McLaren Vale is one of the most recommended places to visit in South Australia. Many people visit McLaren Vale to taste the world-class wines produced here. There is only so much wine that can be consumed on a holiday though, so include some of these things to do in McLaren Vale that aren’t wine tasting on your itinerary too.
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Feature image photo credit: Trent Martin Photography, d’Arenberg Cube, Fleurieu Peninsula
TL;DR? Here's the outline
- Guide to McLaren Vale
- Getting to McLaren Vale
- Things to do in McLaren Vale
- Ride E-Bikes Through the Vines
- Walk or Cycle the Shiraz Trail
- Abseiling & Climbing in Onkaparinga River National Park
- Challenge Yourself at the Southern Adventure Hub
- Shop the Boutique Stores until you Drop
- Immerse Yourself in an Indigenous Experience
- Kayak or SUP the Onkaparinga River
- Explore the d’Arenberg Cube
- Drive the Scenic Route 31
- Take to the Air in a Historic Bi-plane
- Skydiving the Southern Vines
- Take in the Views with Helivista
- Pick Your Own Fruit
- Visit the Wildlife Sanctuary at Woodstock Wine
- Visit a Gallery (or Two)
- Hit the Beach
- Willunga Farmers Markets
- Nibble on High Tea
- Snorkel or Scuba Dive Port Noarlunga Reef
- Taste the Craft Beer
- And There are Distilleries Too
- Make Your Own Cheese
- Get Lost in the Conifer Maze at Maxwell Wines
- Eat at the Star of Greece
- Take a Walk in Onkaparinga River National Park
- Where to Stay in McLaren Vale
- Where to Eat in McLaren Vale
Guide to McLaren Vale
It should first be acknowledged that the McLaren Vale region sits on the traditional lands of the Kaurna people.
McLaren Vale is both a town and a region on the Fleurieu Peninsula, conveniently located between the Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island. It is best known for being one of the premier Australian wine regions.
It is set amongst green rolling hills and bordered by some of the most pristine and beautiful beaches in South Australia. It is also known for growing fruit and vegetables and dairy farms.
This post is not about wine tasting, but the wine industry is so intertwined with almost everything in McLaren Vale.
The first vines were planted here in 1838, less than two years after the first European settlers arrived in the new colony of South Australia.
Today there are over 200 vineyards and 80 cellar doors dotted around the McLaren Vale wine region. I tend to think of McLaren Vale as a more quirky and fun wine region, compared to the more serious Barossa Valley.
If you are planning to do some wine tasting in the region, I recommend choosing two or three well-known cellar doors and then adding in another that you just come across as you travel around.
You might just find the newest up-and-coming gem in the area.
To get you started with your wine tasting plans, I recommend taking a look at these popular cellar doors: d’Arenberg, Maxwell Wines, Down the Rabbit Hole, Wirra Wirra Vineyards, Coriole Winery and Alpha Box & Dice.
Getting to McLaren Vale
McLaren Vale township is located about 40km south of Adelaide. As much of the drive down is on the Southern Expressway, you can be there in just 45 minutes.
I recommend having a car to get around in the McLaren Vale region, but you will need to be mindful of drinking and driving if you are planning to do some wine tasting.
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It is possible to get to McLaren Vale itself by public transport. If you do wish to use public transport, catch the train from Adelaide train station to Seaford, then swap to either a 751 or 752 bus.
For more information and trip planning go to the Adelaide Metro website.
Things to do in McLaren Vale
Now onto the things to do in McLaren Vale not wine related – and yes, there are plenty of them. A day trip to McLaren Vale will only give you a glimpse of the region. Instead, consider a long weekend to really enjoy all that there is to offer.
Ride E-Bikes Through the Vines
If you have come to McLaren Vale without a car, then this is the perfect way to see the region. These e-bikes will make the gentle hills feel like you are riding on flat roads.
The most central location to pick up the bikes is from the McLaren Vale and Fleurieu Visitor Information Centre right on the main street.
You can choose to hire for either a full day or just an afternoon.You can get home delivery of an e-bike if you are staying in the McLaren Vale area, or pre-book to pick up at wineries, such as at Ortus Wines and Gemtree Wines.
