Sunshine Coast is located in southeast Queensland, only a 90-minute drive north of Brisbane. It spans over a 60-kilometre stretch of idyllic coastline from Caloundra to Noosa Heads & offers convenient access to the lush green hinterland.
With year-round sunshine, pristine beaches, sprawling national parks, and an incredible food scene, Sunshine Coast is your perfect beachside retreat any time of the year.
Since the Sunshine Coast offers a great collection of stunning beaches and national parks, you will need at least three days on the Sunshine Coast to get a feel of this coastal paradise. More time is always preferred if your travel schedule allows it.
Here, I have put together a detailed 3-day itinerary for visiting the Sunshine Coast. I hope it’s helpful to you.
Day 1: Brisbane to Sunshine Coast
For most people, you will likely be visiting the Sunshine Coast from its capital, Brisbane. This can be done either by driving or by public transport.
The drive between Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast only takes about 90 minutes and is relatively straightforward. This is also my suggested mode of transport when exploring the Sunshine Coast.
Although you can easily reach the Sunshine Coast from Brisbane by public transport, you will likely have trouble reaching many of the hinterland attractions by public transport.
If you haven’t already got a car, you can easily rent one from either Brisbane or the Sunshine Coast for the duration of your visit. Some car rental companies even offer return service at a location different from your pick-up location.
Wild Horse Mountain Scenic Lookout
Wild Horse Mountain is just off Bruce Highway, about 1-hour drive north of Brisbane.
The Wild Horse Mountain Scenic Lookout offers a spectacular view of the beautiful Sunshine Coast and the majestic Glasshouse Mountain. It makes the perfect spot to stretch your legs along the drive between Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast.
Ample parking is available at the base of Wild Horse Mountain, which is only a short 2 minutes drive off Bruce Highway.
The hike from the base of Wild Horse Mountain to the lookout platform at the summit is along a 700-metre bitumen road, but it is a rather steep walk. So make sure you wear comfy shoes when visiting.
It took me about 10 minutes to reach Wild Horse Mountain Scenic Lookout from the car park, but you will want to plan some extra time to enjoy the views at the lookout.
Once you have stepped onto the lookout tower (it is, in fact, a fire tower used during high fire danger seasons for spotting fires in this region), you will be presented with a 360-degree, unobstructed view of the Sunshine Coast, the striking Glasshouse Mountain, and the distant Moreton Bay area.
Glasshouse Mountain Lookout
Glasshouse Mountain Lookout is another fire tower used for fire spotting during the high fire danger seasons. It provides an intimate view of the lush green Sunshine Coast Hinterland with the beautiful coastline in the distance.
Glasshouse Mountain Lookout is also off Bruce Highway but on the opposite side of Wild Horse Mountain Scenic Lookout. The drive from Bruce Highway to Glasshouse Mountain Lookout is much longer in comparison and takes about 15 minutes.
However, you can drive directly to the lookout tower at Glasshouse Mountain with no hiking involved. So it can be an excellent option for people with mobility issues.
That said, there were a lot more people at Glasshouse Mountain Lookout than at Wild Horse Mountain Scenic Lookout when I visited. With limited parking available at Glasshouse Mountain Lookout, it was a bit of a challenge when it came to finding a car park.
A couple more bonus points for visiting Glasshouse Mountain Lookout are: public toilets are available here (there were no toilets at Wild Horse Mountain Scenic Lookout) & dirt tracks are available nearby for 4WDs and dirt bikes.
After checking out Sunshine Coast’s beautiful hinterland, we will now drive directly to the heart of Sunshine Coast to explore its incredible coastline.
Point Cartwright Lighthouse
Point Cartwright Lighthouse is a modern lighthouse in the gorgeous Point Cartwright Reserve, offering scenic walking tracks & a spectacular view of Mooloolah River Mouth and the wild ocean.
Once you have parked at Point Cartwright Lighthouse, you will be immediately presented with an alluring view of the expansive Buddina Beach and the deep blue ocean. A set of timber staircases is available near the car park if you want to stroll along this soft sandy beach and dip in its refreshing water.
Signage near the car park also suggested sea turtles are regularly spotted in the water here, but I couldn’t spot any during my visit. But you may want to have a try too.
After checking out Buddina Beach, follow the walking track uphill to Point Cartwright Lighthouse to admire the views from there. Since Point Cartwright Lighthouse stands on the highest point of this headland, you can typically get a rather impressive view of this stunning coastline from where it stands.
Right next to Point Cartwright Lighthouse, there is a massive water tank, Point Cartwright Water Tank, with colourful mural art. It was a beautiful ocean-themed mural when I visited & well worth checking out when in this area.
