A Guide to Lawson – New South Wales
For a small town, Lawson in the mid Blue Mountains of NSW, has a lot going for it.
Business is booming once again after a contentious road widening and redevelopment of the main shopping centre, there are some excellent bushwalks, a brilliant swimming pool, great community activities based around a vibrant neighbourhood centre, a grand old pub, a monthly market and a developing foodie scene.
Yet despite the rather bland retail development, the town still has a great “village feel.” People know each other, there are plenty of pockets of interesting old architecture and the place has its own share of “characters.”
As in all our Blue Mountains Village Guides, although it is comprehensive it can never hope to be complete. Shops & Cafes come and go, they change their opening hours and sometimes their owners.
Each of these Guides also reflects our own tastes. Please feel free to leave a comment below and argue the case for your favourites.
The Name of Lawson
The town has had a number of names over the years. As with most villages through the Blue Mountains, it started as just a campsite on the map and was known as 24 Mile Hollow. It was then called Christmas Hollow or Christmas Swamp, before the Blue Mountain Inn opened up in 1884. Locals then started referring to the village as Blue Mountain and the railway station was even named Blue Mountain when that was first established.
The obvious confusion with the Blue Mountains couldn’t last and authorities then changed the name to Lawson in recognition of William Lawson, a member of the first European party to cross the Mountains in 1813.
The upgrade of the road through the village caused much anguish. The Roads and Traffic Authority wanted to widen the road up to 2 lanes each way and to do this the original line of shops had to go, as did the historic Mechanics Institute. While the line of shops were not quite as well preserved as say the streetscape of Leura, they were still of significance with some great Victorian and Edwardian shopfronts. But the plan to demolish the much loved Mechanics Hall was just too much. The Council at the time were happy to see it go and most to their lasting shame voted for its demolition. But the community wasn’t about to let it go and a long fought grass roots campaign started that eventually triumphed and the Hall was saved. (You can read about the Mechanics Institutes and School of Arts Buildings in this article HERE.)
Lawson Food & Drink
For such a small village, there is plenty of choice for a quick food stop on your way to the upper mountains or for a great meal at one of the many alternatives. Here is our overview.
The Hotel in Lawson is The Blue Mountains Hotel. It has survived the ravages of time and Highway upgrades, just. The renovations make it look pretty awesome on the outside, sitting there in a prominent corner position. There is quite a big dining room out the back. They have an excellent “meal and drink” deal for lunch and plenty of fans for the dinner menu. Quite a few activities also go on at the pub – music, trivia etc. A popular Open Mic session on the 1st & 3rd Thursday.
On the other side of the Railway line is the Lawson Bowling Club, housed in the distinctive circular building. The club has been bowling there since the 1920’s and in 1970’s expanded by converting a huge railway water tank into the building you see today! The Chinese Restaurant which has a great reputation has been there for ever as well! It’s pretty standard stuff, but it has a loyal following and the club has a great atmosphere if you like that sort of environment.
Three Great Meals inLawson
Three highlights of eating in Lawson are Ma Prang, Mesa Bario and the monthly Artisan Dinner at Lyttleton Stores.
The first two can both be found on the lower level of the new section of shops, and are both excellent.
Ma Prang is always busy serving up great Thai styled meals. It’s BYO, so grab a bottle of wine upstairs from the fairly large bottle shop there once you’ve ordered. Quite a few vegetarian options and they also do Takeaway.
3/1 Staples Cres, Lawson NSW 2783
Mesa Bario at times feels out of place, as though it should be in Surry Hills or a trendy Melbourne suburb. Or perhaps in the Mediterranean, which heavily influences the menu and style. Food and wine are excellent, with a nice regional feel to it and most sourced locally. It pays to book, as it can get packed out, but they can sometimes squeeze you into a seat at the bar. It does get pretty noisy and prices are on the expensive side, but for a great meal it really is the best place in town.
They do have some special nights that are worth looking out for, Pasta Night etc and they have just started opening for breakfast. Note – they only open Thur – Sunday.
