Some cities just ooze family friendliness and Cape Town definitely ranks high as a city with much to offer families with kids of all ages. From walkability, to attractions, to accommodation options, you will not go wrong creating priceless family memories in this South African treasure.
I recently read an article that highlighted the fact that many travel trends are actually pre-conceived ideas created by marketing gurus to steer would be travellers in a particular direction. Yet no matter how cleverly crafted these trends are, statistics still show that the main reason people go on holiday is to relax and spend quality time with their family and loved ones whilst having fun.
This got me thinking about our family holidays when I was growing up. They were most definitely a combination of all those things. Time together, relaxation and fun. The definition of relaxing naturally differs vastly from person to person. For my dad, it meant enjoying a round of golf or 3, something he managed to include on most of our vacations. For my brother, it probably involved watching a movie. For me it was lying on the beach, with a good book, soaking up the sun. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my parents actually took time and effort in deciding on the destinations we travelled to, based on how it would fulfil our needs as a family as well as individually. In hindsight, I can say they did a damn fine job. For them, it wasn’t about how many attractions we got to see but more about the memories we created. Something I now really appreciate, especially with my own child.
When we went to London, we visited Buckingham Palace, Madame Tussauds, The Tower of London and London Bridge. Big tourist drawcards. But we also went to watch a movie as a family at a tiny little theatre in Soho. 35 years later I can still remember that movie was Scrooge, with Bill Murray. We had a picnic in Hyde Park and fed the ducks. Our days were not packed full of things to do from the moment we opened our eyes till we collapsed into bed. Our family holidays meant sleeping in if we wanted to. They meant having some free time to do things unplanned. The pace of a holiday is not supposed to be as frantic and as rushed as everyday life. The reason people say they need a vacation after returning from one is that they are doing it wrong.
As an avid traveller, I too want to see and do as much as I possibly can. I mean naturally, we all want the most bang for our buck! But I truly believe it is a necessity to have free days with nothing planned or at least not set in stone. Even more so if you have children. It’s really no fun getting up early every day, heading out on excursions, returning to your hotel in the evening, maybe having time for a quick shower and then heading out again for the evening. That is not relaxing. It’s also not enjoyable, and if travel is supposed to be anything, it’s enjoyable!
Cape Town or “The Mother City” as it is affectionately known, is a place on many a travel bucket list, and deservedly so. There is so much to see and do, I could plan a jam-packed 3-week itinerary and it would still not cover it all. But such is the nature of travel. It leaves you with a desire of wanting more. Wanting to go back to a place is always a good thing.
Having lived in Cape Town for most of my life and being where Travis spent the first 3 years of his, I can say with confidence that I am a staunch authority on some of the best places to take kids. I can almost bet that you won’t find these gems in most guidebooks. They are not secret per se, but just a little bit off the path that most tourists follow. Actually, that’s a lie, most tour buses drive straight past them! Locals flock to these spots, especially on weekends. In my book that is a pretty good sign that they are worth a look in. I recommend trying out at least one when you have some free time in Cape Town. Your kids will thank you!
This little fishing village is one of the best places to spend an entire day. Getting lost in its array of eclectic shops, galleries, and alleyways is a must. It has a bohemian-come-surf vibe. But don’t let its laid-back atmosphere fool you, Kalk Bay is uber trendy. The main focus is the natural working harbour. Stroll along the harbour wall and watch the colourful fishing boats returning with their catch for the day. It goes without saying that some of the best fish and chips are to be had here. Kalky’s is a Cape Town institution. Serving up fresh seafood right on the dock and a great spot to sit and watch the action unfold. The Brass Bell is another popular restaurant for grabbing a bite to eat. The beach deck has its own kiddies pool and small beach. A perfect alfresco area for keeping the rugrats happily building sand castles, while you enjoy an ice-cold craft beer and watch a bit of surfing. (South-Easter permitting!) For a fine-dining experience, Harbour House delivers some mouth-watering fare along with some incredible views.
