but that's part of the appeal - and the food is next level. "I think there's more high-level culinary dining experiences to be had on the Gold Coast than Byron Bay and Noosa combined," says Munoz.

Tim Minchin at HOTA in March.

Tim Minchin at HOTA in March.

Just south of Burleigh Heads, book ahead for The Collective at Palm Beach, five eateries inside one two-storey open-air restaurant that was once the post office. The suburb's seen 15 new bars, cafes and restaurants open in the past three years; and the story's the same in other culinary hotspots (Nobby Beach, Mermaid Beach and Miami).

On Sundays, you can sit in the sunshine as musicians play their tunes at The Village Markets at the primary school in Burleigh Heads; among the cool cats you'll see just as many families. There's everything here from fashion must-haves, to the latest, greatest health necessity. The former industrial areas of Miami and Mermaid Beach are also now full of fashion houses and galleries.

The Gold Coast lacks a real CBD, so it's not as easy to find all these new attractions as it is in Melbourne or Sydney. But beyond the beach and the theme parks, explore the suburbs to find a new café, art gallery or restaurant that'll make you wonder where the hell you flew to when you booked that seat to the Gold Coast.

Fly: There are regular flights to Gold Coast Airport, at Coolangatta, with Jetstar, Qantas and Virgin Australia.

Stay: La Costa Motel is a retro '60s beachside motel that takes you back to when families shared a drink outside their room with their new neighbours.

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