a guide to Byron Bay
* Updated October 2014
I first wrote this guide almost three years ago when I was living just outside Byron in an old army shed in the forest. 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 – visit Byron, well, you’re sorted. You can also catch up on more Byron finds here.
I regularly update the guide because it has proven so popular, so if you feel anything’s outdated, please feel free to post a comment below!
As a bit of background, I went 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 in Byron, 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 Factor - 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.
1. Where to find good coffee, tea or evening drinks
My favourite – for coffee and food – is, hands down, The Roadhouse.
The Tennis Courts on Tennyson Street is not a particularly attractive place to have a coffee, but the coffee is very consistent and good.
My mate Sarita, owner of Byron Bay Tea Company, says: Try an espresso martini at Italian at The Pacific. I like The Balcony for a martini and for the sunset experience up there.
Lizzie from Spell Designs 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 from Art Park 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.
Johnny Abegg is a filmmaker from Byron Bay and Co-Owner with Kirra Pendergast and Tim Manton at Common Ground. His coffee suggestion is The Roadhouse, which is heading out towards Suffolk Park, and gets my vote.
Jordanna is our recipe developer for the 8-week program and a former Byron-dweller. She also votes for the Roadhouse, saying: These kids know their stuff. I love the option of homemade activated almond milk. They don’t stock skim milk because they know it’s crap. They also make the best chai tea in the bay made with carefully selected spices and fresh turmeric and ginger juice. They also have fresh coconut water on tap!!! Hello!
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.
For tea, try 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 spa chef, mentor and nutritionist. 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, 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.
2. Places to eat
The breakfast greens (with or without pulled pork) is fabulous at Bayleaf, although it has changed hands since this was first written- it still makes excellent breakfast (possibly the best).
The BLT at Dip is great. While you’re there, 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 Town in Bangalow. The sauteed silverbeet and mushrooms is great.
The omelette roll at Top Shop is superb. Their burgers are amazing, they have fennel seeds in the patty. The eggs and bacon are organic and they bake their own bread and pastries.
Jordanna: I’m going to have to vote for the Roadhouse again. They take farm to plate to the extreme with half the produce being grown on a farm just up the road. Love the small select menu, it means everything is super fresh and made with love.
At night, Roadhouse is 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!
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).
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 (at the time of writing). 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.
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 Muoi’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 raw bar, you’ll be refreshed by this…
My pick is Naked Treaties. Jemma 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! 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: Jemma’ s 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 Buzzat Munch in the industrial estate. Just incredible.
A little further afield… Jacqui and two of her cousins just opened a cafe on Shelly Beach in East Ballina. Their focus is gluten, dairy and sugar free foods. It’s worth checking out!
Targa has excellent Italian. They do a great steak. The new Italian under the movie theatre Cicchetti’s on Jonson Street is excellent, but it is pricey. But the decor has been done nicely and they have added sound proofing to their very big restaurant – which does make a difference to the experience. The beef cheek to share is wonderful
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, they drank beer from coasters sitting out under the lean-to and channelled 1962. A novelty option. There’s also one and two-room options.
My assistant Jo stayed at Atlantic. 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.
It’s in a great location, 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 thebarbeque kit.
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!”
4. if you’re here on a (specific day of week/time of month) do try:
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 son, 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.
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 made 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).
Sam: if you’re here in winter, enjoy the whale migration. Also, Sundays through ThursdaysHappy 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).
For massage I would 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.
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 also loved a Thai massage with Kaori at the Thai Massage place opposite Dendy Cinemas.
Sam: For the best Musculo-skeletal massage, the new Tonic Massage clinic is awesome for chronic muscle pain and does HICAPS rebates for private health funds.
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”
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 loved 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]
One of my favourite things to do was the daily ocean swim. We met at 8am at the Surf Club, walked to The Pass and then swam back (about 1.5km). A group of 20-50 locals do it every single morning. I did 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 did it as early as possible and meditated on the eastern most point of Australia with the new sun on my face. While doing this once, 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.
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.
I liked 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.
Sarita: Byron Yoga- Kirsty, the Canadian, is my favourite yoga teacher by far!
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.
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…”
8. 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.
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…