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The Ultimate Guide to Gold Coast vs Sunshine Coast

The Gold Coast or Sunshine Coast: Which is better and why?

Sunny, coastal and two of Australia's most popular travel destinations, the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast are perfect examples of South-East Queensland's beauty. But which of the two cities is better for you? We break it down here.

Deciding between each coastal destination is a common occurence for Australians seeking a beach-based getaway. This is not surprising, as both places are famed for beautiful beaches, have names that conjure up images of sunny skies, and offer reasonably-priced seaside getaways without actually having to leave the country.

But what separates each region from the other? And which is the best for certain types of people? We break down some of the key pluses and minuses of each region in detail here.

Behind The Experience: Aquaduck Drone Shot


Both the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast are stretched-out not-quite-cities that lack a real central CBD. They are, instead, a loose collection of suburbs blended together along an extended stretch of beautiful coastline, and both have the allure of both the beach and weather to draw visitors both from around Australia and internationally.

However, look under the surface and there are a substantial number of underlying differences that separate each destination from the other, with each coast possessing its own pros and cons.

As a result, certain questions pop up as to which destination is the better choice for your individual situation. What is important to you as a traveller? Are you wanting to visit temporarily or relocate permanently? Are you wanting to experience nightlife? Is shopping going to be the main focus? Do you prefer upbeat, energetic and busier conditions or after a more relaxed and secluded escape? All of these factors and more come into play when determining which of the Gold Coast or Sunshine Coast are best for you.

Here, we break down each city's offerings based on different criteria point by point with an associated rating out of 10. In this clash of the south-east QLD holiday hotspots, which will come out on top? Read on to find out.

Culture & Landmarks

The Ultimate Guide to Gold Coast vs Sunshine Coast Experience Oz

Gold Coast: 3/10

One thing that both the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast have in common is their real lack of a cultural focus. They're both relatively young cities that have grown largely as a result of tourism and were developed with a focus on attractions and nature-based experiences rather than the more artistic attractions that most of Australia's capital cities can offer.

The Gold Coast follows this trend as there are few true landmarks that serve as icons or are immediately recognisable unless you're willing to count the beach itself. Perhaps the two closest things the Gold Coast has in the landmark category are the Q1 Building in the heart of Surfer's Paradise, and the Surfers Paradise sign that marks the entrance to its main tourist beach.

The Q1 is a highly recognisable building that towers above the rest and the SkyPoint Observation Deck within it enables visitors to look out over the beautiful Gold Coast region. The Observation Deck provides 360-degree views of the coastline, city skyline and further out to the Hinterland, and is a popular starting point for first-time visitors to the city looking to both take in views and get their bearings.

Additionally, the Surfers Paradise beach sign at the end of Cavill Avenue is emblematic of the national and even global perception of the Gold Coast as a whole. It's a popular spot for international visitors in particular, and snapping a photo in front of the sign is seen as a tourist must-do.

Other than these, there are not really any other emblems of the Gold Coast that could be seen as truly famous. Jupiter's Casino is distinctive in its design but does not truly qualify for landmark status, Elephant Rock at Currumbin Beach is a popular little local climb but hardly prominent, and the Captain Cook Memorial at Coolangatta provides great beach views at the top of a hill with some plaques detailing naval history.

The Ultimate Guide to Gold Coast vs Sunshine Coast Experience Oz
Skypoint Observation Deck, Surfers Paradise

Other than these, there are not really any other emblems of the Gold Coast that could be seen as truly famous. Jupiter's Casino is distinctive in its design but does not truly qualify for landmark status, Elephant Rock at Currumbin Beach is a popular little local climb but hardly prominent, and the Captain Cook Memorial at Coolangatta provides great beach views at the top of a hill with some plaques detailing naval history.

Culture-wise, the Gold Coast is also fairly limited, with the Gold Coast Arts Centre being the main regional showcase

The Ultimate Guide to Gold Coast vs Sunshine Coast Experience Oz
Sunshine Coast Hinterland

Sunshine Coast: 3/10

The Sunshine Coast, much like its southern sibling, is a relatively new region in terms of city development and similarly lacks any real major cultural establishments outside of a few focused, small-scale attractions.

While its original European heritage dates back to the early 1800's, the region has only seen truly significant growth since the late 1960's and as such does not have a huge amount of history to draw on.

Those who look a little harder, however, can find a few remnants of the past and curated attractions starting with the Heritage and Visitors Centre at Eumundi. It's a small sized mini-museum that features some interpretive displays and photographs of the Sunshine Coast's history, and if you're in the Eumundi area and passionate about history it's worth a look.

The Ultimate Guide to Gold Coast vs Sunshine Coast Experience Oz
Sunshine Coast HInterland

Other potential cultural attractions include Bankfoot House in the Glass House Mountains, the QLD Air Museum, and the wrecks of the SS Dicky and HMAS Brisbane.

Other than these, that's about the extent of what the Sunshine Coast offers culturally in terms of man-made landmarks. The region has grown much more due to the strength of its natural attractions than any significant historical standouts.

Its main saving grace in terms of landmarks, however, is the beautiful Glass House Mountains range. Jutting out amongst a lush stretch of hinterland, the mountains are a series 16 of uniquely-shaped peaks that make for an impressive skyline when viewed from afar.

Many of the individual mountains can be explored and accessed in various ways, and there are a number of tracks - both driven and on foot - which can be followed to reach lookout points on the mountains which offer lovely panoramas of the Sunshine Coast, the hinterland, and out to the coast. It's easy to spend multiple days here, and there are a number of accommodation options nestled within the mountains for those looking for a secluded and peaceful getaway.

