Byron Bay: A luxury guide to the best accommodation and dining in Byron

There’s no denying Byron Bay’s left-of-centre magnetism. Here's how GT does Byron Bay.
A room at Swell in Byron Bay
A room at Swell in Byron Bay

True, bagging on Byron Bay may have become something of a national pastime in Australia recently. But let’s face it – the naysayers are probably just jealous. The truth is, the magnetism of the storied NSW surf town is undeniable, thanks to its picture-postcard beaches, famed hikes and walks, and barefooted free spirit.

While Byron’s boom over the last decade has been a boon for the surrounding hinterland and Northern Rivers region, it has also given rise to a bumper crop of luxe Byron Bay accommodation and a robust dining scene right in the heart of it all. Indeed, the best Byron Bay hotels and restaurants blend cosmopolitan verve and laid-back polish like few other places in the country. Here’s where and how to do to right.

Best Byron Bay accommodation

The rooftop pool at Hotel Marvell photo: Hotel Marvell

Byron Bay hotels

28 Degrees

Interior designer Deb Garske set a sky-high standard for luxury guesthouses with the opening of 28 Degrees, one which hasn’t wavered in the slightest ever since. The lure of the ground-level rooms with a private plunge pool is hard to resist; then again, that’s true of the upstairs rooms, too, which feature antique claw foot bathtubs and private balconies with Cape Byron Lighthouse views. Despite its hyper-central location, the sense of peace and quiet is second to none, reinforced by a strict adults-only policy. An intimate beach retreat in the fullest sense.

Hotel Marvell

Byron’s only five-star property pulls off a rare feat, merging big-city sensibility and slick design with thoughtful touches befitting a boutique hotel. Inside, the mood is low-key luxe across the 24 rooms and suites, all sprinkled with linen robes, Baina beach towels, local ceramics and decorative wall sculptures by Sydney-based artist Dion Horstmans. Up at the rooftop pool and bar, meanwhile, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in Miami or LA, were it not for the views out over town to the ocean. Bonus points for the chocolates that come with turn-down service.

Swell Hotel

Each of the 16 rooms at Swell Hotel – a mere two-minute stroll from town – offers a crash course on how to revitalise a retro motor lodge. Gone are the Brady Bunch-era details, replaced by a swirl of soothing earth tones, tactical textures and striking patterns that take their cues from California’s storied surf culture. The up-to-date wellness area includes a marble-tiled magnesium pool, ice bath and infrared sauna, but a vintage caravan keeps the nostalgic spirit alive in the manicured garden, serving light breakfasts and snacks. The ’70s have never looked so swanky.

Elements of Byron

Amenities are the strong suit at this splashy eco-resort set on acres of wetlands and native rainforest. Start your day at one of Elements of Byron’s two swimming pools before setting off on a walking trail or hitting the tennis court. Then, work up a sweat in the gym or unwind in the spa before a horseback ride, a game of giant chess or bocce. Sure, you’ve got Belongil Beach on your doorstep and you’re a short walk away from the solar-powered train to the centre of the action, but there’s every chance you won’t leave the confines of Elements.

The pool and view at Sway
The pool and view at Sway photo credit: Airbnb Sway

Byron Bay Airbnb stays

Sway, Byron Bay

In the hillside across from The Pass – a legendary surf break that’s primely positioned for strolling to Cape Byron lighthouse or into town – is Sway. With five bedrooms sleeping up to 11 guests, bikes and surfboards for guest use, it’s the ideal stay for active holidaymakers. Then again, you could just sit back and relax by the infinity pool, which has incredible panoramic views of the bay.

Soma, Ewingsdale

Does Soma feel like the place you might see the likes of Nicole Kidman lounging around? It might be because it was used as a primary filming location in the 2021 series adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers. Located on 22 acres of rainforest just outside of Byron, Soma is an ideal group retreat. It features an open concept layout with floor-to-ceiling windows, a freshwater pool, yoga dome, infrared sauna, three treatment rooms and a magnesium ice bath. Hello, wellness fiends. With the option for breathwork sessions, massages and meditation courses, as well as catering and laundry services, you can’t get more luxe than Soma. Peak Byron.

The Arbour, Suffolk Park

The Arbour is architecturally designed with luxury touches, just a short drive to Byron Bay town. There’s also plenty to see and do on your doorstep, with Tallows Beach and Suffolk Park’s cafes within walking distance. Spend the morning in the tropical garden or by the pool before wandering to the beach for the afternoon sun.

