A food lover’s guide to the Sunshine Coast

Home to pristine beaches, rugged hinterland and a thriving food scene, Queensland’s Sunshine Coast has the essential ingredients for a memorable getaway.

Catching waves at Noosa Heads.

Amy Higg (main)

There are citrus notes of makrut lime, a trace of mushroomy umami-ness and a suggestion of fish sauce in the mix. But I’m not slurping noodles. I’m sitting outside Moonstruck, a modern café and gin bar on Noosa’s Hastings Street, nosing a quirky gin distilled a mere ten minutes away. It arrives perkily accessorised with local lime and a sprig of Vietnamese mint.

A phỏ-channelling spirit might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s indicative of how the food and drinks scene is maturing at this upscale coastal destination – becoming more fun, and increasingly confident about backing itself.

For years Queensland’s Sunshine Coast has proved a fertile launchpad for a throng of clever producers and growers – particularly Noosa Shire – a UNESCO biosphere just two hours’ drive north of Brisbane. It’s also succeeded in getting dining right, enjoying impressive bragging rights, particularly for such a tourist-centric region.

Classic venues such as breezy riverfront destination Rickys River Bar and Restaurant at Noosa Sound and neighbouring Wood Fire Grill and Locale, a handsome Italian on Hastings Street, all continue to win fans, fuelled in part by organic bounty from owner Ogilvie Group’s 250-hectare hinterland Maravista Farm.

Sails Restaurant, overlooking a stunning sweep of Noosa Main Beach, is another long-term champion of produce that hasn’t had to travel far, while television chef Peter Kuruvita’s airy Noosa Beach House at Sofitel Noosa is a day-long attraction, not least for Kuruvita’s deft use of the region’s seafood.

But more recently, a clutch of independent breweries, coffee roasters, distilleries, and assorted small, detail-driven, owner-operated venues have started bubbling up, ensuring visitors have more diversity to enjoy.

It’s a tasty mix and one that Gourmet Traveller‘s Best New Talent 2020, chef Alanna Sapwell, relishes. She’s a Sunshine Coast native who grew up “in the bush” between Gympie and Noosa. In July, she found herself pulled back to Noosa to open Esmay, a three-month pop-up at the former riverfront home of contemporary Japanese restaurant, Wasabi.

“I did my apprenticeship here [in Noosa] with David Rayner 10 years ago – so it really feels like I’m coming home,” says Sapwell, who credits Rayner, former chef-owner of Noosaville’s Thomas Corner and River House, with instilling her keen appreciation for great produce.

Alanna Sapwell

Esmay chef Alanna Sapwell.

Pandora Photography (main)

It’s Sapwell’s drive for precision and excellence that marked her out during her tenure at Arc, Brisbane, and aided the success of Esmay, where dishes are punctuated with interesting features like Geraldton wax buds and begonia stalks, coral tooth fungi from Montville’s Mountaintop Mushrooms and pristine fish snapped up from a local who drops anchor at the Noosa Sound jetty with his catch.

“I haven’t had much time to eat out – but we did venture to Boiling Pot Brewing and everything we tasted – like the Pilot Guava Sour and the Survival Ale – was standout,” Sapwell says. “It was the same at Land & Sea – the Fortune Noosa Gin was so delicious you could sip it all afternoon.”

Moonstruck’s co-owner, Boy Driessen, is a Dutch expat, and he and partner co-owner Mell Thompson moved up to the coast from Byron Bay five years ago. They’ve noticed significant changes in that time, particularly on the drinks scene. “There’s been a huge creative input there – we’ve got three really impressive breweries now, and several distilleries. We looked at a lot of places before Noosa, but the lifestyle and the work-life balance here is as good as it can be.”

There’s plenty to keep you on the coast, but to truly taste the region you’ll need hit the road. Boiling Pot Brewing Co and Land & Sea Brewery, with its site-sharing Noosa distillery, all sit just 10 minutes’ drive from Hastings Street but their location feels a world away, in an industrial estate that’s also home to independent brewer, Heads of Noosa. Locals have started referring to it as the “Beermuda Triangle” – and with good reason.

At Noosa Junction, a once humdrum shopping area, transformation is afoot, with characterful venues like the Turkish-leaning Telephone Call from Istanbul, beer and burger specialist Ze Pickle and modern Asian venues Light Years and Mr. Drifter, deepening the destination’s appeal.

Further south, the coastal high-rise urban centres of Mooloolaba and Maroochydore now have more to offer than namesake Mooloolaba prawns and famous MSC-certified tuna from Walker Seafoods. Trawling the glorious hinterland brings its own rewards.

Searching for surf at Noosa Heads.

(Photo: Tracy Naughton)

Where is the Sunshine Coast exactly?

