Lonely Planet Local Penny Carroll was a regular visitor to Byron Bay before a charming resident convinced her to make this laid-back beachside spot her home. Now she spends her time exploring all the region has to offer from hidden hinterland villages to secret beaches.
I first fell in love with Byron… Right after I moved back to Australia from a stint living in the UK. I visited in the middle of winter with a few girlfriends and fell hard: the days were warm, the beaches were postcard-perfect and the town was just the right amount of sleepy. A couple of holidays later and it wasn’t just Byron that had stolen my heart – I met my now-boyfriend at the Great Northern Hotel on a balmy summer evening. After a year of weekend commuting, it wasn’t too hard to convince me to pack in my city life for paradise!
The most beautiful beach in Byron is… Impossible to call – each slice of sand is more heavenly than the last. I’ll always adore The Pass (an iconic break at the end of Clarkes Beach), with its hypnotic loop of surfers elegantly sliding down the aquamarine waves. But it’s the hidden oases around Broken Head that really wow. Kings Beach, Whites Beach and Brays Beach have a wild beauty that’s made even more precious by the fact that getting to them is an adventure in itself.
When I have friends in town… I whisk them away into the hinterland. Tourists don’t tend to venture far out of Byron’s bustling centre, so a cruise around the countryside is a special treat. We’ll usually head to Bangalow to rummage in the boutiques, then Newrybar for lunch at one of my favourite foodie finds: a little gypsy caravan-turned-food van that serves up quesadillas bursting with flavour. Food Story is parked in the garden outside Newrybar Merchants and operates Wednesday to Sunday.
When I’m celebrating something special… I make a booking at St Elmo, a modern tapas bar with a sophisticated wine and cocktail list. Perched at the polished concrete bar with a plate of jamon Serrano and a glass of red, you could easily be in Barcelona.
Nights out in Byron… are all about music. The Railway Friendly Bar hosts free gigs every night of the week (everything from funk to reggae). The Beach Hotel is a good spot for sundowner drinks and crowd-pleasing cover bands. La La Land has DJs spinning tunes for the party set. Or, you can just wander the streets and enjoy the buskers; some attract big crowds on a Friday or Saturday night.
For cheap eats, I love… Japonaise Kitchen, a small eatery a few streets back from the main drag where you can feast on ramen and sushi rolls for less than AU$20 a head. Otherwise, a couple of fresh tacos from Chihuahua always hits the spot. You can also score AU$1 oysters at Balcony on Wednesdays between 5pm and 6pm.
A typical weekend involves… brunch and beach time. Recently my boyfriend and I spent a ‘perfect’ Sunday in Byron: a lazy breakfast at Folk – a cute, cottage-style cafe on the outskirts of town that serves up plant-based food with a smile (you can order your coffee with the house-made nut milk here for no extra cost.) Then we did a little window-shopping before taking a long walk down Belongil Beach. It was one of Byron’s incredible autumn days so we couldn’t resist a swim in the crystal clear water. Absolute bliss!
One thing I don’t love about Byron… is the crowds during summer, or when the big music festivals roll into town. Then you need to wait half an hour or more for a seat at popular cafes like Bay Leaf or The Roadhouse, and on Thursday mornings (when the farmer’s market is on) traffic crawls through the main street at snail’s pace. The best way to deal with it is to embrace the philosophy inscribed on the Welcome to Byron Bay sign: “Cheer up, slow down, chill out”. I’d consider saving your trip for autumn or winter: the weather is arguably better and you’ll have way less competition for the best perch at Top Shop.
My insider’s tip is… you don’t have to be an earlybird to soak up Byron’s beauty. Everyone (me included!) will tell you to walk the cape in time for sunrise, but if you can’t drag yourself out of bed that early, the sunsets are just as magical. Make your way up to the lighthouse for magnificent views as the sun sinks behind Mount Warning.
It’s a great spot for a family holiday because… kids can learn to surf in the gentle waves of The Pass, run riot in the huge playground overlooking Main Beach, pat a python at Macadamia Castle and keep lookout for whales and dolphins from the shore.
Anything goes here… I love that you can spend a day on the beach then roll into a cocktail bar with the sand still clinging to your toes, or shed your hang-ups dancing to bongo drums as the sun goes down. The locals epitomise the Aussie down-to-earth spirit and they’ll be happy to recommend a great psychic or direct you to a nearby waterfall – all you have to do is ask.
The best thing about Byron is… there’s always something happening. Whether it’s night-time markets, a pop-up food-truck festival, a street-art party or a full moon ceremony on the beach, you’ll stumble across experiences that make you glow. The trick is to embrace serendipity – toss the tightly planned itinerary and see where Byron takes you.
Need more city travel inspiration? Check out The Cities Book, a celebration of 200 of the world’s great cities, beautifully photographed and packed with trip advice and recommendations.