Visitors to the Glass House Mountains can stop at its Visitor's Information Centre and gain a more detailed understanding of the activities on offer in the greater Glass House Mountains National Park including a breakdown on the available walking tracks. The tracks range in difficulty and length from short 800m strolls all the way up to more strenuous summit walks of around 6 kilometres.

The Verdict:

Both the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast are both younger regions and as a result are somewhat lacking in terms of landmarks and culture. They do have enough standouts to keep things mildly interesting, however, with the Gold Coast boasting a couple of unique buildings and memorials while the wonderful Glass House Mountains signify the Sunshine Coast's natural bent.


The Ultimate Guide to Gold Coast vs Sunshine Coast Experience Oz
Burleigh Heads Beach, Gold Coast

Gold Coast: 8/10

As a destination that's based around enjoying the outdoors, you'd expect the Gold Coast to have plenty of natural highlights and in this regard it's a region that doesn't disappoint.

While the beaches are the obvious calling card – the region boasts around 70km worth of beach broken up into multiple individual beaches to enjoy – it's not simply a one-trick-pony when it comes to nature.

The Gold Coast Hinterland offers a host of natural experiences and is within easy reach for most visitors staying in the popular accommodation suburbs, while the Gold Coast also boasts one of the world's most extensive canal systems that opens up all kinds of opportunities for watersports, cruises and other forms of marine exploration.

It all begins with the beaches and the extensive range to choose from means that basically all age groups and demographics will be able to find a beach environment to suit them. From the trendy, touristy (and crowded) Surfers Paradise beach to the quieter and less crowded stretches at Palm Beach and the surfing hotspots of Duranbah and Burleigh, the Gold Coast's beaches run the gamut of seaside offerings.

For a tourist-oriented city they're surprisingly largely clean too. Locals take pride in their beaches and even the bustling Surfers Paradise beach doesn't have the litter or other junk that can sometimes taint the waterfront nature of popular travel spots.

The Ultimate Guide to Gold Coast vs Sunshine Coast Experience Oz
Springbrook National Park, Gold Coast Hinterland

Further along from Tamborine, the Cedar Creek and O'Reilly's wineries in separate locales are perhaps the most popular, with O'Reilly's requiring the more challenging drive of the two. At Springbrook meanwhile, the Natural Bridge walk is a popular undertaking, following a through-the-bush track – typically conducted at night via torchlight – which leads down to an impressive cave draped by a waterfall and containing a colony of glow worms.

Add to this a decent dose of parkland interspersed amongst the suburbs making picnics possible without much travel required, and you've got a natural destination that's hard to fault. Perhaps the only exception would be some of the lower-class residential suburbs away from the coastline which can tend towards slightly dirty and seedy, but given the majority of visitors will likely stick to the major tourist spots, this should not impact most travellers.

All the Gold Coast is really lacking in terms of nature is one main signature highlight - there's no spectacular Great Barrier Reef, Uluru or Jim Jim Falls here - however, the overall package is a solid one that's surprisingly well kept given its popularity.

Sunshine Coast: 10/10

The Sunshine Coast more than holds its own against the Gold Coast when it comes to natural offerings, and in some cases even surpasses its southern brother in terms of beauty.

They're fairly similar in terms of environment, structure and layout, and are basically neck-and-neck as far as beautiful beaches go, although the Sunshine Coast's beaches are generally more protected and slightly more family friendly - plus you're more likely to encounter less-commercialised stretches of beach on the Sunshine Coast.

Even the furthest parts of the Sunshine Coast are within half an hour's drive of the beach, and the majority of its major suburbs are within easy reach of some truly stunning stretches of sand.

The likes of Noosa (very clean and safe with lovely sand and sheltered conditions, and was voted one of our Top 10 Beaches in Australia), Caloundra, Mooloolaba and more all offer wonderful examples of idyllic beachfront and they're all generally in immaculate, litter-free condition.

The lack of crowding outside of peak seasons also makes it entirely more possible to experience a feeling of beachgoing seclusion on the Sunshine Coast than the Gold Coast, too - put in a bit of walking effort and even on the region's most popular beaches you'll likely be able to find a quiet spot in the sun.

The Ultimate Guide to Gold Coast vs Sunshine Coast Experience Oz
Noosa, Sunshine Coast

This is reflective of the Sunshine Coast's overall environment as a whole - the region strikes a beautiful balance between offering beach life and lush, subtropical rainforest, and a lack of a large number of highrises means a much more open feeling without large shadows being cast and obscuring the sunshine.

Much like the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast also boasts a wonderfully picturesque hinterland area, and in many cases the Sunshine Coast's is even more striking - the aforementioned Glass House Mountains are a wonderful volcanic addition to topography, and the many little villages and towns that dot the Sunshine Coast hinterland make for plenty of pleasant stops along the way.

Popular destinations in the hinterland such as Montville and Maleny are historic and artistic spots that are undeniably charming, and picking up hand-crafted goods and enjoying tasty produce is the norm here.

Add to this the wineries and vineyards that can be found on the drive - as well as the possibilities for bush walks and swimming - and it's a lovely dose of greenery that can be reached without too much fuss from the more touristy beachfront suburbs of the Sunshine Coast.

The Ultimate Guide to Gold Coast vs Sunshine Coast Experience Oz
Sunshine Coast Hinterland

The majority of major suburbs of the Sunshine Coast are also quite open and pleasant to explore; there's plenty of great parks, tree-lined avenues and cycleways almost everywhere, so getting around by bike and soaking in the fresh air is a viable and enjoyable way to explore.

