What’s Really Different about the Beaches in Australia?

I’ve been to many Australian beaches, each time I have been struck by how ‘untouched’ they are. It’s very noticeable, it’s always been apparent to me. One of the words that would always pop into my head would be ‘unspoilt’.

But in all this time and all those beaches there was one thing that I never really fully realised. The penny never really dropped. Let me show you some pictures of some of the beaches I’ve been to here to see if you can spot it.


Sydney beach Coogee Beach


Perth's beaches Perth's beaches (1)

Gold Coast…

Surfers Paradise

beach volleyballSunshine Coast…

Mooloolaba beach caloundra


Brighton Beach

Melbourne Beaches (2)Adelaide…

Henley Beach, AdelaideByron Bay…

Byron Bay BeachYamba…

Yamba beach (5)That’s enough beach shots for now, I think. But what do you see?

You can see people on the beach, obviously, sitting on towels, the occasional small beach tent can be seen and there’s lots of sea and sand. People sometimes play sport on the beach, you can see some volleyball going on in one of those pictures and beach cricket is quite popular.

It’s what you don’t see that makes Australian beaches different.

What’s different?

  • No deckchairs for rent; even the beaches of Southend, my home town in the UK, were renting out deckchairs in the 70s
  • No beach recliners or sun lounge chairs either, the more expensive and far more comfortable replacement to the deckchair
  • Nobody pulling along a great big cool box trolley selling ice creams or cold drinks to the overheated beachgoers
  • No food of any kind being sold on Australian beaches, you need to bring your own food
  • No beach bars with bar stalls selling booze to those who have had enough sun and need a cold beer
  • In fact, no alcohol whatsoever is allowed on Australian beaches, it’s illegal

In a nutshell, no commercialism.

Yes, the word ‘uncommercialised’ had also popped into my head many times, but I hadn’t actually fully appreciated the commercialism had pretty much been banned on the beaches.

As you know, I come from Europe, there are certainly beach bars in some countries over there, Spain in particular. They even have clubs. Deckchairs, wind breakers, umbrellas, pedalos (boats you pedal) and much more are all available to rent. Many countries elsewhere, like Thailand and Vietnam have people walking the beaches selling you food, ice creams, fresh fruit, that sort of thing.

Here, in Australia, nothing.

Will this change?

Maybe, Gold Coast Council are currently looking at changing the rules for the 42 kilometres of beach they control. Apparently they are already renting out deckchairs on a couple of beaches. They are looking at a plan to allow local traders or roadside vending trucks to be able to hand deliver food and drink to those on the beach.

It will be soft drinks only though, still no alcohol.

If Gold Coast do get this plan agreed, then it is likely to spread across other Australian beaches around the country. There are two sides to this though.

At the moment we don’t get people trudging up and down our beaches trying to sell us stuff, which is nice. Aussies go to the beach to chill out, relax, catch a few waves, enjoy the sun. They do not go to the beach to be sold stuff.

So just maybe things would be best left as they are.

That said, the Meter Maids of Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast are working on developing a mobile phone app. They are not keen on roadside vending trucks coming in, they’d rather see support for the already established local businesses who sell food.

In their plan, beachgoers would be able to order food and drink through the app and have it collected from one of those local traders and hand-delivered to the customer on the beach by a Meter Maid.


The Meter Maids at Surfers ParadiseThat might work.

No beers on the beach, really?

Immediate update 3 November:

The no alcohol on the beach rule has clearly drawn quite a few comments already, and I’m not surprise. First of all, let me explain where I got that information from, it was in a video provided by news.com.au; here is a screen grab from that video…

alcohol illegalThe message is pretty clear I think, if you want to see the full video you can go to this page on news.com.au.

I live in Queensland, I have consumed alcohol on the beach many times. I’ve seen others drinking alcohol on the beach many times. I’ve never seen anybody even get spoken to about it, let alone arrested.

So, has this video got it wrong?

The answer is not simple, the reason being we have six states and two territories and each one has their own laws. I believe individual councils within those states and territories may also have additional laws.