Continue to follow the coastline around Point Cartwright Reserve, and you will eventually head down to the peaceful Mooloolah River Mouth. With benches along its picturesque tree-lined riverbank, this area is the perfect spot to relax and watch the world go by.
A loop walk around Point Cartwright Reserve only takes 15-20 minutes. But you will likely want to spend more time admiring the idyllic views along your walk.
Public toilets can be located near the Point Cartwright Reserve car park.
After a relaxing stroll around Point Cartwright Reserve, we will head down to nearby Mooloolaba Beach for lunch and a cool swim.
Mooloolaba Beach is a popular area among locals and visitors, with its soft sandy foreshore and buzzing esplanade. It is the perfect spot to spend an entire afternoon relaxing along the water.
As a patrolled beach, Mooloolaba Beach is great for a cool swim in its calm water. Volleyball nets are available along Mooloolaba Beach for those interested. Public toilets and showers are located right next to the beach for convenience.
Various shops and restaurants can be easily located along Mooloolaba Esplanade, providing a range of excellent lunch and dinner options overlooking the beautiful Mooloolaba Beach.
You can also find the lively Mooloolaba Wharf across the road from Mooloolaba Beach’s volleyball court. This is, in fact, my favourite place to grab a bite near Mooloolaba Beach.
Mooloolaba Wharf houses a diverse range of eateries, many serving the freshest catch of the day. It also has a good selection of boutique stores, which are worth checking out too.
While you are here at Mooloolaba Wharf, make sure you join one of the cruise tours departing from Mooloolaba Wharf to explore the peaceful Mooloolah River and its beautiful canals. A few of the cruise tours you may wish to check out are:
- Mooloolaba Seafood Lunch Cruise
- 1-Hour Mooloolaba Canal Cruise
- Mooloolaba Sunset Cruise
- Whale Watching Cruise from Mooloolaba
If a cruise tour along Mooloolah River does not interest you, why not consider visiting SEA LIFE Sunshine Coast instead?
SEA LIFE Sunshine Coast is a massive marine park, located between Mooloolaba Beach and Mooloolaba Wharf. It is home to over 10,000 sea creatures, such as sharks, seals, penguins, rays, jellyfish, and many more. It is a great place to be surrounded by all kinds of marine animals & especially interesting for families with kids.
Once you have visited Mooloolaba Wharf / SEA LIFE Sunshine Coast, make sure you take a stroll along the well-maintained Coastal Walkway for a sunset stroll towards Alexandra Headland.
North of Mooloolaba Beach is a 2-kilometre stretch of picturesque coastline with stunning rock formations and pristine sandy beaches. A well-maintained walkway is available along this incredible coastline to take you from the buzzing Mooloolaba Beach to the lesser-known Alexandra Headland Beach.
This walk only takes less than 30 minutes one way & makes an ideal sunset stroll with multiple beach access, so you can easily check out the idyllic beaches and rock pools along your walk.
There are also many impressive vantage points along this coastal walk, where you can obtain a bird’s eye view of this beautiful coastline.
Many lizards were resting under the trees and bushes along this walk when I visited. Some people find them cute, but I’m afraid of reptiles in general. They won’t harm you, but you may want to watch out for them if you are also scared of lizards.
Once you have arrived at Alexandra Headland Beach, the coastal landscape opens up and turns into a long stretch of golden beach. It extends all the way to Maroochydore Beach, where it meets with Maroochy River Mouth.
Restaurants and bars are available along Alexandra Parade & it can be a great option for dinner with a marvellous sunset view over Alexandra Headland Beach.
Day 2: Sunshine Coast Hinterland
On the second day of this Sunshine Coast visit, we will start the day with a morning walk in the beautiful hinterland before checking out some interesting local attractions. Towards the afternoon, we will head back to the stunning beachfront to explore the charming Coolum Beach.
Buderim Forest Park
Buderim Forest Park is a green oasis in the hinterland, only a 15-minute drive west of Mooloolaba Beach.
There are two access points for Buderim Forest Park. The most popular one is via Quorn Close, on the southern end of Buderim Forest Park. This park entry is closer to the beloved Serenity Falls. It offers access to a shorter 20-minute loop walk around the Serenity Falls & a longer 1.5-hour return walk along the tranquil Martins Creek.
The other access point for Buderim Forest Park is via Lindsay Road, on the park’s northern end. From here, you can take the 1.5-hour return walk along Martins Creek to check out Serenity Falls at the opposite end of Buderim Forest Park. The first section of the walking track from Lindsay Road entry is a wheelchair-friendly boardwalk, which can be an excellent option for wheelchairs and prams.
The walking tracks within Buderim Forest Park will take you through open eucalypt forests to ancient rainforests. With the lush green ferns and tall canopies, you will be in complete disbelief that this park is only a 15-minute drive from the buzzing sunny coast you have just visited.