Those who are planning on having longer stays on the Sunshine Coast are also presented with the option of making the trip up to spectacular Fraser Island; a journey that CAN be done in a single (long) day but is much more recommended to do over 2 or even 3 to prevent rushing.

Simply put, in terms of natural attractions, the Sunshine Coast has everything the Gold Coast has plus slightly more - the beaches are equally spectacular but less crowded, the hinterland has additional features to make it slightly more attractive, and fewer highrises makes for slightly less inhibited atmosphere in general.

The Verdict:

The Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast are both destinations where the natural beauty is one of their main calling, cards featuring wonderful beaches and hinterland areas. While the gap is very small, the Sunshine Coast benefits due to more untouched beauty alongside a less-developed array of built-up areas to come out slightly in front.

The Weather

The Ultimate Guide to Gold Coast vs Sunshine Coast Experience Oz
Sea World Cruises, Surfers Paradise

Gold Coast: 9/10

It's no secret that the weather of the Gold Coast is one of its major calling cards, but without having visited it's hard to appreciate just what a difference consistently good weather makes both for a place to live and for a reliable holiday.

As a single factor, the weather is one of - of not the - foremost reasons for the Gold Coast being the fastest-growing region in Australia in terms of population; the area is blessed with a conservative annual average of 250 days of sunshine, and those days where there is rainfall it typically occurs in the late afternoon/early evening after most of the days' outdoor activities are over.

This consistently solid weather combines with mild temperature ranges to produce a climate that does not change too drastically from season to season - the climate graph of the Gold Coast reads more like a gradual gradient/wave than it does a traditional seasonal transition.

This makes the Gold Coast a destination where the outdoors can be enjoyed even during winter, although both the oceans and the hinterland are chilly enough that only the most hardened of cool-weather goers may want to brave them.

The Ultimate Guide to Gold Coast vs Sunshine Coast Experience Oz

Temperatures on the Gold Coast sit at an ideal zone where the maximum is rarely too high and the minimum seldom too low - the average yearly high is a comfortable 25.1°C (77.2°F) with an average low of a mild 17.2°C (63°F) which makes all but three months (from June to August) suited to beachgoing, and even winter days are still pleasant when in the sun.

In terms of rainfall, February receives the highest amount on average of any month by far at 177.3mm (a fact that often surprises some tourists expecting summers to be flawless), while September clocks in as the driest at a low 43.6mm average. All these factors combine to make the Gold Coast a viable holiday destination nearly all-year-round in terms of weather.

Those adverse to hot climates coupled with rainfall would be advised to give summer a miss, however as the sudden storms can quickly cut an outdoor excursion short (although the Gold Coast's storms tend to hit hard and quickly and then pass over rather than lingering). The April to May and September to November periods are the sweet spots as far as Gold Coast travel times go if weather is your primary concern.

The Ultimate Guide to Gold Coast vs Sunshine Coast Experience Oz
Sunshine Coast

Sunshine Coast: 9/10

Much like the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast offers largely enviable weather that is one of the main reasons people choose to visit the region; in truth, there is little separating the two in this category as they're both home to climates that are largely terrific.

As they're separated by a just a few hours' drive from one another, the annual climate patterns of the Sunshine Coast largely mirror the Gold Coast, with the only real difference being the Sunshine Coast tends to be slightly windier than the Gold Coast while benefitting from slightly lower humidity levels as well, however overall, the gap is negligible and hardly noticeable.

Averaging close to 300 days of sunshine per year, the Sunshine Coast more than deserves its name and its geographic location makes for one of the highest sunshine ratings in the world.

Temperatures fluctuate between summer and winter are also relatively smooth making for year-round comfortable conditions outside of August, which tends to be both the windiest month and combines with cold air to make for unpleasant, blustery weather.

The Ultimate Guide to Gold Coast vs Sunshine Coast Experience Oz

March to May is widely considered the top period to visit the Sunshine Coast for optimal weather, with the September - October crossover period serving as a solid runner-up and providing a good balance between both warmth and the lack of summer rainfall.

Maximum temperatures throughout the year on the Sunshine Coast reach an average of approximately 25.2°C (77.4°F) with a yearly minimum average of 15.8°C (60.4°F), and rainfall is a relative rarity overall in the region that comes in concentrated bursts mostly over the more humid summer months.

The rain's tendency to mostly fall at night also prevents it from having a major impact on tourist activities as well, meaning you'll be able to enjoy the outdoors and the beach on the Sunshine Coast for most of the year. In all, weather-wise the Sunshine Coast is hard to fault and outside of August there's rarely a bad time to visit.

The Verdict:

It's a matter of 'potayto, potahto' as far as the Gold Coast vs. Sunshine Coast's weather is concerned; they're both wonderful destinations full of sunny skies for the majority of the year, with a slight tendency towards heavy rainfall and thunderstorms in summer afternoons. Unless you're extremely unlucky, you won't be disappointed in either destination's sky during your visit.


The Ultimate Guide to Gold Coast vs Sunshine Coast Experience Oz
Sea World Cruises, Surfers Paradise

Gold Coast: 8/10

The Gold Coast is a region that has had a personal love-hate relationship with its own nightlife for the past couple of decades, as the negative aspects of the city's party culture has caught the bulk of the media attention when covering the region's evening activities.

While it's true that there is often drama and violence in the heart of the city's nightclub district, the same could be said of any night entertainment spot in major cities throughout the world. This fact notwithstanding, the Gold Coast is still one of Australia's nightlife capitals and its variety of bars, clubs and other raunchier establishments remain a big drawcard for young, single and otherwise partygoing travellers both domestically and from overseas.

