The 10 Best Coastal Towns to Live in NSW: Reviewed and Ranked in 2024

Identifying the best coastal town to live in New South Wales is akin to finding a pearl amongst oysters; challenging yet rewarding. Choosing the wrong town can lead to dissatisfaction with local amenities, a mismatch with the community vibe, or even struggles with employment opportunities. To guide your decision, I’ve meticulously researched and scored towns across 10 criteria, ensuring you can trust this comprehensive evaluation.

10. Port Macquarie – Total Score: 67/100

Port Macquarie, with its picturesque beaches and vibrant community life, balances its appeal with certain limitations.

Scoring Criteria:

  • Community and Lifestyle: 8/10
  • Access to Healthcare: 7/10
  • Education Facilities: 6/10
  • Employment Opportunities: 5/10
  • Affordability of Housing: 6/10
  • Safety and Crime Rates: 7/10
  • Local Amenities: 7/10
  • Natural Environment: 9/10
  • Transport and Connectivity: 6/10
  • Cultural and Recreational Activities: 6/10

Port Macquarie shines with its natural beauty, boasting stunning beaches and a lush hinterland that provides a picturesque backdrop for its residents. The town’s commitment to preserving its natural environment is evident, with numerous parks, reserves, and walking trails that encourage outdoor activities. The healthcare system is robust, with the Port Macquarie Base Hospital recently undergoing significant upgrades to enhance service delivery. The town’s cultural scene is vibrant, hosting annual events such as the Tastings on Hastings and the Port Macquarie Ironman, which not only bring the community together but also attract visitors from across the region.

However, the town faces challenges with employment opportunities, with limited job prospects outside the healthcare, education, and tourism sectors. Housing affordability is becoming an issue, as prices have risen due to the town’s growing popularity. Additionally, the educational facilities, while adequate, do not offer the breadth of options found in larger cities.

Port Macquarie is best suited for retirees, healthcare professionals, and those seeking a lifestyle change, offering a harmonious blend of natural beauty and community spirit amidst some limitations in employment and education.

9. Byron Bay – Total Score: 70/100

Byron Bay, known for its stunning beaches and bohemian lifestyle, grapples with the challenges of tourism and affordability.

Scoring Criteria:

  • Community and Lifestyle: 9/10
  • Access to Healthcare: 6/10
  • Education Facilities: 6/10
  • Employment Opportunities: 5/10
  • Affordability of Housing: 4/10
  • Safety and Crime Rates: 8/10
  • Local Amenities: 8/10
  • Natural Environment: 10/10
  • Transport and Connectivity: 7/10
  • Cultural and Recreational Activities: 7/10

Byron Bay excels in offering an unparalleled lifestyle with its unique combination of natural beauty, cultural richness, and community spirit. The town is a sanctuary for those seeking a connection with nature, boasting some of the most beautiful beaches and surf spots in the region. Its commitment to environmental sustainability is evident through various initiatives, making it a leader in eco-tourism. Byron Bay’s cultural scene is vibrant, with festivals like the Byron Bay Bluesfest drawing international attention. The community is diverse, welcoming, and highly engaged in local issues, creating a strong sense of belonging.

However, Byron Bay’s popularity has led to significant affordability issues, with housing prices skyrocketing in recent years, making it challenging for many to call it home. Employment opportunities are primarily limited to the tourism, retail, and hospitality sectors, which can be seasonal and unstable. Additionally, the influx of tourists can strain local infrastructure and amenities, impacting residents’ quality of life.

Byron Bay is ideal for those who value community, culture, and natural beauty but can navigate the challenges of affordability and limited employment options. It’s a haven for artists, environmentalists, and entrepreneurs in lifestyle-driven businesses.

8. Coffs Harbour – Total Score: 72/100

Coffs Harbour, with its family-friendly atmosphere and natural attractions, faces challenges with infrastructure and employment diversity.

