Caloundra, a coastal township with numerous adjoining suburbs, is 72 km north of central Brisbane. It is thought that the name was derived from an Aboriginal word describing Queensland beech trees, of which several species are found in coastal rain forests.

Although surveyed in the 1870s, Caloundra evoked little interest until the following decade. There were a hotel and store at Mellum Creek (Landsborough) for coach stopovers in 1878, and some nearby cedar cutting at Campbellville. Land sales occurred in 1883, and the first hotel in Caloundra proper was built in 1885. The next two hotels opened in 1905-06, by when holiday-makers could make their way by road from Landsborough railway station.

Caloundra has numerous beach-front suburbs, of which two are named after early inhabitants: Kings Beach arose from Allan King, the proprietor of the Grand Central Guest House (1888); Moffat Beach arose from James Moffat, the owner of a homestead on Moffat Head, built in 1883; and Bulcock Beach (not a suburb but in Caloundra proper) was named after Robert Bulcock who acquired land in Caloundra in 1875 and built the area's first house about three years later. Another early Caloundra suburb, Dicky Beach, was named after the merchant vessel 'Dicky' which was forced aground in a hurricane in 1893.

Caloundra Head (Point Wickham) is the eastern-most point of Caloundra, and in 1896 a lighthouse was installed on a rise directly west. Long superseded, the corrugated iron, timber framed tower is on a reserve in Canberra Terrace.

Visitors and holiday-makers reached Caloundra by horse-drawn transport from the Landsborough railway station. When cars became more reliable access was better, and Pugh's Queensland directory in 1925 mentions four motorcar services in Caloundra. Visitors had the choice of hotel, guest house or camping for accommodation. Two storekeepers sold provisions. Caloundra also had a school (1889), a public hall (1912) and a school of arts (1927). A life-saving service on Kings Beach began in 1933 and a picture theatre was opened in 1937.

During World War II Caloundra and Bribie Island, because of their defensive positions, underwent an influx of Australian and American armed services personnel. There were three radar stations and the beaches were encircled by barbed wire and machine gun pits. Further evidence of the war can be seen at Wickham Head where a plaque records the torpedoing of a hospital ship, 'Centaur', off Cape Moreton in 1943.

Early postwar ambition for the development of Caloundra was frustrated by shortages of building materials and it was not until 1952 that business premises and shops were refurbished and extended. A golf course was opened in 1952. Before then the only church building was a prewar Methodist structure, but quite soon there were Catholic and Presbyterian (1952) and Baptist (1956) churches. With a growing teenage population, Caloundra opened a high school in 1967. New suburbs emerged: to the north the Landsborough Shire council subdivided land south of Currimundi Creek, naming the new suburb Currimundi; and the developer Alfred Grant was granted land in 1957 in exchange for building the Nicklin Way arterial road for the new suburb north of Currimundi Creek, Kawana Waters, at first planned as Kawana Island. It has since become four suburbs, Buddina, Warana, Bokarina and Wurtulla, with the redeeming feature of a wide foreshore public reserve. Buddina, the most northerly suburb, was extended into the Mooloolah estuary with a massive canal estate.

South of Caloundra is Golden Beach, looking across Pumicestone Channel to Bribie Island. First subdivided in 1928, it was sandy wallum country with abundant golden wattles (hence the name). Before World War II land sales were sluggish because the Caloundra Estate still had many unsold blocks. However, it offered excellent fishing and crabbing and its relative flatness made postwar owner-building of shacks an easy task. Army huts were transported there from Bribie Island. Several shops and kiosks were built along the Esplanade in the early 1950s, and a new shopping centre in Landsborough Parade was started in 1959. A further suburban extension to Golden Beach was approved by the Council with the new Pelican Waters estate. It was promoted by the local Henzell real estate family which had owned the land since 1945. The planned population for Pelican Waters was 12,000, about the same as Golden Beach's. It has a drive-in shopping centre and a golf course.

Caloundra's 'western suburb' is Aroona where homes were first built in 1954 along Albatross Avenue. Sales then stagnated until the opening of the Caloundra bypass on Nicklin Way. A proposed railway is on Aroona's western edge.

By the 1960s Caloundra's population was about 7000, more than three-quarters of the population of the shire. The Landsborough shire offices were moved from Landsborough to Caloundra in 1968, and in 1987 the name was changed to Caloundra City. Caloundra City's population grew from 75,171 (2001) to 88,000 (2006). On 15 March 2008 Caloundra City was amalgamated with Maroochy and Noosa Shires to form Sunshine Coast Regional Council.

Caloundra proper is a resort town with numerous apartments, motels and an airport (Caloundra West). The Kawana and Golden Beach sectors are much more dormitory suburbs. It also has numerous aged-persons' facilities and retirement villages. Shopping facilities tend to be neighbourhood based, and Caloundra's sole sub-regional drive-in shopping centre (Stockland-formerly Sunland, with Kmart, a supermarket and 50 shops) was opened in 1978. Bulcock Street in central Caloundra has a large, active shopping strip. Kawana Waters Shopping World (closer to Mooloolabah than Caloundra) has about 90 shops and was opened in 1979.

The census populations of Caloundra and its (postwar) suburbs have been:

 Census datePopulation
Caloundra and suburbs191194
 1933271
 19471718
 19613657
 197110,602
 198116,758
 199122,094
Caloundra
(expanded boundaries)
200152,081
 200662,007
Caloundra Local Government Area199153,434
 200174,393
 200687,596

The suburb of Caloundra has recorded the following census populations:

census datepopulation
20063426
20113558
Further Reading: 

Erica Riis, Growth of Caloundra, Caloundra, E. Riis, 1996, 1998

Anne Wensley, An introduction to the history of Caloundra, Landsborough, Shire of Landsborough Historical Society Museum, 1977

Courier-Mail, 16 Oct 1992 (Pelican Waters)

Sunshine Coast, 15 Aug 1993 (Aroona)

Gary McKay, Times of change: a history of Caloundra City, Caloundra, Caloundra City Council, 2007

Battery Hill, Bokarina, Buddina, Caloundra Suburbs, Conondale, Dicky Beach, Glenview, Golden Beach, Kawana Waters, Kings Beach, Landsborough Shire, Meridan Plains, Minyama, Moffatt Beach, Parrearra, Peachester, Pelican Waters, Shelly Beach, Warana, Witta and Wurtulla entries