The main nightlife hub of Surfers Paradise is the Gold Coast's signature night out, with a multitude of different and varied night venues all packed into a dense geographic area and which makes hopping from one venue to the next an easy experience.

This density is also one of the leading factors for tension in the area, as a high consumption of alcohol coupled with a large number of bodies makes for a mathematical higher likelihood of confrontation, and this is largely where its negative image comes from.

The Ultimate Guide to Gold Coast vs Sunshine Coast Experience Oz

Things have improved in recent times, however, with an increased police presence coupled with continued efforts by local government to provide zones for rehydrating and enjoying alternative and even alcohol-free entertainment a possibility.

The nightclubs of the Gold Coast are great enough in number that most demographics - both in terms of age, musical taste and sexual orientation - are catered for; while the majority lean towards the typical dance music/Top 40 offerings, there are clubs focusing on R'n'B, rock music and even classics.

Combine this with a large range of bars - both Irish-themed and regular - and a night out in Surfers Paradise can be as wild or as laid back as you so choose. Surfers isn't the only area that offers solid nightlife, either; slightly-more-southern suburb Broadbeach has several bars and clubs that generally convey a slightly more upmarket atmosphere, while towards the NSW border Coolangatta has an energetic night scene renowned for live entertainment that can also get quite dodgy on some evenings.

Nightclubs on the Gold Coast have extended trading hours that typically extend all the way through to 5:00am closing times, however, government-enforced lockouts mean if you're planning an all-nighter then you'll have to ensure you're inside your chosen venue before 3:00am.

The Ultimate Guide to Gold Coast vs Sunshine Coast Experience Oz
Hastings Street, Noosa

Sunshine Coast: 4/10

If there's any one category that the Gold Coast can lord over the Sunshine Coast, it's this one. While it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea for a holiday - and for many it's a complete non-factor - nightlife still plays a large role in drawing many people into a region, and the Sunshine Coast's inherent sense of peace and quiet comes at a cost; it's a factor that may evolve into boredom of an evening for extended stays.

Entertainment options generally tend to dry up on the Sunshine Coast by 9pm - even on weekends - and it's common to come across stretches of relatively large suburbs fairly early on a Saturday evening where even the restaurants are all closed.

That's not to say there aren't offerings for a higher-energy night out on the Sunshine Coast should you be looking for one; it's just that locating and getting to and from them requires more effort and a more limited selection than the Gold Coast. Nightlife in the Sunshine Coast region is largely limited to the suburbs of Noosa and Mooloolaba unless you're looking for the likes of RSL Clubs and slot machines as your idea of an upbeat evening.

As one of the area's main tourist areas, Noosa has several quality bars that come with a generally friendly and positive atmosphere that is mainly concentrated around the central dining hub of Hastings Street. Most of these bars stay open during the hours after the surrounding restaurants have closed, and it's a great way to combine some quality dining - this part of Noosa is home to some truly world-class restaurants - with an extended evening afterwards.

The Ultimate Guide to Gold Coast vs Sunshine Coast Experience Oz
Image credit: The Rolling Rock - Facebook

Nightclub-wise, the area is very limited and choices are few; the Rolling Rock is a long-running club that will provide what you need without being amazing and is pretty much the central offering in this part of the Sunshine Coast. In all, Noosa is a suburb that caters more towards the mature traveller - think 30+ years of age - and as a result younger partygoers will tend to gravitate more towards Mooloolaba instead.

Mooloolaba is busier, louder, and more energetic overall, and is the suburb of the Sunshine Coast that comes the closest to emulating Surfers Paradise in terms of nightlife, albeit on a smaller scale. Mooloolaba also tends to be less touristy and slightly cheaper than Noosa as well, so if you're a younger or budget-conscious traveller (backpacker, uni student, etc.) then this will likely be the ideal spot for your Sunshine Coast night entertainment.

It's also the suburb of choice by default if you're looking for a night that extends out to 3am, as most other establishments on the Sunshine Coast close at midnight. The last mention must also be given to Maroochydore that also has several offerings including backpackers hostels for that particular demographic.

One final factor that has to be mentioned is that of safety; while the reputation of the Gold Coast being a haven for violence and drama may be slightly overblown, it's still undeniable that it's there - and as a result if this is a primary concern the Sunshine Coast offers a generally milder environment by virtue of simply lower volumes of people sharing the same districts.

The Verdict:

While the Sunshine Coast is not entirely the sleepy, uneventful region of a night that it was in the past, its nightlife offerings still pale in comparison to the Gold Coast. The Gold Coast's nightlife scene is an integral part of its culture and, like it or not, remains a major reason much of its attraction exists.

If you're looking for a safe, quiet few drinks then the Sunshine Coast will suffice; however, if you want an extended night out then the Gold Coast is the clear choice of the two.

For Kids

The Ultimate Guide to Gold Coast vs Sunshine Coast Experience Oz
Movie World, Gold Coast

Gold Coast: 9/10

Despite its largely adult-oriented holiday reputation, the Gold Coast does better than most other destinations in Australia for enticing families with kids of all ages for a visit.

There are a number of factors that play a role in this such as the mild weather, which makes it easier for infants to deal with plus allows for plenty of outdoor time on sunny days, there's a huge amount of man-made tourist attractions all within a reasonably compact area built specifically with kids in mind, and there are enough free things to do that it's often possible to save a few dollars.

While filling out an itinerary that covers every must-do kid's experience may end up costing a pretty penny if you have a large family, the kids will never be bored on a holiday to the Gold Coast which is what makes the region such a popular family getaway location.

