With 20 years of democracy under its belt, South Africa has come into its own. And like any gorgeous twenty-something, the country’s star city, Cape Town, is constantly surprising visitors with new revelations of personality and an overabundance of style. If that isn’t enough, perhaps the bargain basement rand-to-dollar rate will inspire a visit. Check out our list of reasons to go while the city's summer is still hot.
1. Design Capital
Perhaps it’s the swirling sea of fog perpetually cascading over Table Mountain’s edge. Or maybe the bizarre and intricate beauty of proteas is to blame? Either way, Cape Town’s natural charm is matched only by its inhabitants’ obsession with aesthetics. As with all healthy obsessions, this one manifests in a variety of ways, evident in everything from fashion to furniture, and graffiti to fine art. It’s no wonder, then, that the so-called Mother City was awarded the World Design Capital 2014 title. With a significant focus on how design can improve people’s lives, projects like the Green Shack (a prototype upgrading the ubiquitous township shack into a fire-proof, vertical garden-covered dwelling) or the Maboneng Lalela Project (converting private homes and public spaces in townships into art galleries and performance-art venues) will leave visitors inspired and delighted. If you’d like to acquire some new design pieces, the annual Design Indaba Expo—where the country’s leading creatives showcase and sell their wares—is being held the last weekend of February.
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2. Worldly Cuisine
Though well established as Africa’s epicenter of foodie decadence, Cape Town’s dining scene has until recently continued to serve a delicious but fairly predictable array of Euro-centric fare. The trend is changing, however, as evidenced in newcomer Mondiall Kitchen & Bar. Claiming a sweet spot in the V&A Waterfront complex, complete with fabulous harbor and mountain views, this versatile brasserie-style eatery brings beloved global classics up to date. From Peruvian ceviche to Japanese ramen to a classic American burger, dishes that you wouldn’t normally expect on the same menu are harmonized by shared qualities of freshness, flavor, and inventiveness.
Meanwhile, over in the Cape winelands—home to the majority of South Africa’s top 10 restaurants—another stylish contender has appeared. Equus, the newly opened eatery at Cavalli Estate (an equestrian stud farm and wine estate) serves up sophisticated versions of wonderfully simple dishes (think salmon skewers with salsa verde or miso-glazed aubergine) against a drop-dead gorgeous backdrop of purple mountains that encourages lingering for an hour or three. Both venues boast expertly crafted cocktails.
3. Craft Beer Explosion
Just a few years ago, devotees of hops were hard-pressed to find local brews whose accolades went beyond “cold.” A recent explosion of craft beers has changed the landscape of South Africa ale, however. One of the best places to enjoy this burst of plenty is The Taproom, the charming restaurant/bar on the premises of the Devil’s Peak Brewery in Woodstock, Cape Town’s hippest enclave. From Belgian brews to IPAs to amber ales, the full-bodied flavors of these locally crafted beers are sure to please. Meanwhile, the warm industrial chic of the space—all copper tanks, vaulted ceilings, and 10-foot-high windows framing majestic Table Mountain—is the perfect setting to enjoy sublime bar food including a juicy pulled-pork sandwich, the perfect fish and chips, and a decadent burger.
4. For the Love of the Vine
With South African wine exports to the US up 37 percent last year, Americans are starting to discover what Capetonians have known for a long time. However, with so many of the best South African vintages produced on boutique estates in batches of just a few thousand bottles, a curated experience is the perfect solution for newcomers to the South African wine scene. Opened in late 2013, no-nonsense wine bar Publik, centrally located across from Heritage Square, serves a handpicked selection of lesser known but always excellent wines. The kind of place where even the seasoned wine drinkers among us are bound to discover something new and delightful, the bar has a list that changes daily with plenty of by-the-glass options, as well as a great tasting option of five wines selected by the barman based on your stated preferences.
What better way to spend a balmy Cape Town night than lying under a blanket of stars, watching movies like The Breakfast Club and The Matrix, with your beverage of choice and delicious snacks close at hand? Running through the end of April on the grassy lawns of the spectacular Kirstenbosch National Botanic Gardens and the buzzing V&A Waterfront (blankets and chairs are available for hire, and food vendors abound if you neglect to pack your own goodies), the Galileo Open Air Cinema’s crowd-pleasing line-up has made it the latest craze to hit the Mother City’s outdoorsy social scene.
6. Get on Board
Stupefied by the aquamarine waters surrounding Cape Town, visitors very quickly snap-to when a toe-dip reveals the sea’s year-round icy temps. Before you despair, however, hop on a stand-up paddleboard and enjoy riding the waves without even getting wet. Easy to learn, great for the abs, and a fabulous way to enjoy the water without succumbing to hypothermia, there’s a reason supping, as it’s known, is one of the world’s fastest growing watersports. Located in the V&A Waterfront, Sup Cape Town rents boards, provides lessons, and acts as the hub of the local sup community, hosting weekly time trials for anyone with a board and a paddle. After you’ve found your comfort zone gliding along the glassy canals at the Waterfront, try your stuff at Clifton Fourth Beach, where they also rent boards and give lessons.