Our special annual list of the local places to be, the food to eat, the drinks to enjoy and the businesses to support across the Tropical North in 2020.
From taste testing a new menu at our favourite restaurants and bars to attending sneak peeks of startup businesses and brand launches, the Tropic team is always exploring the fantastic, the awesome and the cool across the Cairns region.
The inaugural Tropic 100 list is our carefully selected and curated guide to all that is special about our slice of tropical paradise. The Tropic team selected this list based solely on our personal recommendations and experiences, and those of our readers.
The Tropic 100 represents the diversity of offerings and adventures available to all of us, visitors and residents alike.
This list is also a wake-up call. Use it or lose it, as the saying goes, so we encourage you to get out there and support the local, the independent, and the high-quality offerings we’ve found and loved right across the Tropical North.
We think you’ll love them too.
Don’t go to a mega hardware chain like Bunnings to buy your plants: local and passionate is always best as our selection below shows. Just visit the Tropic office on Mulgrave Rd to see how much we love our greenery.
1. The Palms
Escape the daily grind at The Palms. This urban sanctuary at Aeroglen is filled with luscious indoor plants, planters, books, bespoke homewares as well as a fantastic espresso bar.
Plants plus good coffee? Adds up to a must visit spot.
2. Cairns Bonsai Society
4. Yuruga Nursery
Tropic HQ is just around the corner from Succuliving, so we’re regulars at this cute little shop that overflows with lush greenery, cool homewares and great coffee.
The place is owned by super-talented sister duo Chu Baptista and Smilyn Baptista-Schouteten, and we check it out every chance we get — you should too.
6. Botanic Republic
This gorgeous space inside Oceana Walk is dedicated to the flowers.
Creating bespoke arrangements and the opportunity for you to get lost in the jungle of indoor plants is what Botanic Republic is all about.
Owner Melanie Constable has created a true oasis in the Cairns CBD.
There’s always more each of us can do to help our planet thrive, regardless of the global argy-bargy over climate change. From plastic-free shopping to our fave eco-themed event, here’s how you can play a role.
This Cairns Regional Council event keeps growing in popularity, further evidence locals want to live more sustainably
9. Eco Nappy Service
10. Funki Trunki
11. Molly Steer’s Straw No More campaign
This brilliant online shop is based out of Palm Cove, but its potential audience is worldwide.
Selling eco-friendly products, including many made here in TNQ, Eorth is a go-to hub for plastic-free products in plastic-free packaging.
Apart from getting goodies for your own home, Eorth.com.au is also a great source for gifts.
These local shops are living proof that bricks and mortar retail isn’t dead.
13. Coco Shop
We love the aesthetic style and curated selection of products at Coco Shop at this new Freshwater retailer.
MORE INFO ON COCOSHOP.
14. The Gordonvale retail precinct, centred on Bryce's Arcade
15. Visit an op shop or secondhand store such as Crackerbox Palace
16. Makin' Whoopee
Fun, colourful, stylish and funky. That’s Makin’ Whoopee, one of our go-to retail shops for all occasions.
This shop on Shields St is home to local and Australian made goodness and represents artists, crafters and makers of jewellery, ceramics, homewares, clothing, toys, and more.
MORE INFO ON MAKIN' WHOOPEE
17. The Green House Environment Shop
18. LP Records
As die-hard music lovers, the Tropic crew would be lost without LP Records. Seriously. Located in Oceana Walk Arcade, the selection of new and second-hand vinyl, band t-shirts, memorabilia and more is our idea of retail heaven. Recently, we picked up a rare Beastie Boys album on CD here.
Now that’s old school cool for you.
19. Oceana Walk Arcade
20. Our favourite arts-inspired shops at Cairns Art Gallery and Kick Arts
21. Penlan Street Co.
The food scene in the Cairns region continues to evolve, and we’re all the better (and slightly poorer and paunchier) for it.
22. Paper Crane at Riley
23. Nu Nu Restaurant
24. Japanese fare such as Wawawa Izakaya, O'Cha Cha, Ganbaranba, Matsuri, Haruka and any number of sushi spots.
NOA is a restaurant that does it all, and does it all really well.
Their sweet and savoury breakfast boards are ideal for those indecisive mornings, and their fennel-sprinkled eggplant chips and house-made sodas are delightful any time of day.
Also, amazing for dinner!
26. Prawn Star
27. Moku Bar and Grill at Novotel Cairns
28. Golden Boat for yum cha
29. Oaks Kitchen & Garden
This is a true seed-to-plate experience, offering chef's table dining, cooking classes and catering with south-east Asian flavours.
Add in the lush Oak Beach surrounds and you're in for an outstanding meal from owners Ben Wallace and Rachael Boon.
