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12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions on the Sunshine Coast, Australia

Written by Karen Hastings
Dec 23, 2019

True to its name, the Sunshine Coast, in South East Queensland, basks in year-round sunshine, and its mild, subtropical climate and squeaky-clean beaches make it one of the state's most popular tourist destinations.

A quieter alternative to the glitzy Gold Coast farther south, the Sunshine Coast stretches north from the popular beaches of Caloundra to the sweeping sands of Noosa North Shore, where 4WD vehicles plow a wild stretch of dune-backed beach.

Aerial view of Noosa National Park, Sunshine Coast

Sunshine Coast destinations are packed with things to do. You can feast on fresh-caught seafood at buzzing Mooloolaba Beach, look for snoozy koalas in the national parks, hike to the summit of Mount Coolum, surf some of the country's best breaks, or shop for designer clothes on Noosa's chic Hastings Street.

Families will find plenty of fun attractions to keep the kids entertained, including Underwater World, the Ginger Factory, and the famous Australia Zoo.

Not far from the coast's glamorous beaches, the emerald-hued hinterland offers its own sleepy charm. Top things to do in the Sunshine Coast hinterland include exploring quaint mountain villages, tasting artisan foods, and browsing the colorful markets.

Plan your sightseeing in this beautiful region with our list of the top tourist attractions in the Sunshine Coast.

1. Noosa National Park

Noosa National Park

Noosa National Park is one of the Sunshine Coast's natural jewels. The park encompasses more than 9,800 acres of paperbark forests, pristine beaches, rainforest, dunes, and heathlands.

The most popular section of the park is the Noosa Headland section, with 15 kilometers of hiking trails, including a scenic coastal track that offers a great introduction to the park for first-time visitors. Hiking this trail is one of the best things to do on the Sunshine Coast for free. Before you set out, stop by the information center near the entrance at the end of Park Road and check for recent animal sightings.

Along the coastal track, you'll see spectacular sea views framed by eucalyptus, banksia, and spiraling pandanus trees. Look up every now and then, and you might spot a koala snoozing in the crook of a tree or a glossy black cockatoo.

After about a kilometer, a lookout at Dolphin Point offers panoramic coastal views and sometimes even glimpses of whales and dolphins. Tea Tree Bay or Granite Bay are the perfect spots for a picnic or a paddle in the rock pools. Continuing even farther, Hell's Gates offers breathtaking views of pounding surf and Alexandria Bay.

If you're feeling energetic, you can also hike to the park entrance from Noosa Main Beach. The coastal track is accessible for wheelchairs and strollers all the way to Dolphin Point. Bring sunscreen and plenty of water.

Official site: http://www.nprsr.qld.gov.au/parks/noosa/index.html

2. Australia Zoo, Beerwah

Australia Zoo, Beerwah | Andy Hay / photo modified

About 22 kilometers west of Caloundra, Australia Zoo is one of Queensland's most popular attractions. Steve Irwin, the late croc-loving Aussie conservationist, and his wife Terri helped the park grow into a world-class attraction on 110 acres, with a strong emphasis on conservation and education.

The zoo provides plenty of fun encounters with Aussie animals, including kangaroos, koalas, snakes, and lizards, as well as a striking lineup of exotic species such as elephants, rhinos, cheetahs, and the crowd favorite- Sumatran tigers.

While you're here, try to attend one of the popular live animal shows in the Crocoseum. Depending on the schedule, you can see everything from croc-feeding demonstrations and birds of prey to otters and koalas.

Kids will love hand-feeding kangaroos and giraffes, petting koalas, and riding camels. For an additional fee, you can also visit the animal hospital and support their healing work.

A visit to Australia Zoo is usually a full day adventure. Wear your walking shoes, and be sure to bring sun protection, a refillable water bottle, and a rain jacket-sudden downpours can strike at any time.

Address: 1638 Steve Irwin Way, Beerwah, Queensland

Official site: http://www.australiazoo.com.au/

3. Noosa Main Beach and Hastings Street

Noosa Main Beach and Hastings Street

Squeaky-clean sands and glistening surf breaks lure both visitors and locals alike to the glorious stretch of north-facing coast at Noosa Main Beach. The gentle surf makes it a popular hangout for families and beginner surfers, and it's a lovely spot for a swim, with beautiful views of Noosa National Park cloaking the headland at the eastern end of the beach.

Noosa Main Beach is patrolled every day of the year and is safe for swimming year-round. If you have little ones in tow, the sandy bays along the Noosa River are only five minutes away by car and are the perfect place for a paddle, a picnic, or to cast a fishing line.

If you need a break from the Aussie sun, Hastings Street, Noosa's main drag, is only a short stroll away with chic designer shops, restaurants, and art galleries.

Other popular beaches on the Sunshine Coast include nearby Sunshine Beach; Peregian Beach; busy Mooloolaba Beach; and Coolum Beach, with its popular beachside boardwalk. Kings Beach in Caloundra is also a favorite; kids love the fun water fountain and beachfront swimming pool.

