Our friends at the Nomad-Nester travel and photography blog asked us to write an article about Byron’s best experiences for visitors.
Of course we’re biased, so we do highly recommend a stay at The Lily Pad 🙂 but there’s a host of other tips and recommendations that might help make your stay just that bit more memorable.
For those flying to Byron Bay, the airport at Ballina is just 30 mins away and the Gold Coast is about 45 minutes. There are a number of shuttle bus services into Byron Bay from both airports, including Go Byron Airport Transfers which operate a door-to-door service direct to your accommodation from Ballina or Gold Coast airports.
First stop on arrival is a quick spot of grocery shopping before setting up house for our stay. Woolies on Jonson Street is always entertaining for its hippie-come-backpacker-watching scene. If driving in via Ewingsdale Road, try the Supa IGA in the Industrial Estate. It’s huge!
WHERE TO STAY?
We’ve built The Lily Pad at Byron on our property on Skinners Shoot Road, after two decades of staying in all sorts of places in and around the town, from glammed up backpacker lodges during the pre-kids era, to the full range of family friendly holiday apartments just across from the beach on Lawson Street.
Today, we no longer feel the need to stay in the heart of town or close to the beach and instead relish the peaceful, tropical rural outlook offered by The Lily Pad. Being less than five minutes drive to all the shopping, dining and sunning action you could possibly imagine, it’s truly the best of both worlds.
The main Studio of The Lily Pad at Byron sleeps two people and is ideal for couples looking for a relaxing escape. If you’ve got the kids in tow, the Retreat pavilion located adjacent gives extra accommodation, including its own lounge area, TV and bathroom, while maintaining privacy for the “grown ups”. Our kids are now teenagers, so the Retreat is the classic teen hideaway, their own place to sleep, watch movies and just chill.
PLAY & UNWIND
It’s almost compulsory when visiting Byron, especially if you’re under 25, from overseas and visiting Byron Bay for the first time, to take surfing lessons. It’s a popular choice for families too and I can proudly attest to standing up on a surfboard at least once in my life thanks to lessons on Clarke’s Beach. The fact that I was riding the same wave as my young son at the time, has elevated the experience from tourist buzz to lifelong memory. Priceless.
These days, we choose Gaz from Style Surfing for our lessons. He’s great with the kids and teaches valuable water safety too. There are lots of surf lesson operators to choose from and no doubt you’ll see the familiar sight of the boards being walked along the beach by eager rookie surfers when you’re there.
If you’d like to venture beyond the shoreline to see dolphins (and maybe even whales when it’s the migrating season!) check out Cape Byron Kayaks. The four hour round trip gives a unique perspective from the water and a sense of exhilaration and accomplishment as you expertly (or otherwise!) coast in on the waves when you return to shore.
As a yoga devotee, we seek out the casual classes at a variety of places around town, with Creature Yoga in the Industrial Estate being the current fave. It’s a lovely space with both yin and vinyasa style yoga. Plus, last time we were there, the kombucha was available on tap!
If your idea of play sounds like an arthouse movie, Byron Bay has got your needs covered. At The Pighouse Flicks located at The Byron Brewery, you’ll sit back in locally handcrafted cinema chairs, including a series of lay-down seats in the front row, to enjoy a range of foreign and arthouse films. It’s a classic Byron Bay experience that’s become a tradition during our stays.
EAT & DRINK
The days when fondue was the highlight of the dining scene in Byron Bay have well and truly passed. Today, Byron Bay is a true foodie destination in its own right and the choice of cafes and restaurants is extraordinary.
Il Buco in Bay Lane would have to be our current and possibly all time favourite Byron Bay restaurant. We go back every single time we visit Byron Bay and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere, super friendly staff and authentic Italian pizza. It’s truly sensational! We love the “Burrata Special” which thankfully is on the menu more then it’s not, with the freshest prosciutto, Sicilian olives, piping hot crusty bread and a wobbly, luscious orb of burrata sitting on top.
The famous Beach Hotel is a landmark, along with other watering holes, The Rails, The Northern and The Byron Brewery. You’ll find live music every night of the week somewhere in Byron Bay, and of course at Easter a flurry of international musicians descend on the region for the annual Blues Festival.
When we were at St Elmo Dining Room & Bar last, we ordered the largest Spanish tapas dish we’ve ever seen, 600 grams of melt in your mouth aged rib eye on the bone. This vibrant restaurant and bar, has a huge choice of cocktails, wines and of course a Byron-style sangria that pairs perfectly with the tapas.