I did a little research, here’s what I found:

  • It is an offence under Western Australian alcohol laws for persons of any age to drink in public, such as on the street, park or beach. (Maximum Fine: AUD$2,000 or on the spot fine of AUD$200 – Section 119(4a) Liquor Control Act 1988)
  • In Queensland, it is an offence to drink alcohol or possess an opened alcoholic drink in a public place
  • Drinking in public is legal in NSW, unless it is an alcohol free zone, refer to maps and local council information
  • In Victoria some local council restrictions apply
  • In South Australia there are designated dry areas as part of the Liquor Licensing Act 1997, with extensive maps online
  • NT has certain restrictions, you will need to apply for a permit to drink on any of their five main beaches, including The Esplanade and Mindil
  • Tasmanian police offer this rather confusing tip; ‘To drink or possess an open container of alcohol in a public street is illegal. This does not stop you enjoying a picnic in a park or on a beach where council by-laws permit.’
  • Canberra; it doesn’t matter, they don’t have a beach

One thing is for certain, a beach is a public place. On that basis, alcohol is not allowed on any Queensland beach. That takes out both the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast. No alcohol is allowed on any beach in Western Australia either. I then looked at the local laws in New South Wales and checked on a couple of very popular beaches, Bondi and Coogee; both are alcohol free zones, so no alcohol there either.

I did the same for South Australia, lots of beaches are ‘Dry Zones’, meaning alcohol is not allowed, including Henley and Glenelg. Information about Saint Kilda and Brighton beaches in Victoria was harder to find, but on the basis I couldn’t find anywhere that specifically mentions a ban on alcohol, it looks like it is allowed there.

But don’t take my word for any of this, check locally before you crack open a beer, laws can change at any time.

So, as you can see, the statement ‘In Australia drinking alcohol on the beach is illegal‘ appears to be correct for the vast majority of the time. As I say, I’m not surprise some people disagree with this, because from the beaches I’ve been to it seems to happen quite openly and freely.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news; cheers, as they say.

Update February 2018

I haven’t been idle doing nothing you know since writing this article, I have been tirelessly searching for decent beach bars in Australia. I now have an update:

It includes my visit to Alexandra Headland Surf Club as in the comments below.

Visa Assessment Service
{ 41 comments… add one }
  • R August 31, 2020, 10:32 am |

    This is a very important point on alcohol in public. But also, the implications of the law both on consumption and intoxication in public in Queensland are technically far reaching. If you leave a bar and are in any way intoxicated, the moment you step onto the pavement outside the bar, you are committing an offence. So go to pubs, but don’t get intoxicated, OK?! Victoria, as of the last few days, have just announced plans to abolish public drunkenness as a crime after a tragic death in custody (see here: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/aug/22/victoria-abolishes-public-drunkenness-as-a-ahead-of-death-in-custody-inquest). In this particular case, the person apparently fell asleep on the train drunk and was arrested / placed in a cell to sober up / hit her head and died. Utterly tragic. When I was young in the UK, I’ve fallen asleep on the way home from the pub after a night out and missed my stop – most of my mates probably have. In Queensland, the laws remain in place and this could lead to you spending the night in a police cell. Now of course, the likelihood of actually getting arrested under these types of laws are probably quite low as has been highlighted on this page. Some may say that’s part of the problem – it’s effectively an archaic law that can be implemented at the complete discretion of the law enforcement official which creates all kinds of issues and room for unequal application of the law. But the bottom line is, this is a very good and important post as this is a big cultural shock that *technically* could lead to many problems for the uninformed, particularly for those coming from Europe!

    • BobinOz September 1, 2020, 4:27 pm |

      Yes, this is a very important issue and I thank you for making it.

      The case you mention in Victoria is a tragic one and as you say, has been well documented. Changing the law now will not bring back a needlessly lost life, but it is an archaic law that must be abolished, and it’s good news that Victoria are about to do that.

      Hopefully Queensland will follow suit very soon.

      I too grew up in England and as a young twentysomething, I spent many an evening staggering home from the pub with a few too many beers in my belly, technically speaking, drunk. I can only be thankful that this wasn’t deemed a crime, because it was the only way to get from that pub back to my flat.

      Also like yourself, I’ve fallen asleep on many a train, so it’s easy for me, as it is for you, to see how sad and unnecessary this story is.

      The sooner the laws are gone in both of these states, the better, and I’m sure we can all drink to that.

  • Brett June 16, 2020, 1:07 pm |

    You can’t drink a beer not only on a beach but almost anywhere in public in Australia, this is why i am moving to Japan, have a cold beer on the walk from work, or on the train! Ah love it, no litter, no idiots just obviously better self controlled educated people and a more relaxed life. 🙂

    • BobinOz June 17, 2020, 8:13 pm |

      It’s true, that’s the law here in Australia, you can’t drink alcohol in public anywhere, including the beaches. But when I made that statement here in this post, quite a few people in the comments just didn’t believe it. That’s because, the reality is, people here in Australia do drink alcohol in public, on the beaches, in barbecue areas, in parks, all sorts of places.

