This was written for TenFour Media.
Toss that generic Cape Town guidebook to the side. They all say different versions of the same things anyway; visit Table Mountain, V&A Waterfront, Robben Island, and Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Yawn. You’ve probably heard (and seen) it all.
What you really need is a local’s guide you can trust to uncover the less obvious gems in the Mother City. From the best brews and lesser-known beaches, to uncrowded places to watch the sunset and not-on-your-radar activities to do, this guide will have you living like a local now-now.
Eat, drink, and be merry
Cape Town is a mecca for tongue-tantalising food and drink, so much so that it has been dubbed South Africa’s own culinary capital. Here are some of the top spots loved by locals:
For some of the best (and biggest) burgers, hit up The Dog’s Bollocks in Gardens. Their pizza is uber good too and they’re one of the few places that won’t charge extra to swap out regular cheese for vegan cheese.
Speaking of vegans, Royale Eatery in Long Street gets top of the pops for having the most lengthy vegan/vegetarian burger menu in town. They also have incredible double-thick milkshakes for both vegans and the dairy-inclined.
For a coffee brew that will put a caffeinated pep in your step, Truth Coffee on Buitenkant Street and Origin on Hudson Street are the places to be. The former is steam-punk heaven where even the servers are kitted in full steam-punk attire, and the latter is a simple-yet-bold spot dressed in concrete and copper that allows you to see skilled baristas roast your coffee beans in real time.
Taco ‘bout great Mexican food! El Burro in Green Point will blow your hair back when you’re in the mood for authentic Mexican cuisine and a vibrant ambience. It should be noted that their fruity margaritas are as moreish as their churros.
Societi Bistro is a must-do for those who love slow-cooked, lovingly prepared French/Italian-style cuisine. Did we mention that it’s set inside a Georgian-style hilltop mansion and they have a wine menu as comprehensive at the Oxford Dictionary?
For stretching your budget without compromising on portion size or flavour, Eastern Food Bazaar and Indian Food Inn in the CBD are dreamy for the wallet and delicious for the stomach. Both establishments offer a wide variety of cuisines, making them ideal for big groups. Plus, they both offer a mean gatsby (a traditional South African mega sandwich made for sharing) and a host of mouth-wateringly delicious Indian desserts.
Fancy a game of putt-putt at the Sea Point seaside? You can get the whole family involved in this cheap-as-chips activity which costs as little as R20 per person. Hit up the promenade afterward for Instagram-worthy sea views.
Wave-riders can get their surf on at Muizenberg where the water is a little warmer than the icy west-end of the Peninsula. And if you’d prefer to go kayaking, you won’t be disappointed if you link up with Kaskazi Kayaks and Adventures for a meander around the Sea Point surf to see bottle-nosed dolphins, Cape fur seals, and exquisite views of the bay.
If you’re looking to learn all about far, far away galaxies, star constellations, and the planets in our solar system and beyond, the Planetarium in the CBD will wow you into returning. They have a great kids programme too.
Check out the anciently charming Labia Theatre in Gardens for an authentically old-school movie theatre experience, wine and pizza at hand. And for even more culture, The Book Lounge – an award-winning independent bookshop set in an old Victorian building in Roeland Street – makes a splendid place in which to lose yourself between the pages of a good read and find books you’ll seldom see anywhere else.
Beaches, hikes, and natural beauties
Whilst Lion’s Head is no secret, you can experience it differently when you summit it at night – only during full moon though. Head up as the sun begins to set and you’ll find yourself at the top in time for moonrise. Make sure to take along a head torch for the way down.
If you’re not keen for a moonlit Lion’s Head summit, take advantage of the moonlight at Silvermine Nature Reserve instead. There, you’ll share the trail with slightly fewer people and be treated to expansive views of a twinkling False Bay and Noordhoek.
A little-known waterfall hike can be found in the sleepy southern suburb of Hout Bay. Drive to the top of the Hout Bay Manor Road, park your car at the cul-de-sac and step into the bush. A relatively short-and-easy walk will deliver you to the tranquillity of a gently flowing waterfall and river sheltered by a canopy of luscious green. The flow dwindles in summer, so it’s best to go after heavy rains.
Cape Town’s beaches can get very crowded in summer. So when Clifton 4th is too packed to find anywhere to place your towel, head on to Beta or Bakoven Beach – both of which can be found further along the strip just past Camps Bay. There you’ll find a sheltered bay to swim in and mesmerising views of the proud Lion’s Head.
You can also skip the typical strip altogether and head out to Cape Point instead. Forming part of the Table Mountain National Park, you can expect kilometres of unspoiled and quiet beaches, including Neptune’s Dairy, Platboom Bay, and Diaz Beach below the Global Atmosphere Watch Station.
Shopping spots and gems
There are plenty more spots to shop than the V&A Waterfront. Take a stroll into the historically iconic neighbourhood of Bo Kaap, a predominantly Cape Malay community teeming with rich culture, delicious food, and interesting side-of-the-road curios. Their famed spice and dry goods store, Atlas Trading, is an affordable ingredient haven for curry makers, bakers, and chefs alike, but you discover a host of gems in the lesser-known stores also on Wale Street. Make sure to get koesisters from Biesmiellah and thank us later.
Kalk Bay, voted Forbes’s coolest neighbourhood in the world for 2018, is a quirky seaside town brimming with hidden treasures, antique stores, jewellery finds, and quaint cafés at which to enjoy a coffee and a satiating meal at the seaside. Brass Bell is one of Kalk Bay’s institutions and well worth a visit for the epic sea views and sumptuous fish and chips. Just down the road from there, Cape To Cuba will also spoil you with sandy toes, live music, and yummy tummy-fillers.
Woodstock is Cape Town’s own up-and-coming area, an industrial-cum-residential melting pot of graffiti murals, material stores, cafés, restaurants, bars, and trendy workspaces. You’ll find that the Old Biscuit Mill is a fantastic market with varied cuisines and home-made products on offer but it can get overcrowded, so do yourself a favour and take a stroll down the main roads to discover a host of quieter and cuter spots.
In the neighbouring suburb, Observatory, you’ll find treasures aplenty in a host of unassuming second-hand stores. Make sure to check out Dolcé Bakery for preposterously cheap baked goods and brunch bits that receive raving reviews.
Shoppers on the hunt for name brands at general store prices should venture further south to find bargains galore at Access Park. From groceries and curios, to mega factory stores like Nike and Adidas, you’ll be able to shop until you drop at prices your bank account will appreciate.
When in the CBD, skip the bustling Long Street for a stroll along Bree and Loop Streets. Both streets host a smorgasbord of high-end boutique stores, renowned restaurants, homey bakeries, suave cocktail bars, and eclectic art galleries well worth a visit. Notable establishments in these streets include The Station, a London-underground themed bar and restaurant; Arcade, a pizza and burger joint by day and hip-hop party by night; and Jason’s Bakery, the holy grail of baked goods in the CBD. You’re welcome.