While one of the most popular tourist destinations in Australia due to its wide array of things to do, visiting the Gold Coast can soon become quite an expensive trip if you’re looking to stay at quality accommodation or take part in and visit a lot of activities and attractions – especially if you have kids with you.
The fact that if you are planning a trip to the Gold Coast with your kids during the school holidays also means that you’ll often end up paying “school holiday prices” as well, making it all the more important to seek out other ways to balance out the financials of the trip while still having the most fun experience as possible with the family in tow.
Luckily, there are multiple ways to enjoy many great things the greater Gold Coast area has to offer without having to fork over extravagant amounts of cash – and we’ve done some of the legwork for you here in order to suggest some of what we feel are the best free activities, attractions, and ways to pass the time in an enjoyable fashion on the Gold Coast here!
Here are some of our top recommendations:
6. The Currumbin Rock Pools
Location: Guineas Creek Road, Currumbin Valley
Located further out away from the coast and heading deeper into lovely Currumbin Valley, the Currumbin Rock Pools have long been a “favourite secret” of locals looking for a place that’s quieter and more relaxed than some of the alternatives in the more easily accessible suburbs. Accessible via a roughly 25 minute drive from the coast at Palm Beach that also happens to be quite scenic, the rock pools are fairly easy to miss if you’re not careful – you’ll be heading on a drive through some winding road periodically covered with greenery past homes and farmland before coming to a small store and parking area, with the rock pools awaiting below.
While parking is limited to a fairly small set of spaces, parking along the roadside is fine and you’ll never have to walk far to get down to the pools themselves. Once there, you’ll be presented with a small, grassy area that sits directly alongside the creek that has barbecues, covered picnic areas and plenty of bush land to round out the atmosphere.
“The Currumbin Rock Pools are quite simply one of the best spots on the Gold Coast to “get away from it all” and serves as a great alternative to the beach”
The pools themselves are, quite literally, just what they sound like – there’s a single “main” pool which is incredibly popular with children (and children-at-heart alike) for jumping into from the side of the rocks, and although this has been hazardous in the past it rarely stops scores of them from participating.
There’s not much here in terms of facilities – toilets and the aforementioned amenities are about the limit, while the shop across the road sells snacks and other small foods “at tourist prices” – so it’s advisable to pack your own picnic lunch. The Currumbin Rock Pools are quite simply one of the best spots on the Gold Coast to “get away from it all” and serves as a great alternative to the beach, as the smallish size and relatively unknown nature of the spot means it will never be too crowded – so we hope we’re not giving the secret away too much here! Check below for a map of how to get to the rock pools from the Gold Coast highway.
5. Picnic at Tamborine Mountain
Location: Approx. 40 minutes drive from Surfers Paradise
The Gold Coast hinterland is an area of the region that gets very little promotion or publicity considering how beautiful it truly is. Less than an hour’s drive from most major points of accommodation lies this wonderfully green wilderness area that is easily reachable by either car or tour bus, with a road along the way that is dotted with many lovely sightseeing lookouts and picnic areas that make for a great place to stop and admire the views that stretch out far into the distance.
At several of these stops there are large, grassed areas that overlook the valleys and farms below that make for the perfect place to spread out the picnic rug and watch hang gliders launch off the edge into the skies.
“Less than an hour’s drive from most major points of accommodation lies this wonderfully green wilderness area that is easily reachable by either car or tour bus.”
When driving up the mountain, another popular spot to stop off just past the gold course on the left-hand side of the road called Guanaba Park has a wide play area for kids with good playground equipment and plenty of space for outdoor games of all kinds. Lastly, don’t forget to take time for a visit to the must-see stop on Mt Tamborine known as Cedar Creek Falls – one of the most famous images of the Gold Coast hinterland.
There are two separate picnic areas on the way to the falls themselves – the first being close to the car park with plenty of space and all necessary picnic facilities, while the second can be found around 200m walk along a track situated just to the right of the boardwalk that leads towards the falls.
4. Carrara Markets
Location: Gooding Drive, Carrara, Gold Coast
One of the largest, best-known and longest-running markets on the Gold Coast, Carrara markets is in a convenient and centrally-located position that makes it and easily reachable place to spend a day browsing its huge array of stalls, stands, festivities and more and come away with a bargain. With over 500 stalls covering 10 acres it offers a wonderful mix of crafts – both unusual and curious – that cover all angles of the shopping spectrum.
While the idea of browsing through a market may not initially feel like the most suitable activity to drag the kids along to, there is plenty of entertainment and goings on to keep them occupied, including buskers, pony rides, merry-go-rounds, bungee trampolines and face painters that will allow you to have a browse whilst also keeping a smile on your kids faces.
“With over 500 stalls covering 10 acres it offers a wonderful mix of crafts – both unusual and curious – that cover all angles of the shopping spectrum. “
Reaching the markets is likewise made easy due to its special tourist bus service that operas each weekend and departs from multiple locations throughout both Broadbeach and Surfers Paradise, with an adult ticket for a round-trip costing $4.00, a child’s ticket (under the age of 14) being $2.00 while kids under the age of five can travel for free. In recent years even greater efforts have gone towards making the markets more appealing for kids, as there are also plenty of mini-rides as well as a ferris wheel and bouncing castle that you may want to let them have a play on while you relax for a few minutes with some of the freshly-produced food from one of the nearby stalls.
