Australia’s Gold Coast is hot for a retro-cool aesthetic. Here’s all you need to know about this mid-century-modern moment.
Pink geometric tiles, peppermint-patterned wall paint, rattan furniture, striped beach towels, longboards, vintage bicycles, neon signs and tiki cocktail glasses… You might think you’ve landed in 1960s California, but no: you’re witnessing the reclamation of Australia’s retro-cool Gold Coast.
Made famous by the beaches of Surfers Paradise, the Gold Coast became an iconic Australian road-trip destination in the 1960s at the same time Hollywood stars were flocking to the desert oasis of Palm Springs. And like its mid-century-modern California counterpart, Queensland’s Gold Coast is having something of a cultural moment right now. (It even stood in for Memphis and Las Vegas in Baz Luhrmann’s 2022 Elvis biopic).
So why is the Gold Coast booming?
First, there’s the influx of people: most of Queensland’s newest residents are moving here. Second, new luxury accommodation developments are appearing, with the glamorous Langham recently joining established hotels like the JW Marriott, Palazzo Versace and the QT. In 2027, the super high-end St. Regis resort will open at Budds Beach on the Gold Coast – an Australian first.
At the more modestly priced end of the holiday market, another trend has emerged, one steeped in nostalgia for 1950s, ’60s and ’70s beach culture.
Across the region, Gold Coast locals are retrofitting motels and beach houses. They’re also reclaiming old buildings, such as Burleigh Heads’s iconic Beach Pavilion, which sits above a 1950s public swimming pool. Elsewhere, you’ll find classic cocktails on the menu (piña coladas, anyone?) and interiors decorated with the mid-century modern aesthetic.
The MCM vibe is characterized by spaciousness, indoor-outdoor living and a sense of energy and optimism – all of which aptly capture the Gold Coast.
Why is Australia obsessed with mid-century modernism?
Ever since Mad Men brought the American mid-century-modern aesthetic to a contemporary audience, its fandom has grown – as has the desire to preserve what has been spared by the developer’s wrecking ball.
Social-media platforms like Instagram – where aesthetics are as important as experiences – have had a part to play in the MCM revival, too.
And around the globe, communities of MCM fans have come together online to share information and advice, everything from the latest mid-century property listings to authentication of furniture finds at vintage markets.
Why the Gold Coast and why now?
For over two years, Australians weren’t able to jet overseas – which meant they hit the road to visit places they’d previously missed. Many have been swept up in a feeling of nostalgia by heading back to the Gold Coast, as they recreated childhood holidays at the beach.
Lockdowns also gave business owners a moment to take stock. Diane from La Costa Motel explains: “We were always an airport motel being so close to the Gold Coast Airport. When COVID hit, we spent that time rebranding – so it wasn’t just an airport motel, it was a cool retro spot that you could escape to.
“Here we have no lifts like the big high-rises, and we offer complimentary bike hire and beach towels (how often do we forget them!). And we like to treat our guests like they’re our favorite relatives coming to stay.”
Has the Gold Coast always been popular?
The Gold Coast has always been a popular destination for Aussies seeking the winter sun, families heading to its thrilling theme parks and recent graduates celebrating the beginning of their new lives. From the 1990s onwards, however, cheap international air travel also made it possible to head to low-cost economies in Southeast Asia and the Pacific instead.
After the pandemic, Australians have a much better appreciation for what is right on their doorstep in southern Queensland: a coast dotted with incredible places to stay within a stone’s throw of powder-soft surf beaches, plus lush rainforests, mountains and waterfalls nearby.
With its reclamation of everything retro-cool, the Gold Coast is luring travelers looking for something that you can’t get just anywhere.
Top places to stay on the Gold Coast with the retro-cool vibe
- Blue Heron Motel
- Pink Hotel Coolangatta
- The Mysa
- La Costa Motel
- Tessa’s on the Beach
- Mermaid Quarters (via Airbnb)