      I’ve never seen anyone arrested, but of course, if they were to get rowdy I’m sure the police would step in.

      As for Japan, I was there about four years ago, hugely impressed by the Japanese, they were so friendly, helpful, considerate and law-abiding, I can see why you love it.

      Little story; when we arrived in Tokyo late at night, me, my wife, my daughter and my wife’s friend and her two daughters, we were studying a map and trying to find our apartment in the city. A stranger came up to us and offered to help, and he looked at our map, and the name of the street, and he didn’t know.

      We carried on looking ourselves and then about five minutes later he came back with more people and said that he thinks his friends would know where this place was. Next thing we’ve got these three Japanese guys asking us to follow them down a dark alley and I’m thinking, here we go, so I’m on red alert at this stage.

      But no, one says “this is it”, and they found us our apartment. One of the safest cities I’ve ever visited, I would say.

      As for alcohol, they have vending machines in the streets selling it! But still no trouble, just goes to show.

  • Kathy February 3, 2017, 12:55 am |

    I will be staying in Glenelg for a few weeks in March. I am from New Jersey, where I spend a lot of time at the beach in the summer. I am looking forward to sitting on the beach there, while my husband works. Is there a place to rent a beach chair? If not, is there a place nearby that I can buy one?

    • Shane John Backx February 3, 2017, 3:03 pm |

      Any K mart dept store sells them very cheap

      • Kathy February 7, 2017, 6:12 am |

        Great! Thank you!!

  • gary September 28, 2016, 7:27 am |

    Just got back from Spain and it was great to have lunch and drink a bottle of wine listening to some cool beach music sitting under the shade of an umbrella watching the sun set. I think it would be great to have this in Australia. I find it hard to believe these days that we don,t have a place to cool of out of the sun, especially as the sun is so strong in Aus. I often see people sunbathing without umbrellas, madness.
    I sometimes feel like we live in a nanny state. I never see any trouble related to alcohol on the beaches abroad.

    • BobinOz October 2, 2016, 6:27 pm |

      We certainly do live in a nanny state here, it’s one of my very few gripes about Australia. I’ve just got back from a holiday in Japan and alcohol is freely available in many places. It is also okay to drink alcohol in public there, from what I understood.

      I was in Tokyo and despite how busy and crowded the streets were and the underground, I didn’t see any hint of trouble anywhere from anyone. I’d go as far as to say it was the safest city I have ever walked around.

      We need more freedom here, we need to be treated like adults, and like you I would love to be able to drink beer on the beach in a bar, overlooking the sea, maybe watching the sunset. If it were earlier in the day, I’d like to go there for a refreshingly cold tinnie and a bit of shade.

      • gary October 2, 2016, 8:32 pm |

        Well said Bobin, the government treats Australians like children, they have no trust in the people, a $200, fine for drinking in public is crazy. Europe is much more sophisticated.

        • BobinOz October 3, 2016, 6:22 pm |

          The funny thing is though, certainly where I live in Queensland, people do often drink openly in public in parks, by the beaches and around barbecues. I’ve never seen the police turn up and start dishing out fines, but I suppose there is always a possibility it might happen.

          It would still be great to have a beach bar with a stall to sit on though.

          • Shane John Backx October 3, 2016, 8:22 pm |

            I’ll repeat what I said 12 months back. Alexandra Headland Surf Club. They now have an absolute on the beach bar, including an outdoor area complete with seating and umbrellas.

            • gary October 4, 2016, 7:10 am |

              Thanks Shane, that’s a heck of a long way from Melbourne though

              • Shane John Backx October 4, 2016, 1:32 pm |

                A good thing I left there and moved to here then????!!!

                • BobinOz October 4, 2016, 6:25 pm |

                  The Alexandra Headland Surf Club beach bar is still on my list of things to do, and I’m looking forward to it. It will be soon, now that it’s warming up nicely 🙂

                  @ Gary, they have a courtesy bus 🙂 🙂

                  • BobinOz February 7, 2018, 8:41 pm |

                    For those of you still watching this conversation, I now have an update including my visit to Alexandra Headland Surf Club as suggested by Shane here. Here’s the link…


                    • Shane Backx February 9, 2018, 9:34 am |

                      Mustve recently changed policy then, because in 2017, I have drank on that very spot. Unless it is only allowable at certain times of the day.

