a guide to Byron Bay
I first wrote this guide about two years ago when I was living just outside Byron in an old army shed in the forest. You can catch up on my time there here, here and here. I put it together as a rundown of Things to Do as recommended by me and bunch of rad locals I met so that when you – my mates here on this blog – holiday there, well, you’re sorted.
I’ve regularly updated the guide since then because it has proven so popular (and will continue to do so)…if you feel anything’s outdated, please feel free to post a comment below!
As a bit of background, I came to Byron to rest and heal. Which is what it has done for thousands of years. For the local Arakwal Bumberlin people it’s always been a healing and fertility place. The locals say you come here to get healed. Once healed, you need to move on or, if you stay, you must heal others. After 18 months here I knew my time was up. But it will always be a special place for me.
Byron is a unique place. It’s both a sleepy, old-school coastal hamlet in bits, but big bands and performers pass through regularly. It’s full of fancy city types, but the sense of community is potent. It’s transient, but everyone feels they belong. The ladies at the post office know my name. The bank manager chats with me in the street.
Everyone has a theory on the place and why certain phenomena exist. Like, the fact there are seven single women to every single man. (The theory on this one is that it’s due to the area being a female fertility site…men just can’t hack the energy!)
But to the guide…
For a great overview of what the locals are doing, and what gigs are worth seeing, check out Common Ground.
You might also like to read about the road trip I did in the area a while back.
Also, this video featuring my mate Tommy Franklin – who’s since appeared on X Factore - should give you a breezy feel for things…play it as a soundtrack to this post! If you see Tommy in town he’ll massage your shoulders if you ask nicely.
My vote The Roadhouse, heading out towards Suffolk Park. My other pick is Top Shop. Which I like to call Facebook Mountain because the scene here, as my mate Tim so aptly put it, resembles a General Pants commercial. They also serve organic milk on request. And everyone sits out on the lawn and chats in the sun in the morning. One One One opposite The Dendy cinemas, although I’ve since been told it’s changed hands. And if you have a car, be sure to head to Liliana’s out on Possum Creek Rd. This place just opened and it’s in the old schoolhouse out there. The owners are sweethearts. And Can. I. Tell. You….they make the best salmon and asparagus omelette ever. If you’re a pastry fan, well….you’ll be pleased. Worth a drive.
Clare McGregor is a music publicist at Vitamin Records and suggests the cafe up at the lighthouse – it wins hands down for view.
Sarita Merlo is a naturopath and herbalist, and is the founder of the Byron Bay Tea Company. Her favourite coffee is from Utopia in Bangalow.
coffee at the Top Shop, photo by Johnny Abegg
2. Chai tea/tea leaves
My pick is The Conscious Cafe (in the Woolworths carpark, behind Dendy cinemas). The calmest place ever and Alicia who owns the joint is a treat…lots of sugar-free stuff there, too! Also, Naked Treaties, in the arcade behind Citrus Cafe on Johnson St. (a bit up from The Dendy). Jemma (at Naked Treaties) makes her own almond milk. Jem’s Naked Treatie treats are sold all over Byron – the coconut chocolates are almost fructose free and are 100% organic and sustainable and….you’ve just got to try one!
For something a bit different, head out to Byron at Byron and sit in their lovely garden. And have a massage while you’re there.
I’d also say the Byron Beach Cafe (the one down in the dunes) is best. In part because of this view:
I’d also say anywhere where they sell Prem’s Chai tea. The Top Shop makes Prem’s.
Sam Gowing is a Byron-based organic chef and food consultant. She recommends Targa, for their real teapots that don’t drip, and real tea leaves – the best green tea in town.
Lizzie is co-owner of flagship boutique Spell & the Gypsy Collective (so worth a visit…or check them out on Instagram) and says “wherever Byron Bay Tea Company teas are on the menu. Try the Byron Beach cafe, Harvest, ATE, Bangalow Dining and Fundamental Food Store Cafe and experience the magic of Byron Bay from your teacup!!!”
Jacqueline McCoach is a Byron-based jewellry designer and owner of ‘Jewels by Jacqueline’: the Beach Hotel. I can vouch for this…such a great atmosphere in the mornings and a local favourite. Great if you want simple and breezy.
Sarita: Ate, in Bangalow.
