A Girl's Guide to

Cape Town, South Africa

may 13, 2018

Set at the edge of the African continent, where humans took their first steps on land, Cape Town intimates visitors to recover an authentic and vivacious life. This dynamic city, in my opinion, has it all. The culture is rich, the diversity is shocking, and the coast is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. With the Atlantic at its doorstep and a backdrop of mountains, Cape Town is already set to be a top destination for nature-lovers. Yet, it’s offerings continue as the city’s creative class bedecks Cape Town with artistic offerings and the culinary scene continues to thrive. Push the city limits by popping into the car for an hour or so to arrive amidst rolling hills of vineyards, or among penguins on pristine beaches, or on the tip of the continent of Africa, or even amongst giraffes and zebras on a game drive. It may be a long journey to get to this corner of the world, but once you arrive, you won’t want to leave.

** For more information on safety and culture in Cape Town read my post Misconceptions About South Africa.

sEE // Do

 

  • The Company Gardens in the city center is a lovely park offering a diverse range of activities. The green space is framed by several museums of diverse subjects, including natural history, Judaism, art, and local history. Within the greenery you will likely find a woman selling peanuts, which children (and youthful souls, like myself) feed by hand to the resident squirrels.  

 

  • De Waterkant is the touristic center of Cape Town. It includes an expansive mall, restaurants, live performances, a ferris wheel, booking excursions, and much more. From here, you can catch a tour to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned.

 

  • Bo-kaap, traditionally known as the Malay Quarter, is unique in its brightly painted houses and ethnic vibe. For more context, join one of the free walking tours of the area.

  • Woodstock is an old industrial area that has become a haven for artists in the past decade. Colorful murals line the streets, where one may spend an afternoon shopping at The Foundry, sipping brews at Woodstock Brewery or grabbing a meal at the ever-growing list of trendy restaurants in the area.

 

  • The beaches of Cape Town are some of the most beautiful in the world. While the water is frigid, the sun is hot and the summery vibes are pumping. Camps Bay Beach is a favorite, especially among tourists. I prefer the Clifton Beaches for a more local vibe.

 

  • Zietz Silo Museum perfectly encaptures the African spirit in art from various perspectives and themes. This modern art museum is unique to the continent, and it just happens to be one of my favorite museums in the world.

 

  • Explore Hout Bay, the hippie suburb of Cape Town. The surrounding mountains make for a gorgeous backdrop to the beaches and charming harbor of the bay. The waterside eateries are know specifically for their fish and chips. From here you can also grab a tour to Seal Island.

 

  • The Hout Bay Market is the star of Hout Bay, featuring live music on the weekends. The vendors sell unique souvenirs, used books, jewelry, plants, and all sorts of other things. The food/drink vendors are equally diverse and amazing. The Watershed Market in de Waterkant is another favorite of mine for a more touristically groomed experience. The Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock is famous among locals and tourists, but has gotten too crowded for me. While newcomer, Mojo Market in Seapoint is foodie paradise. If you want generic, African souvenirs, head to Green Market Square in town.

 

  • Consider touring local Townships, more impoverished areas of the country, which were historically used for racial segregation until the end of Apartheid in 1994. Today, various townships are known for art and foodie excursions in getting to know an authentic element of South African life and culture.

 

  • Hike Table Mountain and/or Lion’s Head. Both offer fantastic views and a kick ass workout. Lion’s Head takes about 1.5 hours round trip and is lovely at sunrise or sunset. Table Mountain has many routes up. The most direct is Platteklip Gorge, which takes about an hour each way. There is a cable car on Table Mountain, which can take you back down after you hike up, or round trip, if you’d prefer. Below are a series of photos from various hikes around Cape Town.

EAT // DRINK

 

For upscale and modern South African cuisine…

 

  • Kloof Street House is located in an old Victorian-style house with very eclectic, colorful, and vintage decor. Their furnished and cozy garden is the perfect dinner spot on warm summer evenings. The food is always flavorful with generous portions.

 

  • The Shortmarket Club is affiliated with top chefs of South Africa, as it’s head chef hails from The Test Kitchen, which consistently makes the “World’s Best Restaurant List” (in 2015, Test Kitchen restaurant was ranked #28). It is easier to obtain a reservation with Shortmarket and prices are approachable considering the quality. I especially enjoyed their oyster and bubbly cart.

 

  • Carne SA offers at taste of the wild with it’s Safari grilled meats platter. This dish allows you to try ostrich, kudu buck, wildebeest, impala, and blesbok.