One thing to bear in mind is that the Carrara Markets are usually exceptionally busy if you are planning to attend during their peak hours, so if either you or your kids don’t like fighting through crowds you may not enjoy yourselves as much as you expected. Parking can also be difficult to come by, so taking the aforementioned tourist shuttle bus can often be the smarter of the two choices, especially considering the low price would likely make up for the cost of petrol if travelling to and from the markets from any significant distance.
3. Gold Coast Playgrounds
Location: Various locales, Gold Coast
The Gold Coast is blessed as a city to have one of the best balances of beaches, waterways and parks out of any in Australia, any many of these parks make for great destinations to take the kids for free for a few hours to both get some fresh air and burn off some energy as they are decked out with playground equipment in order to cater to the little ones.
Most of the parks are well-maintained and have plenty of room for physical activity with adventure of some kind for children to be had at every park. Some of the best parks with playground equipment for kids on the Gold Coast include:
- Laguna Park, Palm Beach, Laguna Avenue Palm Beach: A huge range of fun equipment for children of all ages. Fenced. Includes a large adventure playground, pirate ship, slides, rockers, pedal power monorail, funny-face interactive boards and much more.
- Washington Waters Southport, Gold Coast Highway, Opposite Australia Fair Shopping Centre: Adventure for all ages by the broadwater. Mini bike circuit, flying fox, pedal-powered monorail, safe swimming enclosure and a special “Velectron”.
- Pratten Park, Old Burleigh Road, Broadbeach: Located in central Broadbeach. Large shaded playground. Pedal-powered monorail, pirate ship, slippery slides and large sandpit. Near the beach – bring a swimsuit!
- Ed Hardy Park, Corner the Esplanade and Kelly Avenue Miami: A nautical-inspired playground with plenty of piratey-themed playground equipment.
- Pacific Pines Central Park, Hotham Drive, Pacific Pines: A huge park with plenty of running room for kids. Fully-fenced, a massive flying fox, sunken ship adventure playground with spinning poles, slides, rockers, swings and suspension bridge.
Of course, these are just the tip of the iceberg as far as Gold Coast playgrounds go – if you’re in a popular suburb, chances are a short walk is all that’s required to reach the nearest bastion of fun for your little one.
2. Go to the Beach
Location: Various locales, Gold Coast
We hate to be the masters of the obvious here, but there’s a reason the Gold Coast’s reputation rests on the quality of its beaches – the city’s entire stretch is brimming with them, and with few exceptions, all of them are of a high standard that makes for a great, free day out with the kids.
With over 57 kilometres worth of uninterrupted, pristine coastline, visitors looking for a day full of surf, sun and sand are certainly spoiled for choice. There are few areas along the main tourist strip of the Gold Coast that are ever very far from the beach, meaning that regardless of where you are staying, you’ll no doubt have access to one in a minimal amount of either walking or driving.
“We hate to be the masters of the obvious here, but there’s a reason the Gold Coast’s reputation rests on the quality of its beaches.”
However, the wide range of beaches to choose from begs the question: which beach (or beaches) is best suited for families with kids and young children as opposed to adults alone?
For specific answers to this question, check out our detailed Gold Coast Beaches guide that breaks down each of the main beaches on the Gold Coast which have all the facilities and water conditions best for families with kids.
1. The Rockpools at Southport
Location: Marine Parade, Southport, Gold Coast
If there’s any singular “go-to” free destination on the Gold Coast to take the kids, the well-designed and extremely popular Rockpools playground at Southport would most likely be it. Situated along the waterfront at the Broadwater Parklands, the facility has everything you would want for providing the kids with a day out in the fresh air, regardless of if it’s a hot or cool day – numerous water features and activities combine with plenty of shaded areas to cater to an enjoyable experience regardless of the weather.
While it can be crowded – particularly during school holidays – there’s simply no better alternative for those on a budget looking to give their kids the chance to cool off; while Gold Coast theme parks Wet ‘n’ Wild and WhiteWater World can provide water entertainment of their own, the price can understandably often be a turnoff for some.
Large, shallow water pools at The Rockpools make for the ideal way for even the youngest of kids to cool off, while other fountains and creature-shaped water spraying monuments add a dash of colour and more watery goodness to the proceedings. On the dry side of things, there are various pieces of inventive playground equipment ranging from standard all the way up to a large jumping pillow and bouncy house (although this is restricted to kids over the age of 10).
“Situated along the waterfront at the Broadwater Parklands, the facility has everything you would want for providing the kids with a day out in the fresh air.”
All this is set amongst some lovely, spacious park land with a wonderful lookout onto the broadwater – it’s even got its own small beach area that is regularly patrolled by a lifeguard should you wish to get some sand between your toes.
Plus, as an added bonus, it’s within a short walking distance of large shopping centre Australia Fair across the road, which makes it easy to grab yourself either some takeaway lunch or visit a supermarket and bring back some fresh food for a picnic in the parklands. Perhaps the only downside is that parking can be a chore – on all but the quietest days the parking area is sure to be full – however Australia Fair offers 3 hours’ worth of free parking for shoppers and is just a short walk away.
In all, The Rockpools is our choice for the top thing to do on the Gold Coast with kids for the best possible price – FREE.
In addition, if you’re looking for all the top things to see and do in and around Gold Coast including activities, attractions and more, be sure to check out our main region section to browse and book online!