Byron Bay has had a fascinating journey over the decades. From whaling town to hippie haven and now playground of the rich and famous, it’s a destination which really does offer something for all. And many of its best aspects fly under the radar.
While it’s true much has changed in the last few decades, plenty has remained constant too: the natural beauty, relaxed pace, and its multicultural makeup and style, to name a few.
Whether you want to check into the hottest hotels or feast from dawn till long after dusk, join the throngs for a walk to the lighthouse, enjoy live music, or perhaps try your hand at making your own bottle of bespoke gin, there’s so much to see, do, touch and taste.
With that in mind, this is where to eat, stay and play – in style.
Where to stay
There’s no shortage of luxury accommodation in Byron Bay, with the holiday town delivering a heady mix of hotels, apartments and resorts that befits its global reputation. All of them are worth splashing out on, and even more are on the way too.
Byron’s newest offering is Hotel Marvell – perched just a few blocks stroll from the beach and holding the title of Byron’s first and only five star hotel in the town centre. But what exactly does that quintet of stars give you?
Opened in August 2023, the 24 room and suite hotel sports a contemporary feel created through liberal concrete and timber, softened by plush linens and indirect lighting. It’s a similar aesthetic to The Calile in Brisbane.
It also boasts a rooftop swimming pool and bar, together with a warm and inviting restaurant from chef Minh Le – Bonito – that focuses on locally sourced produce, fresh seafood and plant based cuisine. The drinks are fabulous too.
Another recent addition, one which has breathed new life into an old motel that’s stood at the entrance to the town centre for decades, is The Swell. But this is not the motel your parents stayed at back in the day: this is a Hacienda-style boutique hotel with vintage-luxe credentials.
Within are 16 custom-designed suites, each featuring a playful 70s vibe with an emphasis on earthy tones, textured timbers and lush velvet you just want to reach out and stroke.
Beyond the rooms you can relax poolside with a cocktail in hand, or treat your mind and body to an ice bath or infrared sauna.
Each of its villas features a relaxed, coastal colour palette, echoing its location near the dunes, heathland or lagoon. Sunset drinks by the pool while being warmed by the embrace of the fire pit are essential.
Another resort worth seeking out is Crystalbrook Byron, nestled amid 45-hectares of rainforest only a short drive out of town. You may know it under previous moniker: Byron at Byron. It still delivers in all the right places.
Think light and bright suites designed to feel like extensions of the forest, an infinity edge pool and restorative day spa, not to mention a great restaurant, all wrapped up in an ethos of ‘responsible luxury’ thanks to its parent group Crystalbrook Collection.
Where to eat
Perfect bites in and around town
Although it can feel like Byron’s restaurant scene changes with the tides, there are a few venues that have stood the test of time: Twisted Sista cafe (the cake fridge is heaven) and the up-market Fishheads seafood restaurant alongside Main Beach both immediately come to mind.
Other notable standouts are Balcony Bar & Oyster Co – offering a seafood-rich menu, inventive cocktails and a perfect people watching vantage from its namesake balcony – and Miss Margarita Mexican cantina, where there’s rarely a spare table.
There’s also Bang Bang, a dimly lit hangout plucked from the balmy streets of Bangkok, with its highly-shareable Asian fusion menu featuring crowd favourites such as whole fried snapper, crispy master stock duck, and a dry red barramundi curry.
The aforementioned Bonito at Hotel Marvell is worth checking out too, particularly for dishes like the Hiramasa raw kingfish with Thai pesto (a must try), along with Bangalow farm beetroots with coconut labneh, and sweet pork loin in a Chinese BBQ glaze.
Only a short stroll away is the rustically-charming Trattoria Basilico, spinning what are arguably the best wood-fired pizzas in Byron Bay. The pastas are exceptional too, in particular the ragu linguine. Service is always a genuine highlight.
For a more elevated take on Italian fare, head over to Belongil Beach Italian Food – just a few minutes drive out of town, across the dunes from the lapping waves of its namesake beach. Pastel hues abound inside, with the seafood-rich menu and predominantly Italian wine list sure to satisfy.