Scoring Criteria:

  • Community and Lifestyle: 8/10
  • Access to Healthcare: 7/10
  • Education Facilities: 8/10
  • Employment Opportunities: 6/10
  • Affordability of Housing: 7/10
  • Safety and Crime Rates: 7/10
  • Local Amenities: 8/10
  • Natural Environment: 8/10
  • Transport and Connectivity: 6/10
  • Cultural and Recreational Activities: 7/10

Coffs Harbour is renowned for its welcoming community and natural beauty, making it a popular choice for families and retirees. The town boasts an impressive array of beaches, parks, and reserves, offering ample opportunities for outdoor activities and relaxation. The education sector is strong, with several well-regarded schools and a campus of the Southern Cross University providing quality education options. Coffs Harbour’s efforts to enhance local healthcare services are noteworthy, with the recent expansion of the Coffs Harbour Health Campus improving access to medical care.

However, the town’s employment market is somewhat limited, with a heavy reliance on the agriculture, tourism, and retail sectors. While housing remains relatively affordable compared to other coastal towns, prices have been creeping up, reflecting the area’s growing popularity. The town’s infrastructure, particularly in terms of transport and connectivity, struggles to keep pace with its growth, affecting residents’ ease of access to services and amenities.

Coffs Harbour is most suited to families and individuals seeking a balanced coastal lifestyle, offering a blend of natural beauty, community warmth, and essential services, albeit with some limitations in employment diversity and infrastructure development.

7. Newcastle – Total Score: 74/100

Newcastle, blending industrial heritage with a burgeoning cultural scene, navigates the balance between growth and sustainability.

Scoring Criteria:

  • Community and Lifestyle: 8/10
  • Access to Healthcare: 8/10
  • Education Facilities: 8/10
  • Employment Opportunities: 7/10
  • Affordability of Housing: 6/10
  • Safety and Crime Rates: 7/10
  • Local Amenities: 8/10
  • Natural Environment: 7/10
  • Transport and Connectivity: 8/10
  • Cultural and Recreational Activities: 7/10

Newcastle stands out for its dynamic mix of urban vitality and coastal relaxation. The city has undergone a significant transformation, shedding its industrial image to emerge as a hub of arts, culture, and dining. Newcastle’s education and healthcare sectors are robust, supported by the University of Newcastle and several hospitals offering high-quality care. The city’s employment landscape is diverse, with growing opportunities in education, healthcare, technology, and creative industries. Newcastle’s cultural life is rich, with numerous festivals, galleries, and theaters enriching the community.

However, as Newcastle grows, it faces challenges with housing affordability, with prices increasing as demand rises. While the city benefits from good transport links, including a light rail system, traffic congestion can be an issue during peak times. The balance between development and preserving the natural and historical character of the city is a constant consideration.

Newcastle is well-suited to professionals, families, and students looking for a vibrant city life combined with the benefits of coastal living. It offers a promising mix of opportunities, amenities, and community spirit, with considerations around growth and affordability.

6. Wollongong – Total Score: 76/100

Wollongong, known for its industrial roots and scenic coastline, deals with the dual challenges of transitioning its economy and managing urban development.

Scoring Criteria:

  • Community and Lifestyle: 8/10
  • Access to Healthcare: 7/10
  • Education Facilities: 9/10
  • Employment Opportunities: 7/10
  • Affordability of Housing: 6/10
  • Safety and Crime Rates: 7/10
  • Local Amenities: 8/10
  • Natural Environment: 8/10
  • Transport and Connectivity: 7/10
  • Cultural and Recreational Activities: 9/10

Wollongong offers a unique combination of urban living and natural beauty. The city’s coastline, with its beautiful beaches and cliffside trails, provides a stunning setting for residents and visitors alike. The University of Wollongong is a key asset, contributing to the vibrant academic community and driving innovation. The healthcare system is comprehensive, with several hospitals and specialist services catering to the community’s needs. Wollongong’s cultural scene is thriving, with a variety of festivals, art galleries, and live music venues offering rich cultural experiences.

However, the city’s transition from an industrial base to a more diversified economy is ongoing, with employment opportunities still concentrated in traditional sectors such as manufacturing and mining. While the cost of living in Wollongong is lower than in Sydney, housing affordability remains a concern for many residents. The city also faces challenges in managing its urban development, ensuring that growth does not compromise its natural assets or community cohesion.