  • House of H is a self-service style restaurant with ample-seating and plenty of tasty options, making it ideal for bigger groups.Don’t miss the brisket sandwich!

 

For seafood…

 

  • Sea Breeze serves fresh seafood in a refined, nautical setting in the center of town. Don’t miss their Oyster Happy Hour - R10/oyster 12-1pm and 5-6pm everyday!

 

  • Codfather Seafood & Sushi, frequented and accoladed by tourists and locals alike, offers incredible quality in a polished setting.

 

For the view…

 

  • The Bungalow is the perfect spot for lunch or a meal post-beach. Situated between Clifton and Camps Bay, this oceanfront restaurant is casual and beachy, but also appears to be the kind of place to see and be seen.

 

  • Cloud 9 Boutique Hotel has a lovely rooftop pool and bar, which is open to the public. Enjoy a nice cocktail and pizza poolside in the cradle of mountains.

 

  • Roundhouse is set in the hills near Lion’s Head Mountain, overlooking Camps Bay. The house itself has an interesting history. You can also enjoy a picnic on the grounds for lunch or sundowners pre-dinner.

 

For coffee, breakfast, and quick bites…

 

  • Harvest Cafe, located in the colorful Bo-kaap neighborhood, is a lovely place for coffee and healthy noms. *Bonus: They have a stellar rooftop views of the city and surrounding mountains. They also host yoga classes on the roof outside of cafe hours.

 

  • Lola’s Cafe has tasty breakfast in the center of town. It also serves as an art gallery displaying pieces by local artists.

 

  • Kleinsky’s serves delish bagels with a both traditional and inventively flavored schmears. You also have a choice of other Jewish delicacies and sandwiches. My go to order? The lamb bacon BLT.

 

  • Kauai, a healthy chain, serving smoothies, salads, and grain bowls is my pick for a quick bite or hangover cure.

 

  • Ground Zero Marley Coffee in Observatory serves a diverse vegan menu alongside its caffeinated beverages. It’s a nice place to crank out some emails or enjoy the weather on the back patio.

 

  • Junior Burgers is quick and delish. They have vegetarian options, along with bomb milkshakes and cheesy fries.

For international cuisines…

 

  • El Burro serves up modern Mexican and smashing margaritas in bright and sunny interiors. The new location in Tamboerskloof is more casual, with a smaller menu and more communal sitting, while the original location near Greenpoint is slightly more refined.

  • Wonderful Sushi - it’s all in the name. This place looks totally unimpressive from the outside, but just give it a chance. Order one of their platters and a Chenin Blanc for a delicious, fresh, and inexpensive meal.

 

  • Downtown Ramen is upstairs and all yummy. The huge bowls of warm broth and noodles are exceptionally comforting, especially on those windy Capetownian days.

 

  • Bocca for pizza, tapas, and delicious cocktails - try the Chili Margarita!

 

  • Asoka has a very oriental vibe serving Asian tapas among colorful lanterns, puffy cushions, and a very charismatic tree, dominating the center of the restaurant.

 

  • Saigon is good for Vietnamese plates and bites. Don’t miss the calamari and tempura cauliflower.

 

For ice cream…

 

  • Sorbetiere Woodstock Ice Cream uses whole ingredients to create uniquely authentic flavors. For example, their mint chocolate chip flavor isn’t a terrifyingly neon shade of green; it is white with flecks of green and brown, as they use real mint leaves, not some food coloring and flavoring.

 

  • Unframed Ice Cream plays off of current dining and superfood trends to create unique and tasty flavors, including some vegan options. I especially enjoyed the Burnt White Chocolate flavor.

 

For cocktails…

  • The Secret Gin Bar is one of my favorite bars in the world. It truly is a secret, as it is hidden behind a chocolate shop, which leads back to a courtyard and then, finally, the cave-like gin bar. Don’t miss the upstairs cocktail bar serving additional and more diverse set of offerings.

 

  • The Botanical Bar uses local and often obscure flora and fauna to create truly regionally-exclusive cocktails. They also have super yummy small bites.

 

  • Orphanage Cocktail Bar, on the very happening Bree Street, has a swanky, Old World vibe, with engaging and theatrical mixologists.

  • Tjing Tjing is a social bar in the center of town featuring a nice, open roof section. They serve Asian inspired cocktails and tapas to a more refined crowd than neighboring bars in the area, which generally cater to youthful patrons and tourists.

