A traditional beach day in Cape Town usually consists of a relatively early start. You’ll throw on your swimsuit, pack some snacks, slap on sunscreen, chuck an umbrella in the back of your car or Uber, and then prepare to spend a day flat on your back reading and threatening to swim in the icy water but only getting as far as your toes. Or, if you’re feeling energetic, you might engage in a bit of frisbee or beach bats, before ending the day with an all-South African sundowner.
There’s nothing wrong with this tried and tested approach to Cape Town beach days. Hell, we’ve been doing it this way for years. But there are also other sides to the city’s beaches worth exploring if you’re looking for something a bit different.
If you’re a bit anxious about our Great White friends lurking on the backlines, then any thought of wildlife may have you quaking in your swimming trunks. It’s true that the Cape’s waters are home to a reasonable number of Great White sharks. Fortunately, they very seldom wander into human contact, and when they do, our mountainside Shark Spotters will sound the siren and raise the flag.
But the Cape’s beaches are home to other wildlife that’s much less intimidating. First on the list for most tourists are what are most just call “the penguins”. There are a few colonies of these clumsy-on-land, machines-under-water birds that you can encounter in and around the Cape, the most popular of which is at Boulders. And spending a morning gawking at these little critters hopping along the sand, and then torpedoing through the shallows, is a fine alternative way to spend a beach day.
Further south along the coast, in the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, you’ll also have the opportunity to share the beach with another flightless bird, only these are slightly larger. Ostriches roam the vast nature research near Cape Point and often stray onto the beach for long reflective walks. They’re often accompanied by their primate cohabitants, baboons, and the occasional confused antelope. While you should keep your distance from this form of wildlife, it always makes for a fascinating sight or a very likeable Instagram shot.
Speaking of chasing Instagram likes, there are few better photo opportunities than one that involves you, a noble stead, frigid shallows, and a seemingly endless stretch of unspoilt beach.
Over in the horsey suburb of Noordhoek, you can hop aboard a large horse and spend a morning or an afternoon plodding along the sand to nowhere in particular, and back again. If your horse is feeling generous, or frustrated, he may even walk you into the cool Atlantic.
Noordhoek Beach is one of the Cape’s most under-explored beaches, and skipping the bare feet for a sturdy horse is a remarkable experience.
If riding horse sounds a bit lazy, consider that most peoples’ idea of an active day on the beach is rolling onto their back when their stomach gets to hot. But Capetonians are an active bunch, and if you’re feeling a bit antsy there are several beach-based activities that can get the heart racing.
Camps Bay is probably the city’s beach volleyball capital, and on a good day there are almost always courts marked out and nets up ready for some action. You may have to hang around and make friends with that topless beaut if you want in on the game, but if volleyball is your thing you’ll fit right in.
Just across the way, smaller and usually windless Clifton seems to have become the Ultimate Frisbee destination in the Cape. On most summer’s evenings a motley crew of disc lovers trudge down the stairs, mark out a court and spend a few hours launching themselves across the crisp white sand.
Of course, there are also endless ways to get active out on the water. Most beaches in the Cape offer some kind of surfable wave which ranges from the slushy to the terrifyingly gargantuan. If you’re equipped to handle most conditions that the ocean can throw at you, you’ll probably want to aim for Kommetjie or Llandudno. If, like the rest of us, you like your waves soft, predictable and forgiving, you’ll probably want to Muizenberg. You can rent boards and wetsuits and sign up for lessons there too.
Standup paddlers and kayakers are also starting to make their marks on the alternative beach day scene, and there are several companies around the peninsula that can rent you the equipment or take you on an excursion if you need some assistance. And if you want to get airborne, Table Bay offers some of the best kitesurfing conditions in the world.
If the thought of all that has got your heart racing, you may want to look away. The Mother City may be a bit prudish when it comes to getting naked on our beaches, but if you can’t wait to get your kit off in public there are a few options around town. Topless tanning is generally accepted on most beaches, but if you want to ensure you’re not in the minority, there’s always Sandy Bay. This beach is officially a nudist beach, and though it’s far from the utopian world of naked beauties you might imagine, it’s certainly a liberal — and liberating — destination if you’re looking for something different.
If you want all the trimmings of a traditional beach day — the sun, water, soft sand, and an excuse to lie around all day — but are people averse, then skip the top 10 and head to a more offbeat beach. These are some of Cape Town’s best kept secrets, closely guarded by those on the inside, but if you must know, you’ll find most of them in and around Cape Point, on the South Western tip of the continent.