Motel Nomad




SECRET SPOTS: Great places to visit around the city only the locals know about.


Even a nomad needs to know where the shopping centres and primary conveniences are when they’re away from home. But what about all the hidden gems? Cairns most inconspicuous laneways, hangouts and cafes that locals love. They’re different, they positively rebel against the norm and greet you with surprising delight. Hot tips on little spots that locals think are great, that you otherwise may have walked right on by.

They are all homogeneous of an artistic nature. Dip into their atmosphere and leave enlightened by the community feel created by these places.

1 Graf-Alley

72-74 Grafton Street

Cairns’ most notorious spot for street art and paint culture. Whilst street art has become more prevalent and accepted in Cairns, this alleyway holds a soft sport for artists. The venue has been known as a spot for cultural events. During Youth Week 2015, Cairns Regional Council and ironlak paints sponsored an event inviting John Kaye Art (Gold Coast, internationally recognised), Phibs (Sydney, internationally recognised), Caroline Mudge (Cairns, nationally recognised), and Daniel ‘Wally’ Wallwork (Cairns, nationally recognised).

Spot this guy at the entrance to Graf-Alley

Spot this guy at the entrance to Graf-Alley

2 Crate 59 

59 Sheridan Street 

Crate 59 is a non-for-profit, artist run gallery in Cairns that holds monthly art exhibitions to support contemporary and experimental artists. Keep an eye on their Facebook page for more information about these. Many artists featured within have also featured in Cairns Art Gallery or in other galleries. 6.30-12.30 am Monday to Friday Billy’s Coffee serves local coffee fiends from the premises.

3 Brother Jenkins 

177 Martyn Street 

Driving along, you may mistake this for house, a bright blue corrugated house. You may wonder what the congregation of people are doing outside on little red chairs. Well, look up – see there, the sign ‘Brother Jenkins’ – you’re at the right place, it is a café. And sometimes an exhibition space for local artists works. On other occasions it is an event space for live music. Walk inside, feel warm with the homeliness of the joint, absorb good vibes from the myriad of different gorgeous plants and rest assured that everything on the menu is delicious. 

4 Crackerbox Palace 

228 Sheridan Street 

Find this palace of retro vintage collectables on the main road, Sheridan Street, going through Cairns city. Directly next door to a United service station, which pops in bright blue, you’ll find Crackerbox in an appropriately retro looking little building next door. The small white building features pastel pink colonial style antique glass windows atop the shop front and pastel aqua features on the building. You can find parking directly out front or along Sheridan Street and walk down. Step back in time and find an eclectic mix of clothing, vinyl, antiques, furniture and collectables.

5 Succuliving And Co 

Shed 1,2 Victoria Street 

Quaintly interesting, vibrant succulent and plant arrangements can be found here. Macrame-bound pot plants hang above you as you walk in, tall cacti tower over small pots, prickly succulents pop their heads out of pretty ceramics and baskets are in abundance. Within this tiny jam-packed shed of wonders you will also find a barista, ready to brew you a coffee. Look out for their workshop events such as kokedama creating, macramé and succulent arrangement. Only a 5 minute drive from Motel Nomad – parking is free on the street.

6 The Chamber Room 

Suite 43-47, 20 Lake Street 

Take a stroll down Village Lane in the city. Here within lies an escape room that locals volunteer to get lost in. “Escape your world, enter ours,” is the business catch cry, and “enter the chamber” they beckon you to do. If you dare. If you do not love a delicious specialty cacao drink, carefully selected coffee from the best in the world or tea rituals, then this is not the place for yo skull to be. Did we mention the latte art? Owner Kristy Greenardi is an award-winning latte artist, and you can find some fine latte art in the Chamber Room. Cold brew spectacles occur on Saturday mornings, which usually causes some commotion. Then, there are the Butterbings – don’t ask, just try. Trust us, yo skull will love this place. 

7 Penlan Street Co – locals know as ‘Penlan’ 

Shop 3/53 Grafton Street 

This one’s for the Homies. Step over the ‘Welcome Homies’ mat and into a street culture, street art, music and design hub. The only one like it, Penlan Street Co store is a space that its followers will often just go to hang and chat to owners Silve and Rachel, as many feel it is a place they can feel comfortable in their skin. Featuring in No Cure Magazine recently, the Hip-Hop culture inspired store has also been known to co-host music and other arts-based events. These legends are renowned for their empowerment of local talent and local businesses, for which they often conceptualise and design branding or graphics projects. A prime example being Annee’s CaPhe Sua Da – queue the next featured secret spot – who are literally next door, and also a must.