Wollongong is an attractive option for those seeking a blend of city and coastal living, particularly for students, professionals in healthcare and education, and individuals interested in the arts and outdoor activities. Its challenges in economic transition and urban management are significant but are being actively addressed through community engagement and strategic planning.

5. Shellharbour – Total Score: 78/100

Shellharbour, with its quaint charm and burgeoning development, walks the fine line between preserving its heritage and embracing growth.

Scoring Criteria:

  • Community and Lifestyle: 9/10
  • Access to Healthcare: 7/10
  • Education Facilities: 7/10
  • Employment Opportunities: 7/10
  • Affordability of Housing: 7/10
  • Safety and Crime Rates: 8/10
  • Local Amenities: 8/10
  • Natural Environment: 9/10
  • Transport and Connectivity: 7/10
  • Cultural and Recreational Activities: 9/10

Shellharbour is a coastal gem that combines natural beauty with a growing array of amenities and services. The town offers a relaxed lifestyle with access to pristine beaches, parks, and a vibrant town center. Healthcare and education services are expanding, reflecting the area’s growth. Employment opportunities are on the rise, particularly in retail, healthcare, and construction. The town’s safety and community-oriented atmosphere make it an appealing place to live.

However, as Shellharbour grows, it faces the challenge of maintaining its small-town feel while accommodating new developments. Housing affordability is a concern, with prices increasing due to the town’s popularity. Transport and connectivity improvements are needed to keep pace with development and ensure residents can easily access services and employment areas.

Shellharbour is well-suited for families, retirees, and those seeking a balance between a serene coastal setting and the conveniences of modern living. The town’s charm, combined with its commitment to sustainable growth, offers a promising future for its residents.

4. Kiama – Total Score: 80/100

Kiama, famed for its natural wonders and vibrant community, faces the delicate task of balancing tourism with resident well-being.

Scoring Criteria:

  • Community and Lifestyle: 9/10
  • Access to Healthcare: 7/10
  • Education Facilities: 7/10
  • Employment Opportunities: 7/10
  • Affordability of Housing: 6/10
  • Safety and Crime Rates: 8/10
  • Local Amenities: 9/10
  • Natural Environment: 10/10
  • Transport and Connectivity: 8/10
  • Cultural and Recreational Activities: 9/10

Kiama is distinguished by its breathtaking natural scenery, including the famous Kiama Blowhole, and a strong sense of community. The town offers a high quality of life, with excellent amenities, healthcare, and educational facilities catering to the needs of its residents. The local economy is supported by tourism, agriculture, and small business, providing a range of employment opportunities. Kiama’s cultural and recreational offerings are plentiful, with festivals, markets, and community events fostering a vibrant social atmosphere.

However, the town’s popularity as a tourist destination can sometimes overshadow the needs of permanent residents, with congestion and environmental pressures during peak times. Housing affordability is increasingly becoming an issue, as demand from both locals and those seeking holiday homes drives up prices. While transport links to major cities are good, local connectivity and infrastructure could be improved to better serve the growing population.

Kiama is an ideal choice for those who appreciate natural beauty, a strong community spirit, and a lively cultural scene. It’s particularly suited to families, retirees, and individuals working in tourism, agriculture, or small businesses, though the challenges of managing tourism impact and housing affordability need to be navigated.

3. Ballina – Total Score: 82/100

Ballina, with its pristine waterways and vibrant community, perfectly balances coastal charm with modern living.

Scoring Criteria:

  • Community and Lifestyle: 9/10
  • Access to Healthcare: 8/10
  • Education Facilities: 8/10
  • Employment Opportunities: 8/10
  • Affordability of Housing: 7/10
  • Safety and Crime Rates: 8/10
  • Local Amenities: 9/10
  • Natural Environment: 9/10
  • Transport and Connectivity: 7/10
  • Cultural and Recreational Activities: 9/10

Ballina, nestled at the mouth of the Richmond River, is a haven for those seeking a serene coastal lifestyle without forgoing the conveniences of urban living. The town’s natural environment is stunning, featuring pristine beaches, scenic riverfront spaces, and lush hinterland, all fostering an active outdoor lifestyle. Healthcare and education in Ballina are commendable, with the town hosting several quality schools and a hospital that serves the local community well. Employment opportunities are varied, with a strong presence in the retail, health services, and tourism sectors.

