It's 10am on a Tuesday and Elk Espresso is so popular with patrons, it's hot like the summer sand at its Broadbeach location. Driftwood hangs lazily from the ceiling in these garage-style surrounds, the floor is cool concrete and there's a surf school round the back. As for breakfast, it's as eclectic as the elk painted on the walls, with everything from nachos to a Ploughman's Board on the morning menu.
Surfers Paradise has long been the hero of the Gold Coast story, and while it remains sensational, it would be all too easy for some of the southern suburbs to sit in its tall shadow. Step beyond Cavill Avenue and south towards Broadbeach, or Broadie to the locals, home to barefoot bowls and yawning parks where the scent of Norfolk Pine needles is redolent of beach picnics. You'll find fortnightly markets here on languid summer nights. There's even a sign which pays homage to Gold Coast bikini queen Paula Stafford whose two-piece ensemble catapulted the Coast onto the world stage.
Whale tail sculptures shimmer in the sun along the Broadbeach Mall, while running parallel one street over amid the surrounds of the opulent Oracle building, colourful koala street art is designed to capture the energy, fun and endless summer holiday that is the Gold Coast.
Broadbeach is changing rapidly and you'll discover newcomers such as The Lamb Shop, which boasts a traditional spit roast, and The Bavarian Bier Cafe for a cold brew, flanked by the international flavours of Mamasan Kitchen & Bar, Mecca Bah, Social Eating House, Moo Moo and The Cuban here.
Take your time and drive south along the Gold Coast Highway past the Exotic Asian Supermarket and Gold Coast Growers Market to Mermaid Beach, which is embracing a new face in the most unlikely of places. Tucked deep within an industrial area, you'll find a cavernous gallery called 19 KAREN where you are greeted at the door by a porcelain receptionist. If only she could speak, she'd tell of the cutting-edge international and Australian artists whose works are designed to shock and delight. Further down the highway and towards the beach, you'll stumble across BSKT Café, which not only serves healthy food, but has expanded into a yoga space. If it's breakfast you're wishing to tackle in Mermaid Beach, check out the old building which is now Alfred's Diner, home to burritos, burgers, muesli and coffee served in a beer garden setting outside, while inside there's a black and white barber shop and clothes to boot.
Wind your way down to Nobby Beach where the Magic Mountain theme park stood proudly on the hill between 1962 and 1991. Magic Mountain Resort sits there these days, but little else has changed in this suburb of surf shops, fibro shacks, old beach units and a mixture of modern accommodation. Do check out new eateries Hugo, Little Beans and The Yard here.
There's more of the same old-fashioned values at Miami and it would be tempting to keep driving. Don't. A highlight of this suburb's scene is the Miami Marketta, again tucked away in an industrial estate, and which is home to stalls, tapas, tacos, wood-fired pizza, live music, bars and street art, open every Friday and Saturday night.
Wind through beautiful Burleigh which has retained its beach village feel and added some funk and flair. Local photographer Sean Scott has captured the essence of the Gold Coast in his eponymous gallery where his marine theme photos adorn the walls of this space in which designer clothing is also sold.
Burleigh is all about homewares, health food and hipster stores, where the scent of incense trails out onto the main street lined by Thai massage joints, juice bars and ethical clothing stores. Walk past barefoot bowling lawns and street sculptures and towards The Old Burleigh Theatre Arcade, now home to shops, offices and restaurants. In what could be considered the Coast's Caffeine Capital, there's seemingly a coffee shop every few metres in Burleigh – check out the hidden oasis which is Social Brew.
Over Burleigh Hill, pause at Tallebudgera Creek and frolic in her crystal clear waters before heading through Palm Beach and on to Currumbin. Take a detour on the road which leads to the Currumbin Rock Pools and you'll discover Dust Temple – another eclectic art space which blends graffiti and Indigenous art with a damn fine brew. Sit among the sculptures on the red retro couches here and consider how the more things change, the more they stay the same for the southern Gold Coast.
Back around Currumbin bend and over Tugun hill and you'll soon drive past the iconic Kirra Surf store and Kirra Bend before arriving in Coolangatta.
It's a case of something old and something new at this most southern Gold Coast suburb where along Griffith Street, it's like time has stood still for those who crave their childhood summer holidays. The original Coolangatta Pie Shop has been pumping out pies and pastries for decades and that same sweet smell still lures ravenous surfers. Wander the street, past the second-hand book stores, to the end until you hit 20th Century Antiques and Collectibles, which is an Aladdin's Cave of ancient wares, most notably retro surf gear including 10ft long boards.
Meanwhile at Marine Parade, which overlooks Coolangatta Beach, The Strand is a swanky new complex home to street art, Queensland's first Gelato Messina - which captures that holiday feel with flavours such as lychee and coconut - and Boardriders, which is not so much a surf shop but a temple to the ocean with a huge range of surf boards, skate boards, swimwear, and surf wear. You can even order a 'sanga' for lunch here.
But the last word on the southern Gold Coast surely sits with The Black Sheep Espresso Baa where you can order your coffee in lamb, sheep or ram sizes. While the coffee is a nice touch while you gaze beyond the waves back towards Surfers Paradise, it's this establishment's name itself which captures the southern Gold Coast story in a simple phrase. Welcome to the black sheep of the Gold Coast whose pastures are very green indeed.