 

  • The Willaston Bar at the Silo Hotel in the Silo District of de Waterkant is equally old-school classy and modern-geometric in it’s design. Perched on the 6th floor, this colorful space serves expertly crafted cocktails, in addition to full meals and tea-time trays.

 

  • Mount Nelson Planet Bar, frequented by international celebrities, is decorated and served with the sort of extravagance that feels out of this world. Pop in for a cocktail or glass of champagne and see for yourself.

 

  • Caprice, a Cape Town institution in the nightlife scene, is the place to be for sundowners. Located opposite Camps Bay Beach, stop by on Sundays if you’re looking for a bit of a party.

 

  • Harringtons Cocktail Lounge is for bottle service amongst chic interiors. Although I’m not much of a “club” girl, this place is super fun for drinking, dancing, and flirting with locals and internationals. Even so, I prefer to go on weekdays to avoid the crowds.

 

  • The Sorrows, with its generous happy hour and bomb lamb chops, is an easy choice for an early dinner, yet the friendly staff and artsy patrons will keep you there chatting all night.

 

  • Power and Glory, a hip hangout in the Gardens, is a fantastically casual watering hole. They brew coffee and dole out tasty bites by day, and then stay open until the wee hours pouring wine, beer, and pickleback shots.

 

Places I didn’t get to, but will next time:

The Pot Luck Club (for innovative and edgy cuisine), Test Kitchen (to test the accolades and hype), Marrow (for filling and warm broth bowls), Outrage of Modesty (for classy and inventive cocktails), Openwine (for wine pairings), South China Dim Sum Bar (Asian fusion), Pigalle (upscale seafood and steak), The Duchess of Wisbeach (for cozy and quirky dinner vibe in Seapoint), Top of the Ritz (a nice view and dinner/cockails), Black Sheep (intimate dining), The Stack (colorful lounge and brasserie), Alphen (boutique hotel and restaurant in Constantia), Lily’s (cheery all-day restaurant),  Fire Fish (seafood at de Waterkant), and Societi (locally sourced cuisine).

Shop // Splurge

 

  • Mungo & Jemima (playful styles), Mememe (classy look), and Convoy (modern and casual) all sell South Africa fashion designs for women. The local craftsmanship is beautiful and unique. Stop in to pickup a souvenir for yourself!

 

  • Purr in the Gardens sells très chic womenswear. Also in the Gardens, Opulent Living Concept Store markets beautiful accessories that are truly like little works of art and actual pieces of art, including paintings and sculptures. Poetry, tucked away on the upper floor of the V&A mall in de Waterkant is akin to a mini-Anthropologie.

 

 

  • Wine Concepts on Kloof sells your favorite grape-y souvenirs, while hosting FREE wine tastings on the daily. Pick up a few bottles for the braai or to stash in your suitcase to enjoy back home.

 

  • For books, check out The Book Lounge in the city center for a cozy respite. My go to is Cafda Book Shop, a used bookstore which donates the profits to charity.

Getting There // Getting Around

 

​​Unfortunately, Cape Town is truly tucked away in a little pocket of our Earth. Depending on where in the world you come from, most likely it will take at least one long haul flight to get there. All of my trips coming and going from the states have taken over 24 hours. Yet, once you’re there, getting around is relatively easy and affordable. There are city buses and some trains, yet Uber is incredibly cheap, safe, and convenient. Avoid walking alone at night and always be aware of your surroundings to avoid unpleasant experiences.

Day Trip // Road Trip

  • A scenic drive down Cape Point and the Peninsula is a must-do for your stay in Cape. This 140km circular route perfectly outlines the activities and directions. Highlights include penguin sightings at Boulders Beach, the colorful houses along the beach strip in Muizenberg, and numerous amiable fishing villages.

  • Spend a day (or a weekend, if you have time!) in the winelands of Stellenbosch. The petite and romantic town of Stellies is just 45 minutes from Cape Town, set in the mountains, with rolling hills of vineyards. There are some wineries closer to Cape Town in Constantia, but I still recommend venturing to Stellenbosch for a dreamy weekend away. Full guide coming soon!

 

  • The white-washed town of Paternoster is a mere 2 hour drive North of Cape Town. This oceanside village is incredibly relaxed. It reminds me of charming Greek coastline, complete with fantastic eateries and pristine beaches.

 

  • For a more comprehensive experience in South Africa, rent a car and drive the Garden Route. Set along the stunning coast of South Africa, the Garden Route often takes a week or so to complete, depending on your pace and stops. Highlights include scenic hiking in Tstisikamma Forest,  an elephant sanctuary in Knysna, and the ancient Cango Caves.