How to Vacay in Byron Bay

Take Topanga, California’s 60’s-era hippie rusticity combined with nearby Venice Beach’s bohemian swag and throw in a pinch of the Hamptons, and the outcome is Byron Bay, an Australian surfer cove and popular holiday destination about an hour-long flight north of Sydney. Here, sun-stained blonde hair is a badge of honor, bleached from hours floating on longboards in the Coral Sea.   

Long revered for its rich food culture thanks in part to ubiquitous nutrient-dense volcanic soil, Byron Bay– known to locals simply as Byron– counts deep dairy roots that date back to the late 19th century, making it an apt locale for culinary concerned denizens to settle down. In fact, over the last couple of years, Byron has begun to attract a new generation of young Aussies looking to land in a more mellow sphere, thusly driving some of the area’s new posh boutiques and restaurants which continue to proliferate. Below,

how to ace a weekend in Byron.

Stay: Divided between four whitewashed cottages right in town, The Atlantic looks like it belongs in Montauk, New York. Lazy leaning surfboards, straw furniture and lush tropical foliage lend a beachy energy to smartly designed suites, each decorated with a different nautical theme. While The Atlantic is more of a smaller boutique property, for a full-service resort experience consider Elements, located a few minutes drive outside of town, composed to 103 individual freestanding suites. Here you’ll find a gym, spa, eateries and a massive pool all bordering the beach. If that’s still not cutting it, there’s Halcyon House. For anyone that’s familiar with Palm Springs’ The Parker, this is basically the Australian equal. Situated about a 30-minute drive from Byron, Halcyon is an ideal place to stay for anyone flying out of the Gold Coast airport since it’s on the way out from Byron. With its white and blue Mediterranean-meets-California cool aesthetic, and its oceanside locale on Cabarita Beach (a popular surfing destination), you’ll never want to leave. Also make sure to have a meal at onsite eatery Paper Daisy, cheffed by Noma alum, Ben Devlin.

Day 1: Kick your day off with breakfast at nearby Folk, a shoebox of an indoor/outdoor plant-based café that, with its retro-boho aesthetic, instantly transports you to the time VW busses and free love reigned. Try a flower-topped golden latte and a wellness-oriented bowl of superfood granola prettied with assorted local fruit, all served on vintage enamelware. After lunch, take a 20-minute drive into neighboring town, Bangalow and make sure to hit up Little Peach, a boutique which sells Japanese homewares and dresses made out of vintage kimonos. Another not-to-miss stop is Bisque Traders, a bohemian oasis of linen dresses, leather sandals and furniture from around the world.

Before dinner, stop by Byron Bay Lighthouse and take a walk along the tract which ambles along beach cliffs. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head back into town to try Byron newbie, The Mez Club— a free-spirited space colored in earthy whites and grays– for assorted Mediterranean mezze and a few larger plates like lamb kofte balls and crispy haloumi.

Day 2: One of Byron’s older hangs is The Top Shop, which is a great place to kick off any morning. Locals drop in for fig and goat cheese-topped toast and passionfruit-crowned brekkie bowls, along with a whole host of juices and smoothies, not to mention salted caramel milk. After breakfast, take a drive to Mullumbimby to visit Crystal Castle, a lush garden park that’s home to the world’s largest crystals. Here, after strolling through the pretty stone strewn property, sign up for an aura reading, where you’ll have your photo taken with a camera that reads energy fields, and will then be analyzed based on the colors that appear.  

Around lunchtime, visit the tiny town, Federal, which has just one main street that’s overgrown with grass. For clean Japanese cuisine, outdoor café, Doma won’t disappoint. And if you need a pick-me-up afterwards, just a few feet away is Moonshine Coffee Roasters, a sleek new shop brewing top level joe.

One of Byron’s most special attributes is that the area feels, to a certain extent, lost in time. And not just Byron, but the surrounding hinterlands, too. While Byron itself feels almost like a scene out of Dazed & Confused, for a real taste of an era in which you’ve likely never lived, check out Nimbin. Home to the legendary Aquarius Festival of 1973 (Australia’s equivalent to Woodstock), Nimbin to this day, embraces a counterculture ethos, where off-the-grid dwellers call home. Peace signs, rainbow hair, denim cutoffs, you’ll find it all in Nimbin.

No trip to Byron would be complete without dinner at Fleet in Brunswick Heads, an adorably cozy and modern eatery helmed by husband and wife team Astrid McCormack and chef Josh Lewis. Fleet houses just 22 seats, and half of those are at the chef’s counter, which is the sweet spot to enjoy Lewis’ inspired, daily-changing Aussie plates, like squid and pine mushrooms warmed in chicken fat. Whether you order a la carte or go for the tasting menu, I’d highly recommend McCormack’s beverage pairing, composed of funky, natural-style wines. Protip: Fleet is the hardest local resy to snag, so make sure to book about six weeks in advance.

Kat Odell is the author of Day Drinking and a longtime food and restaurant editor. After serving as the Editor of Eater LA for five years, she moved from Los Angeles to New York where she didn’t have as much access to clean eats as she did while living on the left coast. Therefore, she started making her own plant-based drinks and foods, which turned into Unicorn Food, her next book, slated for publish Spring 2018. Unicorn Food is a collection of vibrantly-hued, plant-based recipes devoid of gluten and refined sugar, that are as delicious as they are pretty. Kat Odell and Unicorn Food can be found at @kat_odell and @unicornfoods.

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