Byron Bay has a real reputation as an easy going, forward-thinking, hippy destination with a dash of transient backpacker thrown in for good measure. It is this, but after spending 4 days in Byron Bay, I discovered its so much more than a place to smoke pot, grow dreads, and wear Aladdin pants.
My 4 days in Byron Bay showed me that it’s a town where bare feet are common, and foreign accents are more likely be serving you in a cafe than chatting amongst the waves.
It’s a town where every day is the weekend, (much like any town centred around tourism).
It has an extraordinarily young demographic too. I rarely saw anyone over the age of 35 walking the streets and working in the local businesses. For all the talk of people retiring here, they must just stay in their villas.
Located in Australia’s sub-tropics on NSW’s north coast, Byron Bay is a haven for foodies and thrillseeker’s alike. And with 2 craft breweries thrown into the mix, there’s even plenty to keep the beer-lover happy. The weather when Kynie and I visited was not ideal; it was overcast most of the time and somewhat rainy, so unfortunately that ruled out most water activities (of which there are plenty), but this is what we did do in spite of that.
Get Your Bearings
The Byron Bay “CBD”, if you will, is centred around Johnson Street, and 6 blocks off to the side. This is where the bulk of the Byron Bay restaurants, bars, and boutiques are situated and is probably where you’ll spend most of your time when not at the beach or your accommodation. You’ll get your bearings pretty easily after just walking around it for a day or two (it’s really not that big).
At the top of Johnson Street is Main Beach, and along to the southeast is Cape Byron, the most easterly point of mainland Australia. To the north is Belongil Beach.
Things to do in Byron Bay
Like I said above, the weather wasn’t great for most of the activities that Byron is best known for. I’ll still list them in the interest of giving you ideas and inspiration, though, for the sake of completeness.
The beacon on Cape Byron is the lighthouse, which looks over the town and looks out for ships at sea. There are roads that can take you directly to the lighthouse carpark, but if you want to get active, there’s a great walk that goes from the bottom of the Cape out to the lighthouse and back. It’s 3.7km, is pretty hilly but is a great way to see the town and the lighthouse.
I saw a few brochures on this, and I know that my friends over at the Fit Traveller have recommended a turtle watching tour in their own guide. There’ a small island just out from the beach (you can see it from the headland) and apparently this is where a lot of sea turtles live and a great place to spot them in the wild. I expect snorkel and dive equipment would be provided by your tour.
Byron Bay Markets
There are a lot of markets hosted at Byron. While it changes depending on the day of the week, and the week of the month so check the official Byron Bay tourism site to know which ones are coming up when you’re there.
We went to the Byron Bay Flea Markets at the Youth Centre on Saturday. It’s a great initiative where young people are given a free stall with the incentive to make some money. They were pretty small – mostly young people selling their old stuff – but I did pick up some great novels for $2 a piece.
This one goes without saying. Byron Bay is first and foremost a beach town. You can tell this by the sheer number of surf shops are around in the CBD. The beach will most likely be a central part of your stay here so prepare accordingly. Unfortunately, it wasn’t for me because of the weather but I think this just means I need to go back now!
Best places to eat dinner in Byron Bay
It’s really easy to eat well in Byron Bay. I put this down to the lifestyle of the locals, who tend to be health centred with a focus on sustainability; two characteristics I saw at most places we ate. But don’t worry, we still found ways to eat poorly!
Main Street Burger Bar
As I said, Byron is well known for its hippie organic vegan culture, and it is so easy to slip into one of these by accident, but don’t fret meat lovers, there’s plenty for you too. There are a few burger joints in Byron, but Main Street was so good we had to go there twice. The patties are thick and juicy and the toppings are plentiful. I added pickles and mustard to mine because I like it American-style and the second time I got the special topped with onion rings and hot sauce. It was literally dripping with goodness.
Treehouse on Belongil
Located a few k’s away from the main strip, the Treehouse is set behind Belongil Beach in a quiet, largely residential street. It’s a very relaxed indoor/outdoor setting with live music most nights.
Treehouse is a semi-outdoor restaurant with an eclectic mix of what can only be described as 1970’s furniture, including an old box television and chairs that would have adorned your grandparent’s dining room. They have live music on most nights of the week, but this won’t start until about 8.
The treehouse is known for their pizzas and the list is long and varied. In my opinion what makes or breaks a pizza is the base, and this base was something special. It’s a thin base with a crispy, doughy crust that I just wanted to pick at it, even though I was already stuffed to the brim.
Miss Margarita’s Mexican Cantina
Miss Margarita’s sits at the top of Johnson Street with diners spilling onto the sidewalk 7 nights a week. They serve some of the finest Mexican I’ve ever eaten outside of California. I had three mixed tacos with beef, pork and fish. It was so good I even looked past the fact that there was a healthy serving of coriander on it. A must visit when in Byron.
Three Blue Ducks at The Farm
More than just a cute name, The Farm is an actual working farm, 6 kilometres from the city centre on an acerage growing a long list of foods, all of which are used in the kitchen. The farm has a florist, an organic general store, a takeaway section and a sit-down restaurant. The takeaway has things like gourmet sausage rolls and pies as well as burgers and sandwiches, while the restaurant is full service with gourmet meals such as pork, beef pies and mussels and a choice of craft beers and over 50 wine taps!