Mention the Sunshine Coast and most think of Noosa, with its celebrated beaches, broad river reaches and picturesque hinterland. But this slice of paradise, traditional lands of the Gubi Gubi (aka Kabi Kabi) and Jinibara people, starts at Caloundra about 90 minutes’ drive from Brisbane.

It stretches north to the Great Sandy National Park, taking in a swathe of verdant hinterland, including the eye-catching peaks of the Glass House Mountains, on the way. Until the 1960s, it was known as the Near North Coast.

Where to eat


Smart, light-filled interiors chime with the kitchen’s confident take on southern Indian cooking, where co-owner/chef Neale White (Papa Goose, Melbourne) gently shakes tradition with tasty, beachy twists. Dad’s puchkas, aka crisp pani puri balls, are featherlight flavour bombs, while a fermented beetroot salad with toasty puffed rice, spicy beetroot pachadi and paneer is more refined. Aunty Carol’s love cake is pukka, too.

The Pavilion, 19 Sunshine Beach Rd, Noosa Junction, (07) 5613 3202,

Sumi Open Kitchen

This hidden away, clean-lined 27-seater feels so utterly Japanese you may find yourself double-checking during dinner that it really is owner-chef Giles Hohnen manning the grills. From opening snacks, a silky chawanmushi, perhaps, and octopus seasoned with karashi, through to textbook matcha and goma mochi – you can destress and trust the chef. The pace is leisurely, dining is omakase-style.

Shop 4,19-21 Sunshine Beach Rd, Noosa Junction, (07) 5447 3270,

Somedays Pizza

It’s noisy, fun and there’s an on-trend wine list that leans towards tasty lo-fi vino. Somedays Pizza is the kind of smart after-surf snacking you’d be happy to indulge in any day. Sizeable Napoli-style pizzas emerge from the wood-fired oven properly puffed up with pliant, char-freckled bases and abundant toppings. It gets extra points for playing vinyl and repurposing the former digs of a Pizza Hut with its hip but pared-back bench seating, concrete flooring, and trailing plants.

2/3 Sunshine Beach Rd, Noosa Junction, (07) 5372 8706,


This breezy Noosaville stalwart sold in July after two decades under Kay Callander and chef Nathan Hall. New owner, French expat Tim Lepoutre, is a front-of-house whiz and already knows all the regulars’ names. He cleverly snapped up local head chef Michael Trask to lead the kitchen. Lunching here is like stepping back in time, but in the best way. Take a seat at the river-facing bar and you might spot a sea eagle catch its lunch as you tuck into creamy leek chowder piled high with mussels and local scallops and prawns.

257 Gympie Tce, Noosaville, (07) 5449 7144,

Vanilla Food

Banana bread comes laced with teff and that bowl of oatmeal and nutty buckinis with house-made cashew milk is prettily decked with flowers. Crisp, crumbed barramundi chunks arrive spiced up with corn salsa, sitting atop blue corn tortillas, with lime – the perfect post-beach walk breakfast. Vanilla might be a byword for bland but there’s nothing dreary about this light and airy café. Organic Mayde tea and locally roasted Clandestino coffee seal the deal.

2/10 Lanyana Way, Noosa Junction, 0448 600 889, and 59 Rene St, Noosaville, 0490 016 232,

Jungle & Co

You’d be forgiven for thinking this café, billed as Australia’s first gut-health bar, is only for the wellbeing-obsessed. There’s water kefir on tap, spiralisers for sale and collagen boosters on offer for your coffee. But you don’t have to know the difference between probiotics and prebiotics to appreciate the comfort of these simple dishes made with care – dhal on turmeric rice, say, topped with a tangy blob of kefir with pepitas and chia sprinkles; or a lightly spiced burrito bowl of chilli beans. Go with your gut – this is real, feel-good food.

19-21 Sunshine Beach Rd, Noosa Junction,

Also try

Noosa Junction’s Middle Eastern hole-in-the-wall Iggy Sun and its great value-fixed evening menus, Turkish kitchen Telephone Call from Istanbul with its al fresco sandstone blocks for seating, and The Village Bicycle for raucous, good-time drinks with the locals.

Organic Junmai sakes line the shelves at Sumi Open Kitchen.

(Photo: Amy Higg / Lumea Photo)

Where to drink


The coffee is precisely brewed, and small-batch roasted by co-owner Boy Driessen at Cooroy Coffee Roasters. Gins are mainly Australian and frequently local, with a few hard-to-get overseas options in the mix. In-house treats are also thoughtful – organic and gluten-free with sourdough and pastries from Noosa’s Tanglewood Bakery. There are vegan options, too.

5 Hastings St, Noosa, (07) 5474 5473,

Yoyo Bar

Come here for the drinks – Yoyo co-owner Lara Graham is an ex-sommelier of now-shuttered Wasabi, and her list reflects a deep interest in alcohol in all its forms. Nerds will appreciate the “Weird & Wonderful white varieties and blends” section. And those eye-catching Spanish snacks hitting the bar are more than ballast.