Regardless of the walking trail you choose, you will eventually find a charming elevated wooden bridge over a beautiful waterfall, the Serenity Falls. It is not a big waterfall but does create a few rock pools beneath, which are popular for visitors to swim in.
Tips: The track can get quite muddy and slippery around Serenity Falls, so be careful around there.
Car parks and public toilets are available via both entrances. You can also find picnic and BBQ facilities near the car parks.
The Ginger Factory
After a morning hike in Buderim Forest Park, we will take a 25-minute drive to visit an iconic Sunshine Coast attraction, The Ginger Factory.
The Ginger Factory is where you can find everything ginger related! Here, you can find dried ginger cubes, ginger chocolates, ginger cordials, alcoholic ginger beverages, ginger honey, ginger ice cream, ginger scones, ginger beer battered fish, and you name it! It is a fun place to visit for all ages.
Entry to The Ginger Factory is free. Once you are here, you can browse and purchase from its vast selection of ginger products & check out the Ginger Cafe for lunch. There is also a decent-sized rainforest walk for everyone to enjoy.
Guided Factory Tour and Live Bee Show are available for discovering the paddock-to-plate story at The Ginger Factory & tickets are required to attend these guided tours. Free tastings of these delicious ginger products are available during the guided tours.
For families with kids, why not check out the Ginger Train and Overboard Boat Ride, which can be great fun for your little ones? Tickets are required for both the Ginger Train and the Overboard Boat Ride.
Bundle Tickets are available (AUD 50 per adult at the time of writing & family tickets are available). It provides access to the Factory Tour, Live Bee Show, Ginger Train, and Overboard Boat Ride.
Once you have visited The Ginger Factory, you can also check out the Nutworks & Chocolate Factory, just opposite The Ginger Factory. Here, you can taste and purchase from a vast selection of macadamia nuts and chocolates. This is another iconic attraction on the Sunshine Coast.
If you are visiting on a Wednesday or Saturday, make sure you also check out the famous Eumundi Markets, which is only a short 10-minute drive from The Ginger Factory.
Eumundi Markets is a huge open-air market with hundreds of stalls focussing on street foods and artisan gifts. With live music and a cool vibe, Eumundi Markets is an awesome place to spend a couple of hours.
After spending most of the day in Sunshine Coast’s charming hinterland, let’s now head back to the coast for a relaxing afternoon along the beach.
Coolum Beach is a wide sandy beach about halfway between Mooloolaba and Noosa Heads. It offers an open view of the wild ocean & backed by a vibrant esplanade with various shops and eateries. Being a patrolled beach with decent surf breaks, Coolum Beach makes the perfect spot to spend the afternoon swimming, surfing, and relaxing.
Towards the southern end of Coolum Beach, you can find a beautiful boardwalk along the top of a rocky headland. This boardwalk offers a spectacular coastal view of Coolum Beach and beyond. It can also take you directly to the pristine First Bay Coolum Beach, nicely tucked away by the surrounding headlands.
Mount Coolum National Park
If you still have some time after checking out Coolum Beach, why not check out the views from Mount Coolum Summit?
Mount Coolum is a just over 200-metre tall, dome-shaped mountain, which provides a breathtaking panoramic view of Coolum Beach and the nearby hinterland.
Although it is not a long hike from the base to the summit of Mount Coolum, it is a relatively steep climb with lots of steps, so you will need to plan at least 1.5-2 hours for a return trip when visiting Mount Coolum National Park.
Alternatively, you can check out Lows Lookout instead.
Lows Lookout is located on a small hilltop, just behind Coolum Beach. It is at the end of a residential street with a few designated car parks nearby, so you can drive straight to it for a bird’s eye view of Coolum Beach and the nearby mountain ranges.
That said, due to its low altitude and the overgrown trees nearby, the views from Lows Lookout are not as spectacular as from Mount Coolum.
Yaroomba Beach to Mudjimba Beach
If you are more interested in the sand and beaches, instead of a hike up Mount Coolum, why not check out the long stretch of sandy beach between Yaroomba and Mudjimba?
From Yaroomba to Mudjimba, you can find an over 10-kilometre stretch of soft sandy beach, perfect for swimming and surfing. It is one of the most peaceful beaches along the famous Sunshine Coast. So it makes the ideal beach getaway for those who just want to be away from the crowd.
During the whale-migrating season (June to October), the open beach between Yaroomba and Mudjimba is also great for whale watching. The whales were relatively close to shore when I visited, but I still suggest bringing a pair of binoculars if you have them.
A well-maintained boardwalk is available parallel to the foreshore area between Yaroomba and Marcoola. It is an excellent place for a sunset stroll. If you have a bicycle, bring it along, as it is also a great place for cycling.