                    • BobinOz February 9, 2018, 5:07 pm |

                      Yes, I suspect you are right, it’s either a policy change or that part of the bar was closed when we were there. The beer still tasted good though 🙂

          • Brett June 16, 2020, 1:08 pm |

            Both Fitzroy Island and Green Island allow drinking all over, there is a pub on the beach on Fitzroy and the Beach at Green is licenced part of the resort. Get to Cairns 😉

            • Brett June 16, 2020, 1:10 pm |

              Oh also Kewarra beach in Cairns has a bar and food in the sand “Beach Shack” just like Thailand.

              • BobinOz June 17, 2020, 8:17 pm |

                Some nice additions to our small but growing list of beach bars in Australia, thanks Brett. In Cairns, by the looks, we could almost go on a beach bar pub crawl.

                Would need a boat though 🙂

  • naomi moran November 4, 2015, 12:29 am |

    you can get food etc at some beaches. port macquarie for example has a small food and drink / icre cream stall built on one of its beaches, so does newcastle

    • BobinOz November 4, 2015, 4:43 pm |

      That’s good to know, I don’t suppose you can buy a beer to go with that food though, can you?

  • Shane John Backx November 3, 2015, 11:18 am |

    Dont foorget most are topless as well!!?????

    • BobinOz November 3, 2015, 4:07 pm |

      Yes, definitely, well, mostly the blokes 🙂

  • Shane John Backx November 3, 2015, 11:17 am |

    Never been a ban on alcohol
    on any beach that I’ve ever been to. And I’ve taken eskies full of beer to lots!!

    • Divyam November 3, 2015, 1:55 pm |

      You talking about Australian beaches mate, please say yes as this post upsets me….. What’s beaches without a chilly beer ;P

      • Shane John Backx November 3, 2015, 2:50 pm |

        Beer is allowed and always has been.

        • BobinOz November 3, 2015, 4:10 pm |

          I’ve just added an extensive update to the above post about the legality, or not, of consuming alcohol on the beaches of Australia.

          Shane, I think you might be disappointed with what I found.

          • Shane John Backx November 3, 2015, 4:29 pm |

            No ones ever stopped us at all. So long as you behave accordingly.

            • BobinOz November 3, 2015, 7:04 pm |

              Me neither, let’s hope the non-harassment policy continues.

    • Divyam November 4, 2015, 1:25 pm |

      So like there’s a law against it in most places but they generally don’t enforce it or something?

      • Shane John Backx November 4, 2015, 2:02 pm |

        Well if there is no one there to tell you you cant, then there is no worries!!

  • Andy November 3, 2015, 9:25 am |

    Mmmmm unspoilt beaches, one of the many things we are looking forward to when we hopefully move!! Told the family and friends!!

    • BobinOz November 3, 2015, 4:11 pm |

      Hopefully those beaches will still be unspoiled when you get here Andy.

  • Cezar Gradinariu November 3, 2015, 6:49 am |

    You’re right Bob, they are beautiful as they are now, and hopefully the local councils will keep them as they are, without any food vendors, and so on on the beach.

    • BobinOz November 3, 2015, 4:14 pm |

      I agree, let’s keep them as they are, mostly. I wouldn’t be adverse to the occasional beach bar on some of our popular beaches though, that would be nice.

      Best of both worlds, somewhere to go for a bit of shade and a cool drink without having people pester you trying to sell you stuff when you’re chilling on your beach towel.

      • Shane John Backx November 3, 2015, 4:27 pm |

        There is a beach bar at the Alexandra Headland Surf Club on the Sunshine Coast. Opened a few years ago.

        • BobinOz November 3, 2015, 7:03 pm |

          -Yes, I think I’ve had a drink in there a few years back, it’s a proper big bricks and mortar building with large windows overlooking the sea, pokies, restaurant etc, it’s not what I mean by a beach bar.

          In Spain in particular they have a lot of beach bars. Basically it’s a sectioned off area of sand towards the back of the beach, think very large Bali hut sort of thing, with just a bar, sand on the floor, a few tables and bar stalls. You just walk in on the sand in your togs and grab a cold beer at the bar.

          That’s what I mean by a beach bar 🙂

          I honestly have never seen anything like that in Australia, has anybody else?

          • Shane John Backx November 3, 2015, 9:13 pm |

            That is exactly what they have now done at Alex. Was there last week. The renovated. Walk straight in off the beach underneath the building in what was the old boat storage area.. Also have an outdoor beer garden directly on the beach. You will have to make a research trip!!

            • BobinOz November 4, 2015, 4:28 pm |

              Really? Now that sounds exactly like what I’m looking for, and you are right, this is something I need to thoroughly research.

              I don’t know, work, work, work 🙂

Leave a Comment

If your comment doesn’t get answered, find out why…..
FAQs and Comment Policy.