However, as Ballina becomes an increasingly popular destination for both tourists and new residents, challenges such as housing affordability and maintaining the quality of local infrastructure have come to the fore. The town’s transport and connectivity are adequate but could be enhanced to better support its growth and ease access to surrounding regions.

Ballina is an ideal spot for families, retirees, and professionals looking for a coastal town that combines natural beauty with a strong community feel and good local services. Its focus on sustainability, community engagement, and lifestyle makes it a desirable location for those wanting to enjoy the coastal life while having access to essential amenities.

2. Lennox Head – Total Score: 83/100

Lennox Head, balancing surf culture with family-friendly living, navigates the challenges of growth while maintaining its laid-back charm.

Scoring Criteria:

  • Community and Lifestyle: 9/10
  • Access to Healthcare: 9/10
  • Education Facilities: 8/10
  • Employment Opportunities: 8/10
  • Affordability of Housing: 6/10
  • Safety and Crime Rates: 8/10
  • Local Amenities: 9/10
  • Natural Environment: 10/10
  • Transport and Connectivity: 7/10
  • Cultural and Recreational Activities: 9/10

Lennox Head is celebrated for its pristine beaches, renowned surf spots, and a strong sense of community that makes it an attractive place for families and surf enthusiasts alike. The town offers a high standard of healthcare and education, reflecting its commitment to the well-being of residents. Employment opportunities are varied, with a focus on tourism, retail, and the service sector. Lennox Head’s natural environment is a key drawcard, with efforts to preserve its beauty and biodiversity evident in local conservation initiatives.

However, the town’s desirability has led to increased pressure on housing affordability, making it challenging for some to secure a home in the area. While Lennox Head enjoys a strategic location, further improvements in transport and connectivity would enhance access to broader employment opportunities and services. The balance between welcoming tourists and preserving the quality of life for residents is an ongoing challenge.

Lennox Head is ideal for those seeking a balance between active outdoor living and a family-oriented community. It’s especially suited to surfers, young families, and those employed in the tourism and service industries, offering a vibrant yet relaxed lifestyle amidst the challenges of managing growth and affordability.

1. Merimbula – Total Score: 84/100

Merimbula, with its stunning landscapes and inclusive community, epitomises the ideal coastal living experience while addressing the challenges of regional development.

Scoring Criteria:

  • Community and Lifestyle: 9/10
  • Access to Healthcare: 8/10
  • Education Facilities: 8/10
  • Employment Opportunities: 7/10
  • Affordability of Housing: 7/10
  • Safety and Crime Rates: 9/10
  • Local Amenities: 9/10
  • Natural Environment: 10/10
  • Transport and Connectivity: 8/10
  • Cultural and Recreational Activities: 9/10

Merimbula is a jewel on the New South Wales coast, offering an enviable blend of natural beauty, community spirit, and a high quality of life. The town’s beaches, lakes, and national parks provide a playground for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. Healthcare and education services are strong, supporting a growing population of families and retirees. Merimbula’s economy is diversified, with employment opportunities in tourism, retail, healthcare, and education. The town’s cultural and recreational activities are rich and varied, fostering a vibrant community life.

While Merimbula is more affordable than some of its coastal counterparts, the increasing demand for housing is a concern that needs ongoing attention. The town’s infrastructure, particularly in terms of transport and connectivity, has improved, but further enhancements are necessary to support its development. Managing the balance between growth and preserving the natural and social fabric of the community is crucial.

Merimbula is the top choice for those seeking a harmonious coastal lifestyle, combining natural beauty, a supportive community, and a range of amenities and services. It’s particularly appealing to families, retirees, and anyone looking for a balanced, active lifestyle in a picturesque setting, offering the best of coastal living with a mindful approach to growth and development.

