I love Cairns. The city itself is small. It is right on the coast. Flying in over the islands of the Great Barrier Reef is exciting. Cairns has a walkway along the foreshore lined by mudflats on one side and tropical gardens and picnic areas including kids playgronds on the other side. The main attraction in Cairns is the man made pools on the foreshore next to the Esplanade. They are free for everyone to enjoy :)
Yes Cairns itself does not have white sand beaches. But you can catch a local bus up to Trinity, Palm Cove and surrounding beaches to enjoy the famous Australian white sand beaches that we are so renowned for.
The harbour at the end of the Esplanade has some fantastic restaurants with beautiful views. Try the Salt House Restaurant for a lovely tapas type all afternoon luncheon :)
The train up to Kuranda and cable car back is well worth the trip. Kuranda has markets, gift shops, cafes and pubs. A visit to Cairns is not complete unless you visit Kuranda.
The Cairns Botanical Gardens are well worth a visit to check out tropical flowers. You can catch the local bus there and there is a cafe to enjoy a nice mid-morning snack and ice coffee or a cool beer.