This travel guide is brought to you by one of our favorite photographers, Marni Epstein-Mervis. Marni is based in Los Angeles and the Founder and Principal of STRUKTR Studios. Follow her on Instagram @struktrstudios.
Cape Town is South Africa’s “Mother City.” A city rich in interesting topography, enviable beaches, and some of the friendliest and easygoing residents you’ll ever meet. Once a Dutch trading colony (it sits near the Cape of Good Hope), this vibrant African city has been molded by its colorful and conflict-ridden history: from its multicultural communities, to its place under British rule, its role in apartheid, to its modern day status as a mecca for world class cuisine. It’s also a place I’ve been eager to explore ever since I started dating my now-husband who was born there.
Cape Town, which straddles the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, has lately been making news for its historic drought - the worst it’s faced in over a century. However, a recent deluge of rain may just be what the city needed to help Cape Town turn a major corner.
This travel guide has information on where to stay in Cape Town, what to see, and our favorite spots to eat and drink. Use the table of contents to jump around!
table of contents
GETTING HERE & AROUND
The journey to Cape Town from the U.S. can be long (and for that reason costly) - it’s basically the complete other side of the world, and way down in the southern hemisphere. That said, believe me when I tell you it’s worth it. Most flights from the U.S. will have to connect at least once, typically through Europe or Dubai. Depending on the airline, a second connection may be required through South Africa’s other major hub in Johannesburg.
Once in Cape Town, getting around is incredibly easy as neighborhoods in the city center are closely located to one another. UberX is also widely used around town with most trips within the city center costing somewhere around $2-$4 USD.
Bo Kaap - It is home to the city’s Cape Malay community. The colorful and vibrant neighborhood, originally established in the 1700s, is just steps away from modern glass skyscrapers in Cape Town’s city Center.
Tamboerskloof / Gardens - The city’s trendy culinary and boutique shopping scenes can be found here. Take a walk along Kloof Street for a fun day filled with modern, South African fashion, independent coffee shops, and ornate Victorian architecture.
Muizenberg - A laid back surf community where you’ll find hardcore surfers in the water even in the height of winter’s rainy season.
Sea Point - High-rise condos with unobstructed views of the ocean line the beach-adjacent thoroughfare not unlike Los Angeles’ Santa Monica. For that reason the neighborhood has typically skewed more affluent and older, though a recent youthful influx has brought with it a trendy food and lifestyle marketplace and minimally-minded artisanal grocers.
Derwent House Boutique Hotel
14 Derwent Rd, Gardens | Website
Built in the 1930s this luxury guesthouse, which was originally a private home, was transformed by Carol Judge and Jo Campbell in 2008 into a boutique hotel. It is now run by Anahid Harrison & Armin Schroecker who have imbued the 10 room hotel with a colorful and modern design sensibility that is distinctly African; and with a kind of hospitality and warmth that makes you feel like you’re the only guest. Amenities include a fabulous breakfast in the morning along with sherry and brandy in the evenings, and also a complimentary local smartphone for use throughout your stay so you can avoid nasty international data charges. Rates start at $128/night.
Contemporary Apartment with Harbour Views Airbnb
Greenpoint | Website
Floor to ceiling sliding glass windows provide nearly 180 degree views of Cape Town Stadium and the Atlantic Ocean. This stylish Airbnb is located in Greenpoint, walking distance between Sea Point and De Waterkant, Cape Town’s most LGBTQ-friendly area of town which is where you can also find shopping, trendy designer showrooms, and cafes, particularly along the cobblestone streets of De Waterkant’s Cape Quarter area. Winter rates for this Airbnb hover around $65/night. Summer rates are around $185/night.
165 Long St, Cape Town City Centre I Website
With Ladurée-esque design vibes and cool gelato eats, Moro Gelato is a must-visit for those looking to satisfy their sweet tooth with some eye-candy in addition to some ice cream.
Indian, Iraqi, Italian, Japanese… you name it. Mojo Market’s got food stalls with just about every cuisine you could possibly think of (not to mention those with crafts and leathergoods), all of which meander around a warehouse with a large bar at its center. The space also features live music, while a projector screen which makes this spot a destination for World Cup or Rugby viewing parties.
Haute Cuisine is mixed with a funky take on Colonial African decor. Do what’s nearly unheard of in America and relish a fine steak dinner, complete with wine, for around $10-12 USD.
Hit up Snoekies in Hout Bay for a no-fuss, old school Cape Town fish and chips experience where you can eat with the salty sea air in your nose. They’ve been serving local varieties of fish, such as Snoek and Hake, since 1951.