As a destination that hangs its hat on tourism, it's only natural that both tours and attractions - as well as public facilities - would bend their offerings to allow children to participate, and there are a wide variety of ways to spend a day.

From the obvious attractions such as the theme parks (Dream World, Sea World, Wet 'n' Wild, Movie World and WhiteWater World) and Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary to smaller yet enjoyable ones like Infinity in the heart of Surfers Paradise or the excellent Rockpools free pool play area at Southport, both indoor and outdoor activities for kids are well covered.

The Ultimate Guide to Gold Coast vs Sunshine Coast Experience Oz

Beaches on the Gold Coast are generally well-patrolled and have plenty of calm, shallow and sheltered spots for swimming - such as Tallebudgera Creek, the shallows at Currumbin, various stretches of Palm Beach and more - so kids can enjoy a splash in the water too.

The Gold Coast also has plenty of playgrounds of varying sizes; the weekend Carrara Markets offer live entertainment, face painting and plenty of snacks to go with toys and arts and crafts; Tamborine Mountain's obvious natural appeal and wildlife are another drawcards; the Treetop Walk at O'Reilly's is great for families; and much more.

In addition to activities, the Gold Coast also has a number of accommodation options that specifically cater to families (which you'll likely want to avoid if travelling single), such as the excellent Paradise Resort among others, which comes decked out with kids activities, facilities and equipment.

While going all-out on the Gold Coast with kids may be pricey, the fact that discounted family rates are often available, as well as the ability to combine both free and paid activities to balance things out, make for a spot that's one of the most child-friendly in Australia.

Just be sure to stay away from Surfers Paradise during the night on weekends and you'll find the Gold Coast an excellent spot to travel with children in tow.

The Ultimate Guide to Gold Coast vs Sunshine Coast Experience Oz
Australia Zoo, Sunshine Coast

Sunshine Coast: 7/10

Add to this other unique offerings such as like the Ginger Factory (the name makes it sound more boring than it is - plenty of treats, a few rides and other child-oriented entertainment), Top Shots Fun Park (multiple activities on a smallish scale) and the Big Kart Track for go-karting, and the Sunshine Coast fares quite well in the kid-focused paid attractions department.

The Sunshine Coast benefits travellers with children in other ways as well. The sheltered nature of the Sunshine Coast's beaches is a large positive for those with younger kids and opens up numerous opportunities for swimming - all of Caloundra, Mooloolaba (with a section entirely protected by a rock wall leading to calm waters) and Noosa all offer such locations - and provides a solid option for free entertainment.

Likewise, the region is also quite well equipped with children's playgrounds dotted throughout - and the widespread availability of parkland that's all generally kept in good condition means that a picturesque spot for a picnic that allows the kids to run around is never far out of reach. The likes of Kings Beach at Caloundra (great range of amenities right on the beach), Cotton Tree Park on the Maroochydore River, and various others are surprisingly well equipped with play equipment as well as facilities for adults.

While the Sunshine Coast is typically seen as more of a destination for adults while the Gold Coast is the go-to choice for those with kids, this is not entirely the case - the gap is not large and compared to many other potential holiday destinations in Australia the Sunshine Coast puts in a strong showing for providing both things to do and places to stay with children along for the journey.

The Verdict:

While the Gold Coast will likely remain the first choice for those with kids simply due to the sheer volume of things to do, the fact that the Sunshine Coast's kids attractions are generally cheaper and are fairly high in both quality and number, given the region's lesser commercialisation, is impressive.

In the end, both destinations will keep the kids happy, but the pull of the Gold Coast's theme parks and greater variety means more opportunities for pleasing kids of almost any disposition.


The Ultimate Guide to Gold Coast vs Sunshine Coast Experience Oz
Robina Town Centre, Robina

Gold Coast: 8/10

Those who put retail therapy at a high premium when travelling will likely find the Gold Coast increasingly impressive in terms of shopping offerings.

There are several major shopping centres boasting varying degrees of newness with the likes of Robina Town Centre and the newly renovated Pacific Fair the obvious highlights, while others such as Harbour Town (a decent outdoor-style single-level shopping facility good for picking up discounted clothing at its outlets) and Australia Fair (an aging but comprehensive multi-level indoor centre with cinemas) and a range of other smaller retail hubs rounding out the choices on offer.

Between these and the multitude of supermarkets, boutique stores and other shops that run almost the entire length of the Gold Coast's two main highways, there's no shortage of choice. All of the major brands and retail stores are generally covered here, from high-end fashion through to hardware and major department stores, so finding what you're looking for is never the problem.

What IS the problem is a lack of infrastructure to support these shopping centres - at the bigger shopping hubs in particular parking is exceedingly poor, with the massive growth of the Gold Coast combining with school holiday periods or big international tourist seasons to make finding a spot for your car an exercise in frustration.

The new Pacific Fair combats this somewhat for the time being, but as its popularity continues to expand this will likely cancel out somewhat. Likewise, the relatively poor public transportation system does not service many of these centres nearly well enough, and the newly-finished light rail system comes within reach of none of them other than Australia Fair.

The Ultimate Guide to Gold Coast vs Sunshine Coast Experience Oz
Image credit: Destination Gold Coast

The area's travel-oriented nature also plays a factor here, as if you're staying in or around Surfers Paradise - the most famous area of the city - you'll find nothing on offer retail-wise other than tourist-trap style souvenir stores, overpriced fashion outlets and other miscellaneous convenience stores there to strip more of your dollar than is necessary.