30. Samgasat Thai Cuisine
This gem on the edge of Edge Hill has emerged as possibly the city’s best Thai spot.
Samgasat proves you don’t need to head into the Cairns CBD for great food. We absolutely love the Kow Soy Northern Thai Chicken Curry, one of Samgasat’s best sellers.
Open from 5pm to 10pm, Tuesday to Sunday.
MORE INFO ON SAMGASAT HERE
31. The Chambers
32. Waterbar & Grill
34. Yankee D's Bar 'N' Q
One look at the smoker out in the Yankee D’s courtyard and you’ll know these guys are serious about meat.
Menu highlights include some truly OTT burgers, quality steaks, and bourbon cola pork ribs.
We love it all!
MORE INFO ON YANKEE D'S HERE.
35. Alessandro's Pizzeria
36. Salsa in Port Douglas
37. Ochre Restaurant
38. Apex Milk Bar
39. CC's at Bailey
40. Samosas from Govinda's Yummies at Rusty's Markets
41. C'est Bon
Make 2020 the year of self-care (and by that we mean more than just the occasional bubble-bath and lay-in). There are loads of resources on offer around town to help you become the healthiest, happiest version of yourself.
42. Thrive in Work
This innovative, important local service, run by Worklink, provides support and advice to businesses who want to look after the mental health and well-being of staff. Get in touch to make an appointment – your staff, not to mention your bottom line, will thank you for it.
43. Tai Chi on the Cairns Esplanade
44. Shine Strong Psychology
Gradually, mental health is becoming a mainstream topic. If you’re not well, in any way or degree, talk to your GP or make an appointment with a psychologist, like one at Shine Strong Psychology. Shine Strong facilitates women's wellbeing retreats in Bali. That's a blissful six days away, supported by a tribe of ladies.
45. Float Studio
If you haven’t tried The Float Studio yet, we urge you to make the time and experience the benefits.
Described as the place where “where you do nothing - and gain everything”, The Float Studio is an immersive, relaxing, calming session for yourself – a necessity in our busy lives.
46. Yoga, Pilates and meditation: we’re regulars at QPilates at Piccones Shopping Village on Pease St, but there are plenty of studios and teachers right across the region to help you stretch, relax, exercise and calm your mind.
Support a charity
With so many charities and causes to choose from, how do you know what to support? We believe money raised locally should stay in the local community to support local residents – which is why we recommend and support the following organisations.
48. FNQ Hospital Foundation
49. Dr Edward Koch Foundation's FNQ suicide prevention programs
50. Ruth's Women's Shelter
Holiday at home
With so many options to choose from Cardwell in the south to the Torres Strait in the north, and out to the Tablelands, it’s time to book your next staycation.
51. Sweetwater Lodge
Surrounded by the magnificent Mt Lewis mountain range, this hidden gem at Julatten is your next favourite weekend hideaway. Stay in the Gypsy Wagon, and thank us later.
52. Silky Oaks Lodge
Enjoy next level luxury – literally – when you stay in a treetop suite at this stunning Tablelands getaway. Cool cocktails by the riverside, awe-inspiring rainforest surrounds and the Treehouse Restaurant, Silky Oaks Lodge is a luxurious, secluded must-do for a holiday at home.
MORE INFO ON SILKY OAKS.
53. Crystalbrook Collection
Riley, Bailey and soon-to-open Flynn really are exceptional places to stay. We love the thoughtful details at each property and the attentive and friendly staff. Crystalbrook is a true game changer for Cairns tourism. If you haven’t had a holiday at home at one of their properties yet, what have you been doing with your weekends?
MORE INFO ON CRYSTALBROOK COLLECTION.
54. Fitzroy Island
55. Mission Beach and Dunk Island
In addition to recently purchasing Dunk Island, investment company Mayfair 101 has also been awarded the tender for the Dunk Island Spit in what will be a major draw card for the Mission Beach region. It will be interesting to see what else Mayfair has planned for Mission. Watch this space.
Being magazine publishers, we love print. Obviously. In our fast-paced, screen-obsessed lives, reading a book (or magazine) is one of our team’s great pleasures.
56. Cairns Libraries
We’re huge fans of our city's eight local libraries. The staff are always helpful, friendly and keen to recommend a great read.
57. Cairns Books and QBD at Cairns Central
58. Whileaway in Port Douglas
59. Collins Booksellers at Smithfield Shopping Centre
60. Second-hand bookshops such as The Book Lounge, Sue's Bookshop, Gemini Book Exchange and more.
People from around the world visit our place on holiday, but we get to live here – let’s make the most of it!
61. Track down a cassowary at Etty Bay
62. Climb Mt Bartle Frere via Josephine Falls
63. Lake Eacham
There’s nothing like a dip in Lake Eacham to cool off. Whether you swim before or after you experience the delights of the rainforest on the 3km-circuit walking track is entirely up to you, but it really is a must.
