With a beach for every season and a beach for every reason, Cape Town is one of the best sun, sand and sea destinations in the world. South Africa was the first country outside of Europe to have Blue Flag Beaches, which signifies a high level of water quality, facilities, cleanliness and safety. There are three blue flag beaches in and around Cape Town: Clifton Beach, Mnandi Beach and Bikini Beach at Gordon's Bay right out on the eastern side of False Bay. There are loads of beaches to choose from and you'll need a bit of inside info to end up on the right one.
Just for starters, there is the western and eastern side of the peninsula - divided by a 1,000m-high mountain so you could have totally different weather within 20m. And, naturally, the sea conditions can differ widely - dead flat calm on one side and crashing waves on the other. Another very important thing to bear in mind is the 'culture' of the different beaches. Generally speaking, those on the western side are more sophisticated and fashionable, while the eastern side is more popular with local families who don't want to drive too far from the sprawling low-rent suburbs on the Cape Flats. But - and this is a big but - the water is usually 3 or 4 degrees warmer on the False Bay side.
The water temperature is usually between about 10°C and 14°C on the Western Seaboard and between about 12°C and 17°C on the False Bay side (very occasionally as high as 20). But it's not a good idea to generalise - each beach has its own particular charm so here they are - starting from False Bay and heading off around the peninsula. False Bay curves in a huge arc from Gordon's Bay and Strand in the East, right round to Cape Point at its westernmost extremity.
The eastern side is more like the western seaboard, with the water temperature a few degrees colder than the eastern side. It's a rocky shore, with a few beaches, mainly, which has great surf but is not a great swimming beach, and more family friendly beaches at Gordon's Bay and Strand. Bikini beach, at Gordon's Bay, is one of Cape Town's three Blue Flag Beaches. Also on the eastern shore of False Bay is Strand, which is a great family beach, Koeëlbaai - well loved by surfers but not offering the safest of bathing.
The northern shore of False Bay is a long stretch of beautiful, rather exposed, coast with a number of great beaches that, because of their proximity to the almost exclusively black suburbs (or townships) of Langa, Gugulethu, Nyanga, Khayalitsha and Mitchell's Plain are frequented almost exclusively by black people.
These are Macassar, Monwabisi, the blue flag Mnandi Beach and Strandfontein. Muizenberg Beach, situated in the corner where the rather wild northern shore meets the rocky but well populated eastern side of the peninsula, is a long family-friendly beach where almost every Cape Town surfer learned. It's pretty crowded, loads of kids, families, dogs and noise. There are all the usual facilities, like showers, and a couple of nice coffee shops close by. There is a useful walkway from Muizenberg to St James.
just on the seaward side of the railway line. Muizenberg is one of the most racially integrated of Cape Town's beaches, with a good sample of the whole spectrum of the rainbow nation. St James Tidal Pool and beach is usually very crowded in summer and is not a particularly restful experience, but the nearby Danger Beach is much quieter and is frequented almost exclusively by local residents. Probably because it is really well named and there is a pretty nasty little undertow and some big dumpers. Dalebrook Pool in Kalk Bay is much the same as St James.
Fish Hoek Beach stretches for just over a mile at the head of a beautiful bay. It's also popular with families, but there is much more space for them to spread out - and the northern, Clovelly, side is usually relatively peaceful. Fish Hoek often has a nice little wave and it's very popular with young surfers. From the southern end of the beach another one of those great walkways hugs the southern end of the bay. It's a great walk, especially in whale season, and there are lovely tidal pools. Long Beach, Simon's Town is not very long at all and should not be confused with the other Long beach (below).
It's very sheltered and is a great place for children as there are virtually no waves and the water slopes gently into the shallow bay. There is an interesting view of the Simon's town harbour and the yacht club. Seaforth is another very sheltered beach. A restaurant and other facilities make this more a family beach than a quiet getaway. There is a nice walkway from just past Seaforth to Boulders, with a few nice mini-beaches en route. Boulders is the most fabulous swimming beach in Cape Town - if not the world. Huge boulders create sheltered little coves and the resident penguins often swim past for a look at the people. This is a pay beach in season.
Windmill Beach is another gloriously sheltered, gently sloping beach with flat, shallow water that's ideal for families. It is just past Boulders.
The coastline from here on to Cape Point is quite rocky, and offers excellent diving and snorkelling, especially in winter. Little beaches along here are Froggy Pond, which is conveniently close to the road, Miller's Point, which is primarily a launching place for powerboats, and the beautiful but virtually inaccessible Smitswinkel Bay.
