the urbanist: cape town

Penguin Beaches, Storybook Villages, and Other Ways to Escape Cape Town

Boulders Beach is famous for its penguin colony. Photo: Andrea Willmore/Getty Images

Cape Town is hard to beat, but even locals like to shake things up with scenic jaunts outside the city. Here are some unique sights within a couple hours’ drive, hand-picked by locals we trust.

Khayelitsha township. Photo: Marco D.Brockmann/Getty Images/iStockphoto

30 minutes from city center
“Khayelitsha, 20 miles from the center of Cape Town, with its periphery wrapped with shacks, makes one wonder about the inequalities of the past. But spend some time exploring and you’ll soon understand why the meaning of the word Khayelitsha is “new home” in Xhosa. Arriving in Khayelitsha, take a township walking-and-cycling tour with ABCD Concepts — I never get tired of the narrative Buntu and Aya share about the history of the area. [Next], head off to the quaint coffee shop Siki’s Kofee Kafe. Siki, the owner, makes you feel at home, and the best part is that we all get to share tables. I’ve made new friends here a number of times. Walking distance from Siki’s you’ll find an artist and ceramist studio, Theo Ceramics, hidden among a laundromat and attorneys’ offices. Make an appointment to see Theo’s unique ornamental pieces. He never repeats the same piece twice, but there are a few cups, plates, and garlic crushers to choose from. Make a pit stop for lunch at Spinach King for a healthy vegetarian burger and smoothies. I love their beetroot smoothie with a touch of spinach!” —Abigail Mbalo, founder and creative director of 4Roomed Ekasi Culture

Chapman’s Peak Drive. Photo: jacoblund/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Chapman’s Peak
40 minutes from city center
Chapman’s Peak Drive is the most beautiful coastal drive, from Hout Bay to Noordhoek. If you are lucky, you will see whales during whale season, from July through November. I think Noordhoek beach is the most beautiful in the city — it’s a huge, long beach with white sand and clear water. (It’s still the Atlantic Ocean though, so it’s very cold.) I like to stop for lunch at the Foodbarn, in Noordhoek Farm Village, one of my favorite restaurants in Cape Town. The food and service are outstanding; it’s casual, informal dining — French cuisine with an Asian influence. I love their beef tartare, beetroot-cured trout, and Karoo rack of lamb. The Foodbarn also has a relaxed deli, which is great for breakfast.” —Liam Tomlin, chef and owner of Chefs Warehouse

Boulders Beach. Photo: Holger Leue / Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

Boulders Beach
One hour from city center
“A traditional Sunday for my family would be an early-morning drive to Boulders Beach, in Simon’s Town along the Cape peninsula, with a picnic basket packed with goodies like fresh fruit, nuts, and crisps. My wife always brings along a magazine, so while I am in the water with my daughter Haadia, she sits with my younger daughter Israh as she feels the sand on her toes. Boulders Beach is enclosed by huge boulders, and it’s home for a colony of African penguins who are protected within the reserve. They’re usually lying about in the sun, swimming around, and if you’re lucky, they will come up and say hello. The beach is not that big and when the tide comes up, it gets even smaller. But because of the huge boulders, a wonderful natural pool has formed — perfect for kids and swimming. You must get there early because the beach gets very full and finding that spot in the shade can be a challenge. After spending a few hours in the water and having built a few sandcastles, we head off to Hout Bay for fresh fish-and-chips at a place called Snoekies. My girls absolutely love fish, so it’s always a hit for lunch. By the time we get home, everyone is ready for a nap.” —Hasan Essop, artist

Klipgat cave. Photo: Michael Langford/Getty Images/Gallo Images

De Kelders and Stanford
Two hours from city center
“I love to go whale-watching at the small, quaint town of De Kelders, just across the bay from busier Hermanus. This town is perfect for whale-watching, as there are many high cliffs and rocks where you can see the whales from land; they come close to the sheltered cliffs with their young calves. I have even been woken up at night by whales groaning and fin slaps on the water, which is an amazing sound. Sometimes I walk to the end of De Kelders to Walker Bay Nature Reserve and explore the Klipgat Caves; they have amazing views of the bay. From there, I head down the stairs to a remote beach, which is one of my favorite getaways. We’ve seen seals, dolphins, and whales there. I never leave De Kelders without getting a meal at Coffee on the Rocks, which also has uninterrupted views over the bay, or visiting the town next door. Stanford has beautiful art galleries and antiques stores, plus many historic homes. I usually finish my trip off with lunch at a local brewery called Birkenhead, located at the vineyard Walkerbay Estate. It is child- and dog-friendly with a pub atmosphere overlooking rolling lawns, a horse farm, and beautiful mountain views. It is a winner rain or shine, as they have massive fireplaces and a cozy indoor area. I love ordering the traditional fish and chips, and my chosen Birkenhead beer is their premium lager.” —Charmaine Taylor, founder and designer of Legacy Collection jewelry

Greyton. Photo: Grobler du Preez/Getty Images

Two hours from the city center
“Last weekend I needed to get away, so I just put my head down and drove east along the N2 till I could turn onto an interesting side road. It was the R406. For the next 20 minutes, I coasted along this undulating road through farmland until it dead-ended in an oak-tree-lined main road in Greyton. I had breakfast (a typical South African version of a farmer’s breakfast with bacon, two eggs sunny side up and hard, and a grilled half-tomato and chopped mushrooms) at the Post House, an 1820s postal layover made into a B&B. For lunch and dinner, I found a gem in the Oak and Vigne. The fireplace in the middle of the restaurant was going, and there’s a fountain outside with seating under English oak trees. It always feels like home. I slept at the Greyton Lodge, to the delicious noise of nothing — no cars, no music, no madness of city life. I woke up and walked around the village and into the Greyton Nature Reserve to find an icy-cold pool for a morning dip. Back in the village, the Greyton Morning Market from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays is filled with farm-made cheeses, breads, fresh crepes, local wines, books, decent coffee, and smiles on every face.” —Jake Easton, “chief coffeeologist” at Tribe Coffee

The Best Day Trips From Cape Town