64. Stroll and shop at Yungabarra Village
65. Pick your own strawberries at Tolga
66. Paronella Park
67. Original and Heritage Markets at Kuranda
68. Get your local history on at Cooktown
Yeah, we don’t mind a drink. Here’s where we go for a refreshing ale or creative cocktail.
69. Craft Beer
Hemingway’s Brewery is on a mission to educate our taste buds. Their credo is that beer tastes best when it’s local and fresh, after all. We tested this theory, and we wholeheartedly agree. Apart from the variety of beer on offer, their Cairns and Port Douglas venues are among our favourites hangouts in TNQ.
MORE INFO ON HEMINGWAY'S.
Macalister Brewing Company
In a short space of time, Macalister’s has become a local institution.
With a picturesque view over cane fields, minimalist décor in an industrial shed and truly sensational beer brewed on site, Macalister’s is a must-do favourite on the Cairns hospitality scene.
MORE INFO ON MACALISTER BREWING COMPANY.
Also recommended: Barrier Reef Brewing Co. and Coral Sea Brewing Co.
Miss Chief Bar and Eatery
Miss Chief Bar and Eatery might be perched right above the hustle of Cairns on the corner of Spence and Lake Sts, but this venue's verdant spaces and relaxed tropical vibes will take you away from it all.
It's intimate and lush, and the food is really, really great, too.
The city’s pioneering small bar and remains one of the best. Don’t forget to try the tapas menu – great food to match an outstanding drinks menu.
The comfiest place in Cairns for a catch-up drink and speciality grazing platter.
The Conservatory Bar is one of our go-to spots in the CBD for a pre or post dinner wine, bespoke cocktail or craft beer.
Rocco by Crystalbrook
Cairns was crying out for a rooftop bar, and Crystalbrook Collection’s Riley Resort delivered – and then some. This is a spot you keep coming back to for more than just the amazing view.
MORE INFO ON ROCCO.
Harbourside Bar & Kitchen
This natural wine bar at Holiday Inn Cairns features over 400 wines accompanied by delicious food. Natural wine is the next big thing in winemaking, and the setting here overlooking the Esplanade is gorgeous.
HB&K sommelier Christopher Ford is often on hand to guide guests on their choices.
Also recommended: Jimmy Rum's Mixing Lounge and Laneway Green
71. Local distilleries
Wolf Lane Distillery
This micro-distillery in the heart of Cairns is home to handcrafted gin that delivers a slice of paradise: a new world gin that will delight the most hardened gin fanatic and novice alike.
With a citrus-forward taste and hits of our tropical paradise, this is a truly unique New World Australian gin.
MORE INFO ON WOLF LANE DISTILLERY
Also recommended: Mt Uncle Distillery and Wild River Mountain Distillery
Fitness & adventure
We’re blessed with beautiful natural surrounds, so there’s no excuse when it comes to getting out and about across the Tropical North.
72. Northern Beaches Leisure Trail
A wonderful project by Cairns Regional Council to connect Palm Cove with Cairns city via bike and walking paths.
73. The Arrows
An old favourite, and a worthy one. How good are the Red, Blue, Yellow and Green Arrows of Cairns?
74. Babinda Kayaking
75. Hiking trails
So many to choose from... click here for various lists of our favourites.
Coffee & cafes
Tropic HQ pretty much runs on coffee. All the coffee. All the time. Here’s where we get our caffeine fixes.
Envy Espresso is a retreat from the bustle of Grafton street where people come to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and exceptional specialty coffee.
Owner and head barista James Duan has created one of our new favourite CBD caffeine fixes.
77. White Whale Coffee Roasters
As pioneers of the Cairns coffee scene, White Whale is hands down one of our favourite cafes and coffee suppliers in town. Their groovy industrial shed at Portsmith, warm smiles of staff and onsite roastery make this one for your caffeine hit list.
78. Brother Jenkins
A favourite haunt of our editor Gavin King, this charming cafe on Martyn St does one of the best brunches in town, along with awesome coffee, yummy lunches and even a must-try Bloody Mary. We also dig their logo!
Check them out, especially on a Sunday when so many Cairns cafes are closed.
79. Jacques Coffee
Life is too short to drink supermarket coffee beans. Instead, grab some local beans from Jaques Coffee.
You can venture to their plantation in the Tablelands, which features a sprawling coffee plantation, an onsite roastery and a fully licensed restaurant and café.
Or, grab a bag from their online shop.
MORE INFO ON JACQUES COFFEE
80. 27 Degrees
This Palm Cove fave is effortlessly cool, combining good coffee and tasty treats with cruisy Miami Beach-style vibes. Grab your bite and pull up a spot out the front where you can people watch and gaze out beyond the beach.