4. The Original Eumundi Markets

The Original Eumundi Markets | bertknot / photo modified

About 20 kilometers southwest of Noosa, the Original Eumundi Markets are the perfect place to soak up some local color. The markets are held every Wednesday morning and Saturday in the cute hinterland town of Eumundi.

Artisan foods, organic produce, designer clothes, home goods, plants, jewelry, skincare, natural therapies, and toys are just some of the items on offer. This is a fantastic place to buy Sunshine Coast souvenirs or enjoy lunch from one of the food stalls, which sell everything from Thai food to Turkish kebabs.

Fun kids' activities, such as camel rides, complement the fabulous shopping. Roving performers keep everyone entertained, and the kids can burn off steam at the playground adjacent to the market.

Address: 80 Memorial Drive, Eumundi, Queensland

Official site: http://www.eumundimarkets.com.au/

5. The Charming Mountain Villages of Montville and Maleny

Kondalilla Falls

For a change in scenery from the coast's sun-splashed beaches, you can take a scenic drive across the Blackall Range through the picturesque hinterland to the cute mountain villages of Montville and Maleny.

These quaint sister towns lie a little more than 10 minutes' drive away from each other, but most tourists visit them both on a day trip from the coast, where the temperatures can often be a little cooler, thanks to the higher elevations. The drive is part of the Blackall Range Tourist Drive and offers spectacular views of the plunging valleys below.

In Montville, art galleries, gift shops, boutiques, and cozy cafés huddle along the tree-lined streets, and you'll notice some European-inspired architecture.

Maleny is also an artsy town, with many galleries, studios, and workshops. Its nearby attractions include Maleny Botanic Gardens & Bird World, with a miniature animal enclosure, aviary, and Devonshire tea; and Maleny Dairies, where you can milk a cow, pet farm animals, and taste some creamy yogurts and cheeses after the tour.

Other Sunshine Coast hinterland tourist attractions include beautiful Kondalilla Falls near Montville, and wildlife lovers can look for pademelons and fruit bats on the trails in the Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve near Maleny, which offers gorgeous views of the Glass House Mountains.

6. Glass House Mountains National Park

Glass House Mountains National Park

Popular with nature lovers and hikers, the distinctive peaks of Glass House Mountains National Park are listed on the Queensland and National Heritage Register. The area is also one of the spiritual places on the Sunshine Coast for the Gubbi Gubbi people, who used this site for sacred ceremonies, as well as trading.

According to aboriginal legend, Mount Beerwah, the highest peak, is the mother that gave birth to the smaller surrounding peaks, and Mount Tibrogargan is the father peak. Rising like giant witch's hats and rounded anthills, the peaks are volcanic plugs, the center of extinct volcanoes.

Mount Ngungun and Mount Tibrogargan are the only two peaks open to the public for hiking, and they offer trails catering to all abilities, from easy base trails to more challenging summit hikes with spectacular coastal views.

Abseiling, mountain biking, horseback riding, and rock climbing are other popular things to do, and the park is home to a rich diversity of plant and animal life, including koalas, echidnas, and grey kangaroos.

Before exploring the area, stop by the Glass House Mountains Visitor and Interpretative Centre. The popular Lookout Cafe, near the Glass House Mountains lookout, is a lovely spot to start or end a gentle hike with Devonshire tea and delightful views. Keep an eye out for kangaroos under the mango trees here.

Address: Glass House Interpretative Centre, Settler's Rotary Park, Reed Street, Glass House Mountains

Official site: http://www.nprsr.qld.gov.au/parks/glass-house-mountains/

7. Noosa North Shore and Rainbow Beach

Noosa North Shore and Rainbow Beach

The gateway to World Heritage-listed Fraser Island, Noosa North Shore is an 80-kilometer stretch of powdery, white sand and gently rolling dunes just across the river from Noosa Heads and Noosaville. This seemingly endless stretch of beach is especially popular with 4WD enthusiasts, anglers, and beachfront campers, who come here for the stunning sea vistas and typically uncrowded stretches of sand.

Wildlife is prolific around the camping areas, and you might see kangaroos, goannas, and rainbow lorikeets. When the tides are low, you can drive along the beach past Teewah and the Colored Sands, ochre-hued cliffs, until you reach Rainbow Beach and Double Island Point, where the car ferry departs for Fraser Island.

You can access Noosa North Shore on the daily car ferry from the end of Moorindil Street in Tewantin. Note that vehicle permits are required to drive along the beach and on some of the inland tracks.

8. Mooloolaba Beach

Mooloolaba Beach

Bristling with high-rise apartments, Mooloolaba Beach is more developed than other Sunshine Coast beaches, but that's part of its popularity. Surf shops, boutiques, galleries, organic eateries, and restaurants beckon just across the street from this sun-drenched north-facing stretch of sand, offering plenty of opportunities to refuel and take a break from the sun.