Tory and her husband own the Retro shop in the Reading Building on Lismore Rd, Bangalow. Tory recommends Heritage House in Bangalow for tea and scones. “As well as having on display Bangalow’s charming history in the museum (apparently the building was a former brothel from Qld), what I love about this place is the sumptuous cakes made by the volunteer grannies, who also double as the waitresses. Scones, cheese cakes and melting moments – even asparagus sandwiches, such old-world charm in a divine setting.”
OK. Get thee to One One One, opposite Dendy cinemas. They can keep it simple. Two boiled eggs? $3.90. Add some Hayter’s Hill organic sausages and a chunk of roast pumpkin or pickles and that’s a build-your-own start to the day with style. The coffee is amazing, the staff are gorgeous (and long-time locals) and it’s very much a “local find”. Their new menu features some rippers, like this fried egg stack and potato galette stack…
The omelette roll at Top Shop is superb. Top Shop make their own bread and pastries, too. The BLT at both Bayleaf and Dip are great. While you’re at Dip try the cashew biscuit – virtually sugar free; just nuts and egg. Harvest at Newrybar is ace for vibe and value (makes for a great excursion en route to Bangalow). And I also love Ate in Bangalow. The sauteed silverbeet and mushrooms is great.
My mate Pat from Grinspoon rates Succulent for smoked salmon on toast.
Johnny says his favourite is coffee and breaky – surf style – at Macs Milkbar.
4. Burger or pizza, and other easy meals
The Top Shop burgers are amazing (sorry, Top Shop references will stop now). They have fennel seeds in the patty. The eggs and bacon are organic and they bake their own bread and pastries. I also hear over and over that Mac’s Milkbar’s burgers are the bomb. Pizza: Milk and Honey is everyone’s pick (in Mullumbimby), but they don’t do gluten-free. I also love the nachos and fish tacos at the Mexican place on the roundabout in the centre of town. The guy makes all the cornchips you buy around town in Woolies etc. He makes all his own mince and sauces, too. The REAL deal.
I also can’t recommend enough the buckwheat fettuccine with kale pesto at Conscious Cafe.
And the Thai joint across the road from Woolworths is great because they’ll take out all sugar and gluten for you and the waitress is the nicest in the world! Oh, and The Rails is fun for some local action (and the best pub food in town – look out for the pork belly and the kangaroo special). And I also love Maui’s Feast up near the beach. Quirky as all hell. Vietnamese lamb shanks with chips topped with melted cheese anyone? That said, it works. Somehow.
If you’re after a quirky bar/cafe/wholefood restaurant, you’ll dig this…
OK, the boys who used to make great coffee at The Top Shop have opened a joint just out of town called The Roadhouse. At night it’s a whisky bar and they churn out simple risottos and slow cooked stuff. By day they do organic coffee made with organic milk, fermented turmeric and ginger kombucha, avocado and coconut water smoothies that come in recycled jars, a pumpkin, homemade fermented labna, spec and herbs breakfast with sauerkraut…you get the picture, right? They’re totally Sally Fallon’ed up!
- Fermented ginger turmeric kombucha tea
- A Breakfast of Organic Wholefood Champions: fermented labna, pumpkin, homegrown herbs and sauerkraut with organic milk coffee and turmeric kombucha…
Everything in the place is organic and mostly local. There are herb gardens outside. And a fireplace. Love it. Give Liam and Dwayne a kiss from me (cute, 20-something surfer boys).
If you’re after a raw bar, you’ll be refreshed by this…
I mentioned my mate Jemma’s Naked Treaties in the original Guide. She’s now opened a great place on one of the main drags (down from Targa). It’s astonishingly fresh and healthy. Her smoothies are meals. Try the “I am abundant”…a chocolaty, green, coconutty dream. Say Hi to Jemma from me if you’re in there. She radiates raw good health.
Sam: best lunch and weekly survival meal when I feel like ‘uncooking’ is The Awakening buckwheat pancake at the Conscious Cafe, and a young coconut – just love it. Also, Jemma’ s new Naked Treaties Raw Bar of course for their new green juices as well as their awesome coconut and cacao smoothies with a pinch of E3Live which I have daily.
Paul owns Art Park, and he says best fish and chips is Fish Mongers - simple, fresh and so imaginative, it’s a wonder no one else does fish like this. The best smoothie is from Banana Buzz at Munch in the industrial estate. Just incredible.
Johnny: for pizza it’s Milk & Honey in Mullumbiimby by a mile!
