Cape Town with Kids



1. Drive to the Cape of Good Hope  via Chapman’s Peak.  Take the cable car to the top of the mountain and feel the wind that makes this Cape so treacherous to sailors.   Stop in one of the tidal pools along the way, which if you are like us, you will have all to yourself.  Note: Restaurant options are either very pricey (although menu looked great) or crappy pizza, so be prepared.


2. Hang out at the Saturday Market at the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock for great shopping, nice lunch choices at the food market, live entertainment and good people watching, including Cape Town’s black hipster crowd.  We also liked a complex of shops and restaurants, called Woodstock Exchange, farther down Albert Road.  I especially liked the Shwe Shwe pillows at Grandt Mason Originals and the dresses at Selfies at Old Biscuit Mill.  (I bought the one the model is wearing.) The whole scene of artisanal food and bespoke clothes and home items reminded us of our beloved Brooklyn Flea back home in Brooklyn.  Then we stopped by the Stevenson Gallery, which happened to be running a show, called Kings County, featuring four African artists who all made work inspired in one way or another by Brooklyn, which made our day of Brooklyn in South Africa complete.

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3. Visit Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and many other political prisoners were held during Apartheid.  You must purchase your tickets in advance, which can easily be done online.  Try to get to the departure point at Robben Island Museum a little early so you can read a bit about the prison before everyone arrives at the scheduled boat and the building is too crowded to read the exhibits.  The tours are led by former political prisoners whose commitment to both sharing this story and the anti-apartheid movement are very moving.  Be forewarned that the boat ride to and from the island can be choppy so if you are prone to seasickness, best to book one of the tours earlier in the day when the winds are still calm.  We returned in the early evening in high seas,and sat inside the cabin across from a row of Danish tourists who barfed politely into garbage bags the entire way.  The boat crew, in a sadistic strain of humor, blared “Don’t Rock the Boat” to cover the signs of everyone retching, while a group of international twenty-somethings, who looked as if they walked off the set of a MTV version of Amazing Race, danced on the boat’s open deck, squealing with delight every time a wave came overboard and soaked them.  Adults are 280 Rand  or about $25 and children under 18 are 150 Rand or about $14.

4. Book a Surf lesson at Surf Shack Surf School in Muizenberg, known as one of the top 20 beaches in the world to learn to surf.  You can call ahead to ask owner David or one of his guys how the surf is looking, and then rent a board and wetsuit and take an hour and a half lesson for 350 rand ($30 USD).  They let us split the lesson between myself and my eight-year-old daughter, and we both stood up on our first day.  Go early to beat the crowds and get the best break before the wind comes up.  You can make a day of it: there’s a bunch of cheap decent restaurants down there to grab lunch–we liked the falafel place.  You can take the train to Muizenberg if you don’t have a car, the bathrooms are very clean, and there’s a nice playground for the younger kids.  Bonus: when you book a lesson or rent gear with Surf Shack, you are also supporting their outreach initiative where they offer free afterschool and school holiday camps, complete with life skills and surf lessons, to 30 kids from the townships, who otherwise would be hanging out on the streets.

5. Swim with the Penguins at  Boulders Beach in Simonstown.  We skipped entered the official park area (and paying the entrance fees) and simply parked in the lot for the adjacent Boulder’s Beach, where you can actually swim among the penguins hanging out on the massive boulders dotting the beach.  The kids were entranced as they watched the penguins’ climbing up the rocks, sliding back down, and swimming in the water.  If you don’t have a car, you can also take the train here, and make an afternoon of it, walking around adorable Simonstown and having a picnic or grabbing lunch.

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6. Visit Two Oceans Aquarium, which my family thought put our aquarium back in Brooklyn to shame.  This one has various touch pools, craft activities, and interactive displays where we could watch plants eating algae under a microscope and see how disgustingly dirty our fingernails were.  Not only did we get to see a sick shark removed from the shark tank, but an hour later, the divers were back down in the tank unfurling a giant marriage proposal. (She said yes!)   Afterwards, we wandered along the waterfront, which houses a gorgeous new shed containing lots of the pop-up local artisanal shops that helped to make Cape Town the design capital of the world for 2014.  You can also pick up at the Book Lounge bookstore (71 Roeland St.) Suzie Joubert’s Young Explorers Guide: Waterfront Walkabout, which takes the kids on a tour of the Waterfront, with tasks to complete and facts to learn, and stickers earned along the way.  (Aquarium Entrance fees: Adults $10, kids under 14  $5, under 4 free.)

7. Hike Lions Head, using another one of the Young Explorers Guides, also available at the Book Lounge, called Loin’s Head Hunt, also by Suzie Joubert.  The kids loved using the guide to spot Robben Island or the Sea Point pools, to learn about the Silver Trees or the spider who accidentally shot of the noon canon hours early one day.  Using the guide does however take time.  Allow at least three hours, try to head out at early as possible to avoid the crowds, and bring plenty of snacks and water.

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8. Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and Sunday concert was one of our favorite things to do while in Cape Town.  The gardens are very thoughtfully laid out, with waterfalls mixed with formal gardens, a gorgeous suspension bridge winding through the treetops, and lots of winding pathways inviting exploration, all set against the backdrop of Table Mountain.  Every Sunday evening starting in late November and running through early April, there is a concert in the park.   We caught the South African a cappella group The Soil, which, despite its unfortunate name (in our opinion), was a great concert with a nice mix of moving ballads and rocking uptempo numbers, and a rare experience of a very integrated audience, with everyone on their feet dancing and singing along.


9. The Sea Point Pools are a series of three massive pools overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in the Sea Point neighborhood of Cape Town, about ten minutes away from the Waterfront.  There is a pool for all sizes, a deep one for swimming laps, a chest high one where both of my kids could still touch, and then a very shallow one for splashing.  The pools are filled with sea water, but through some miracle of solar heating they are a good 7 or 8 degrees warmer (celsius) than the ocean.  A fourth pool features a high dive and a really high dive.  My daughter along with another boy her age took turns climbing up to the lower level, walking out on the board, looking down for a long moment, shaking their heads and climbing back down.  A guy in his twenties put an end to their misery by jumping off the higher one only to land on his back, which immediately burst into a raspberry-colored bruise, resolving their suspicion that the diving board was best to be avoided.  In high season, it’s best to go earlier or later in the day to beat the crowds.  (Adults 20 rand or  about $2, kids are 10 rand or about $1)

10. Take a drive out to the wine country in Franschhoek, stopping at Butterfly World and some wineries on the way.  Have lunch at the Living Room, the little sister restaurant to world famous Tasting Room, recipient of many international awards and three Michelin stars.  If you have a budget or reason for an extra-special treat, stay for the night in town and have dinner there (which runs $150 for a seven course meal with wine pairings).  Our friends recommend staying at Lekkerwijn House, ten minutes out of town, with a play room, pigs and horses, and friendly trustworthy staff to provide babysitting, while you are stuffing your faces.

IMG_437911. Take a boat from Hout Bay or False Bay to Seal Island where the seals lounge on big rocks by the hundreds.  Note that while boats advertise their glass bottoms, you can’t actually see that much through them unless the seals come really close, and it’s better to view them from the deck.  R38 for adults and R12 for kids.

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