Best Byron Bay restaurants

Menu items at Bar Heather in Byron Bay
Menu items at Bar Heather in Byron Bay, photo credit: Jess Kearney

Beach Byron Bay

Addresses simply don’t get much better than right here, up on the dunes of Clarkes Beach. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the menu at the only beachfront restaurant in town has a similarly coastal outlook, with a strong focus on stunningly fresh seafood and top-drawer Northern Rivers produce. The experience comes with all the polish you’d expect from the feted Fink Group and co-owners Ben and Belinda Kirkwood, right through to the more casual adjoining Kiosk, which opens daily from 7am for breakfast and lunch. Local fish and chips with sand between your toes? Have at it.

Bar Heather

Savvy natural wine importers and distributors James Audas and Tom Sheer are the brains behind this snug, shadowy 60-seater, which takes its cues from on-the-pulse bars à vin and neo-bistros the world over. In the kitchen, accomplished chef Ollie Wong-Hee takes a free-wheeling approach, melding hitherto discrete flavours and ideas with riveting results – think tare-brushed pork neck skewers with preserved tamarillo mole and hand-stretched roti. The website may call it “a place to drink wine”, but once you settle in with the 700-strong bottle list you’ll quickly realise what an understatement that is.

High Life

Some might deem the menu a bit woo-woo, with its pickles, ferments, medicinal mushrooms and maca-milk turmeric lattes. Deliciousness, however, is very much the byword at weekdays-only High Life, which gets the boho brief just right. The seats to beat here are the street-facing stools out on the timber-and-brick verandah, where the sun seems to shine doubly bright with a strong Allpress coffee in hand. To really kick your morning into overdrive, call for the brown rice and kimchi fritters with avocado, fresh herbs and a heady tamari-chilli jam.

The dining room at Light Years in Byron Bay
The dining room at Light Years in Byron Bay

Light Years

While you’ll now find playful, pastel-coloured outposts of Light Years along the east coast – from Newcastle all the way up to Burleigh Heads and Noosa – the Byron Bay branch started it all, back in 2017. Expect a roll call of modern Asian mainstays that will please all comers: coconut-fragrant kingfish ceviche, say, followed by truffled mushroom dumplings, mi goreng-spiced fried chicken and special fried rice with a signature “flavour bomb”. At $69 and $89, the well-priced banquet menus make it a shoo-in for groups – and the punchy, fruit-forward cocktails certainly don’t hurt, either.

Masa Byron Bay

Decision-making isn’t easy at this cult-favourite bakehouse in the Arts and Industry Estate precinct on the outskirts of town. Indeed, each of the ever-changing 18 or so pastries on offer – all laid out across the concrete countertop – looks more tempting than the last, with cinnamon scrolls and almond croissants pitted against the likes of mushroom Danishes and sausage rolls. Sandwiches, sourdough pizza slices and the dynamite doughnut line-up won’t help narrow it down, so grab a little bit of everything and try your best to save some for later.

Raes Dining Room

Have you even been to Byron Bay if you haven’t spent an afternoon at Raes? Now in its 30th year of operation, the swish boutique hotel and restaurant fronting Wategos Beach has leapt from strength to strength in the last decade, thanks largely to a 2017 refurbishment overseen by designer Tamsin Johnson and the recruitment of gun executive chef Jason Saxby. Native ingredients inform much of the pinpoint-precise cooking on his three-course menu, which culminates in nostalgic desserts like an ode to the Iced VoVo in a vintage Arnott’s tin. More casual innings, meanwhile, can be had in the Cellar Bar downstairs.

The Smoking Camel

An unassuming shopping arcade may not be where you’d expect to find a neon-tinted, technicolour bar and diner that winks and nods to the Levant. But that’s exactly where you’ll find The Smoking Camel – smoke machine, mirror ball, and all. The charcoal-grilled meats are the stars of the show, but you’ll also want to fill the table end to end with pita and dips, smashed falafels and honey-drenched saganaki encased in brik pastry. And if you’re of the opinion that Turkish Delight and ras el hanout don’t belong in cocktails, be prepared to be proven wrong.

The dining room at The Smoking Camel in Byron Bay
The dining room at The Smoking Camel in Byron Bay, photo: Jesse Prince

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