Lizzy loves the ‘house burger’ at Macs Cafe.”The best thai food is Thai Garden in Lennox – it’s worth the 15 min drive out of town. fresh and made with lots of love – it’s my fave!”
Clare: ‘Starfish’ in Brunswick Heads for the best calamari …ever. And ’Rock n Roll’ Cafe in Mullumbimby is great, as is The Poinciana for the Mullum vibe, lovely outdoor tables and sandpit for kids.
5. Special dinner
I’ll keep this short and sweet. Pretty much everyone agrees: Italian at the Pacific (the best pork belly and fish), Satiate in Bangalow (now run by Katrina Kanetani who’s appeared on MasterChef; an amazing degustation menu), Harvest Cafe in Newrybar (look out for their special themed/degustation dinners on a Thursday), One One One (open Thursday – Sunday nights; I love their quail). I also think the food is great at St Elmo’s and the service is amazing (try the chorizo with almonds and the beef cheek). All five places rival city joints and aren’t too exey.
6. Cocktails/wine by the glass
I think St Elmo’s and Italian are best for both. The staff know their stuff. I like The Balcony for a martini and for the sunset experience up there.
Lizzie says the Harvest cocktail menu is unique and different. “Created by Tristan, one of the owners, there is an interesting selection of cocktails using native ingredients such as finger lime.”
Paul says the best beer is the local (award winning) brewery Stone and Wood, “Stone Beer” closely followed by “Pacific ale” these guys are new and really supportive of all local events.
My friends Kerry and Michael stayed at Atlantic Byron Bay during their visit recently. It’s in the centre of town, but back from all the backpacker action, and just across the road from Targa. They stayed in their VERY CUTE Silver Bullet van. In the evenings while they waited for me to grab them, the drank beer from coasters sitting out under the lean-to and channelled 1962. A novelty option. There’s also one and two-room options. More info here.
My assistant Jo stayed at Atlantic recently. Jo says, “I stayed in the Coconut Cove section. It’s set up like a hotel – in that you have your own room and bathroom – but there’s a great communal kitchen and open living area. I love that there’s always someone to chat to over a cup of tea in the sun!”
I’ve stayed in their “lodge”. I don’t think they call it a lodge. But it works like this: hotel-size rooms with balconies that feel more like a bedroom in a designer Byron home; own bathrooms; communal kitchen and eating area and deck downstairs; communal gardens; stand-up paddleboards and books and DVDs to borrow.
The lodges are also part of the Art Park artists residency program (artists come to stay in Bryon and do art at Art Park and stay at Atlantic; their art then displays around the property and is for sale). All of which adds a lovely creative vibe to the place. I love the feel here. Fresh and whimsical.
Is it a good location? Yep. In the middle of town, across the road from Targa restaurant (a local’s favourite).
Also, I reckon Byron at Byron really is a great deal and great for being a little out of the chaos. Lyn and Chrissie are gorgeous authentic operators and will make your stay special.
If you’re visiting as a group or family, you’ll love this place…
I used to ride and run past this place most days. Byron Bay Beach Houses is on the Lighthouse Road, just opposite the Captain Cook Lookout (where I would park to surf The Pass). I stayed in the Havana house, set back from the road and backing onto rainforest. It’s a languid, beachy, breezy family home with two big loungerooms, with generous couches and generous cushions and lots of light and air, four bedrooms (to sleep 10), a pool, barbeque areas and two decks. You getting the picture? Breezy, big and great for entertaining.
I invited a bunch of friends over for an indoor picnic (yep, the storms, the floods), mostly because I wanted to put the kitchen to use. Which is big. Breezy. Fully stocked with good gear.
Is it a good location? Yep. Possibly the best. You’re across the road from the beach and a ten minute walk into town. The place is generously equipped with beach gear and towels. Arrive. Unpack. Set up the Connect Four and the barbeque kit.
Sam: We stay, and reccy our mates to stay, at Byron Executive Accommodation.
Lizzie also recommends the cottages down on Clarke’s beach. “You cannot get a better posi in Byron Bay- rain, hail or shine you can soak it up down there and get some real relaxation. You can literally roll out of bed, walk 20 metres and lunge in the ocean. Pure bliss!”
