I’m not a huge fan of Byron Bay.

Yes, I know that  sentence will be drowned out by howls of protest. I’ve heard it all before.

But here’s the thing. When people say they love Byron Bay, they often talk about the area surrounding Byron, not the town itself. No-one really loves that strip of generic shops. No one really loves Main Beach.

I grew up on the North Coast of NSW. And as an ex-local I can tell you the NSW North Coast has plenty of beautiful beachside towns, with fewer crowds than Byron Bay.

Here’s my list of  places you should go with the family that are like Byron Bay – but better.

Lennox Head

Beyond Byron Bay - Lennox Head

Lennox Head – a great place to watch dolphins. Picture: Shutterstock

Every single time I have stopped at Lennox head, I have seen dolphins swimming off the headland. Lennox has spectacular coastal scenery and a lake where you can go for a quiet paddle. The southern end of Lennox beach has a fantastic point break for surfers and Ballina Street is packed with great restaurants and cafes. Try Shelter for fresh modern Australian food Quattro Classic for Italian or Pancho Villa for Mexican.

Evans Head

"Beyond

This super-laid back fishing villiage is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, the Broadwater and Bundjalung National Park. The town is spit in two by the mouth of the Evans River and you will often be able to see dolphins and turtles cruising around the entrance to the estuary. This is a place to relax and chill out. You don’t need to dress up for dinner. Just grab some fish and chips and sit on the beach. This is what a North Coast town is really about – Sleep, beach, eat, retreat.

Yamba, Angourie and Iluka

Beyond Byron Bay - Yamba

Angourie’s freshwater rock pools are a North Coast secret. Picture: Shutterstock

I almost feel guilty about giving away this secret. These three towns are stunning. Yamba has the best pub on the whole North Coast. The pub is built on the cliff overlooking the beach, with a wicked view. Angourie is a top spot for surfers. Behind the beach you will find the Blue Pools and the Green Pools – where you can jump from rocks into fresh water billabongs. Iluka has avoided development for years. It’s a top spot for fishing – but you may have to compete with the resident dolphins and pelicans for your catch.

Minnie Water

Beyond Byron Bay - Minnie Water

Minnie Water is fantastic. Picture: Shutterstock

Beach front camping away from it all. Minnie water is a true hippy escape, surrounded by Yuraygir National Park. My tip is to make sure all food is securely locked away. The goannas grow big in these parts. Untouched, secluded, natural – these words all all Minnie Water. More than 120 species of wildflowers have been identified around Minnie Water. The tiny town has gorgeous tidal pools and rock crevices to explore. At times you can have the whole beach to yourself.

Sawtell

Sawtell - beyond Byron Bay

Sawtell is a great place for a family holiday. Picture: Shutterstock

Sawtell, just 10 minutes south of Coffs Harbour, is a brilliant town for families. The town sits between two tidal creeks – Bonville Creek and Boambee. Both estuaries are easy to access. They are great for little kids. Teenagers love to spend time hanging out on Sawtell’s southern headland, watching the surf, the dolphins and the sunset over the Bongil Bongil National Park.

Families will love Boambee Bay reserve which has picnic tables and BBQs alongside the calm waters of Bonville creek. Bring a yabby pump – you will be able to find hundreds of the creatures just below the sandy surface. Sawtell beach is kid-friedly and easy to access. The fig-tree lined main street, 1st Avenue is a great place to stop and eat fish and chips. But we recommend checking out Sawtell’s restaurants especially  Lime Mexican and Sawtell pub.

READ MORE:

What to do with kids on the Gold Coast

Where to go on the NSW North Coast

Family camping 101 – top tips for first timers