This coastal suburb was named after the English beach resort "Scarborough". As land at Scarborough was sandy and of little agricultural value, early grants were not made in the area. In 1885 a visiting Sydney journalist explored the coastline at Scarborough and promoted the high quality of the beach. Lots sold poorly and Scarborough was eventually re-subdivided into smaller properties in 1914. In the years following World War II, large scale development occurred. At that time street names in the area were altered to mimic the suburb's namesake in Yorkshire. By the 1960's there was little remaining undeveloped land. However, in the mid 1980's extensive redevelopment occurred, particularly along the beach frontage.
Scarborough was once dominated by holiday homes and single detached houses built in the post-war era and occupied by workers. Though many detached residences remain, in recent years a vast transformation has occurred along the coastal strip. Numerous units and flat developments have appeared. Housing designs range from the timber-framed workers' houses to 1960's flats and modern units. Lot sizes average 800m2 in Scarborough, though this decreases north of Scarborough Beach Road.
The Observation City precinct in Scarborough contains a variety of shops, including a supermarket and weekend markets. There are other local shopping complexes and stores scattered throughout the suburb which provide for daily needs. In addition to the well-used ocean foreshore, Scarborough contains several parks and reserves. Abbett Park offers a variety of sporting opportunities, including football, squash, lawn bowls, tennis and cricket. Scarborough Beach also hosts a lifesaving club and other recreation facilities. A library and community recreation centre are located near the eastern boundary of Scarborough.