Clifton Beach is an outer northern suburb of Cairns, 22 km from the city centre. The name is comparatively recent. In the early postwar years a local sugar cane grower, William Fairweather formed an access road from his farm, and the Mulgrave Shire Council decided to name the locality after the birthplace of his wife in Clifton on the Darling Downs.

Clifton is the fourth beach location north of Cairns and housing subdivisions and road improvements began in the 1970s. Three caravan parks and a stinger-resistant swimming enclosure were in place by the 1980s, and Clifton Beach was a mixture of residential and holiday living with something of a country atmosphere. Arlington Esplanade has older houses and tourist facilities dating from then. A community centre was opened a short way back from the esplanade and local shops carry everyday goods, arts and crafts. 'Wild World' was opened on the Captain Cook highway, catching passing traffic.

The population increased by 64% during 1986-91 and the momentum continued into the 2000s. It was transformed into middle to upper-range suburbs with a good population of sea-change retirees. The area between the highway and the beach was nearly all urbanised, although the other side of the highway backing onto the Kuranda State forest (approximately two-thirds of the suburb) remained undeveloped.

Coinciding with recent phases of Clifton Beach's urbanisation, a caravan park was sold for development, cyclonic activity in 2004-05 eroded the beach and a drive-in shopping centre with a Coles supermarket opened in 2004.

Clifton Beach's census populations have been:

Census DatePopulation
19761395
19811957
19862276
199113371
20012269
20062613
20112980
1 Probably includes residents of Palm Cove.
2 Estimated.