The earliest forms of local government in the Shire were the district road boards established in the 1850s and 1860s. These boards were mainly responsible for the care and maintenance of district roads and bridges.
When Torquay came into existence it was within the Shire of Barrabool’s boundaries. In 1890 with the encouragement of the Torquay Improvement Association (TIA) the Public Works Department adjusted Barrabool’s boundaries making Spring Creek Road the boundary between the two Shires. The change came into effect in October dismissing the objection of South Barwon Shire who believed it was a disadvantage to include the township of Puebla within its boundary.
It was not until 1965 when there was a petition for severance presented to the Governor-In-Council seeking that the greater part of the Connewarre Riding (which included Torquay) of the Shire of South Barwon be removed from that Municipality and place in the Shire of Barrabool. The request was denied.
The City of South Barwon ceased to exist when the City of Greater Geelong came into being on 18 May 1993. Under an Act of Parliament the six municipalities Bellarine, Geelong, Geelong West, Newtown, Corio and South Barwon along with the Barrabool part of Torquay became the new City. The Shire of Barrabool which had been significantly reduced by the creation of Greater Geelong and had lost much of its rates base, joined Torquay residents in suggesting that the Kennett Liberal government create a coastal shire uniting Torquay and Anglesea. Following recommendations from the newly formed Local Government Board, The Surf Coast Shire came into being through an Order-in-Council on 9 March 1994, comprising all of Torquay, most of the former Winchelsea Shire and the former Shire of Barrabool. The administrative centre for the shire was initially based at Winchelsea, but was moved later in the year to Torquay with sub-offices located at Lorne and Winchelsea.