Being right next to the Sunshine Coast Airport, a unique Skydive With Beach Landing experience is available from Marcoola. It will bring you to an unparalleled aerial view of the Sunshine Coast before diving 14,000 feet & floating down on the soft sandy Coolum Beach nearby.
If interested, Scenic Seaplane Ride is also available nearby. It will take off from the Maroochy River before flying you over the impressive coastline at the Sunshine Coast.
Day 3: Noosa Heads
On the last day of this 3-day Sunshine Coast trip, we will head up to Noosa to check out the most famous region on the Sunshine Coast, Noosa Heads.
For more detailed information on visiting Noosa, why not check out this 2-Day Noosa Itinerary for more details on visiting Noosa?
Noosa National Park
Noosa National Park is undoubtedly the most picturesque place in Noosa. It is home to tranquil rainforests and numerous pristine beaches. It is by far my favourite place to visit in Noosa Heads.
Located only one kilometre east of Noosa Heads Main Beach and the buzzing Hastings Street, you can visit Noosa National Park either by car or on foot from Noosa Heads Main Beach/Hastings Street.
There are many different walking tracks within Noosa National Park & the most popular walking trail is the Noosa Coastal Walk, a 10.8-kilometre return walk along the idyllic coastline of Noosa Headland. It also provides access to numerous pristine beaches and breathtaking lookouts along the walk. Among them, the most notable spots are:
- Boiling Pot Lookout: a spectacular view of the wild ocean swells crashing onto the rocks beneath you, making it look like a pot of boiling water.
- Tea Tree Bay Beach: a secluded beach for swimming and surfing. Located only a 15-minute walk from the main entrance, you may want to bring your surfboard to hit the waves at this beautiful beach.
- Dolphin Point Lookout: a stunning lookout to reconnect with nature. There are pods of dolphins to be spotted from this lookout, but you’ll likely need to bring a pair of binoculars. Migrating whales can also be spotted between June and October.
- Fairy Pools: picturesque rock pool, which you can swim in during low tide.
- Hell’s Gate: for a breathtaking view of Alexandra Bay.
After spending the morning in Noosa National Park, reward yourself with a tasty lunch and some retail therapy at Noosa’s iconic Hastings Street.
Hastings Street is a shopping strip parallel to the famous Noosa Heads Main Beach. It offers a great selection of fashion boutiques, beachside resorts, trendy cafes, high-end restaurants, and lively bars. It is the perfect place to unwind and fill your stomach in Noosa Heads.
Noosa Heads Main Beach
Just a short walk from the vibrant Hastings Street, you will find a soft sandy foreshore area at Noosa Heads Main Beach. With its calmer water and buzzing shopping street nearby, Noosa Heads Main Beach is perfect for spending an afternoon relaxing along the beach.
In addition to swimming, surfing is also a popular activity at the Main Beach. 2-Hour Beginner Surf Lessons are available here for those who wish to learn how to surf.
Laguna Lookout is located on a small hill in Noosa Heads. It offers an impressive panoramic view of Laguna Bay, Noosa River, Noosa Heads, and the distant Sunshine Coast Hinterland.
You can visit Laguna Lookout at any time of the day, but I highly recommend visiting Laguna Lookout just before sunset, so you can watch the sky turning into different shades of gold and purple over the beautiful Noosa Heads.
Laguna Lookout can be accessed either by car or by walking. If you have a car, I suggest driving directly to Laguna Lookout, where you can find free designated car parks nearby.
You can also easily reach Laguna Lookout by walking. It is a roughly 20 minutes walk between Hastings Street and Laguna Lookout (one way) but can be steep in certain sections.
Where to Stay on the Sunshine Coast
As a popular holiday destination, Sunshine Coast offers a good range of accommodation options to suit different needs. That said, since the Sunshine Coast is a relatively large region to visit, most people will have trouble deciding which area is the best to stay in.
For this 3-day Sunshine Coast Itinerary, the best areas to base yourself in are around Mooloolaba and Coolum Beach. They are both located at a decent distance from all the attractions you will be visiting and are more affordable than Noosa Heads.
A few suggestions you may wish to check out are:
- Maroochydore m1 Resort: neat waterside apartment near Mooloolaba Beach, with 1 to 3 bedroom apartments to choose from.
- Alex Headland Beachfront: stylish 2-bedroom apartment only a short walk from Mooloolaba Beach.
- Ingenia Holidays Rivershore: a selection of affordable caravans and luxury tents, right next to Maroochy River.
- Pandanus Spa Cottage: a holiday home all to yourself to enjoy, with only a short walk to Coolum Beach.
- Noosa River Retreat: a superb apartment stay in Noosa at a reasonable price.