Sand, sundowners and salubrious suburbs
Cape Town’s Best Beaches
22 March 2019 by Kiera Greenwood
Not often is a city able to offer beaches, mountains and painstakingly cool urban vibes in equal measures, but Cape Town does just that. Ranking pretty highly when it comes to my favourite cities in the world (what am I talking about, not much can compete with this beauty, it’s number one), I took it upon myself to test out all that the Mother City has to offer and with a coastline that good, it would be a crime not to make use of it. The water may be chilly – and that’s an understatement – but the sands are sumptuous, so once you’ve had your hit of culture, these are the beaches that I think you need to free up some time to lounge on.
For anyone who’s anyone, Camps Bay is the place to be. From its swish bars to its powdery sands, this slice of the metropolis feels like an upmarket holiday resort. The buzz of the inner city really does seem a million miles away. If, like me, you’re a sucker for sunsets, Camps Bay makes for the perfect afternoon into evening affair. I drifted from beach to bar and back again until my stomach led my sandy feet in search of dinner.
For a casual drink – very much a burger and beer vibe – the South African chain, Tiger’s Milk, is the kind of place where salty hair and an aperol spritz go hand in hand, whilst if you want to keep it fancy on your holiday, Chinchilla Rooftop Cafe & Bar should be your go to. And don’t be put off by the glamorous locals dressed up to the nines, it may be worth changing out of your bathers for this one, but you will be allowed in even if you’ve just rolled off the beach (trust me). After a gazing at the setting sun having sunk a cocktail or four, end the night in Umi, a restaurant where the food is as good as the aesthetic is pretty – honestly, I had some of the best sushi that I’ve had outside of Japan here. Yum.
With four to choose from, the Clifton beaches are a big hit when it comes to soaking up some sun. Hiding in low, horseshoe shaped coves, the wind that you’d have to battle elsewhere along the Cape is fairly non-existent here and you’re able to sunbathe out of view of the coastal road making it feel fairly secluded despite the loom of the coastline’s posh tower blocks and mansion-like houses.
To access the oasis, you have to make your way down the Clifton Steps and other than the fact that the white sands are regularly traipsed by hawkers offering beds, umbrellas and cool boxes full of cold drinks, you’re left to your own devices to enjoy this portion of the coast. Clifton Fourth has amenities including toilets and outdoor showers and is also watched over by lifeguards, but unlike Camp’s Bay, there’s little else here. The beauty of the Cliftons being their raw sophistication – they certainly draw a sophisticated crowd anyway.
I took a picnic and can confirm that in the hot March weather, choosing a chocolate covered snack was not my brightest idea. And that wasn’t all that melted. I also lost numerous pages out of my book as the heat killed the glue holding it together. To cool down, a quick dip in the ocean seemed like a fantastic idea, but just be warned: this really is an experience for the brave. Colossal waves and icy waters make for quite the challenge. I emerged from the water looking incredibly dishevelled having been taken out by the ferocious tide’s force and chose to stick to the shade to keep cool thereafter.
If a fairy tale was to ever swap out enchanting forests for wild beaches, it would be because Noordhoek had persuaded it too. Like the cherry on top of the Chapman’s Peak Drive cake, this crescent of white sand is what coastal dreams are made of. Wispy, grass-topped dunes separate this beauty from its sleepy suburb, which is a delight in itself. But don’t expect beach bars and resort hotels in this whimsical neighbourhood. Here, humble thatched-roof houses and beach-y bungalows pepper the hilly, tree-heavy topography whilst a penchant for horse riding and organic eateries has defined its affluent, yet ‘at one with nature’ spirit.
Lying in a bay that is known for its ability to blow a gale, this may not be one for sunbathing, but a romantic, windswept stroll? Or, a bareback horse ride? It simply doesn’t get more perfect. I made an impromptu stop here on my way to Cape Point, but if I had known about it beforehand, I would have set aside more time to soak up its magical charms – if you’re planning on self-driving from Cape Town to Cape Point, I’d recommend breaking up the journey by stopping in Noordhoek for a late breakfast.
It’s quite probable that this very beach is one of the key reasons for your trip to South Africa and if not, then it’s definitely already high on your Cape Town bucket-list, because you can’t even Google the city without it being listed as one of the top things to do here. Having already been to South Africa and done the Boulders Beach thing, you’d think that I’d be over it, but on this trip to Cape Town, it was still number one on my list. I mean, how often do you get to hang out with penguins in the wild?
After paying the small conservation fee, we wandered, sandals in hand – there are two entrances and one only allows you to walk on the board walks, so we opted to go straight on the beach – towards the penguin populated shoreline. With black and white birds outnumbering humans (and definitely ruling the roost as one foot out of line and you’ll receive a swift nip), these sands are for anyone looking for an out of this world wildlife experience.
Steeped in history and popular amongst local families, Oudekraal has a sweet, homely feel. It’s readily set up for beach-based activities – think meticulously maintained braai areas and clean toilet facilities – but is surprisingly serene. In fact, as far as tourism goes, this is one of the city’s best kept secrets.
The fact that it’s only open on weekends (8am-6pm) and that you’re charged a R30 conservation fee to even get down to the beach just adds to the feeling that you’re onto something special with Oudekraal. Sheltered from all sides by the boulders that define its wild topography, this beach isn’t just the perfect spot to come for a swim (I wish that I’d known this before braving the water at nearby Clifton), but is also very popular amongst divers too. For a wholesome Sunday enjoying the best of Cape Town’s coast, you can’t beat it.