1/249 Gympie Tce, Noosaville, (07) 5447 1818,

Heads of Noosa

There’s a lager focus here, which suits the subtropical climate. A 4.8% amber lager, Summer Dusk, has scooped plenty of accolades, snagging golds at the 2019 Australian International Beer Awards, the 2020 Royal Queensland Show and the 2019 Sydney Royal Beer Shows. The core range also includes a Japanese lager, plus a heftier 5.8% caramel-toned German Bock style.

85 Rene St, Noosaville, 1300 143 237,

Boiling Pot Brewing Co

Take a walk in Noosa National Park and you can scope out the frothy spot which inspired the name of this clever brewery. Afterwards, slake your thirst and refuel with pizza here.

130A Eumundi Rd, Noosaville, (07) 5449 8360,

Land & Sea Brewery + Noosa Heads Distillery

What’s better than diving into a paddle of local beer – weighing up a Japanese Rice Lager, say, alongside a Mango Sour, and perhaps the aptly named Juice Box IPA? At Land & Sea, at the same cellar door, you can also line up a spirit tasting of award-winning gins, while sitting overlooking a shiny 2000-litre still. There’s well-thought-out food, too – Philly cheesesteak sandwiches made with Cape Grim hanger steak, chicken parmis, poke bowls and falafel, for example.

19 Venture Drive, Noosaville, (07) 5455 6128 , and

Pomona Distilling Co

Pomona, a lovely heritage town in the Noosa hinterland, is perhaps best known as home to the world’s longest-running silent movie theatre showing classic black-and-white films accompanied by Ron West on his 1937 organ. Head to this locally owned distillery afterward for a reviving gin, made in small batches, at this rustic former bakery. There’s a garden out back and plenty of brick-lined nooks in which to hide out. Try the $12 violet-hued butterfly pea flower gin in a 45ml “perfect serve” with Fever Tree tonic.

18 Reserve St, Pomona, 1300 904 633,

Also try

Head for the hills and you’ll find twisty scenic roads, stunning green views, and super cute villages. At Maleny, there’s Brouhaha Brewery, and mod-Asian dining at The Tamarind at Spicers Tamarind Retreat. Travelling back down to the ocean, stop at Palmwoods’ boho Homegrown Café which takes the prize for cutest in-house roastery – the tin shed sitting quaintly out back.

In Mooloolaba, find fresh seafood eating opportunities aplenty at The Spit. At The Wharf, try street eats at ever busy Rice Boi. Good coffee? The Colombian Coffee Co has you covered and in Maroochydore there’s low-key Milk Bar Coffee Co. Staff at La Petite Souris at Alexandra Headland know how to bake and fill a great baguette, and their pastries are equally fabulous. Corbins has great value mod-Asian, with fixed-price menus from $35. Juan Fifty’s mod-Mex menu gets details right with tortillas made in-house and vegan choices. Need another beer? Try Yandina’s newest drawcard, Terella Brewing.

Dishes and drinks at Land & Sea Brewery.

Where to stay

Fairshore Beachfront Apartments, Noosa

This oceanfront block sits front and centre on bustling Hastings Street and its two-bedroom apartments are perfect for family breaks. All that separates you from north-facing Main Beach, the most coveted stretch of sand on the Coast, is a pandanus-edged pool deck and the boardwalk. Don’t fret – you’ll get used to the envious glances of passersby. But you’ll never tire of those incredible beach views – extending to Noosa National Park.

From $555 per night. R&W Noosa Holidays, (07) 5448 0966,

Sea Pearl, Mooloolaba

Coastal digs with an urban edge. Sea Pearl sits above Mooloolaba’s main shopping strip which means you’re also just a skip to the beach – and ever-present ocean views are a happy reminder. Service by manager Sharon Renardson is beyond thoughtful and a mini in-house cinema is a cute touch. Try an airy second floor two-bedder with direct pool access.

From $525 per night (two-night minimum stay). 87 Mooloolaba Esp, Mooloolaba, (07) 5370 1500,

Montville House, Spicers Clovelly Estate, Montville

Prefer green to blue? Spicers’ boutique resort in the lush Sunshine Coast hinterland has sprouted a six-bedroom standalone wing. It’s designed for parties of 12 but can be booked as individual suites. Expect Spicers’ usual indulgent touches and all just

a boule-toss from the main homestead with dining at The Long Apron. Here, head chef Chris Hagan recently pivoted from fine-dining to French bistro hits, with dishes like confit duck and soufflé. Book a Montville suite, with private courtyard and deck, and your dog can come, too.

From $589 per night. 38-68 Balmoral Rd, Montville, (07) 5452 1111,

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