Cape Town was recently named the most beautiful city in the world. There is no denying the visual feast that is Cape Town, but this city is much more than what meets the eye. From a deeper look into its history with racial strife, to an art and design scene like no other, Cape Town has a lot more to offer than any hop on-hop off tour could provide. Here’s our best bets for how to scratch beneath the surface and get to the heart of the mother city.
1. Explore The City’s Complex Racial Environment – Through Wine
Not too long ago, a vicious system of pay dominated the wine farms south of Cape Town. The dop system, as it’s called, paid workers as young as six years old not in wages, but in wine. Although formally outlawed several times, most recently in 2003, the practice has caused systemic alcoholism and poverty among the Cape’s black and colored communities. One vineyard has set the tone for disrupting the practice while providing an amazing assortment of top-notch wines and a stunning tasting experience. Solms Delta, in Franshoek, sits on a large swath of land in the valley dotted by lily-pad filled lakes and acres and acres of vines. It’s sparkling Shiraz and delicate rose are perfect for a picnic on the lawns. A pioneer in equitable wine-farming in the Cape, Solms gives 45% of it’s profits back to workers and invested in a museum that tells the story of the colored community in the Western Cape and explores the dop system in detail, all told through the lens of it’s resident guide Martha, a woman who grew up on the farm when the system was still active.
2. Do a Township Tour As A Gallery Visit
Cape Town is known for it’s modernist architecture and impeccably clean streets but beyond these views are townships housing millions of people on the edges of the city. Langa and Khayletshia are two of the largest and while you might be tempted to schedule a visit to an orphanage as a way to connect to the people – we suggest a different approach. Townships, while economically depressed, are no less vibrant (if not more) than the Cape Town of your travel magazine. There are people building amazing networks, communities, and movements that remain in the townships even after they’ve achieved “success”. One program we’re really into is the Township Arts program started by Juma Mkwela and fellow street artists in Khayletshia. The program creates functional public art – like mural encompassed vegetable gardens – throughout the township. The artists, many of whom are enrolled in college or focused on their craft, open their home for studio visits and invite you to get a glimpse into their world as a young South African creative. After leaving the township, head over to Monwabisi (Happy) Beach to reflect on your experience and unwind.
3. Let Your Tastebuds lead You
Cape Town has an amazing food and cocktail culture, with a penchant for locally sourced goods. The restaurant and bar scene is not to be missed with our favorites being: Outrage of Modesty, Orphanage Cocktail Emporium, Foxcroft, The Shortmarket Club, The Raptor Room, Tjing Tjing Rooftop, Asoka, Solo, Four & Twenty, The Bungalow, The Black Sheep, and La Calombe.
Beyond restaurants there are tons of opportunities to get up close and personal with the chefs of the city (like in the TSTMKRS app). From pop up dinners by spasie to First Thursday food trucks, innovation in the dining sector is one of the things we love most about the city.
Not in the mood to deal with a stodgy maitre’d? Enjoy your meal with a view. With as little as 6 hours notice, you can order picnic baskets or chef-prepared packable dinners full of gourmet bites and noshables that you can take to the top of Lion’s Head and watch the sunset. Our favorite places for picnics on the go are Giovanni’s, Superette, and Smak Delicatessen. Be sure to have a bottle of Solms Delta Rose while you’re at it.
4. Spend a Day with the Makers
Ethical fashion, traditional guilds, functional luxury, and more dominate Cape Town’s boutique culture. At the Montebello Design Centre in Newlands you can get all of this and more including one on one workshops with artists and makers in residence. Our favorite spot is the studio of ceramic artist and materials engineer John Bauer who uses his fusion of art and science to produce beautiful objects with unique, innovative techniques. Always ready for a spot of tea, John also offers pottery classes for visitors. Another place we love is the Watershed, a space dedicated for “made in South Africa” goods nestled in the V & A Waterfront. Arrive early to beat the crowds and check the schedule online for special events where designers will be present at their stalls.
5. SUP, Paddle, Surf
How many beach selfies can you take without actually getting in the water? We suggest you get off the sand and switch your smartphone for a Go-Pro and get involved! With its scenic vistas, Cape Town has backdrops for days! We love seeing this from the vantage point of the sea. SUP – Stand Up Paddling – can be done at many Cape Town beaches and even in the canals – it’s great exercise and a wonderful way to see the city. Best of all, you don’t need any training to do it. If you are more ambitious, surfing is also big in Cape Town. Muizenberg Beach is perfect for beginners and amazing Instagram photos, Glen Beach is nestled against the backdrop of the 12 Apostles but requires some skills in order to ride the waves, if you are a real surf OG then shoot your shot at Dungeons where you can find 60 ft waves about 25 minutes from town. For lessons try Gary’s Surf School in Muizenberg or Cape Town Surf School’s pop-up format.