Anointed the 2014 World Design Capital, Cape Town is buzzing with civic-minded initiatives these days (the Safe Township Lighting project, for example, is hoping to bring electricity to thousands of settlement shacks). These efforts go hand in hand with a decade-in-the-making effort to bolster formerly down-and-out neighborhoods: The once crime-ridden Woodstock has been reinvented as the city’s creative center; the formerly snoozy Central Business District is peppered with stylish new bars like the Crypt jazz lounge and offbeat restaurants like the Laundromat-meets-dim-sum-parlor I Love My Laundry. Enjoy the energy from the posh new Marly Hotel (from $336; themarly.co.za), featuring 11 white-and-gray rooms with views onto ritzy Camps Bay.
For years the quaint fishing village of Paternoster (an easy, scenic hour-and-a-half drive from Cape Town; rent a car and stop to ogle the wildflowers at the West Coast National Park) was one of the area’s best-kept secrets, a weekend getaway known for its whitewashed cottages and laid-back, shoes-optional vibe. The word, however, is spreading, thanks in part to the arrival of world-class chefs—lured by the west coast’s wealth of fresh mussels, crayfish, and wild herbs—who’ve opened casual beachside restaurants here in recent years. There’s Noisy Oyster, where stacks of Trivial Pursuit cards keep diners busy between bites of fish cakes and seafood laksa. Kobus van der Merwe’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Oep ve Koep is a shack where the chef gets creative with ingredients he forages in the dunes. And this past September, one of the country’s best-known chefs, Reuben Riffel, opened a seafood-focused modern South African restaurant in the Abalone House & Spa (from $100; abalonehouse.co.za), an eclectic hotel decorated with Persian rugs and mismatched antiques. Of course, the beaches are really the main draw here; walk 200 meters from the hotel down a footpath to the soft white sands of Kliprug Beach—which is less windy and crowded than the village’s main beach—where the hotel can set up a “beachnic”: a private high tea on a secluded cove at ocean’s edge.
1 hour: Bypass the better-known wine regions of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch and head to the Riebeek Valley, which has been making a name for itself as a serious emerging wine region. Stay at Bartholomeus Klip (from $220; bartholomeusklip.com), a lovely Victorian-country-house retreat with a colonial feel—antique furniture, claw-foot tubs, and a proper high tea.
2 hours: Check out the lesser-known “Marine Big Five” at Grootbos Private Nature Reserve (from $184; grootbos.com), a sprawling spread that’s home to sharks, whales, seals, penguins, and dolphins.
4 hours: One of the few luxury safari lodges within driving distance of Cape Town, Gondwana Private Game Reserve (from $230 a night; gondwanagr.co.za) offers 11 stand-alone villas from which to spot the traditional Big Five.