8. While in Byron you must try:
One of my favourite things to do is the daily ocean swim. We meet at 8am at the Surf Club, walk to The Pass and then swim back (about 1.5km). A group of 20-50 locals do it every single morning. I do it once or twice a week. First time I did it I got mauled by bluebottles, the second time I swam over a shark. But don’t let that put you off! The old locals who’ve been doing it for decades make it the most wonderful start to the day. Anyone can turn up and swim. It’s free. Also, running/walking from Clarke’s beach to the lighthouse and back is magic. At sunrise. I do it as early as possible and meditate on the eastern most point of Australia with the new sun on my face. I did it the other day, looked up, and there were two whales breaching right in front. Did I say magic?
For hikes: I love Minyon Falls and heading out along the bush track past Broken Head and walking down one of the tracks to an isolated beach.
here’s me and Clive after a morning swim.
Clare: Torakina Beach at Brunswick Heads is great for toddlers. Crystal Castle also great for kids (and adults) – stunning setting, sculpture walk and gardens.
Johnny: an early morning view of the sunrise from the lighthouse still amazes me after 16 years in the Bay.
Sarita: try an espresso martini at Italian at the Pacific. And visit the sauna and spa at Kiva Spa.
Kirra Pendergast is a third generation Byronian and local businesswoman : “a meal and a beer on Friday evening whilst they do the local fishing club raffles at The Rails is always good. Grab a coffee at the lighthouse and walk down to the most easterly point. Snorkel around the Julian rocks.”
Tory: the roadside stalls in Newrybar. My favourite thing to do on a Saturday morning with my three year old, where we go “shopping” for local produce at the roadside stalls. We arm ourselves with loose change and stop at the stalls to purchase everything from honey, to coffee, fruit, vegetables, fresh flowers and eggs and pop the money into the honesty box.
Lizzy: “go for a skinny dip at the Tea Tree Lakes, ask around and locals will give you directions. And the best kept secret is the rainforest boardwalk behind The Byron at Byron – you wouldn’t know it but it’s open to the public and is a spectacular place to go to meditate or just a gentle stroll…”
Lizzie’s creations, available at Spell
9. If you’re here on a (specific day of week/time of month) you must:
Me, I’d recommend doing the Thursday local farmers market (look out for the raw food stand – the hummus is amazing – and the mushroom ladies – the shitakes almost make me cry – oh, and the ginger couple and the sprouts lady…) and the monthly Sunday craft markets (they rotate around Byron, Bangalow, Mullum and The Channon).
Byron Farmer’s Markets on a Thursday
Sam: if you’re here in winter, enjoy the whale migration. Also, Sundays through Thursdays Happy Hour at the Byron at Byron is full of locals.
Johnny: if you’re in Byron Bay on a Saturday, drive around and have a look at the array of garage sales, unbelievable what people are selling, and the creative measures they go to. Sunday afternoon at the beachfront car-park (overlooking the wreck), when the weather is good, you’ll get a heap of percussionist’s playing tunes until the sun goes down.
Clare: visit in November and go to the Mullumbimby Music Festival – one of the best small scale music festivals around for all ages and persuasions. Loved for its friendly, inclusive atmosphere – quality music (a mixture of popular national/international acts with yet-to-be-discovered surprises) in existing venues throughout the funky town of Mullumbimby.
Kirra: join a beach clean up every tuesday morning at The Main Beach Carpark with Positive Change for Marine Life. Also, check out The Artists Trail at The Arts and Industry Estate. And for the kids – the YAC Rock Cafe every Friday Night at the Byron Youth Service (Youth Activity Centre).
10. Healing treatments:
11. Best massage:
I go to a great local woman who works from home at Suffolk Park with her husband ($45 for an hour): Rachel: 02 6685 4466. The Medicine Wheel is great if you’re after some options and I always tell visitors to hang at Kiva spa in Mullum for a day.
I also love a Thai massage with Kaori at the Thai Massage place opposite Dendy Cinemas.
12. Whackiest/coolest healing/treatment:
I advise checking out the classifieds in the Echo and the noticeboard at Santos in Mullum. It’s intriguing just how many different esoteric healings one can have!
Sam: Best Ayurvedic hot oil treatment for chronic muscle pain - Ambaji House of Wellbeing
Kazzie: Ruth Smith at Abundantia
Sarita says go for a tarot reading from Michelle at Crystal Castle
Sam also says “whenever I’m having a spiritual meltdown I call on Liz Winter, a medium in Mullum”
13. Look out for local talent:
I saw Lisa Hunt play at the Beach Hotel a few months back. I was dropping past to grab a bottle of wine with a friend. I was in my pyjamas…and had to check out what the fuss was about. Oh my. The place was packed with pretty much everyone in town. If Lisa is in town (I think she’s here Sept 4 next)…you MUST go along.
