This tiny Australian beach town, in the sunshine state of Queensland, is best known as the gateway to bucket-list archipelago, the Whitsunday Islands. However, laidback Airlie Beach conceals a few draws of its own. Punctuate days spent on palm-tree-lined beaches and sailing around lagoons with top-notch food and drink. From beachfront third-wave coffee shops to breezy bistros with marina views, these are some of Airlie Beach’s best.
20 Degrees South Bar & Restaurant
Hidden away from the hubbub of Airlie Beach’s Main Street, within the Whitsunday Sailing Club, this restaurant promises a triple threat of reasonable prices, excellent pub-style food and stellar views. Take a seat on the sizable balcony and drink in the Pioneer Bay vistas, a sundowner in hand, before devouring a bone-in ribeye steak with mushroom sauce, freshly cooked seafood, or a zingy Vietnamese-inspired salad.
The Garden Bar Bistro
This breezy and beautiful indoor-outdoor venue, perched right next to the marina, captures the laidback essence of the tropical Whitsunday Coast. Not only do the friendly mixologists at The Garden Bar Bistro know their stuff (they make a mean cocktail, with seasonal fruit taking centre stage in their creations), but its light, seafood-focused menu is the perfect fit for the balmy climes of Airlie Beach (think oysters by the dozen, ceviche and buckets of fresh prawns).
Dishing up some serious Bali vibes with its straw parasols, palm frond wallpaper and fruit-packed smoothie bowls served in eco-friendly coconut shells, this waterfront cafe is popular with the health-conscious, as well as those craving something light yet filling to eat in the thick of summer. It’s not just the preserve of veggies or vegans either: the cafe’s sashimi salmon and sesame chicken poke bowls win rave reviews too.
Part restaurant, part rum bar, this Airlie Beach multi-tasker is known for its seafood-laden menu and killer mojitos. While away an afternoon on the deck, grazing on the restaurant’s signature two-tier seafood tower and lapping up the cooling, salty sea breeze. Alternatively, polish off a three-course dinner inside, while gorging on the relaxed coastal design of its interior. Bring your credit card: it’s among the more expensive options in town.
Fat Frog Beach Cafe
A true local’s favourite, this pooch-friendly Cannonvale cafe is often packed with punters, here for the smooth yet strong Campos coffee, and generous servings of breakfast, brunch and lunch classics. Go decadent and order the pancakes loaded with banana, candied walnuts, maple syrup and ice cream, or dial up the health factor with the honey and yoghurt panna cotta, accompanied by granola and fresh berries. You can’t beat Fat Frog for views either: the cafe’s gas strut windows take full advantage of its beachside location.
Perched just on the edge of the town’s centre, but high enough up a neighbouring hill to command thoroughly spectacular views, Anchor Bar is the perfect spot for sunset and twilight drinks – often accompanied by a live music soundtrack. Gorge on dude food, from fried chicken to cheeseburgers and steak sandwiches, or try a little of everything the kitchen pumps out with the crowd-pleasing “can’t decide” platter.
Paradiso Rooftop Bar & Restaurant
In the mood for Mediterranean-inspired dishes? Paradiso is your failsafe. Occupying a plum spot on a pedestrianised nook, right on the cusp of the Airlie Beach Foreshore, this restaurant-cum-rooftop bar radiates European vibes, its tables spilling out onto the footpath. Kick off the evening with a plate of tapas or three (jamon croquettes, or marinated olives perhaps) before moving on to the seafood paella for two.
Cool Lala Modern Asian Cuisine
The respectably sized menu at this pan-Asian eatery caters to all tastes: from chilli fiends to coeliacs, vegans to veggies. Those with appetites piqued by a day well spent in the surf, all salty skinned and sun-licked, should opt for Cool Lala’s Feed Me banquet menu, and pick up one of the restaurant’s supersized bubble teas too. Don’t forget to save space for the small but perfectly formed Asian fusion dessert menu too.
This is an updated rewrite of an article originally by Hayley Simpson.
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