Popular things to do on the beach include surfing, swimming, sunbathing, and strolling along the beachfront promenade. If you're feeling energetic you can walk all the way to Mooloolaba Spit, about a 40-minute hike, where calmer waters lap the shores, and fishing boats bring in their catches. You can even dive one of Australia's best wrecks, the HMAS Brisbane, off the coast.

Not far from Mooloolaba Beach is Underwater World Sea Life, a popular family attraction, as is nearby Alexandra Headland with a patrolled beach, great point break, and popular skatepark.

Just north of Mooloolaba in Marcoola is the Sunshine Coast Airport, with frequent flights from destinations around Australia, and if you're pining for a shopping fix, head to Sunshine Plaza, the largest outdoor shopping mall on the Sunshine Coast. Browsing the shops here is one of the most popular things to do in Maroochydore.

9. Coolum Beach

Coolum Beach

The coastal town of Coolum Beach is a popular base for Sunshine Coast tourists, thanks to its beautiful stretch of shoreline and plentiful holiday apartments.

Surfing, in particular, is a favorite pastime, and many beginners take lessons at the surf schools here. Locals and tourists alike stroll along the boardwalk and gather by the beach for picnics.

Across the street from the beach are a string of health-food cafés and restaurants, where you can stock up on picnic items or enjoy a casual lunch.

The most distinctive landmark in the area is Mount Coolum, a dome-shaped volcanic rock rising 208 meters above the coast. Fitness enthusiasts and nature lovers hike the 800-meter track to the summit for breathtaking views of the coast. It takes about 30-40 minutes and is best tackled in dry weather, as the steep rocks at the top become slippery after rain.

10. Underwater World Sea Life, Mooloolaba

Underwater World Sea Life, Mooloolaba | clickybill / photo modified

Underwater World offers a fascinating glimpse at life under the sea and in Australian freshwater habitats. It's organized around themed zones with related exhibits, which include a tidal touchpool, where little ones can feel the bumpy skin of sea stars and learn about stingrays; a jellyfish kingdom; freshwater streams; billabongs; a seahorse sanctuary; and an ocean tunnel, where the rays and sharks glide all around you.

Shark dives, educational presentations, children's play areas, and live shows add to all the fun; the seal show is a particular favorite.

This is a great rainy day attraction, although the exhibits will wow pint-sized animal lovers at any time. After a fun morning touring the exhibits, you can take the kids to nearby Mooloolaba Beach for a picnic.

Address: Parkyn Parade, Mooloolaba, Queensland

Official site: https://www.underwaterworld.com.au/

11. The Ginger Factory, Yandina

Train at the Ginger Factory | Ken Hodge / photo modified

If you're looking for a few hours of fun with the children, the Ginger Factory in Yandina fits the bill. Kids will love riding the little train through the tropical gardens and learning about bees at a special beekeeper presentation. They can also hop aboard a cute around-the-world boat trip and look for the gingerbread man among the interactive puppets.

Parents will enjoy the ginger factory tour and tastings and a stroll through the beautiful gardens, filled with ginger plants, orchids, and bromeliads. The large gift shop sells all sorts of ginger-related items, as well as local treats and souvenirs, and a café and ice-creamery are on hand for hungry visitors.

Address: 50 Pioneer Road, Yandina, Queensland

Official site: http://www.gingerfactory.com.au/

12. Spirit House Restaurant and Cooking School

For a taste of Thailand in the Queensland tropics, you can't beat Spirit House Restaurant and Cooking School. Step onto the lush grounds, and you'll feel as though you're at a temple deep in a Thai rain forest. Fragrant incense wafts around you, frogs sing in the palm-lined pond, and wind chimes jangle in the breeze.

Sign up for a cooking class here, and you can learn how to prepare an authentic Thai meal, and then sit down with your new cooking buddies and feast on your creation. If you'd rather skip the cooking lesson and dine here instead, this is one of the most romantic places to dine on the Sunshine Coast.

Address: 20 Ninderry Road, Yandina, Queensland

Official site: https://www.spirithouse.com.au/

More Related Articles on PlanetWare.com

Exploring South East Queensland: Sunshine Coast destinations make ideal places to visit for a sun-and-sea vacation. For more things to do on the coast of South East Queensland, read our article on the top attractions in Noosa Heads, from hiking in Noosa National Park to basking on Main Beach. If islands are more your style, Fraser Island offers a unique 4WD experience just off the coast of Hervey Bay. You can also hike rain forest trails and swim in crystal-clear lakes. Seeking a livelier beach destination? Head south from the Sunshine Coast to the glitzy Gold Coast for high-end shopping and a buzzing nightlife.

Brisbane & Beyond: For a city fix, the state capital of Brisbane is about a 90-minute drive from the Sunshine Coast Airport. Browsing the excellent art galleries and museums, strolling around botanic gardens, and scenic river cruises are some of the top things to do in Brisbane. And if you have more time on your travel itinerary, check out our article on the Top-Rated Day Trips from Brisbane for other adventures in the region. Traveling with the kids? You'll find plenty of family-friendly attractions in our article: Brisbane with Kids: Top Things to Do, from playgrounds and parks to a planetarium and wildlife park.

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