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Gardens in Cape Town is a well-known suburb, but it’s one that can often be overlooked by locals and travellers alike. Also sometimes known as The Gardens, it’s named after the first farms that provided fresh produce for settlers.
Just south of the city centre, the neighbourhood sits on the slopes above Cape Town City Bowl. And while most people will know of the Company’s Gardens and Gardens Shopping Centre, both fall just outside the suburb. But at the heart of Gardens is Kloof Street, which is home to several vibrant bars and a handful of the city’s best restaurants. And for daytime visitors, there’s no shortage of things to do, either.
Filmmaker and Cape Town resident Sean Drummond, who wrote and produced popular South African feature film Five Fingers for Marseille and who’s working on a film adaptation of Charlie Human’s novel Apocalypse Now Now, has chosen to set up office in Gardens. It’s also no coincidence that the suburb is home to the city’s only independent arthouse cinema, where he’s overseen the local hosting of short film festival shnit Worldwide Shortfilmfestival for several years. Drummond shares his advice on the best things to see and do on a day out in Gardens.
The Company’s Garden served as a location for one of the first farms supplying fresh produce to arriving and departing seafarers. Although these days it’s better known as a place to feed squirrels, there is now a restaurant beneath the trees and a small fresh produce farm as a throwback to that distant era.
For Drummond, it’s the combination of the lush gardens with the numerous museums that makes it a must-visit.
“The National Gallery was a staple for me as a child,” he says. “I check in every few months to see who’s on exhibition and reconnect with some of their seminal South African permanent collection pieces. The Planetarium is also a must visit, especially since the revamp. Crystal-clear digital picture, world-class shows, and a spacey deep dive.”
As a filmmaker, Drummond considers the Labia Theatre, often just called the Labia, a Cape Town institution.
“Grab a drink on the new patio, watch the best in local and art films, and soak up some of the history of the space,” he says. “It’s run like a family, and it’s the most supportive cinema space for local filmmakers I’ve seen.”
Drummond says there’s nothing better than seeing the theatre full – especially on the occasions of annual festivals, like documentary festival Encounters or the shnit Worldwide Shortfilmfestival.
Kloof Street runs through the heart of Gardens, and it’s here that you’ll find some of the neighbourhood’s best restaurants. Drummond suggests heading to Dark Horse for cocktails, tapas, and great views of Table Mountain and the city from the roof deck at the back. He also recommends its sister restaurant, Black Sheep, across the road, where they serve delicious food in a classy but unpretentious environment.
“Bombay Bicycle Club and Italian restaurant Bacini’s don’t disappoint if you’re heading all the way to the top of the street,” he says.
Up and around the corner is the Taqueria, which he recommends for tacos and tequila.
“For a late-night slice, head to NY Slice, or for a casual sit-down meal of chilli poppers and frozen margarita jugs, the Fat Cactus rarely disappoints.”
There are dozens of restaurants dotted throughout Gardens, away from Kloof Street, many of which are local favourites.
In the northeastern corner of Gardens is The Yard, which Drummond counts as a firm favourite. “The burgers are a Cape Town classic, but I tend to go for the pizza.”
“Roxy Late Night is also a go-to for me, either for a coffee on the run, a boozy afternoon or evening, or a meal,” he says. “The vibe is a winner, especially out on the square in summer. Food hits the spot in all the right ways, and the kitchen is open until the early hours.”
For a classier meal, Drummond suggests heading to the popular Bao Down, tucked into a small space near the Gardens Centre. “The bao there is excellent,” he says, “but you’ll need to book.”
Like restaurants, there’s a slew of bars that run the course of Kloof Street.
For a low-key pint of good craft beer, Drummond recommends heading to nearby Striped Horse.
“Yours Truly is also a staple, especially sunny afternoons on the upper deck,” he says. “And Kloof Street House has great food, but my tip is head straight for the bar at the back where you’ll find a good cocktail.”
For live music, he recommends Selective Hearing. “It’s on the top floor of the last building on Buitengracht Street,” he says. “It’s brand new, and a hotspot for great up-and-coming local artists, jam sessions and a cool, diverse crowd on a Friday and Saturday night – or head there on a Sunday afternoon for a relaxed jam session.”
The Molteno Reservoir, which sits about popular De Waal Park, is a great place to run a few laps. It was the location of South Africa’s first hydroelectric power plant, and still stores water used for irrigation around the city, but most use it purely as a scenic place to jog.
For sports enthusiasts on the hunt for a different kind of workout, Drummond suggests heading down the road to Orangia Tennis Club, where non-members can pay a small fee to rent a court for a few hours.
Gardens is home to one of the city’s favourite ice cream shops, Unframed. It’s located on Kloof Street, and serves up scoops of unique flavours – including vegan options – that change regularly. It’s a great spot to have a quick ice cream on a hot day and watch the passing parade on Kloof Street. For a slightly healthier option, a little further up the road is MyYog, a frozen yoghurt store that offers custom toppings and various flavours.
Coffee shops abound in Gardens, but for Drummond there’s one clear winner. Coffee shop Deluxe has several stores around the city, and they supply beans to dozens of restaurants, but their flagship store is located in the heart of Gardens on Buitenkant Street. “They easily serve the best coffee in town,” says Drummond.