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Hollywood stars like Zac Efron and Nicole Kidman are flocking to Byron Bay. Here’s what it’s like to visit.

Summary List PlacementIf you asked me to name my favorite places in the world, Byron Bay would be at the top of my list. The small beach town is a popular vacation spot for Australians, along with international backpackers making the classic trek along the continent's East Coast. But for a...

Byron Bay

Summary List Placement

If you asked me to name my favorite places in the world, Byron Bay would be at the top of my list.

The small beach town is a popular vacation spot for Australians, along with international backpackers making the classic trek along the continent’s East Coast. But for a long time, it also felt like a secret hippie hideaway, one that reminded me of Santa Cruz or Venice — but with far better beaches. 

Nowadays, Byron Bay might more closely resemble Hollywood, seeing as it’s attracted a bevy of A-listers — including Nicole Kidman, Zac Efron, and Melissa McCarthy — who have flocked to the coastal town to escape the pandemic and film their next projects. They’ve all followed in the footsteps of Chris Hemsworth and wife Elsa Pataky, who ditched LA for Byron back in 2015.

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But what’s it really like to visit Hollywood’s new holiday hot spot? Well, let me tell you…

Byron Bay has breathtaking beaches that rival those I’ve visited in Greece and Portugal.

Australia is known for its beautiful beaches, and I visited many during the year I spent in Sydney. But none compared to the breathtaking beaches of Clarkes and Wategos in Byron. 

Because they’re more off the beaten track than Main Beach — which hugs Byron’s downtown — both are never too crowded.  It’s the water, though, that really makes them stand out. The waves are calm and the sea is crystal clear. One of my fondest memories in Byron is the two hours I spent just hanging out in the water with two of my best friends, swapping stories while our fingers shriveled. 

After a childhood of summers spent visiting my family in Greece, I always thought that no beach could compare to the legendary Aegean Sea. But the beaches of Byron definitely come close.

Even the hikes to the beaches are beautiful.

One of my favorite things to do in Sydney was to go on coastal walks, trekking up and down trails while checking out hidden beaches or breathtaking views of the ocean. 

You’ll find the same in Byron Bay, where I snapped this future artist creating a masterpiece in the sand. 

You can also catch stunning views of the water from Byron Bay’s famous lighthouse.

The hike to Cape Byron is usually at the top of many tourists’ to-do lists when they visit the city. Many of the backpacker hostels even host sunrise walks, so you can see the view at its most beautiful. 

I’ve visited Byron Bay three times, and immediately fell in love with its laid-back vibe.

As a Northern California native, I’ve always been attracted to places with a bit of a bohemian feel. And Byron Bay has it in spades. 

It’s not uncommon to see people walking around Byron barefoot, even on the hot asphalt. And every day at sunset you’ll find a crowd at Main Beach, often playing music and dancing — just like the famous Venice Beach drum circle.

Byron Bay’s shops are a mix of Aussie boutiques and hippie offerings, reflecting its recent popularity with A-listers and influencers.

You’ll find crystal shops and Asian markets alongside big Australian names like Rowie and Spell (which Jennifer Lopez wore when she got engaged to Alex Rodriguez). 

The latter store, which was founded in Byron Bay, has a sun-drenched boutique with a gorgeous backyard patio that I guarantee you’ve seen on the Instagram grids of Aussie influencers. 

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But thanks to its popularity with backpackers, Byron Bay also has some wild nightlife.

The vibe of Byron Bay’s partying scene reminded me a lot of Lagos — a small town in Southern Portugal as famous for its turquoise beaches as the party hostels packed with Australians. 

In Byron Bay, you’re more likely to find Brits or Canadians in the hostels, which range from wooden shacks to massive teepee tents. Pregames in the shared patios are the norm — often accompanied with $10 barbecues to fit the backpacker budget — before everyone heads off to the bars. 

There’s Cheeky Monkeys, where the drinks are dirt cheap and the dance floor is just a group of metal picnic benches — literally requiring you to dance on the table. A normal night out involves running from Cheeky’s to Woody’s Surf Shack — another laid-back bar a few minutes’ walk away — to see which place has the best vibe, and the cutest tourists. 

There’s also live music and dance parties at the Beach Hotel, Saltwater Social Club, and The Rails, similarly casual surf-esque shacks where you’ll find people having a boogie and a bevvie (to borrow the Aussie lingo). 

And Byron Bay also has incredible food.

You can find just about every cuisine in Byron. My all-time favorite is Dip Cafe, where we’d go straight from the airport for a mimosa and the “Meddy Benne” — a heaping dish of potatoes topped with halloumi cheese, chorizo, poached eggs, spinach, harissa, and Hollandaise sauce. 

There’s also Combi, a popular all-vegan cafe with the most Instagram-worthy smoothies. 

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And there are plenty of hidden gems as well. One of my favorite things to eat in Byron was the dim sum offerings from Red Ginger, the Asian market across from our hostel, which we had alongside a pot of tea in the store’s backroom. 

But will the influx of Hollywood stars cause Byron to lose its laid-back charm?

I remember talking to locals in Byron Bay who were already upset with the new, shiny boutiques in downtown and the fact that it had become as much of a hot spot for influencers as broke backpackers. 

And those concerns have definitely been heightened after celebrities flocked to Australia following the government’s $400 million Location Incentive, which will provide major subsidies to international film and television productions. 

“The actors and the famous people are the tip of the iceberg,” local Byron Bay artist James McMillan told The New York Times in March. “It’s definitely changed more than I’ve ever seen it change in the past 12 months. People have got stars in their eyes.” 

When I heard that my favorite hostel, Backpackers Village, had been sold in a huge $18 million deal, it was clear that the Byron I know and love might look a lot different when I’m able to get back after Australia’s borders open to the US again. 

But once those borders finally do open, Byron is the first place I want to go.

From its incredible beaches to the wonderful locals who you get to know almost instantly in the small town, Byron Bay is one of the best places to see in Australia. 

Even if it is no longer its best-kept secret.

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