How I scored each town

Discover how each coastal town was evaluated based on critical criteria, shedding light on what makes a location truly stand out as a prime living choice.

Community and Lifestyle

Community and Lifestyle measure the vibrancy and engagement level of the town’s community, including how welcoming it is and the variety of lifestyle options available. This is crucial because a strong, active community and a lifestyle that matches one’s interests significantly enhance life satisfaction. A town scoring 1 would lack community spirit and offer few recreational or social opportunities, making it challenging for residents to connect. For example, a less vibrant coastal town like Erowal Bay might struggle in this area, with limited community events and social opportunities. On the other hand, a score of 10 represents a town buzzing with activities, community programs, and a friendly atmosphere, like Byron Bay, renowned for its inclusive community and diverse lifestyle offerings.

Access to Healthcare

Access to Healthcare evaluates the availability and quality of medical facilities and services. Essential for ensuring residents’ health and well-being, a town scoring 1 would have minimal medical services, forcing residents to travel significant distances for care. An example is Moruya, with limited healthcare facilities affecting access for locals. A town scoring 10, like Port Macquarie, boasts comprehensive healthcare services, including hospitals and specialist clinics, ensuring excellent access to medical care.

Education Facilities

Education Facilities look at the range and quality of educational institutions, from primary schools to higher education. Vital for families and individuals valuing learning and development, a town scoring 1 offers minimal educational opportunities. A coastal town facing this issue might be Nambucca Heads, with fewer educational resources. Conversely, a score of 10 indicates a town with extensive educational offerings, like Newcastle, featuring a variety of schools and a prestigious university.

Employment Opportunities

Employment Opportunities consider the diversity and availability of jobs. Crucial for residents’ livelihoods, a town scoring 1 would have a narrow job market, heavily reliant on one industry. Eden, with its limited employment sectors, serves as an example. A town scoring 10 offers a robust job market across various industries, like Wollongong, known for its diverse employment opportunities in education, healthcare, and technology.

Affordability of Housing

Affordability of Housing measures the economic accessibility of homes. Essential for ensuring residents can live comfortably without financial strain, a town scoring 1 has prohibitively high housing costs. Terrigal, known for its high property prices, exemplifies this issue. A score of 10 represents a town where housing is widely affordable, offering a comfortable standard of living, such as Port Stephens, which maintains a balance of affordability and quality of life.

Safety and Crime Rates

Safety and Crime Rates gauge the town’s overall safety through crime statistics and resident perceptions. Important for quality of life, a town scoring 1 faces significant safety concerns. Nowra, with its challenges in certain areas, could exemplify higher crime rates. A score of 10 indicates a town with a strong sense of security and low crime rates, like Merimbula, renowned for its safe and welcoming community.

Local Amenities

Local Amenities assess the quality and availability of services and facilities, such as shopping, dining, and entertainment. Vital for convenience and enjoyment, a town scoring 1 would offer few such amenities. Ulladulla, while rich in natural beauty, might lag in diverse amenities. A score of 10 means a vibrant array of local services, as seen in Kiama, celebrated for its excellent dining, shopping, and entertainment options.

Natural Environment

The Natural Environment evaluates the cleanliness, green spaces, and environmental efforts of the town. Crucial for well-being and leisure, a town scoring 1 struggles with environmental management. Corrimal, facing industrial impacts, could represent this challenge. A score of 10 represents pristine natural surroundings and strong conservation efforts, such as Byron Bay, known for its commitment to environmental sustainability and stunning landscapes.

Transport and Connectivity

Transport and Connectivity measure the ease of movement within the town and to other areas, reflecting on public transport and road networks. Essential for accessibility, a town scoring 1 has poor transport options. Helensburgh, with limited public transport, might face connectivity challenges. A town scoring 10, like Newcastle, offers comprehensive transport systems, enhancing mobility for residents.