Walk or Cycle the Shiraz Trail
Just one of the places you can ride those e-bikes is on the Shiraz Trail. This is an 8km trail linking McLaren Vale and Willunga using an old rail corridor. The trail is fairly flat, and meanders through the vineyards.
There are some of the best wineries in McLaren Vale to stop at along the way if you choose, such as Hugh Hamilton and Serafino.
if you like to keep active, join in with the Shiraz Trail Parkrun in McLaren Vale at 8am on Saturday mornings. Continue the walk or pick up a bike to get to Willunga for the farmer’s markets (see below).
In the other direction, the Shiraz Trail continues on along the Coast to Vines Rail Trail that goes for 38km all the way up to the Adelaide suburb of Marino.
Abseiling & Climbing in Onkaparinga River National Park
Get your adrenaline pumping with some abseiling and rock climbing in the Onkaparinga River National Park. This four hour activity will have you climbing the gorge walls in no time, while enjoying the wildlife and scenic views.
All the equipment you need will be supplied, and the guides are accredited. You will need to be able to make your own way to the meeting point at the national park though.
Challenge Yourself at the Southern Adventure Hub
Instead of rock climbing in the wilderness you may prefer a much more controlled environment. You can get some of those same thrills with the Rock Climb and Ropes Course at the Southern Adventure Hub just outside McLaren Vale.
The ropes course is made up of ten different sections, each one a little harder than the last, and with two climbing walls, every ability has been catered for.
Shop the Boutique Stores until you Drop
The main street of McLaren Vale is dotted with all sorts of little shops selling everything from souvenirs to necessities. Take a walk along the street and pick up some local treats.
A must is a stop into The Almond Train, actually located in a carriage of the train that used to run through McLaren Vale before the services were stopped decades ago.
Also keep your eyes open for farmshops and other quirky little stores as you drive around the area – they are sometimes where you least expect them.
Immerse Yourself in an Indigenous Experience
Kool Tours, based in McLaren Vale, offer a range of Indigenous tours and and experiences around the Fleurieu Peninsula. Some are closer than others, but all are within the local area.
They occasionally also run tours for other businesses in the area too. Look out for the Wuldi Cultural Experience run by Gemtree Wines, for example.
Kayak or SUP the Onkaparinga River
If heights are not your thing, perhaps you would prefer paddling around the smooth waters of the Onkaparinga River with either a kayak or a stand up paddle board. Both can be hired locally from Easy Kayaks.
This is one of the fun things to do in McLaren Vale with kids and a great way to include some exercise into your day.
Explore the d’Arenberg Cube
Yes, the d’Arenberg Cube is a cellar door, but it would be possible to have a great visit here and not have a sip of wine pass your lips. Firstly, there are two top restaurants here that you may like to dine at.
The third floor of the Cube houses Singapore Circus and d’Arry’s Verandah Restaurant can be found in the neighbouring homestead.
On the other levels of the d’Arenberg Cube you can find the quirky Alternate Realities museum, and, currently, a Salvador Dali exhibition.
Outside you will find more strange bits and pieces, like a circus tent filled with old sideshows and some rather weird sculptures.
While it may include a small sip or two of wine, you can participate in one of the d’Arenberg experiences, such as blending your own bottle of wine to take home with you.
Drive the Scenic Route 31
This coastal drive meanders between O’Sullivan Beach and Sellicks Beach passing McLaren Vale on the way.
The 31km (hence the name) drive will take you to some of South Australia’s most beautiful and best loved beaches and the little coastal villages that sit above them.
Some of the beaches you can drive right onto them to take a look. They are all perfect for a stroll, some swimming or fishing – or just for admiring how picturesque many of them are.
Take to the Air in a Historic Bi-plane
Just a few minutes out of McLaren Vale you will find the Aldinga airfield, and it’s from here that the scenic bi-plane flights take off.
There are four different types of bi-planes, including the well known Tiger Moth, available for flights. Or if you prefer, you can instead take a scenic flight over the vineyards and the sea on a modern Cessna.
Take a look at all the options over on the Adelaide Biplanes website.
Skydiving the Southern Vines
If a few loops in a biplane isn’t adventurous enough for you, how about jumping out of a plane? You can do that with a skydive over the McLaren Vale region.