3/9 Staples Cres, Lawson NSW 2783
If you are in Lawson on the right night, the monthly Artisan Dinner at Lyttleton Stores could be a treat for you. Usually timed to coincide with a new exhibition opening, you’ll find yourself sharing a large central table, possibly with the artist, locals, foodies and assorted characters who know where to get an excellent dinner. Based around regional and ethically sourced produce, including lots from their own productive garden. It’s unique and you won’t be disappointed. BYO and you must book as seating is very limited.
1/2 Badgery Cres, Lawson NSW 2783
There are several to choose from, but the pick of the bunch is Cortardo. Working from a tiny kitchen they are a bit limited, but what they do is excellent. Great coffee and friendly staff. It’s also on the lower level of the main shopping strip.
Sustain Cafe at Eco Mountain has only been open for a few weeks. You’ll find it next door to the Lyttleton Stores on Badgery Cres. It’s a light and airy space and has nice views out the back. If you have young children, they will love it! There is a dedicated inside playroom and a large outside play area with cubby house etc. If you are allergic to children, you should be aware that the place is a hub for them. A fairly small menu, but the serve was big and a reasonable price.
Black Cockatoo Bakery. A local success story, they have just open a second shop in Katoomba. Not really a cafe, but their baking is brilliant and the reason people queue up on Saturday mornings to get the fresh delights straight from the ovens before they run out.
Staples Cres, Lawson NSW 2783
Other Food Alternatives
There are plenty of other options.
Rust & Timber Chocolate Bar. Not being a huge fan of chocolate, I must admit that I’ve never ventured in, but it does have plenty of fans
Lawson Cake Shop, old school bakery that is a very popular stop for the passing tradies and truckies.
Pizza and Kebabs. There is a bit of rivalry between the Pizza and Kebab shops of Lawson & Hazelbrook just down the road. Each have their loyal fans that swear that theirs is better. You be the judge.
Ben Roberts Cafe. You will find this behind the pub. It’s a social enterprise cafe, offering young people with disabilities a chance to work. It’s a nice space and a fairly extensive menu, priced well. Just be aware that service can be a bit slow at times, but know you are supporting a great initiative.
Lawson also has a few retail outlets that many of the smaller villages do not.
Skinners Hardware is in Honour Avenue and is an alternative to the big chain outlets you can find right through the Mountains.
The Newsagent is on the lower level of the shops and has probably survived where many have not by also being the Australia Post outlet.
There’s a Florist on Staples Ave, Botanical Art, that has great reviews.
Also on Staples Ave is the Pet Health Hub that provides specialist pet food and nutritional advice to pet owners.
Thomas Landscaping. An article on Lawson would not be complete without a mention of Thomas Landscaping. They have been operating from here for over 30 years and deliver – Building Materials, Landscape & Gardening Supplies all over the Blue Mountains. We bought a really excellent load of Firewood from them last year and plan to do the same this winter!
Lawson Neighbourhood Centre
The busy Neighbourhood Centre is a vital piece of the village. A scan of their notice boards, website or monthly newsletter will reveal just how much they do there, it’s amazing. Everything from Book Clubs, Youth Activities, Yoga, Mid Mountain Festival, Low Interest Loans and Organised Bush walks. They recently rebranded as Belong.
The North Side of Lawson
In their haste to get to the upper Mountains, many visitors miss out on the historical and peaceful north section of town, over the railway track.
You can drive over via two access roads, or you can actually walk across via a tunnel near the supermarket, that pops you out near the Lawson library.
The Lawson Library is a tiny gem, providing services to mid mountains residents and travellers. The building which has some interesting brick and stonework, dates from 1914 when it was the Shire Office of the area. The Mountains used to be run by separate smaller Shires, which were only amalgamated in the 1940’s.