The Willaston Bar @ The Silo Hotel
Silo Square, V & A Waterfront I Website
For an Alice in Wonderland-meets-industrial vibe with 360 degree views of Cape Town, head for drinks at The Willaston. It’s located in Cape Town’s swankiest new hotel, the Silo - aptly named for the building’s original use as a grain silo. The eye-popping project was designed by London-based architect Thomas Heatherwick. A cocktail is an easy way to get a dose of the chic space without shelling out for a budget-busting ($800+/night) stay.
Cape Town’s prime spot for a carefree sundowner (a happy hour cocktail). Sit with your feet in the sand, gaze off towards the horizon, and enjoy one of Africa’s truly epic sunsets.
The Gin Bar
64A Wale Street I Website
A bar for G&T purists and old world vibes. Take your cocktail out back to a cafe table in the courtyard where beautiful graphic tile floors are set against old stone walls.
76 Orange St, Gardens I Website
When it comes to caffeinating in South Africa, tea is the traditional drink of choice. Make a reservation at Cape Town’s iconic Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel for high tea, and for around $27 USD / person you can partake in a quintessentially South African experience. White glove service comes complete with your choice of freshly brewed teas, a tower of savory snacks, scones, and a seemingly never-ending buffet table of sweet delicacies.
Artem Centre, 277 Main Road, Sea Point I Website
From the gold leaf logo, which evokes comparisons to the Louis Vuitton insignia, to the setting, which feels more akin to your favorite craft cocktail establishment than java joint, to the patisserie with offerings too beautiful to eat, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more luxe coffee experience than Coco Safar. Grab an espresso or better yet, their signature Rooibos latte. Then relax amid the dark woods, lush green velvets, and gleaming copper accents.
Burg St & Longmarket Street
The central square of Cape Town was built in 1696. Today, it bustles as a place to purchase African art, crafts, and clothing, but its varied history as a vegetable market and slave market can still be felt. The cobblestone streets and the Colonial, Gothic, and Art Deco architecture styles of the buildings that surround the square act as a kind of time machine.
277 Main Road, Sea Point I Website
A home goods store and ethical grocer that focuses on conscious community and intentional living. The store, designed by South Africa’s Master Studio, reflects Japanese woodworking techniques and craft in its minimalist aesthetic. Score everything from fine bedding, kitchen tools, and furniture, to artisan breads and cheeses, freshly made jams, meats, and vegetables.
While retail in America has seen better days, Cape Town’s biggest mall, situated on the waterfront, feels alive and well. Shop everything from high end housewares and clothing, to African curios.
27 Somerset Rd, De Waterkant I Website
Nap is a home decor store started by Carina Marescia and her daughter, Tamryn. Careful, you may just want to take everything home with you, so consider yourself warned. The store features a simple black and white aesthetic that carries through all its products - an expression of the owners’ love for the functional, simple, and beautiful. Oh yeah, there’s a coffee counter on the back wall, so they’re a cafe of sorts as well.
Feel like you’re literally on top of the world when you take in the sweeping and unimaginable views from Cape Town’s highest vantage point. A rotating cable car will take you 3,500 feet up to the rocky landing; trek around and look out towards the Indian Ocean from one side and to Robben Island from the other.
Iziko Slave Lodge
Located on Greenmarket Square this aptly named museum (originally built by the Dutch in the late 1600s to house their first slaves) is, today, dedicated to showcasing South Africa’s extensive history of slavery, guided the principle of “from human wrongs to human rights.”
Stellenbosch or Franschhoek
Website & Website
Take a day and head out to Cape Town’s winelands for gorgeous scenery and quaint Cape Dutch architecture. These two neighboring towns jockey for position as the region’s premiere wine and culinary destinations. Stellenbosch features a larger selection of wineries and loads of history, as it’s one of South Africa’s oldest towns. Franschhoek, the smaller of the two, touts a French influence (Franschhoek is “French Corner” in Afrikaans) and features a hop-on, hop-off wine tram.
This contemporary museum of African art is the largest of its kind and located in the same building as the Silo Hotel (note: museum and hotel have different entrances). The museum’s jaw-dropping architecture alone makes it worth the visit.
Not all penguins are created equal. While the animals may be best known for their cold weather-living, Cape Town offers a glimpse at a variety of the tuxedo-wearing, flightless birds who thrive in a Mediterranean climate. Boulder’s clear, teal and turquoise-hued waters are a added bonus.