You will be picked up from Leconfield Wines and will go to the Aldinga Airfield for instructions and takeoff. After that initial adrenaline rush, you will enjoy amazing views over both vineyards and beaches as you float back down to earth.
Take in the Views with Helivista
Another way to enjoy McLaren Vale from the air is with a helicopter flight with Helivista.
It’s not just a quick scenic flight (although you can do that too) but you can include lunch, wineries, even overnight packages with meals and activities included.
This is the perfect way to celebrate something or impress someone special.
Pick Your Own Fruit
If you are visiting McLaren Vale in the summer, include some fruit picking on your trip.
Cherries are the most popular fruit in the region for picking, but there are also some other unusual options – like tayberries at Harvest the Fleurieu in December.
Harvest the Fleurieu also have strawberries for picking over the summer too.
Another unusual pick-your-own option is mushrooms! If you are doing the Lime Cave tour at Maxwell Wines, then you may get the opportunity to take home a few home grown mushrooms.
The lime cave was originally used to grow mushrooms before it turned into a great wine storage space and today it still grows mushrooms from time to time.
Visit the Wildlife Sanctuary at Woodstock Wine
This is a must if you are looking for things to do in McLaren Vale with kids. The small animal sanctuary here at Woodstock Wine allows visitors to get close to rescued native animals.
While the animals change over time, you are likely to find some kangaroos, wallabies, emus and koalas around the place. There is a kangaroo feeding session held each day at 11:30am to allow closer interaction. Bookings are essential.
Visit a Gallery (or Two)
There are small art and craft galleries to be found all over the McLaren Vale region. I particularly like to pop into the Fleurieu Arthouse which can be found right in the centre of McLaren Vale.
There are a wide range of artisans who display their work here for sale, and this is a great place to pick up a unique gift or souvenir. You can find indigenous artwork, pottery, metal sculptures, jewellery and much more.
Here are some other suggestions:
- Micky Barlow Gallery (Aboriginal artist and basket weaver)
- Red Poles
- The Gallery (McLaren Vale)
- Dogridge Gallery
- Willunga Glass Studio
- Willunga Gallery
Hit the Beach
South Australian beaches are great year round, and some of the ones near McLaren Vale would certainly rank amongst the most beautiful in the state. In summer, it’s a no-brainer to enjoy some beach time at one of the nearby beaches.
The closest beaches are Moana and Maslin, both around ten minutes away.
Be aware though, that the southern end of Maslin Beach is clothing optional – the first of its kind in Australia back in the day. it’s also the location for the Maslin Beach Nude Games, held here each January.
Just a few minutes further to the south are the popular beaches of Port Willunga, Aldinga Beach and Silver Sands, all worth visiting.
Aldinga Beach is one of the few beaches in South Australia (especially near Adelaide) where it is possible to drive right onto the sand.
While it might be a little cool to swim at the beaches in winter, they are still great for beach walks and exploring. They can be particularly picturesque as the sun sets over the ocean.
Willunga Farmers Markets
Regarded as one of the best farmers markets in South Australia, the Willunga Farmers Market is held every Saturday morning from 8am until 12 noon and it should be added to your McLaren Vale itinerary if you are there on the weekend.
It is popular with both locals and visitors alike. You can simply enjoy browsing through the stalls then grab coffee and breakfast, or you can stock up on all sorts of fresh produce to take home with you.
Most of the produce sold at the markets is local to the Fleurieu Peninsula area.
There are fruits and vegetables, eggs, dairy, bush tucker, baked goods, flowers & plants, meat & poultry, honey, nuts and oils, seafood, and even goodies for your furry friends.
The markets are held on the grounds of the Willunga High School on the main street through town.
Nibble on High Tea
Stop in at Tealicious Cakes for one of their beautiful high teas, available from Thursday to Sunday at both 11am or 2pm. You will need to book at least 24 hours in advance on their website.
You don’t have to have high tea here. If you haven’t planned in advance or just want something small, you can stop in for a coffee and a cupcake too. Most dietary requirements are catered for, and I can personally vouch for the delicious vegan cupcakes.
