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Emerald is located in the scenic Dandenong ranges between Belgrave and Cockatoo.

Emerald has two distinct commercial centres. The larger of those centre stretches along Kilvington Drive down to the Puffing Billy playground and railway station. A smaller centre is located just under a kilometre away, overlooking the Worrell Reserve sports ground between the junctions of the roads to Monbulk and Beaconsfield, and features a few cafes, gift shops, a major supermarket, the town hall and library.

The town's major recreational and leisure attraction is Emerald Lake Park. It was originally part of the historic Nobelius Nursery which was planted in the late 1890s with fruit and ornamental trees that thrived on the rich soil of the Emerald area. In 1941, 50 hectares of the original nursery was opened as a public park. The park is bordered by the Puffing Billy railway line and offers a range of activities for the whole family set within the bush and scenic picnic grounds that surround Lake Treganowan and Lake Nobelius.

West of Emerald, on Wellington Road, is Aura Vale Lake which forms part of a diverse drainage system for the neighbouring Cardinia Reservoir. At the Henley Picnic Area are lawns and picnic areas which extend down to the water front and a boat ramp for the launching of small non-powered boats.

Further along Wellington Road is the entrance to Cardinia Reservoir Park, situated at the dam wall at the western end of Cardinia Reservoir. The reservoir was completed in 1973 and is a major source for Melbourne's water supply. A large recreational park was established along the dam wall and spillway and there are several picnic areas - Kangaroo Flat, Crystal Brook and Duffys Lookout - all with shelters, BBQ and toilet facilities. A walkway of almost 2 kilometres runs along the top of the dam wall, linking the lookout car park with the spillway car park, providing fine views over the extensive waters of this reservoir and down to the lawns, parkland and surrounding bush at the base of the dam wall.