8 Annee’s CaPhe Sua Da – known to locals as ‘Ánnee’s’

57-89 Grafton Street

At the Grafton Street entry to Rusty’s Markets, beneath a black awning laden with hanging plants, lies Ánnee’s CaPhe Sua Da. Specialising in Vietnamese coffee, the store offers it in milky and cold drip variations. The ‘Traditional’ with condensed milk is the signature product and the most popular. Fast growth in the business meant the menu has since grown, incorporating Chai’s, juices and other specials from time to time. For some time, Annee’s has also offered a ‘concept store’ within the larger store. This is a space for other local upcoming products to showcase. Most frequently, local business The Fermented Kitchen (TFK) sells their locally famous Kombucha here. Both Anne’s and TFK are expanding quickly and looking at markets outside of the Cairns region.

9 The General Store

Shop 5, 93 Lake Street

As the name alludes, this store generally stocks a bit ó this and a bit ó that. Owner Stacey moved to Cairns from Broome with the dream to open her shop. The concept is really to bypass mass-produced products, and provide a shopfront where she can promote locally and Australian made products. The store theme is also environmentally conscious, as Stacey stocks wooden toothbrushes, natural health care products and other earth-friendly knick-knacks. This beautiful little treasure-trove is complimented by good old-fashioned home-made lemonade and cherry shrub soda. Ingredients for the Cherry Shrub soda are sourced from a farm in Herberton. Home-made wraps and other treats are also on offer.

10 Sing Sing Espresso

82C Lake Street

Look for a laneway off Lake Street, titled ‘The Walk’. At first glance, you cannot see much – a few signs hanging and some wooden stools in the distance. Like the cupboard that leads to Narnia, what is beyond these wooden stools and within Sing Sing Espresso café is more than lovely. Coffee here is supplied by a supplier growing in popularity around Australia, The Little Marionette. Breakfast, lunch various baked goods and sweets are also served. This is another hub of creativity utilised as an exhibition space for local artists. Keep an eye on their Facebook page for various events and exhibitions that they run in this space!

11 The Three Wolves

32 Abbott Street

Another laneway, another absolute must. Three Wolves is a distinguished establishment tucked away in a red brick laneway, who pride themselves on a special selection of spirits, cocktails, wine and craft beers. Small the venue may be, but it is fitting for you are welcome by all the aromas of house whiskeys and spices used in drinks. Famous, and a Three Wolves staple is the ‘Smoke on the Water’ cocktail. Maker’s Mark, homemade cinnamon sugar syrup, bitters and a twist of orange; smoked on cedar wood. It ignites all of the senses. Open Mic Night is every Thursday evening. Other events hosted here include live music shows, bartending extravaganza’s and drinks tasting. The Three Wolves signifies three friends who partnered to form the business. Since, they have opened another unique bar experience, Flamingo’s Tiki Bar. But Three Wolves stands out as a Cairns crowd favourite.

12 The Cape York Hotel

147 Bunda Street

Refurbished in recent years, this pub dates back to 1926. Much like our motel, the pub is shaped like a big Queenslander. It is an iconic building that oft find itself on travel brochures and documentaries as it signifies Australiana. It is one of the last pubs in Cairns maintaining it’s culture for live music, and sports a great beer-garden venue for live-music gigs.  Anyone who has heard acoustics from within these walls will vouch for it, and the venue is open to the public for hire. Other than music, the pub also hosts regular trivia nights and sporting promotions. At times they will open the top verandah for patrons to enjoy a chilled beer while overlooking the city.

13 Tangent Physical Media

Shop 48, 20 Lake Street

Another Village Lane hangout, two doors down from The Chamber Room, this vinyl record and book store is for the music lovers.  Store owner Todd Skipper is a local DJ, who frequents Cairns’ nightclubs, festivals and other events. With a passion for music, he tries to keep a myriad of music for different tastes. Occasionally pop events are held at the shop of an evening, with attendees pouring into the laneway. The space is also often utilised to exhibit works of local artists. Facebook is best to check what’s happening.

Image Credits: Some images have been taken by Motel Nomad, and others have been reposted from the social media sites of the business with permission.

A visual of their positioning. Within the City Centre, these are in walking distance. Happy Exploring!

A visual of their positioning. Within the City Centre, these are in walking distance. Happy Exploring!

AUTHOR: Carli Willis

Ronald Lord