Although designed to be enjoyed all to yourself, dishes can easily be shared. Highlights include the kingfish crudo with lemon myrtle, and the Calamarata pasta with Moreton Bay bug in a delicious lemon thyme and pistachio butter sauce.
If you’re on the lookout for vegan or vegetarian fare, No Bones is the one for you. Don’t be fooled by its menu names – it may mention chicken or calamari in the title, but the cuisine that comes out is all plant based.
Of course, it would be remiss of us not to mention Forest at Crystalbrook Byron. Set overlooking the lush rainforest that inspired its name, the restaurant’s menu is a reflection of the local area, with 80% of ingredients sourced from within a three hour drive.
Choose from a five course degustation (with paired wines, if you prefer) featuring dishes like Iluka squid roasted over coals and line-caught fish cooked in paperbark, or opt for the a la carte menu.
Destination restaurants worth driving for
Just a few minutes out of town will bring you to The Farm, an 80-acre working property which has captivated public attention since its 2015 opening thanks to its resident animals, relaxed pace and popular dining venues: Bread Social Bakery and Three Blue Ducks.
Open for all-day dining, the Ducks’ ethos is about good fun with honest food, with many ingredients sustainably sourced from local farmers. Surrounded by gardens, the terrace and deck dining areas are as divine as the well-rounded menus.
Where to play
Embrace the natural beauty
A daily ritual for many locals is the Byron lighthouse walk, a gorgeous loop which weaves along the sands of Clarkes Beach, skirts the surf break at The Pass, crosses the headland at Wategos and eventually leads up to the lighthouse atop Cape Byron – Australia’s most easterly point.
After you breathe in the ocean views, the path meanders down through coastal rainforest to the start of the track.
A quick coffee hit at Bayleaf Cafe later, and it’s time to explore further afield, perhaps visiting the nearby towns of Brunswick Heads and Mullumbimby, or ticking off some of the local waterfalls such as Minyon and Killen Falls.
Treat your mind, body and soul
Byron and its surrounds have been a centre of natural and alternative remedies since the 1970s, when the Aquarius movement brought hippies to the area in droves. While ‘true hippies’ aren’t as ubiquitous as they used to be, their legacy of spirituality and healing lives on.
When you need some pampering or your chakra realigned, there are some excellent day spas including Comma in the Byron Arts & Industry Estate, Buddha Gardens Day Spa near the old Byron Brewery, and Kiva Spa and The Banya Bathhouse out in Mullumbimby.
If you want to take things up a notch, there are also fantastic day spas at Crystalbrook Byron and Elements of Byron Resort, as well as the sensational Raes on Wategos.
Taste your way through the local breweries and distilleries
The last 10 years or so have seen a huge influx of distillers and brewers take residence, both near Byron town centre and in the surrounding hills and valleys of the hinterland.
The tasting room at Stone & Wood Brewing Co in the Industrial Estate should be your first port of call, allowing you to taste some of their more unique small-batch brews made onsite, together with their classic Byron Pale Ale and Cloudcatcher.
Over in Mullumbimby, Wandana Brewing Co is an adored local hangout with a rotating roster of food trucks, great beats and better brews.
Tasting flights are the best way to sample the amber nectar, which is all produced onsite. Make sure you ask about the music played to aid the fermentation of each beer.
If spirits are more your style, swing by Lord Byron Distillery to pick up a bottle of rum, pure cane vodka or limoncello, or try a hand at making your own bespoke gin.
After that, the Cape Byron Distillery at nearby St Helena is a must-visit.
Makers of Brookie’s Byron Dry Gin – plus my personal favourite, Mac. macadamia liequer – Cape Byron is perched on a lush hillside 10-15 minutes out of town. A tour of their distillery and regenerated rainforest is an ideal way to gain greater appreciation for the passion that goes into every bottle.
Really though, there’s no right or wrong way to see Byron. It’s about exploring, relaxing, and making it up as you go.
As the famous entrance sign to the town says: ‘Cheer up, slow down, chill out’.