It’s easy to overlook the quaint Cape Town suburb of Simon’s Town. It features on most Cape Point road-trip itineraries at the planning stage, even if it’s just for a quick look at the penguins that live here. But by the time travellers reach what is the last real stop on the way to the southwestern tip of the continent, many choose just to push on through, and this would be a mistake. Find out why you should definitely make time for this seaside village.
Aside from the penguins and an intriguing naval history, including massive ships and a statue of Royal Navy dog Just Nuisance, there are several seaside restaurants, ice-cream shops, quirky stores and a vibrant atmosphere that is quite unlike anywhere else you’ll visit on the peninsula.
Simon’s Town, also erroneously spelt Simons Town or Simonstown, is about 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the Cape Town Central Business District. You can take the scenic Southern Line Train all the way there, but it’s also an easy drive that will take about an hour, if you head there directly outside of afternoon rush-hour traffic. It’s also the last major suburb on the southern peninsula, which lends it a unique, semi-autonomous atmosphere that locals are fiercely proud of.
Stay in seaside luxury
Because of its size, there aren’t too many formal accommodation options in Simon’s Town. Certainly, you’ll find a wider selection in the central City Bowl, and as such many people just choose to include the town as a stop on a road trip from the city. If you’re set on staying overnight in this coastal enclave, your best option might well be Airbnb: there are several apartments and homes in the area with great views over the False Bay coastline. There is also a Protea Hotel set against the mountain, and the aha Simon’s Town Quayside Hotel closer to the water, along with several luxurious guest houses, villas and bed and breakfasts.
From penguins to museums
The major drawcard in the region is the penguins at nearby Boulder’s Beach. There’s a permanent colony located in the South African National Parks managed reserve, and visitors have to pay a fee to enter. The reserve consists of a network of raised walkways above the colony, and sightings of the waddling critters are pretty much guaranteed. The penguins often also stray onto neighbouring rocks and beaches on either side, and many people prefer to try their luck there instead of paying to enter the reserve.
If you’d rather head out to sea, there are boat tours as well as kayak and standup paddle board rentals nearby. There’s a good chance you’ll spot penguins swimming in the shallows on any of these modes of transport. In winter months, you have a good chance of spotting whales frolicking in the bay, and there are frequent boat excursions from across the False Bay peninsula.
There are also three noteworthy museums to visit. If you’re looking for some insight into South Africa’s naval history, head to the South African Naval Museum. The Simon’s Town Museum, founded in 1977, also provides some interesting historical context for a visit to the region. For a walk down memory lane with something slightly more frivolous, but still strangely engrossing, pop into the Warrior Toy Museum.
There’s also something to be said for taking a gentle walk through the neighbourhood without much of a plan. Stop in at the statue of Just Nuisance, walk down to the pier and get as close to the naval ships as you can or simply amble down the main road and pop into the stores that interest you. If you’d like a bit more context to your ambling, you can download the VoiceMap audio tour of Simon’s Town.
Unpretentious seafood close to the source
There isn’t a massive selection of restaurants in Simon’s Town; nearby Kalk Bay and Muizenberg tend to have better options. Salty Sea Dog and Bertha’s serve up respectable seafood in predictably laid-back environments. There are also ice-cream shops on the main road, and Monocle & Mermaid serves a good cup of coffee and a variety of snacks and light meals to keep you going.
Unless you’re planning a big day on the water, or want to truly kick back and relax close to the ocean, there’s probably not enough to occupy more than a few hours of your time in Simon’s Town. But when you consider the unique atmosphere and important history of this quirky suburb, there’s every reason to pull over and spend a few hours exploring the main attractions and the less obvious sights before continuing on your way.