Australia enacted some of the most strict lockdown restrictions in 2020, which kept any and all tourists out. Then, in February, the country once again opened back up to Americans — just in time for the more comfortable Australian winter temperatures.
For US travelers on the West Coast, getting to Australia has never been easier thanks to a new Qantas direct route from Los Angeles to Brisbane (the business class seats are worth it if you can spring for them, as the flight is 14 hours and lie-flat seats will have you well rested and refreshed when you land). This coastal river city is the perfect jumping off point for Americans looking to head down under. Outdoor experiences, a roster of smart restaurants and bars, and classic animal experiences can all be taken in even on a short trip.
What to do in Brisbane
Moreton Bay Cruise: Moreton Island is a short 30 minute boat ride from the coast, and is well known to locals and tourists alike. The main attraction is the scuttled Tangalooma shipwrecks that act as a man-made reef for marine wildlife. I went with River to Bay, which drops guests off on the north end of the shipwrecks to allow the current to gently push them across the ocean. With the help of our guides, we snorkeled through the bright blue waters among all of the marine life (mostly a vast array of fish, but depending on the season humpback whales, dolphins, and turtles all call Moreton Island home). Depending on which cruising company you decide to go with, additional things are typically added to the itinerary, including stops for lunch and culture and history tours of areas like St. Helena Island.
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary: Local Australia fauna is on full display here. Purchase your tickets online to skip the long queue to enter the park. Time it right and you can watch the entertaining and informative Birds of Prey and Sheepdog shows back to back. But the not to be missed parts of Lone Pine are the up-close interactions you can have with the wildlife. In a designated portion of the park, guests can hand feed kangaroos and wallabies. And for a fee, you can also get your photo taken while holding a koala.
Kayak the Brisbane River with Riverlife Adventure Centre: It’s easy to see the city from the road, but seeing it from the river on a kayak offers a different (and beautiful) perspective. Admittedly, you will have to put a little bit of work to paddle against the current at the start. But once you’ve done that, you’re rewarded with a relaxing float back to your starting point.
Story Bridge Adventure Climb: Strapped in by a safety harness and escorted by a guide, you can walk 243 feet up the side of the bridge to get a 360-degree view of the city. If you book the most popular twilight tour, your climb is perfectly timed with the sunset and get to watch the sun disappear behind the skyline with the office buildings twinkling at night. Walking back down the bridge is definitely less demanding than the walk up, but it’s not everyday that you get to walk up Brisbane’s most iconic bridge.
Where to eat and drink in Brisbane
While places like Moreton Island and Story Bridge get the lion’s share of the attention, the real star of Brisbane is the food, which has strong culinary influences from Asia and Europe.
Southside: Located in South Brisbane, this restaurant offers a modern take on classic Cantonese dishes like k’gari crab, prawn, chive ha gow, wagyu xiao long bao.
Howard Smith Wharves: For those looking to check out one of Brisbane’s newest hip areas, take a visit to the Howard Smith Wharves. Located underneath the Story Bridge, the area has been completely redone with paved walkways, restaurants, and Felons Brewery. Take a stop by Mr. Percival’s (reservation recommended) for a meal of elevated pizzas, burgers, seafood, or grilled steak, lamb, or chicken (or simply an aperitivo hour from 3 to 5 on weekdays).
Maillard Project: For the early risers located in the Central Business District, (or CBD), be sure to make your way over to Maillard Project. Here, you’ll find some of the best coffee and breakfast food in town. The menu serves up some classics with a modern twist, like eggs Benedict with burnt butter and miso hollandaise sauce on a spiced walnut crumb cornbread waffle. Or order something more adventurous like the wattleseed (from the acacia plant) macadamia pudding, coffee oil, and roselle.
Joey’s: A place that’s airy and relaxing with expansive views of the Brisbane Skyline and the river. Pair that with some of the signature cocktails and seafood like prawns, oysters, and ceviche (or a wood-fired pizza if that’s more your mood), you’ve got yourself a winning combination.
Where to stay in Brisbane
We hope you love the spaces we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay.
Hotel X: Located in Fortitude Valley, this hotel is near lots of up and coming things to know in Brisbane. Here, it’s just a short walk to the Howard Smith Wharves, and the restaurants, bars, and shops on James Street are only a block away. On-site spots like Iris Rooftop Bar and the classy, yet unpretentious, Bisou Bisou are available if you want to stay at the hotel. The hotel itself is modern with the right amount of bold decor, and the rooms have a generous amount of space. One cool standout perk: the automatic shades open up every time you return to the room, so even when you’re inside you’re not missing a second of the gorgeous city views from the floor-to-ceiling windows.