There is also no major department store in Surfers Paradise, however, those staying in the tourist hub can take public transport to either Australia Fair or Pacific Fair roughly a 20-minute ride to the north and south, respectively (depending on traffic).

Stores on the Gold Coast also largely follow the annoying habit of closing at 5:00pm - just when everyone is getting off work - on every night other than Thursdays, greatly limiting the possibilities for evening shopping. Australia's bigger cities have started to embrace later trading hours that coincide with the world's major cities, and if the Gold Coast wants to be taken seriously as a truly "international" destination, it needs to take this step also.

Perhaps the best term to describe the Gold Coast's shopping would be above average and climbing - the shops that are here are more than decent (although some of them are hard for the traveller without a car to access), and almost all kinds of store on both ends of the price spectrum are covered.

While it can't compete with the likes of Sydney or Melbourne in terms of both offerings and access, and some of the main suburbs on the highway have a leaning towards tourist trap style stores, only the fussiest of shoppers would be disappointed with the Gold Coast's shopping.

The Ultimate Guide to Gold Coast vs Sunshine Coast Experience Oz
Sunshine Plaza, Mooloolaba

Shopping on the Sunshine Coast is relatively limited compared to the Gold Coast - it has everything you need to get by and enjoy some decent retail therapy, however, there's only one true major shopping centre on offer. This contrasts with the several on the Gold Coast, and the Sunshine Coast's main shopping hub of Sunshine Plaza's standalone nature means that it can easily get shoulder-to-shoulder packed during busier times due to a lack of alternative choices.

Sunshine Plaza is located in Maroochydore, so if shopping is a major concern during your trip you'll likely want to stay within this suburb for both ease of access and carting purchases back to your accommodation.

Elsewhere on the Sunshine Coast there are opportunities for smaller-scale shopping set on in a variety of strips, arcades and smaller malls - areas such as the main street of Caloundra which has a range of nice smaller stores where you can pick up the likes of bags, shoes, dresses and other knick-knacks. Out in the hinterland, both Montville and Maleny offer boutique shopping, and Montville Village has both a range of nice little shops as well as a great lookout with an impressive view.

Overall though the lack of outlet-style shopping compared to the Gold Coast may be a negative for some, and while the region most certainly has everything you'll need in terms of essential items and some brands, hardcore retail junkies may be slightly disappointed.

A large saving grace of the Sunshine Coast's shopping scene is its wonderful Eumundi Markets which take place on both Wednesdays and Saturdays and offer a quirky mix of hand-crafted goods, live entertainment and both fresh and packaged foods that are an enjoyable way to spend a morning.

There's an eclectic mix of both goods and foodstuffs here - some of which that border on the unusual - and the markets themselves are massive in size; it's easy to spend 3 - 4 hours perusing the various odds and ends and enjoying both breakfast and lunch.

If attending, be sure to arrive as early as possible (7am is a good time to aim for), and don't have breakfast before you arrive as there's an overwhelming number of stalls selling all sorts of tasty and tantalising fresh meals and quality coffee/juices. From clothes and jewellery to paintings and massages, diversity is part of the appeal of the Eumundi Markets and make them a must-visit during your time on the Sunshine Coast.

Lastly, if you're truly invested in spending a day of serious shopping, opportunities do exist for taking a trip to the northern side of Brisbane's large Westfield complex; this is particularly viable if you're staying in one of the Sunshine Coast's southern suburbs and can be done in roughly a 45 minute drive assuming traffic is reasonable.

The Verdict:

The Gold Coast's several large shopping centres score multiple points in its favour, and the availability of outlet-style shops also helps. The Sunshine Coast meanwhile has only a single major shopping centre, but the charming and quirky Eumundi Markets help offset this somewhat.

While neither destination is truly world class in this regard, the continued commercial investment in renovating and expanding the Gold Coast's shopping centres help give it the edge.

Things To Do

The Ultimate Guide to Gold Coast vs Sunshine Coast Experience Oz
Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, Gold Coast

Another of the Gold Coast's major selling points as a holiday spot is that it provides an impressively broad range of things to see and do across the entire age spectrum for a destination that isn't a capital city.

Its location in an environment that mixes aquatic surroundings with greenery and has had considerable money invested into the creation of man-made attractions to go along with it means that both young and old will have a bevy of options unless you're especially interested in the likes of history or culture (in which case you likely wouldn't be travelling here in the first place).

There are plenty of opportunities for marine activities of all kinds including kayaking, jet skiing, scenic cruises, jet boating, cruising to Stradbroke Island, snorkelling, fishing, whale watching and more!.

The aforementioned beaches make both lazing in the sun, taking a swim or enjoying some waterfront dining possible along almost the entirety of the coastline, and surfers will be in their element here as the likes of Burleigh Heads, Kirra, Duranbah and more all offer world-class breaks on the right day.

Back on land, and the opportunities for various forms of entertainment open up even more. First time visitors will want to go up to the top of the Q1 Building in Surfers Paradise (formerly the world's tallest residential building until it was recently surpassed) and take in the panoramic views from the SkyPoint Deck; a building which also offers an optional climb experience to go "outside the glass" and ascent to its rooftop.

The Ultimate Guide to Gold Coast vs Sunshine Coast Experience Oz

The Gold Coast has a Casino in Jupiter's at Broadbeach - fairly rare for a regional location - that offers all the associated gambling opportunities as well as regular stage shows and one-off concerts that are fine entertainment in the evenings. The extensive number of bars, pubs and nightclubs makes for plenty of other nighttime entertainment, as well.