Within the national park, there are a number of small beaches. On the False Bay side, Buffelsbaai, with its safe tidal pool and lovely beach is the most popular. On the western side of Cape Point, Platboom and Olifantsbos are the most popular, but there are numerous small beaches and it is possible to walk for miles along this coast.
Just outside the national park, on the western side, is the lovely beach village of Scarborough, with its long sandy beach, great surf, interesting rock pools and lovely walks. There are minimal, but sufficient, facilities and a couple of good restaurants in the village are really close.Kommetjie is a small village with a large tidal pool and a really lovely long beach - also called Long Beach, but with far better reason than the one near Simon's town.
It's a very popular surfing beach and there's a great walk all the way to Noordhoek Beach, at the foot of the scenic Chapman's Peak.
Hout Bay Beach stretches from the other end of Chapman's Peak to the Hout Bay Harbour with its numerous fishing boats and yacht marina. Hout Bay beach is a great family beach, but it's also popular with horse riders, dog walkers and kayakers.
Sandy Bay, which can only be reached by walking along the coast from Llandudno, is Cape Town's official/unofficial nudist beach. Llundudno is one of those beautiful beaches that seem to have it all. Parking is a bit of a headache, so it never gets tooooo crowded.
It's one of the most popular sundown picnic spots in Cape Town. Llundudno is also one of Cape Town's most desirable residential areas.
At Oudekraal the unPC-named Hottentots Huisie is a very popular family beach with picnic sites, braai places and the like so it is not at all restful. Just around the corner, in front of the hotel, where the divers go in, is a tiny little beachie but there are some nice rocks to lounge on and a bit of grass here and there, and you can usually just slip into the sea off the rocks when the sea is calm.
Bakoven is a gorgeous, tiny beach with lovely big rocks on which sun-worshippers drape themselves with glorious abandon. It's also a very exclusive residential area.
One of the few beaches on the Western Seaboard that is not protected from the south east wind, Camps Bay Beach is still very popular and quite frenetic with families, stylish singles, tourists, the lot. It's a long-ish beach, backed by a row of palm trees, a busy road and a bank of fashionable restaurants and coffee shops that overlook the beach. It's a great sunset spot.
You can walk from Camps Bay to Glen Beach, which is a perfect little enclave with a few beach houses, awesome surf (with some very territorial locals) and a lovely beach.
Around the next point is Maiden's Cove, which is pretty much a family beach. Just behind the beach is the Glen Country Club and the very popular La Med, which overlooks a large grassy area where paragliders come in to land after taking off from Lion's Head.
Next in line is the iconic Clifton with its four beaches - rather unimaginatively named 1st,2nd, etc. But that's where the lack of imagination ends. Actually - the bathing costumes usually seen on Clifton don't require much in the way of imagination either but this is the premier beach in Cape Town - make that in South Africa - and it's probably one of the top ten or twenty most fashionable beaches in the world. The wealthy all aspire to owning homes fronting its snow white sands and the beautiful people fly from all around the world to see and be seen and to strut their gorgeous lithe bodies against the backdrop of the unbelievably turquoise water dotted with gleaming white yachts.
But, hey, you don't have to be beautiful or rich to frolic on Clifton's sands and sun yourself next to the rich and famous. It's a free country, after all.
Sea Point is more oceanfront that beach, but there are a few small ones. Saunders Rocks, has a small beach with a tidal pool, Rocklands is another beach with just a small patch of sand, and Three Anchor Bay is a tiny little beach, and there is also a small patch of sand next to the boathouses also at Three Anchor Bay launching site. The Sea Point Promenade is a lovely long walkway right near the sea that is often frequented by joggers, dog walkers, families, and senior citizens taking advantage of the perfect surface to glide their Zimmer frames. It's a cultural experience.
The Mouille Point Beach is more a walking beach than a sun tanning or swimming beach and it ends where the V&A Waterfront and the harbour begins. North of Cape Town city centre and the harbour, the beaches front onto Table Bay and are kind of the beginning of the West Coast. Milnerton Beach is a long beach that offers excellent walking and reasonable swimming and sun tanning. Further on is Sunset Beach, which can usually be spotted from miles away by the multi-coloured kites hovering above it.
Bloubergstrand, which consists of two beaches - Big Bay and Little Bay - is a favourite windsurfing and kitesurfing spot. It's also a great family beach.
*Distances are shown as the crow flies and not necessarily the actual travelling