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Kalk Bay is a quaint seaside town that’s hard not to like. Faded fishing boats bob in the harbour, a variety of restaurants, cafés and antique stores line the easily walkable streets, and there’s a constant sense of holiday spirit in the air – even from the fully employed people who live there.
The suburb is an easy drive from Cape Town and is a regular feature on most day trips to the famous Cape Point. But with a bit of planning and some local insight, it’s easy to spend the better part of a day and night exploring the well-known hangouts and some mysterious corners of Kalk Bay.
Actor turned expert tour guide David Muller is one local resident who does just that – and he’s made a business out of leading trips through the peninsula to showcase some of the best sights along the way.
The Kalk Bay Modern is an art gallery that features some of the most intriguing works from local artists. It’s open every day and is located above the famous Olympia Café, the combination of which earns it a spot on Muller’s list of recommendations. “Olympia Café is home to excellent breakfasts and has a nice view of the fishing harbour,” he says. The Olympia Bakery, in the same building, is also a great place to stock up on snacks for the remainder of the day.
“Farther along on the mountainside is the Kalk Bay bookshop,” says Muller. “If you’re interested in South Africa and its history, or current situation, the shop will have just the book for you.”
Kalk Bay Books is a throwback to a distant era of bookshops, where staff are passionate and knowledgeable and comfortable seating invites patrons to sit down and browse books before buying. There’s a personal touch to the layout and recommendations there that will have even casual readers falling in love with local literature.
Close to the bookshop is what looks like a church but instead is one of the suburb’s most vibrant attractions – the Kalk Bay Theatre.
Muller, a professional actor, considers it one of Cape Town’s most “intimate and super-active” theatres. “Kalk Bay Theatre, hosted by Ashley and Vanessa, will welcome you upstairs for a dinner that is to die for,” he says. “And later, downstairs in their proscenium, they will entertain you with fine cabaret that sells out every night Tuesday to Saturday. You need to book early if you want to go!”
For a quick snack on the go, Muller has one obvious suggestion. “Just up the street, alongside the theatre and nestled into the mountainside, is a bagel shop. Some lucky visitors will have steel drums to welcome them in.” Bob’s Bagel Café serves delicious bagels – take in the fresh sea air while eating by enjoying them across the way in the park, which often hosts weekend summer concerts as well.
Many overlook the mountains of Kalk Bay for the glistening ocean, but there’s plenty to explore in the rugged cliffs nearby. “Pack a snack and some candles and torches and go spelunking in Kalk Bay mountains,” Muller says. “Boomslang is the longest cave, and you can crawl right through to the other side of the mountain. The caves in the area are famous, and the fynbos is endemic to the peninsula mountain range.”
Even if going deep into a cave doesn’t sound too appealing, David adds that the views from the top of the mountain are enough to keep visitors returning time and again.
Kalk Bay is home to one of the Cape’s most famous tidal pools, which are perfect for a cool swim and some local people-watching. “If it’s a hot day with lots of sun, then head to Dalebrook Tidal Pool, opposite Dalebrook Café,” Muller says. “It’s a beautiful, safe tidal pool perfect for cooling off and sharing conversations with the locals; some of them are there at sunrise worshipping the rising sun!”
The most famous bar and pub in the area is the Brass Bell. It’s popular for its live music, its idyllic location right on the ocean and the low-key, almost-anything-goes atmosphere. “There’s another tidal pool there if you want a quick swim, and good food for the young crowd downstairs where live bands beat their drums in trance rhythms.” For a quieter atmosphere, Muller suggests heading upstairs. “There’s an intimate pub filled with stories and local beer lovers. There are also dining rooms for those families, and for the golden-ager there’s the Captain’s Deck, where often 70th- or 80th-birthday celebrations are accompanied with views to die for.”
There are several other Kalk Bay dining institutions that are worth visiting. Many Capetonians make the drive to the area simply to eat out at the famous Harbour House or Live Bait restaurants, which are located on the rocks and often battered by the waves. Although now part of a larger restaurant group, they still offer a good dining experience. For something a bit more relaxed and bohemian, Muller has another suggestion: “Cross the Main Road and indulge in Cuban and Cajun dishes set to live Latin music at Cape to Cuba restaurant, almost on the railway line.”
Many would also say that no trip to Kalk Bay is complete without a trip to Kalky’s, where diners find what Muller calls “genuine fishermen’s fare and banter from the staff.” Muller explains, “It’s inside the harbour where there’s always hustle and bustle as children devour the finger-licking hake and chips while dad sips a local beer.”
After lunch, Muller recommends working off the meal with a walk along the famous harbour breakwater toward the old lighthouse. Watch the fishing boats return from their night out fishing for their living. “Fish are displayed for sale on the hard concrete slab tables along the wharf. You catch them cleaning the fish, and watch the Cape fur seals watching them, too.” Muller suggests buying a yellowtail or snoek for a fish barbecue. “Or just discuss the fishing industry with the locals, who are offspring of wiry, suntanned fishermen who plow the seas daily for a meagre catch to keep life worth living.”
Kalk Bay has also become a surprisingly popular destination for shoppers in recent years, thanks largely to the prevalence of antique shops lining the main road and hiding around the odd corner.
Muller doesn’t have a favourite, but suggests just ambling along the road and seeing where the day takes you. “Kalk Bay is old, new, quaint and always thriving with people from all over the world and locals whose stories leave you blessed and satisfied that your itinerary included this neck of the woods.”