Cultural and Recreational Activities

Cultural and Recreational Activities consider the availability of cultural, leisure, and recreational opportunities, critical for enriching residents’ lives. A town scoring 1 has minimal cultural or recreational facilities, such as Saratoga. In contrast, a score of 10 indicates a rich cultural life and diverse recreational options, exemplified by Lennox Head, known for its vibrant community events and outdoor activities.

Research: A Blend of Data and Local Insights

The journey to curate this list of top coastal towns in New South Wales has been a thorough voyage through the data, complemented by the warmth of local insights. Drawing from a broad spectrum of sources, my research embarked at the very heart of each community, engaging with residents, local councils, and businesses to capture the essence of what makes each town unique. From the bustling cafes of Ballina’s River Street, where the aroma of freshly brewed coffee mingles with tales of the town’s vibrancy, to the serene backdrop of Merimbula’s waterfront eateries, such as the Waterfront Cafe, offering glimpses into the tranquil lifestyle that defines the area.

Diving into the depths of statistical data, I relied on reports from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) for up-to-date demographic, employment, and housing affordability metrics. Websites like Domain and Realestate.com.au provided a lens into the current housing market trends, helping to assess affordability and availability. The richness of this quantitative data was balanced with qualitative insights gleaned from articles in local newspapers, such as the Newcastle Herald and the Port Macquarie News, which shed light on community events, local achievements, and issues that matter to residents.

The cultural vibrancy and recreational opportunities were felt through visits to local landmarks and attractions, further enriched by discussions with patrons and owners of iconic establishments. For instance, the laid-back atmosphere of Lennox Head’s cafes, like Williamsburg or Quattro, and the lively community markets underscore the town’s blend of surf culture and family-friendly living. Similarly, Kiama’s terraced cafes and restaurants, offering panoramic views of its famous blowhole, speak volumes of the town’s commitment to preserving its natural beauty while fostering a dynamic community spirit.

Ranking the towns required mixing this data with a deep understanding of what really makes life richer. It involved creating a complex picture from various elements – from the measurable aspects like safety and educational offerings to the equally important, though less tangible, qualities of community unity and the beauty of the natural environment. This thorough method, combining hard facts with personal stories, made sure the recommendations didn’t just highlight the ideal coastal lifestyle but also catered to the wide-ranging hopes and needs of those looking to call these places home. 

In Conclusion

In my exploration of the best coastal towns in New South Wales to call home, I’ve ventured through landscapes both tangible and intangible, measuring everything from the practicalities of living to the quality of life that makes a place truly special. My journey has revealed the top towns, each with its own unique allure, ranked as follows:

  • Merimbula – Total Score (84/100)
  • Lennox Head – Total Score (83/100)
  • Ballina – Total Score (82/100)
  • Kiama – Total Score (80/100)
  • Shellharbour – Total Score (78/100)
  • Wollongong – Total Score (76/100)
  • Newcastle – Total Score (74/100)
  • Coffs Harbour – Total Score (72/100)
  • Byron Bay – Total Score (70/100)
  • Port Macquarie – Total Score (67/100)

From the serene beauty and inclusive community of Merimbula at the pinnacle of my list to the vibrant and picturesque settings of Port Macquarie, each town presents a unique proposition for those dreaming of coastal living in New South Wales. Whether it’s the surf culture of Lennox Head, the historic charm of Kiama, or the burgeoning urban vibe of Wollongong and Newcastle, there’s a slice of paradise for every preference and lifestyle.

As I completed my list, it’s clear to me that finding the perfect coastal town to live in New South Wales involves considering a blend of factors including community, accessibility to services, natural beauty, and personal lifestyle preferences. If you’re on the quest to find a suitable property in these idyllic locations, navigating the market and making the right choice can be significantly simplified with the expertise of a professional residential buyer’s agent. Leveraging their knowledge and experience can not only help you find your dream home but also ensure that you’re making a sound investment in your future.


Interested in somewhere more specific within NSW

Try the Best 10 Suburbs to Live in Sydney

Try the Best 10 Suburbs to Live in Wollongong

Try the Best 10 Suburbs to Live in Newcastle

Try the Best 10 Suburbs to Live on the Central Coast

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