The theme parks are a major attraction for families and each of them offers their own distinct theming and character. Movie World is an interesting mix of shows, rides and restaurants, Sea World mixes marine creatures, shows and rides, Dreamworld boasts the most amount of rides for adults and kids, and both WhiteWater World and Wet 'n' Wild offer the chance for some water-based fun.

All of the theme parks are within reasonably easy reach from the main hub of the Gold Coast, with both car parking ample and bus access provided regularly. Whether or not they fall into the "tourist trap" category depends on your point of view, however, they're a can't-miss entertainment option for those with kids.

There's also popular wildlife park Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary that has been a favourite attraction in the region for several decades and provides an entertaining dose of interactive animal fun.

Throw in all the Hinterland activities such as hiking, hot air ballooning, hang gliding and simple exploration and combine them with the more everyday options for entertainment such as cinemas, shopping and simply enjoying the weather, and the Gold Coast ticks almost every box when it comes to tourist-friendly things to do.

The Ultimate Guide to Gold Coast vs Sunshine Coast Experience Oz
Noosa Everglades Cruise, Sunshine Coast

Sunshine Coast: 7/10

For a destination in which relaxation and simply taking it easy is a major core focus, the Sunshine Coast still offers quite an impressive array of things to do across the entire spectrum from natural to man-made. The variety of its suburbs means that each one has its own focal point for activities and attractions, and if you grow bored with one it's incredibly easy to simply shift to the next and find something new.

The less commercialised aspect of the Sunshine Coast compared to the Gold Coast works both in and against its favour in this regard; what highlights there are generally able to be enjoyed more thoroughly but in terms of sheer number the quantities aren't quite the same.

The aforementioned likes of Australia Zoo, UnderWater World, Aussie World, Top Shots Fun Park and the Ginger Factory are all easy to recommend as go-to attractions, and between just those, you've got a lineup that includes the potential for 4 days' worth of entertainment alone. It's an idea to pick and choose which of these strike your interest as a starting point and then plan other activities around them.

The Sunshine Coast hinterland is almost an entire region in its own right and offers numerous opportunities for exploration and enjoyment - leisurely explore the walking tracks, perhaps take a winery tour, and take the opportunity to enjoy some greta restaurants while soaking in the relaxing atmosphere. It's a pleasant drive to get there, and an even more pleasant spot to enjoy once you've arrived, and be sure to pay a visit to the beautiful Maleny Botanic Gardens which combine a wonderful floral showcase with a stunning panoramic view out to the Glass House Mountains.

Another break from the enjoyable-but-predictable beaches is the Noosa River; cruises here offer a great way to see the inner reaches of the Sunshine Coast slightly away from the coastline and get a dose of greenery from the water. The route carves its way through mangroves, and the Everglades is a nice section of the region that doesn't get nearly as much publicity as the more typical beaches.

The Ultimate Guide to Gold Coast vs Sunshine Coast Experience Oz

Alternatively, take some time to explore the lushness of the Kondalilla National Park for another aspect of greenery capped off by some wonderful waterfalls from which the park derives its name.

When all is said and done, however, it's the beaches that remain the Sunshine Coast's main calling card and which are likely to take up the majority of your time, and you'll be spoiled for choice here. Noosa's main beach may be one of the most populated stretches of sand in the region but its beauty is undeniable - it's got wonderful sand, is well-patrolled, and ideal for swimming.

Quality fishing can be done both on and offshore, and food and dining are easy due to the array of surrounding cafes and restaurants adjacent to the beach. Kings Beach at Caloundra is another worthy contender (and is great for those with kids as mentioned above) and is generally much quieter than Noosa if you're looking for a more peaceful environment. Mooloolaba also offers good conditions, and Moffat is a nice alternative if you're looking to get away from tourism.

One last potential major drawcard for visitors to the Sunshine Coast who are having moderately extended stays is the looming opportunity to take a trip to the spectacular Fraser Island. While it's typically a destination visited from Hervey Bay as the launching point, the world's largest sand island is within driving distance (roughly 300km) from the Sunshine Coast and opens up a whole new world of explorative opportunities with its array of impressive freshwater lakes, massive sand dunes and many other natural features.

It's a destination that's technically doable within a single day (we have 1 day tours to Fraser available in our catalogue for those short on time), however the distance from the Sunshine Coast and number of highlights on offer make for a destination that's best spread out over at least 2 or 3 days.

Providing a nice cross-section of natural features and tourist-targeted options, the Sunshine Coast is a flexible destination where relaxation-seekers can find fulfilment while those looking for action and activities have options as well. While it may not be as broad a spectrum as the Gold Coast, there's enough here to pad out holidays of substantial length without getting bored.

The Verdict:

This is another case where the sheer size and amount of money invested provides the Gold Coast with a wider range of things to do than the Sunshine Coast, however, the focal points of each destination's activities will likely be more influenced by your demographic than in any other category.

While the Sunshine Coast generally makes for better mature living and relaxed travel, the Gold Coast's quantity of activities and attractions is hard to match by any other city in Australia.


The Ultimate Guide to Gold Coast vs Sunshine Coast Experience Oz
Gold Coast G:Link

Gold Coast: 5/10

As a destination that's grown incredibly rapidly in recent years, the Gold Coast has been caught somewhat unprepared for its population explosion and now faces a mini-crisis in terms of its transport options. The level of growth of both visitors and migrants to the region has flooded the city's roads, and without a solid public transport system in place, both general traffic and getting from A to B for travellers has become a bit of a chore.

