I knew I was falling in love with Alyssa and Rob when we were trying to decide where to go to lunch on our first full day in Perth.
“I want fine dining!” Alyssa said, as she skipped past the deli and up the steps toward Print Hall.
“Me too!” agreed Rob.
"Uh-oh, you’re in trouble,” I laughed, as I looked over at her dad, Fred.
There are many reasons we fall in love with a place, but I find more often than not a place is inextricably intertwined with the people we meet. In the case of Western Australia, we were heart-struck from the beginning. We travelled to Perth in October to visit Elie’s high school friend, Fred, his wife, Ali, and their two children, Alyssa and Rob. We stayed at their home for a few days in Perth, and they showed us all around their city. And then we all traveled south to the Margaret River region for beach walks, winery tours, horseback riding and lots of eating.
Here's a guide for what to see and do, and where to eat in Western Australia.
Where to Eat & What to Do in Perth
We only spent a few days in Perth, so we barely scratched the surface of its dynamic local food scene. But we discovered quickly that Australia knows how to do fresh food. Everywhere we went, from the biggest cities to the smallest one-block towns, we could find great coffee, local milk, homemade breads and from-scratch cooking. Plus, Australia is on-point with food trends, with ample use of ingredients like haloumi, dukkah and cultured butter.
At the New Norcia Bakery, I had my first traditional Australian breakfast—poached eggs, sliced avocado, roasted tomatoes and mushrooms and sautéed spinach—served with great naturally fermented sourdough bread and my first flat white (basically, a small latte). I must have had that same combination a dozen times over the next few weeks. Way to go, Australia, with the healthy breakfasts and perfectly poured espresso drinks.
We enjoyed a rowdy lunch at Apple Daily Bar & Eating House, where we ordered almost everything on the menu, from the green papaya salad to the soft shell crab to the short ribs. Australia made me fall in love with Asian food, and Apple Daily was no exception—flavorful and spicy and not too sweet.
If you want an interesting and thought-provoking 10-course tasting menu featuring local ingredients and artful plating, try Co-op Dining. It’s not for timid diners, but I loved it.
Cantina 663 was a perfect end to our few days in Perth, with an Italian and Spanish-inspired small plate menu created with local and organic ingredients, and a well-curated wine list.
Pack a picnic and head to King’s Park, where you can soak up that Australian sun. If you’re visiting in the summer (remember, that’s our winter), check out the event schedule for outdoor concerts.
Of course, while in Perth you should also take advantage of the amazing city beaches. Take off your shoes and dip your toes in the Indian Ocean.
Where to Stay, Where to Eat & What to Do in the Margaret River Region
The Margaret River Region in Western Australia is about a three hour drive south of Perth, and it feels similar to Sonoma County, with a stunning coastline bordering picturesque vineyards and wineries tucked into the rolling landscape. The region covers a fairly large area, so there are many choices on where to stay, from Busselton in the north to the town of Margaret River to the southwest. Locating near the cute towns of Dunsborough and Yallingup makes you fairly central to most of the wineries and restaurants.
We stayed at the Empire Retreat, a tranquil boutique resort and spa located between Dunsborough and Yallingup. Wander through their vineyards at dusk and you’re almost guaranteed to see a field of kangaroos resting in the waning sun, and you’ll also spy dozens of brightly colored wild parrots.
Walk down the 1.8 kilometer Busselton Jetty and visit the underwater observatory, where you just may spy a shark. Then have lunch at The Goose, where you can sit outside and soak up the sun at the water's edge. One thing to note about food in Australia: a gorgeous view does not mean bad food. We found quite the opposite to be true.
In Dunsborough, have breakfast at Artezen, and then get a picnic lunch from Meal-Up, which you could take to Canal Rocks for spectacular views of the rocky coastline. We were there on a particularly windy day, so we experienced the incredible power and awe of Mother Nature.
We enjoyed leisurely lunches featuring local ingredients at many of the area wineries, including the pastoral Leeuwin Estate Winery and Aravina Winery. It’s fun to travel with other people who enjoy food as much as we do. At the wineries, we let Fred order, and soon the whole table would be filled with dishes. We passed and shared and laughed our way through many meals. If you live in the United States, you can have Leeuwin Estate wines shipped to you for free from their stock in California.
To escape the rain in the spring or the heat in the summer, visit one of the underground caves.
Go horseback riding at Jesters Flat, where you can ride through the fields and woods, spying mobs of kangaroos among the trees. Jesters Flat has a lovely selection of well-behaved horses and experienced guides who will make even the most nervous rider feel at ease. You end your ride sitting around the bonfire enjoying hot cocoa, and a snack of hot bread with olive oil and dukkah.
We loved Western Australia, especially the spectacular scenery. From the beaches of Perth to the craggy coastline and rolling hills of the Margaret River, you’ll likely do a lot of oohing and aahing. And you will most certainly eat well. Next, I’ll tell you about our experience in Melbourne and along the Great Ocean Road.