When was the last time you actually took time to explore Geelong? While it's long been regarded as the gateway to the Great Ocean Road, the ex-industrial city is quickly becoming a holiday location in its own right. Its beaches are friendly, its culture growing and its food is five stars. Not to mention it's only an hour's drive from Melbourne and can be easily accessed by VLine train. Here's your guide to experiencing the best of Geelong.
Regardless of the air temperature, a sunny day in Geelong is best spent on the waterfront. It’s here that you’ll find the city’s famous painted bollards. There are 100 in total, and each recycled timber bollard (they were reclaimed from old piers) depicts characters from the city’s history.
We suggest starting at the eastern end of the bollard walk, Limeburners Point, where there is plenty of parking. Working your way west you’ll see some Geelong’s best seaside attractions such as Eastern Beach Reserve. Everyone flocks here on hot days for a dip in the shark-proof ocean pool, and the adventurous souls enter via diving board or tower. There’s also a splash pool for children, a playground, public toilets, picnic facilities and a circular boardwalk around the ocean pool for those determined to stay dry.
Continue strolling west and you’ll pass the Geelong’s carousel. This merry-go-round was built in 1892 but has been restored and fitted so that wheelchair users can also go for a spin. Further east is Cunningham Pier, a favourite spot for fisherman. For those with young kids, schedule in a stop at MoPA – the Museum of Play and Art. This childrens museum features lots of interactive exhibits that have designed in line with childhood education guidelines.
If the heavens open during your Geelong getaway and you need an indoor activity, head for Geelong Gallery. The late 19th-century gallery has a significant permanent collection as well as regularly hosting fascinating contemporary exhibitions. Bookworms will be happy to hear that right next door is Geelong Library, aka ‘the dome’ (one look and you’ll see why). And just a short drive from the CBD is Geelong’s iteration of the Amazing Mill Markets (basically a giant warehouse filled with curated vintage finds).
Geelong isn’t called the gateway city for nothing, and being at the crossroads of several key food producing regions in Victoria provides the city with a thriving restaurant scene. If you like your food fine, make a reservation at Igni. The five-star, degustation-only restaurant is big on showcasing small producers in the region – hence the menu is constantly changing depending on what is in season.
Not as fancy but just as fine is Alma, a South American restaurant that’s all about food you can share with friends and family (over a few Pisco Sours, of course). Just around the corner you’ll find Sober Ramen, a shoebox-sized, IKEA-chic ramen bar. There are no bookings, and it’s so tiny that it’s unwise to bring more than one dinner guest. When the ramen (and selection of natural wines) is this good, though, your dinner date is really playing second fiddle.
Pop in your car and head to Freshwater Creek (about 20 minutes outside Geelong) to visit Common Ground Project. The venue is part café, part social enterprise and part farm, with produce grown on site used in the café menu (which features, among other things, breakfast gnocchi).
Those looking for sweets by the sea best head to Twisted Dessert Bar. Everything from the decor to the dishes is sweet here, with a pastel-hued fitout straight out of a 2010 Katy Perry film clip. It’s here you can enjoy thick slabs of New York cheesecake, brownie-topped hot chocolates and pavlova sandwiches (two meringues sandwiched with cream and various toppings).
If you want to imbibe in Geelong you’ve got plenty of options. Fremantle brewery Little Creatures set up its east coast brewery at 1920s Geelong wool mill in 2013, with the exact same pale ale recipe that made it so popular in WA. The team transformed the disused building into a multi-venue space and brewery that manages to simultaneously cater for groups of friends, couples and families with kids. Go for the beer but stay for the food, which runs the gamut from kangaroo skewers to woodfired pizzas.
Arguably one of the coolest watering holes in Geelong is 18th Amendment, a speakeasy-style bar that prides itself on its cocktail menu. You don’t need to know your Negronis from your Old Fashioneds to drink here: the menu has a legend to help you choose, or the staff can set you up depending on your tastes. Or if your motto is “location, location, location”, go for a drink at Wah Bah. The bar is located at the end of Cunningham Pier and has the option to buy all its cocktails as jugs (to share with your mates) as well as a dedicated bao menu.
Staying in Geelong also puts you in pole position to check out the region’s surrounding wineries. This is pinot noir country, and some of our favourite viticulturists in the area include Curlewis Winery, Scotchman’s Hill and Jack Rabbit Winery.
The outskirts of Geelong are also home to Flying Brick Cider Co. The low-key, rustic building produces three ciders (original, draught and pear), which lean dry and are made from fermenting 100 per cent Victorian apples as well as Packham pears. Or if whisky is your poison, put aside some time for an afternoon at the Whiskery. This unassuming cellar door is the home of the Bellarine Distillery and is set on a lush, fairytale-esque plot of land (which grows many of the ingredients used in the cocktails).
Want ocean views? Book a room at Novotel Geelong. The waterfront hotel had a $3.5 million facelift in 2019, with every room getting a revamp. There’s a beachy chic-ness to the hotel, with the green, gold and blue colour scheme reflecting the hues of Steampacket Gardens just over the road.
If you prefer friendly cows over rolling waves, the Nest eco pods are both luxurious and sustainable. The free-standing pods were designed with maximum privacy in mind (the only creatures who’ll be able to see you are the aforementioned bovines), use pure filtered rainwater and are powered during the day solely by solar.