The Baywalk Bollards can be found all the way along the Geelong waterfront.

Does Geelong Make a Good Queer Getaway?

By Beau
Beau is the founder of Apollo Social. He recently relocated to Melbourne with his husband and has begun a love affair with the city.
Is Geelong a good weekend getaway for queer travelers? We take the trip across the bay to find out.

It’s a question that has plagued city-dwelling gays for eons - do queer people belong in regional cities, or, as Bernadette in Priscilla Queen of the Desert put it, is the ugly wall of suburbia meant to keep us in the safety of the city centre? Well a lot has changed since 1994 when Priscilla was released so my husband and I decided to breach the wall of suburbia and spend a weekend in Geelong.

When we first mentioned our plans to our gay friends, they scoffed at the idea, dismissing the city as hicksville. However, reading about the “city by the bay” with its art deco boardwalk, historical buildings, drag piano bar and award-winning wine bars, I couldn't help but think their views were out of date. So we packed our bags and found out for ourselves.

Getting There

What better way to reach a bayside city than via the bay itself. From the ferry we’d get beautiful vistas of Melbourne as we left Docklands and also of Geelong as we glided into port…or so we thought. It was a choppy day and the ferry was bouncing around like a cork. I spent the trip listening to vomiting in stereo as other guests brought up the contents of their stomachs. I held on to my seat for dear life and kept my focus on the horizon the whole trip and managed to avoid using my sick bag. I think we’ll take the train on the way back.

Ferry traveling between Docklands and GeelongThe ferry was better in theory than reality. Choppy weather made the trip a stomach churning experience.

First Impressions

The ferry drops you at the waterfront which is adjacent to the CBD. Despite my jelly-legs from the rough ride, I was taken by the beautiful arc of Corio bay lined with marinas, beaches, parkland, restaurants and cafes. Some beautiful 19th century features have been retained including a former-industrial pier, ferris wheel and carousel.  The eastern end was built in the 1930s Art Deco style and boasts an abundance of history and charm.

The streets leading into the CBD are equally as endearing with stone buildings that continue the historical significance on display along the waterfront. 

The city is charming and gorgeous and my list of places to see includes a drag piano bar, wine bars and French bistros. What was all the naysaying about? Geelong is shaping up to be a real gem.

Geelong waterfront The waterfront is breathtaking on a clear day.

Was it all a dream?

The charm quickly runs out walking several streets back from the waterfront and is replaced with box-style stores like Chemist Warehouse and JB Hifi. What happened to the charming Geelong?

Geelong has a lot of historical charm and beauty, but it’s mostly limited to the waterfront. The industrial outskirts and suburban streets are decidedly less charming. This is why many people think of Geelong only as the gateway to the Bellarine Peninsula and The Great Ocean Road.

After checking into our AirBnb and a quick costume change, I had renewed motivation to discover what the city had to offer. And my motivation was rewarded in Little Malop Street, a gentrified laneway full of wine bars, restaurants and cafes.

Sing us a song, you’re the piano man

Our first stop was the Piano Bar (90-92 Lt Malop Street, Geelong). I’d heard a lot about this place. It’s very popular and it hosts drag several nights a week. We checked in and were shown to our table (reservations are essential). If we were expecting a jazzy, candlelit evening like our recent experience at Murmur piano bar in Melbourne, we were sorely mistaken. The place is a cacophonous birdcage. 

For some time there has been competition for entertainment venues between gay men and a certain type of loud, vulgar, straight woman. While the war is not over, this battle has sadly been lost. The place feels like a giant hens party, complete with a jingle the whole place breaks into whenever anyone buys shots. It felt more like rowdy live music at a suburban pub than an intimate piano bar. On the plus side, the musicians were talented and they were successful at creating a lively atmosphere. It just wasn’t our scene so as the women made a move for the dancefloor, we exited stage left.

Musicians at the Piano BarThe Piano Bar was lively, but more like an oversized hens party than an intimate piano bar


After leaving the piano bar, we managed to get a table at Geelong Cellar Door (97–99 Lt Malop St, Geelong), a cute and sophisticated wine bar just across the street with a great selection of wines from the Geelong region. The cosy atmosphere from the fireplace and exposed brick walls more than made up for the assault on the senses from the Piano Bar.

In fact, the city boasts several great wine bars including award winner Union Street Wine Bar (8 Union Street, Geelong). With a great selection of wines and friendly and knowledgeable staff, no wonder it won the people’s choice award in the 2020 Wineslinger Awards. It attracts a diverse and interesting crowd including some queer guests while we were there.

Other noteworthy options include LGBT-owned Splatters Cheese Train (168-170 Pakington St, Geelong West) whose name doubles as a description of the place (why has nobody thought of this before!); prohibition-style 18th Amendment Bar (82a Lt Malop St, Geelong) which won regional bar of the year 2018 by Australian Bartender; and Little Creatures Brewery (221 Swanston Street, Geelong) which is an offshoot of the Fremantle-based bewery.

Geelong Cellar DoorGeelong Cellar Door is a sophisticated wine bar serving up local wines in a cozy atmosphere


When it comes to Geelong's dining scene, there are two main districts - Little Malop Street and Pakington Street. Little Malop Street is a bustling, narrow street in the CBD full of the the city's most popular restaurants, bars and cafes. The Arborist (75 Little Malop St, Geelong) is a restaurant/wine bar that is built around a mature Ash tree that was incorporated into the restaurant rather than chopping it down.

Pakington Street is Geelong’s centre of cosmopolitan lifestyle and multiculturalism. While it doesn’t have the cuteness of Little Malop Street, there is a cluster of good eating and drinking options. Meet Me at Mary’s (66 Pakington St, Geelong West) is a cute wine bar and restaurant housed in a former industrial warehouse.

My first choice for a restaurant was Bistrot St Jean (239 Moorabool St, Geelong), a French bistro with great reviews and loads of character, however they book out weeks in advance so we couldn't get a table. Not to worry though, because our friendly waiter at Union Street Wine Bar provided some great recommendations (listed in the Geelong city guide).

The Most Important Meal of the Day

When you’re on vacation, brunch trumps dinner for the most important meal of the day. And when you’re staying in a coastal city, ocean views are a must. We found a real gem in The Beachhouse (Eastern Beach Road, Geelong) which is a former bathing pavilion overlooking the Eastern Beach ocean pool. With an unbeatable view, inventive menu and delicious dishes, it deserves a spot on your itinerary. 

King of the Castle (24 Pakington St, Geelong West) is also a solid brunch option if you're looking for something on Pakington Street. 

The Beachhouse Restaurant The Beachhouse on Eastern Beach Road is a former bathing pavilion overlooking the Eastern Beach ocean pool

The Verdict

Was Geelong closer to my friend’s description of hicksville or my expectation of a cosmopolitan city by the bay? Like everything in life, it was somewhere in between. Some parts of the city felt urban and sophisticated, while other parts felt like a regional town. The thrill is in the discovery. Could I stay there for a week? Probably not but there was certainly enough adventure to fill a weekend. My advice would be to stick to within a few blocks of the waterfront, have a plan and book well in advance.