Snorkel or Scuba Dive Port Noarlunga Reef
With easy access right off the end of the Port Noarlunga Jetty, the Port Noarlunga Reef Aquatic Reserve is one of the best places to snorkel or scuba dive close to the city in South Australia.
The waters are protected and it is so easy to get to that anyone can take a look at the underwater world here.
There are over 50 species of fish to be found here and there is an underwater trail with markers with information on the reef and the things you can see along the way.
Taste the Craft Beer
McLaren Vale might be best known as a wine region, but wine is certainly not the only beverage made here. Throughout the region are a selection of craft breweries too. Here are some to try:
- Goodieson Brewery
- Swell Taphouse
- Ekhidna Wines
- Vale Brewing
- Shifty Lizard Brewing Co
- South Coast Brewing Co
- Kickback Brewery
- and a little further away but one of my favourites…Smiling Samoyed Brewery
And There are Distilleries Too
After wine and craft beer, there just has to be distilleries here too, and they are becoming more popular each year so this list will only grow. Here are the distilleries to check out around McLaren Vale
- Settlers Spirits
- Never Never Distilling Co
- Salopian Inn
Make Your Own Cheese
Isn’t it fun to try something different while on holidays? How about a cheese-making class at SloWhey School of Cheese?
If you are a real foodie, this is a perfect inclusion in your McLaren Vale visit. Learn to make mozzarella or halloumi, ricotta or camembert. If you have a group of six or more, contact them for a private class just for you.
Get Lost in the Conifer Maze at Maxwell Wines
This is another great McLaren Vale activity if you have little people with you! Maxwell Wines have a conifer maze that will give kids to let off some steam.
It’s just $5 to enter, and that also gives you access to a picnic area, but if you do a tasting first, the entry fee is waived.
The maze is not right next to the tasting rooms, so you will likely want to supervise younger children in the maze – so why not enjoy exploring the maze yourself?
Eat at the Star of Greece
If there is one “must eat” place in the McLaren Vale area it is the Star of Greece.
Located right on the cliffs at Port Willunga, it is not, as you might imagine, a Greek restaurant. Its name comes from the shipwreck it overlooks down in the gulf below.
It is in fact a modern Australian-style restaurant and is popular with locals and visitors alike.
They often have big international guests dining while they enjoy the stunning views – on our last visit we just missed Zara Phillips dining there when she was recently in Adelaide.
If the restaurant is a bit over the top for you, they also run the adjacent Port Willy Kiosk where you can get some of the best fish and chips in South Australia too.
Hours are limited in winter, but both venues are open more over the summer months. Check out the website for the latest hours. I recommend booking well in advance for the Star of Greece.
Take a Walk in Onkaparinga River National Park
If you have spent all your time indulging in the amazing food and wine in the McLaren Vale region, then you might like to include some exercise in your stay.
The Onkaparinga River National Park is nearby, and it has some great walking trails. For an easy hike, try the Punchbowl Lookout Hike or for something a bit harder, the 6km Gorge Hike.
More information on the hikes can be found on the National Parks website.
Where to Stay in McLaren Vale
When planning a stay in the McLaren Vale region, think luxurious and private B&Bs, small boutique hotels and, near the beach, great holiday homes.
Serafino McLaren Vale is a popular and comfortable hotel located right in the town. Other places to stay right in McLaren Vale include the Casavino Luxury Villas and the beautiful Willow McLaren Vale holiday home.
For a budget option, take a look at the McLaren Vale Lakeside Caravan Park.
When staying in a wine region, it’s also nice to enjoy a stay amongst the vines at one of the wineries. To do this here in McLaren Vale, go to Chapel Hill Winery Guest House or the beautiful Hotel California Road at Inkwell Wines.
While not right amongst the vines, the Bella Cosa Bed and Breakfast also offer lovely accommodation out of town.
Where to Eat in McLaren Vale
I have mentioned a couple of places above, but there are so many choices for food in McLaren Vale. In all honestly, you probably won’t go wrong anywhere.
Look out for wineries that have restaurants, such as Maxwell Wines or Wirra Wirra winery.
I recently had a late (vegan) breakfast at Manna in McLaren Vale and thought it was delicious. Pizzateca is well regarded for a casual meal too.
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