It's not terrible on the level of Sydney or Brisbane, but it's not exactly wonderful, either. A large part of the problem comes from the region's long-and-stretched-out layout encompassing a coastline rather than a standard circular city hub with a CBD and branching out accordingly.

As a result of its layout, the majority of both public and private transport utilise two main roads - the Gold Coast Highway and Pacific Motorway - with smaller streets branching off of each of these. There are limited options for visitors to the region to get inland from the coast, and most public transport either sticks to the Gold Coast Highway from Coolangatta in the south to Southport in the north so getting to the inner suburbs can either mean a long wait or be impossible entirely.

In addition, the Pacific Motorway (M1), which is supposed to be one of Australia's main roads, is limited to a mere 2 lanes each way for much of its Gold Coast section, which leads to frequent traffic jams due to people both travelling to and from Brisbane.

The government has attempted to rectify this in recent years with both the construction of train stations and a new light rail system, but each of these doesn't really solve the root of the problem. The train system runs only on a single line from north to south and its stations are far inland away from the main tourist hubs meaning long connection times of having to take a bus-train-bus mixture in order to get from the coastal suburbs to places on the train route.

The G-Link light rail system which was recently opened also is somewhat limited, and only runs a few suburbs in length along a single line as well - it's fine if you're looking to get from Surfers Paradise to Broadbeach or Southport, but there's the obvious lack of a connection to the Gold Coast Airport which prevents it from becoming truly useful for most travellers.

Lastly, the Gold Coast also boasts an inordinate number of traffic lights as many of the interconnecting roads from the inner suburbs attempt to link up to the Gold Coast highway; you'll find yourself stopped at red lights seemingly at every major intersection, which when combined with periods such as the school holidays and the Gold Coast's popularity makes for a frustrating stop-start rhythm every few minutes.

The recent attempts to improve the Gold Coast's transport have helped slightly, but they're more of a band-aid, and there are several reasons of those above that make hiring a car highly recommended if you're visiting the Gold Coast for more than a couple of days.

The Ultimate Guide to Gold Coast vs Sunshine Coast Experience Oz

Like the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast has some of its own issues with transport that can make things difficult for visitors, however, the lower total population here than the Gold Coast also contributes to less annoying conditions overall when hitting the roads, while public transport is also markedly better.

Traffic, in general, is a lot less frustrating to navigate on the Sunshine Coast, and the tendency towards the use of more roundabouts as opposed to traffic lights tends towards a much more natural flow without the continuous stop-start nature of driving on the Gold Coast. Traffic as a whole is also generally much less, which removes a lot of the frustration of getting from A to B, particularly during holiday periods when the roads are merely "crowded" instead of "intolerable".

There's generally a more laid-back pace to driver's attitudes on the Sunshine Coast as well, which seems to be an adequate reflection of the difference between the two regions as a whole, and both the main (direct) and coastal (more scenic) roads of the Sunshine Coast seldom get into traffic jams as opposed to the relative nightmare the highways on the Gold Coast can become.

Add to this the benefit of great scenery on the Sunshine Coast's beach road and car-wise there is very little comparison between the two regions. Perhaps the only complaint that could be made is that traffic heading into the popular suburb of Mooloolaba can occasionally bottleneck, but this is a small quibble in the overall scheme of things.

It's in the category of public transport however that the Sunshine Coast also fares quite well - particularly compared to the awkward situation on the Gold Coast - and again the lower population again plays into the region's favour.

The bus systems that run around the major tourist hubs from Noosa's central transit centre are generally good and reliable, with both long-distance Translink options as well as locally-bound Sunbus-branded routes available depending on how far you're looking to go. They use a Go-Card system (also usable on trains) that makes cashless payment convenient while also providing lower fees, and leads to efficient operation and generally on-time running times as most passengers can pay smoothly and quickly.

Train routes also connect major hubs on the Sunshine Coast as well as south to Brisbane, and the majority of connections between both bus and train are sufficient enough to keep wait times to a minimum.

While relying on public transport during a holiday is not exactly ideal, the Sunshine Coast at least makes the option far less painful than its southern brother, although hiring a car still comes recommended as there are simply too many natural attractions off the main path to visit without private transport in a reasonable timeframe.

It's in this sense that both the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast suffer as their elongated layouts and lack of central true CBD areas mean going up and down the coast is far more easy than going inland.

The Verdict:

The traffic situation alone is a major win for the Sunshine Coast in this matchup, and when added to the generally more efficient, clean and safer public transport it leaves the Gold Coast looking especially wanting.

The light rail system on the Gold Coast has solved some minor problems, however its lack of adequate connections leaves a lot to be desired, and the average traveller will have a much more pleasant time driving a car on the Sunshine Coast.


These two South East Queensland regions are very similar in some respects yet entirely different in others; as a result, how much enjoyment you get out of a visit to the Gold Coast vs. Sunshine Coast will largely depend on the purpose of your holiday.

Want to relax and get away from it all and not fussed about night time entertainment or having days full of activities? Choose the Sunshine Coast. Looking for a destination full of things to do at all hours of the day that might be more crowded in return, or mainly concerned with keeping the kids entertained? The Gold Coast is for you.

Gold Coast: 56/70

• Beaches

• Weather

• Theme Parks

• Nightlife

• Shopping

• Number of activities

• Things to do for kids

Sunshine Coast: 52/70

• Beaches

• Weather

• Natural Highlights

• Less crowded

• Relaxation

• Safety

• Less commercialised

In addition, if you're looking for a range of all top things to do on the Gold Coast or Sunshine Coast, be sure to check out our main region sections to browse and book online. Explore Gold Coast Experiences
Explore Sunshine Coast Experiences