The acai bowls are among our menu go-to's.
Also recommended: Mama Coco, Espresso & Co, Ten One Twenty, Petals and Pinecones in Atherton, Tattooed Sailor, Blackbird, Cruze, Chamber Room, Origin in Port Douglas, Veloce Espresso Bar at Kewarra Beach, and Two Blocks at Holloway's Beach.
The event and festival scene in Cairns has developed to the point where you’ll be able to attend a great event —or several— each and every weekend throughout 2020.
81. The festivals and big events we’re looking forward to in 2020 include: our food festival Meet Eat Repeat (big things for MER in 2020!), music extravaganza Grass Is Greener and Scene & Heard, Ironman Cairns, Cairns Indigenous Art Fair, Cairns Festival, Port Douglas Carnivale, Tour of the Tropics cycling race, and so much more!
For a curated list of weekend events in the Cairns region, don’t forget to check out our Tropic Weekender guide published every Friday.
Arts & Culture
Cairns Regional Council wants our city to become the arts capital of Northern Australia, a vision we wholeheartedly support.
82. JUTE Theatre Company
With JUTE’s home at the Centre of Contemporary Arts undergoing a major upgrade, our city’s premier theatre company is set for a big and bold 2020. Make sure you check out one of JUTE’s productions – it’s so much better than a night in front of a small screen, trust us.
MORE INFO ON JUTE THEATRE COMPANY
83. End Credits Film Club
Run by local volunteers since 1998, End Credits Film Club is dedicated to screening non-mainstream films for its members and the general public in its bi-monthly Unseen Cinema program at Event Cinemas, plus events at Cairns Botanic Gardens. End Credits is a true gem for Cairns.
84. Cairns Art Gallery
As the recent record-breaking Patricia Piccinini exhibition proved, Cairns Art Gallery continues to punch above its weight for a regional gallery. With free entry, there’s no excuse not to wander around and explore the amazing pieces on show.
85. Tanks Arts Centre
86. Cairns Performing Arts Centre
When it comes to groceries, small goods, fruit and vegetables and other food supplies, Tropic is all about supporting local, independent businesses like these.
Edge Hill Butchery
One of our favourite neighbourhood establishments, Edge Hill Butchery is the Australian Meat Industry Council Retailer of the Year for 2019, a massive achievement by owners Rod and Julie Leaver.
Also recommended: Mighty Nice Meats at Barr St Markets, Marsh’s at Stratford, Byrne’s Meats
88. Rusty's Markets
Our weekend in Cairns just wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Rusty’s. From super-fresh fruits and vegetables, to great coffee and food, arts and crafts and so many familiar faces, we are big fans of this iconic destination.
89. Jonsson’s Farm Market at Stockland Earlville and just off the Captain Cook Highway at Stratford
Baked on Red Hill
Fast becoming known as the go-to place for delicious hand-crafted baked goods. Everything is made with love by locals, from locally sourced products whenever possible. Look out for artisan sourdoughs, delicate buttery pastries, exquisite cakes and slices and hand crafted pies.
Also recommended for bakeries: Loaf, Dino's Woodfired, Le Crouton, Che Zest and various bakers at Rusty's Markets
If you're buying olives, cheeses, meats, or other delicious goodies from Coles or Woolies, you’re doing it wrong. Instead, make your way pronto to Providore Amore on Sheridan St. From sauces to snacks, pasta, coffee and so much more, this gourmet market deli is a foodie goldmine.
Also recommended for delis: Angelo's Fine Foods in Portsmith and Oliveri's in Innisfail
92. Asian supermarkets such as Pan’s Asian Groceries and Big Asia Supermarket on Mulgrave Rd, Damoa Korean Supermarket on Lake St, Cairns Indian Grocery Store on Florence St, Asian Supermart on Grafton St and other stores at Stockland Earlville and Smithfield Shopping Centre
93. We love local seafood. Grab something fresh from sports like Cairns Ocean Products or Captain Cook Seafoods.
94. Healthy Hub
95. Piccones IGA
96. The Source Bulk Foods
97. Cherries at Cairns Central
98. Go Vita at Stockland Earlville and Smithfield Shopping Centre
Grassroots sport is strong across the region, but our state and national clubs need our support too.
99. Northern PrideGrab a meat pie, a can of beer and cheer on our local QRL footy club. We remember the grand final glory days of 2010 and 2014. Time to bring home the trophy again in 2020!MORE INFO ON NORTHERN PRIDE
100. Cairns Taipans
We have a few basketball fanatics at Tropic HQ, so a home game at the Convention Centre supporting our only national sporting team is a staff ritual. Despite some tough years in an increasingly strong league, the Taipans are always entertaining. Grab a seat and enjoy the spectacle.