Kynie and I went for a wander while we waited for our table (it was packed) we came across black pigs and piglets but there are also poultry and cattle.True to Byron style, it’s a very laid back place to have a picnic in the grounds or enjoy some fine food.
Best coffee and brunch in Byron Bay
The best coffee I had in Byron. Single farm beans roasted locally. So good I had to have a second; a rarity for me. The place was packed with locals and visitors alike which is always a sign of a quality place and food matched this. I had the granola, which was a delicious mix of oats, nuts and seeds with yoghurt and rhubarb compote. Not something I’d usually go for, but when in Byron.
Another vegan option, Combi is decorated with a semblance to a coffee cart construction with full timber panelings, an awning, and “windows” through to the back area. The coffee was solid but they have also an epic list of super smoothies.
Folk is hipster, organic, vegan eating at its finest. The menu is simple, the coffee good, and even if you laugh at vegans like me, you’ll even find something on the menu to like (tip: it’s the pancakes!). That might be a bit tongue in cheek, but if you put aside your desire for meat for one meal, I’ll guarantee you’d enjoy anything on the menu.
It’s certainly not the sort of place you’d expect to find attached to a Discovery Parks holiday park, but low and behold it is! This definitely doesn’t take anything away from the charm though, as the cafe looks out over their own lawn and is absolutely is its own space set apart from Byron. And it’s so spacious I doubt it would ever feel crowded.
The Top Shop
Past the footy fields and well away from the main busyness of the Town Centre is The Top Shop, named, presumably for the hill that it sits on at the foot of Cape Byron.
Top Shop represents everything you know about Byron Bay. The coffee is good, there’s a huge selection of food, all guaranteed to fill you up, and largely very healthy. We had granola bowls and bircher muesli and it was so filling and delicious it was actually one of the few places we visited twice.
Best places to drink in Byron Bay
This sleek Moroccan themed bar oozes style and is perfect for a few cocktails after a big day of shopping. Despite not having a single homage to surfing or the beach, the bar stills retains a certain cheerfulness one would expect at a sandy feet bar, which I think is owed to the generous usage of white walls, light coloured timbers and cane furniture.
The cocktail list is extensive and the happy hour quality, which runs from 5-7 every night. I enjoyed a local, (and purple) “ink” gin and tonic. The perfect drink to quench a sunkissed thirst.
Stone and Wood Brewery Tour
I booked a tour of the Stone and Wood brewery a few days before. These usually sell out so this is important. They said to get there a bit early and being ever-obedient that’s exactly what I did. I rocked up to the tasting room and when I said I’m here for the tour the girl behind the bar responded with “are you driving?” and handed me the first of 7 beers. A requirement of the tour is to try all the beers.
The week I was in Byron was very cloudy and at time rainy. Thankfully, the sun finally decided to peep out from the clouds so I enjoyed the green coast lager in the sunshine that to this point had been largely missing from a place famed for its sun and waves. The lager was crisp and sweet, surprising for a lager, and perfect for drinking in the sun. A highlight was actually trying a beer direct from the fermenter and it’s honestly the freshest tasting beer I’ve ever had.
Byron Bay Brewery Tour (weekends at 2pm)
The Byron Bay Brewery is located in the Byron Bay Arts Centre. It’s a super random location, the complex hosts concerts and also has a backpackers attached, and the brewery is a tiny fishbowl of a room next to the bar area.
The first thing you see as you enter the bar area is 6 large conical steel fermenters. At first, I was a bit confused as to why the long shell of a bar was so empty, but then I discovered the back outdoor patio.
I grabbed a schooner while I waited for the tour to start, which began with an overview of the brewing process. It was all pretty base level stuff for anyone without a shred of knowledge of how beer is made. The brew room is surprisingly small, with a mill, a mash tun, lauter tun, two carbonators and a kegging machine. The tour concluded with a rundown of the beers. 6 samples in total, all free. I’m honestly unsure if there’s a cost for the tour. All I know is I didn’t pay, and I got 6 generous samples at the end. The Lively One (IPA) and The Bold One (India Pale Lager) were favourites with special mention to The Pale One (pale ale).
It was a bit of a disappointment to learn the brewery is owned by Lion Nathan, especially since it’s such a small scale brewery. But the product is quality so it’s not like they’ve sold out the brand so I got over it pretty quickly.
Sticky Wicket is a pretty standard sports bar, with some mostly average beers on tap (Cricketer’s Arms, the house beer is owned by Asahi). BUT, and it’s a big but, they have a pretty phenomenal happy hour. Schooners of Cricketers Arms lager is $5, jam jar cocktails are $10, and the wings (oh the wings!) are $1. This is good value in Australia and the wings were good enough for me to come back 2 nights in a row.
Railway Friendly Bar
The Railway Friendly Bar is a large country style bar with covered outdoor seating in the form of picnic benches. There’s a decent selection of boutique beers on tap and one of the most comprehensive menus of pub grub I’ve ever seen. Everything from burgers, pizza, pasta, steaks, seafood, and schnitzels were on there, plus a bunch of stuff I forget about. It wasn’t super cheap, as far as pub grub goes, but it was pretty good quality and very healthy serving sizes.
Music was provided by a local blues musician Dan Hannaford and he was awesome. Next time in Byron I’d definitely be looking up where he’s playing next.
Did I miss anything? What was your favourite place or thing to do in Byron? I’ll add it to my list for when I return.
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