Post-beach, we like to refuel at The Top Shop on the corner of Massinger and Carlyle Streets. Go for the burgers on the grass and kick back with local Byron surfers after your morning swim. If you’re at the Thursday Farmer’s Market grab a hot samosa for breakfast, or maybe a warm blueberry muffin filled with custard is more your style. Add a freshly made smoothie (kale is almost compulsory) and a pastry from Scratch Patisserie, and you’ve reached market food nirvana.
And near Woolworths on Jonson Street, O’Sushi will satisfy your craving for Japanese. It even has a sushi train, with some of the most innovative and authentic Japanese sushi you’ll ever enjoy.
Harvest Café is one of the finer casual eateries in the Byron Bay region and its setting in three sprawling heritage buildings create a stylish backdrop for the seasonally inspired food. They do breakfast, lunch and also dinner on selected evenings.
Other great eats include Red Ginger for yum cha dumplings enjoyed while perched on the tiny window seat overlooking Jonson Street. Pizza and live music at the Treehouse on Belongil. Try Fishheads next to Byron’s swimming pool for breakfast, lunch or dinner with the sound of the waves. Thai Lucy has a bustling laneway atmosphere, nestled alongside an array of other small eateries. And if you manage to score a table, Miss Margarita is a Mexican cantina that promises a full tummy and great memories.
SHOP LIKE A LOCAL
There are simply loads of interesting shops in Byron Bay along Jonson St, Lawson St, Marvel St and Fletcher St and you’ll find an array of designer clothes and local handcrafted goodies. Shops are one thing, but the local Byron Bay markets have been elevated to cult status, drawing big crowds.
The weekly Farmer’s Market (7-11am on Thursdays, Butler Street Reserve) has a strong local and tourist following. A word of advice… Go early!
If you enjoy cooking like we do, pay a visit to The Bay Seafood Market, the local fresh fish shop on Lawson Street. You’ll be met with friendly, helpful service and honestly the freshest, just-caught fish in the region. Next door, pop into the Blue Olive Delicatessen for quality bread, picnic supplies and gourmet foodie delights.
For gorgeous local arts and crafts, vintage clothes and a colourful eclectic market vibe, time your stay for the first Sunday of the month when the Byron Bay Community Market sets up camp at the Butler Street reserve (the same location as the Farmer’s Market). Live local musicians provide a chilled soundtrack, and there’s also a great selection of food, so be sure to leave room for breakfast or lunch while browsing the stalls.
The market is so popular that it is also held on the third Sunday of each month in the peak summer months of December and January.
There’s simply something for everyone in Byron Bay. You can opt in – or opt out – as much as you like. Play hard. Or just meditate on the sand. And we haven’t even had time to talk about the spa treatments, massages and alternative therapies available in this east coast mecca. That’s next time. Until then, “Cheer up, Slow down and Chill out”.
Go Byron Airport Transfers from Ballina and the Gold Coast.
Cape Byron Kayaks www.capebyronkayaks.com
On the grass opposite 60 Lawson Street, Byron Bay, Ph: (02) 6680 9555
Style Surfing with Gaz www.stylesurfingbyronbay.com
Ph: 02 6685 5634 Mobile: 0416 162 969
Creature Yoga www.creatureyoga.com.au
11 Banksia Drive unit 6B Byron Bay
Pighouse Flicks www.pighouseflicks.com.au
1 Skinners Shoot Rd Byron Bay, Ph: 02 6685 5828
The Lily Pad at Byron, Skinners Shoot Rd Byron Bay.
EAT & DRINK
The Beach Hotel http://beachhotel.com.au/
Shop 15/ 90-96 Jonson St, Woolworths Plaza, Ph: 02 6685 7103, Open 7 days, 11am – late.
St Elmo Dining http://stelmodining.com/
Monday – Saturday 4pm till late; Sunday: 4pm till 10pm.
The Top Shop https://www.facebook.com/TopShopByronBay
Cnr Carlyle & Massinger Streets, Open daily, breakfast & lunch, 6.30am – 5.00pm, Ph: 02 66856495.
Harvest Café & Deli http://harvestcafe.com.au/
18-22 Old Pacific Hwy Newrybar Village, Ph: 02 6687 2644
The Bay Seafood Market, Shop 7, Cnr Fletcher and Lawson St, Ph: 02 6685 5660
Blue Olive Delicatessen, 27 Lawson Street, Ph: 002 6680 8700
Visit the NOMAD/nester travel blog to read more great stories of travel, roadtripping and armchair travelling.
This article has been updated in August 2017.