Sam: Tijuana Cartel at the Beach Hotel. Lisa Hunt – Sundays, once a month in spring/summer at the Beach Hotel
Johnny says local musician M. Jack Bee will tear at your heart strings. Keep an eye on that name.
Clare says always pick up a copy of The Byron Echo – Mandy Nolan’s column(local comedienne) alone is worth it, as is the classified section – yoghurt weaving anyone? The Echo is also the place to check out what bands are playing – loads of amazing bands come through Byron on their tours.The Byron Bay Community Theatre is one of the best venues to catch an intimate gig. Also look out for local record label Vitamin Records – chock full of fine independent talent.
Sarita says look out for Tres Hombres, or DJ Slinky
Kirra suggests you grab a show at The Byron Community Centre Theatre – Mouche Phillips from Ripe Productions pulls some great stuff through from her days at The Opera House.
As you might know, I’m not much of a shopper but I do recommend Spell Designs, Island Luxe (in both Byron and Bangalow) – they stock Jacqueline’s amazing designs there – and Butik. The Retro Shop in Bangalow is very cute (see below) and the craft markets (every Sunday in different towns in the area) is actually very, very cool…not a crocheted coathanger in sight. I also love Art Park. This place is a bit of a hub for Byron’s artistic, surfing, graffiti etc community. It’s a gallery-based clothing company, an art publisher, an online art store and they also run a series of very fun gallery openings (basically a BBQ in the car park with beer and music and kids skating about), as well as an artists’ residency programme. The gallery/store is in the industrial estate (you REALLY have to head out there for a visit) and some of the world’s raddest artists contribute to their shows, their clothes and their quarterly Art Park Journal. Paul, the owner, is an ace guy and wrote the very funny kids book A, B, C & W: The Country and Western Alphabet . Look out for their Hard Folk baseball caps, too.
Claude who owns Butik in town: check out the Random Junk Yard in Bangalow is called ‘Heath’s Wares”. “I love this place. Even better when I see him at Lismore car boot and follow him around and learn about everything – he is a wealth of knowledge.”
Lizzy: Visit the Arts & Industry Park… you’ll see glass blowers, silver smiths, gorgeous bohemian labels (like Spell!!), fairy shops, vintage stores, a circus tent, soap and candle makers… it’s the real heart and soul of byron. [The tourist office has a map/trail for the area]
15. yoga classes
I like Byron Yoga above Centrelink – if John Ogilvy is in town, definitely catch one of his classes. He’s one of the best and most entertaining teachers in Australia. Also Ananta yoga: in a grim location (up near Mitre 10 on Jonson St), but Geoff is a sublime teacher. A vinyasa style with tough bits.
16. extra helpful things:
For a wax/tan: Carla at Be Waxed Be Tanned on Fletcher street is super +61434522240. And a delight to visit. I giggle the whole way.
Surfboards: I bought my longboard from Brett Munro of Munro Handcrafted Surfboards at the Industrial Estate. He’s a Byron legend. An all-round legend. He hand-shapes all his boards and sells quite a few second-hand. The experience was soothing in itself because Brett is THAT laid back. He also lets you take a board out for a trial and will let you exchange if you’re not 100% comfortable. NOTHING is a problem.
Claude stocks Samvara in Byron Bay. She says the best surfboard repair is “the ding doctor”, in the Byron industrial estate.
Any Mac computer issues: this guy is seriously the best computer fixerer on the planet – Tom at Mr Mac (0418 408 869). He comes to you, cleans out your hardrive as part of the service – $80/hour.
Osteopathy/chiropratic. I write all day and it stuffs my posture. My neck gets thrown and so I have to go and get cracked back into place. Not ideal. But you do what you have to do. In Byron I go to Peter. He’s a super passionate surfer who knows a lot!
Photography: Looking for great prints of Byron Bay? Check out Alex Frings photography!
Video store: Paul suggest Late night Video. Owned by film buffs everything is there: cult, horror, TV series, directors , popular flicks and obscurities.
Car wash: why not try these guys at Gold Coast airport. I drop my car off when I have to fly interstate. It’s done and ready when I get back. Super cheap!
Hope that helps…feel free to add your own tips below…