Gorleston's history predates that of Great Yarmouth, and being on the west bank of the river, it is historically in the county of Suffolk. It is mentioned in the Domesday Book as being held by Earl Guert and having salt-pans for the production of salt. In the Middle Ages it had two manors, Gorleston manor and a small manor called Bacons. In 1511 it was united with the hamlet of Southtown, whose parish church of St Mary was demolished in 1548, the stone being used to build a pier. Administratively, Southtown became part of Great Yarmouth in 1681, but it remained in the ecclesiastical parish of Gorleston.
As part of the Parliamentary Reform Act of 1832, the parish of Gorleston-on-Sea was included in Great Yarmouth for electoral purposes, and in 1835 became part of the municipal borough of Great Yarmouth, although remaining associated with the county of Suffolk until 1891. Since April 1 1974, it has formed part of the urban area of Great Yarmouth, which is itself a portion of the larger current Borough of Great Yarmouth.
Gorleston-on-Sea's main claim to fame is as the historic centre of the herring fishing industry with sailing drifters. It was a major seaside resort in Edwardian times.
It once had three railway stations on a line running from Great Yarmouth to Lowestoft: Gorleston North which closed in 1942, and Gorleston and Gorleston Links, both of which closed on 2nd May 1970 when the line itself ceased operating.
Gorleston-on-Sea remains a resort, and retains much of its Edwardian charm in the area around the beach. The beach regularly achieves Blue Flag status. The high street is currently home to a small number of British chains stores such as Peacocks, Iceland and Superdrug. There is also a library which was opened in 1977, replacing the previous 1904 building which was paid for by the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. It has recently been renovated and now includes a coffee shop and large children's section.
There are many education facilities in Gorleston including the East Norfolk Sixth Form College, Lynn Grove High School, Cliff Park High School and Oriel High School. There is also a large golf club on Gorleston Cliffs to the south of the town.
A major health facility located in Gorleston-on-Sea is the James Paget Hospital, which provides a service for the whole area.