As New South Wales’ first certified ECO Destination, it’s no surprise that the Coffs Coast is a place of epic natural beauty. But look a little closer and you’ll discover a rich tapestry of arts, history and culture.
Australia’s major cities might be known as culture capitals, but there’s an incredible legacy of creativity and storytelling in this coastal paradise.
It’s everywhere if you know where to look – tucked behind the sparkling sand dunes, echoing across the rolling hills and hidden down laneways so graffitied they could make Melbourne weep.
Soak in the live music scene
Start your weekend early with a Thursday evening of funk and jazz. For years locals have flocked to Sawtell favourite The Spare Room for weekly funk nights. If the smell of their woodfired pizza isn’t enough to lure you in, the sultry notes of a double bass mingling with clinking cocktail shakers will do it.
Follow up with Friday at the Hoey Moey, an iconic seaside pub known for live music. From national touring bands to local legends, there’s something for everyone. Kick back in the Byron-esque beer garden, play a game of pool and enjoy some of the best live acts in the region.
If you’re visiting between September and mid-April, grab your picnic rug and make your way to the Friday Twilight Food Market at Park Beach Reserve. You’ll enjoy sunset skies over the water as the wafting breeze brings a temptation of smells from the many food trucks. The whole family (four-legged friends included) will enjoy the evening’s soundtrack – hand-selected local musicians and the sound of waves lapping the shore.
Over the weekend, laidback loungers will find a thriving cafe and bar scene. Grab your morning pick-me-up with a side of music at the Dark Arts Cafe brekky sessions, before cruising to Jetty Beach House to treat your senses to local crooners performing by the best view in Coffs. Keep an eye out for whales and dolphins on the horizon.
Finish up with some bangers and local brew at one of the delightful craft breweries. You’ll find King Tide Brewery down an unsuspecting laneway in the centre of town, but don’t let the street size fool you – there’s a cutting-edge brewhouse, kitchen and room for you and 250 of your closest mates. If cruise-y coastal culture appeals, head north to Woolgoolga to enjoy the scene at Woopi Brewing Co. Relax in the beer garden with a woodfired pizza before testing their award-winning craft beer. With a regular line-up of live music, outdoor cinema nights and a DJ, you’ll be back for more.
If a tree-change is what you’re after, the rolling green hills of the Orara Valley are calling. The Ulong General Store hosts a local musician every Saturday – and sometimes even a singing chef! Turn your visit into a full day out by stopping at the Ulong Ex-Services Club for live music, a home-style meal or weekly raffles. Finish up at The Coramba Hotel listening to local talent in a tranquil rural setting.
If you’re lucky enough to be in town when the Festival of Small Halls is happening, you’ll be treated to some of the best folk and contemporary acoustic artists in Australia. They’re plucked straight from the stages of our largest national festivals to perform at tiny halls in regional communities, and the Coramba Town Hall is one not to miss.
Explore the newly opened Yarrila Place
Nestled in the heart of the city is a contemporary cultural hub – the newly opened Yarrila Place. Named after a Gumbaynggirr word meaning “illuminate, brighten, light up or illustrate”, this state-of-the-art building is home to Yarrila Arts and Museum (YAM), a dynamic three-level library, City services and plentiful community and creative spaces.
Yarrila Place was designed by homegrown lead architect Matthew Blair and the team at BVN Architecture, weaving together bold shapes and colours that are reminiscent of the many cultural threads that make up this vibrant community. Built around a 150-year-old weeping fig, it is a welcoming and accessible space that celebrates knowledge, arts, heritage, community and creativity.
The building’s signature artwork, ‘Let them feel the light’ is by accomplished Australian artist Emma Coulter. The steel and glass sculpture leaps up walls, illuminating the central atrium with colour, light and energy.
Yarrila’s arts and museum space, YAM, boasts five exhibition spaces hosting national and local touring exhibitions such as the Archibald Prize and STILL: National Still Life Award. It’s home to a permanent display ‘Yaamanga Around here,’ which explores the history and identity of the Coffs Coast through themes of place, community and belonging, with Gumbaynggirr culture at its heart.
Complete your YAM visit with a journey across Country, following the Gumbaynggirr Art Trail throughout the building to discover six exceptional artworks that represent each of the six clan groups on Gumbaynggirr country.
Be immersed in rich cultural heritage
Dig into Coffs Harbour’s origins with a visit to the South Solitary Island Lighthouse Optic, the most valuable and unique object in YAM’s collection. From 1880 to 1975, the optic shone in New South Wales’ most isolated lighthouse on rocky South Solitary Island, 18 kilometres offshore. A beacon of safety for sailors, it was replaced by an electric light in 1975. This change ended the legacy of lighthouse keeping on the island and after years of careful storage, the optic has been given a new home in the Jetty Foreshore Precinct where it belongs – in sight of the ocean.
For theatre steeped in history, you can’t miss the Jetty Theatre. The heritage-listed space has lived many lives – it started in 1928 as a public hall and memorial for World War I soldiers, was a cinema from the 1930s to 70s, and now, after extensive renovation, shines as a 250-seat contemporary theatre venue. You’ll find local and international theatrical productions and musicians, regular movie screenings, rousing musical theatre and more.
If you’re interested in delving deeper into Indigenous culture, the Yarrawarra Aboriginal Cultural Centre in Red Rock is home to the Wadjar Art Gallery, showing traditional and contemporary art from regional First Nation artists, as well as a Bush Tucker Cafe and a range of cultural activities. Their Jalumbo Cultural Heritage Keeping Place displays cultural artefacts from over 6,000 years of Gumbaynggirr life on the Mid North Coast.
Each month the Giingan Gumbaynggirr Cultural Experience celebrates local Aboriginal people, language and culture. The experience takes place at an important cultural site of the Gumbaynggirr people, the stunning location of “Niigi Niigi” (Sealy Lookout) within the Orara East State Forest. Guests can bask in the ambience of 360-degree views and be immersed in the culture through stories, songs, language and bush foods.
And don’t forget the Sikh Heritage Museum in Woolgoolga – a visually-rich space devoted to showcasing and preserving the traditional and religious life of the Sikh people in Australia and beyond. The Sikh people have long been part of Coffs Coast’s history, with Woolgoolga home to the largest regional Sikh/Punjabi population in Australia.
Marvel at exceptional art
Long have artists been drawn to the Coffs Coast’s unique landscape – marvelling in the magic where the mountains meet the sea. This attraction means art aficionados can take their pick of numerous local galleries. From the National Cartoon Gallery housed in an underground WWII bunker, to the bright and bold Jeffrey Baker Art studio and gallery perched amongst the boats on the marina. And you can head north or south to the region’s beautiful seaside villages to find the Sawtell Art Gallery or the Woolgoolga Art Gallery… both showcasing local talent.
Or for something different, discover Coffs’ street art with Bite Food & Art Tours. It’s an exploration of the city centre, from laneways to YAM and the unique 2D art cafe, hand-painted by a local tattoo artist.
If you’re after a holiday souvenir with meaning, there’s regularly changing art and craftwork from local makers, growers and artisans for sale at Kaleidoscope, a one-of-a-kind retail store in Coffs City Centre. You’ll be delighted by the selection of unique, handmade pieces and you can take a little bit of the Coffs Coast home with you!
Find out more by visiting coffscoast.com.
Travel to Coffs Harbour
Rex flies to Coffs Harbour. Book your flight here.
For more to explore on the NSW Mid North Coast, check out 8 must-try restaurants in Coffs Harbour.