Increasing awareness of the resource value of place distinctiveness coincides with concern that tourism can erode the special qualities that attract tourists to particular destinations. This paper, drawn from a larger research project investigating the integration of tourism in small coastal settlements, introduces a multimethod research strategy for interpreting cultural landscapes of tourism. The case study of a well-known resort area on the east coast of Australia demonstrates the dynamic relationship between patterns in the landscape narrative and patterns in the built environment of small coastal settlements. In Noosa, a distinctive built form has evolved in parallel with the narrative of the place as a relaxed but stylish resort village dominated by nature. Both the narrative and physical landscape have been shaped by a local process of constant comparison and contrast with well-known Australian and international coastal resorts. In particular, the paper illustrates how recurring themes in the local dialogue of place have flowed between key urban design/planning documents, ephemeral tourism literature, publications, and the perceptions of residents, tourists and key informants as reported in focused conversational interviews.