Next to the library you’ll see a derelict castellated tower, San Jose! It started out as a small cottage which expanded into a private Sanitorium around 1882. By the 1890’s the place had expanded and transformed into The Coffee Palace which became the real social hub of Lawson, with balls, shows, fetes and general festivities. Once the Mechanics Institute opened in 1903, most of this sort of activity moved down there and the place started to decline. It became a private school in 1919 which lasted until the 1960’s. It was then a function centre for a time before once again becoming a school. A fire in 1980 gutted the historic building which was later demolished, but thankfully they retained the tower to intrigue visitors ever since.
Across the road you’ll see the Lyttleton Stores. Built in the 1880’s it was originally a produce store. It’s changed and morphed over the years. It was a very well known antique shop for many years, Badgerys Attic, specialising in toys and games. It became the Lyttleton Stores in 2015 and is now run as a cooperative.
You will find – Organic food from the region, local high level artisan craft, a monthly art show in the tiny window gallery and kitchen producing excellent food. There are workshops almost weekly, ranging from preserving, baking & fermenting, to printmaking and life drawing. There’s also a small and productive garden, growers meet ups and garden workshops. It’s well worth a visit!
Eco Mountain & Sustain Cafe next door has only been operating for the last month or so and should prove to be a great neighbour. As you can guess by the name they carry an extensive range of eco friendly goods and a cafe section. The Cafe wasn’t quite open when we were there, but I’ve heard the coffee is good, so I’ll be back to try it out.
If you would like a swim in arguably one of the most beautifully located swimming pools anywhere, then get down to the Lawson Pool in North Lawson. It really is a gem, surrounded by bush, with some signs of the original structures still in place. The Olympic sized pool is heated to take the edge off the chill and there are children’s facilities and plenty of surrounding grassed areas.
I can tell you, doing a few laps in the cool water on a hot day, surrounded by the green of the trees under a clear blue sky with birdsong around, is almost sensory overload!
You can walk down easily from the railway station, though it’s a bit of a climb coming back up the hill on a hot day.
Map of Australia!
While you are down at the pool area, checkout the concrete Map of Australia Water Feature in the nearby Wilson Park! It really is a quirky treasure and dates back to 1932.
It was restored a couple of years ago and there are plans for further restoration on it.
The Kangaroo – Aboriginal Rock Art
This is possibly the most accessible Rock Art in the Blue Mountains, if not Australia. Drive into Queen’s Road and then take a left into Kangaroo Street. You’ll see a small reserve & parking area in about 50 mtrs.
Depending on the light the large Kangaroo is very clear. It’s best early morning or late afternoon. There is a strange triangular shape carved under it’s front legs that no one has really explained. There is also an unusual round carving nearby and other faint markings.
Lawson Bush Walks
The bushwalks around Lawson are excellent. Here are two that you should find out more about that have some great bush and wonderful waterfalls. I should point out, they are not huge waterfalls, but most of the time you’ll have them all to yourself, which makes this area of the Blue Mountains so special.
You can do either as a full walk or if time is limited, just do the first section and return.
As with all our Village Guides, we don’t provide full directions or maps to the walks suggested. There are far better resources out there for this, both online and in print.
On the North side is the Empire Pass Walk through North Lawson Park. The full walk is about 5.4k so a good walk, but if you want, just go down to the delightful Dante’s Glen and experience what the Blue Mountains is all about. If you do the full track you’ll get to Frederica Falls and then wind your way back up to Lawson
On the South side, follow Honour Avenue down and you will come to a series of tracks and delightful waterfalls on your right.
If you just want a quick walk, just walk down to Adeline Falls.
If you want to do a loop, start at Cataract Falls slightly further down the road, and loop through Federal, Junction and then Adeline. You can then walk back to the start, either via the fire trail or Baths Road. It’s about 3ks for the loop.
These tracks are quite well defined, maintained and signposted, though there are several alternative tracks crisscrossing the area, so it pays to have a map or guidebook.
If you are keen to do a walk but would prefer to go out with a group, I suggest you find out if the Neighbourhood Centre are running one. Local Historian and Bushwalker Ken Goodlet usually guides these. I’ve been on several with him and highly recommend them.