If you ask any child, (or adult for that matter), what comes to mind when they think about being on holiday, I guarantee ice-cream will be at the top of most lists. There is just something magical about strolling around a foreign city, eating gelato! The Ice Café in Kalk Bay makes its own ice-cream in a variety of delectable flavours and is a firm favourite with all the Capetonian children I know. Located 1 block back from the Main Road, is a small children’s playground. One of the nearby eateries has set up some tables and chairs under the trees. This makes for a civilized seating area for parents to enjoy a coffee while trying to get rid of the kids’ sugar high! My favourite memory of this park, is of one of the locals taking their pet pot-bellied pig, Daisy, on her daily walk! Not sure who was squealing more, the pig or the kids!
Fish Hoek and Muizenberg Beaches
Cape Town is home to some exquisite beaches and I am not just saying this. Clifton actually has 4 separate beaches and has been recognized on many “best beaches in the world” lists over the years. It is definitely the place to be seen. Flanked by some of the most expensive real estate on the planet, it is a haven for international jet-setters and is definitely worth a visit if you are in Cape Town during the summer months. That said, Clifton is not my first choice when looking for a family friendly beach. Being on the Atlantic Ocean, the water is always freezing. Don’t believe me? I challenge you to stay in the sea for more than 5 minutes! It is also quite a trek down many steps to actually get to the beach. When carrying umbrellas, picnic hampers, buckets, spades and more than likely a child or two this is not pleasant. Coming back up is even worse. I won’t even mention the parking or lack thereof!
My go-to beaches in Cape Town, even sans offspring have always been Fish Hoek and Muizenberg. This side of the peninsula is blessed by having the warmer Indian Ocean lapping her shores, so swimming in the ocean is actually possible. Both beaches are long and wide and have a variety of shops, restaurants, and playgrounds nearby.
Fish Hoek has a footpath called Jager Walk which meanders along the coastline across the rocks for about 1km. Halfway along the catwalk, as it is commonly known to locals, is a natural rock pool which is a real delight for kids as they can find starfish, anemones and other marine life while splashing around!
Muizenberg is one of the best places to learn to surf. In fact, it is where I stood up for on a board for the first time (albeit for a split second). Can you imagine how much fun it would be to learn to surf together as a family? An experience that probably would not be on your radar when planning a trip to Cape Town. Yet one that will leave lasting memories and be a conversation point around the dinner table for years to come.
Along the tourist route on the way to Cape Point, just before the sea-side town of Kommetjie, is Imhoff Farm. This historical farmstead’s prime location offers magnificent views of the bay. You can see Noordhoek beach, Chapman’s Peak, The Sentinal in Hout Bay and all the way to Lions Head without the crowds. This gorgeous setting is the backdrop for the Blue Water Cafe, a casual eatery serving up delectable wood-fired pizzas. It is a perfect lunch stop with an enclosed garden boasting an enchanting tree house play area. A side gate takes you straight into the Higgeldy Piggeldy Farm Yard. Rabbits, ducks, goats, sheep, pigs, geese, chickens and even llama live here. It is fun yet educational and animal-loving kids will not want to leave. For the not so squeamish, next door is a reptile sanctuary and rehabilitation centre. It often holds snake shows and the opportunity to hold a boa. Something I am quick to give a miss.
While my boys are interacting with the creepy crawlies, I prefer to be indulging in a bit of retail therapy! My favourite shop at this former dairy and livestock farm dating back to the 1700’s, has to be Fever Tree Arts and Crafts. Owned by the multi-talented artist Louise Casserley, it is the best place to find handmade gifts for family back home. Filled to the brim with gorgeous and colourful crafts made by local artisans, you will not be able to resist treating yourself either. The home décor will make you the envy of all your friends. The best part is, you can pick up original items for less than a fraction of what they would cost in any of the shops at the V&A Waterfront. You are welcome!
On the Eastern Seaboard, is a small residential suburb called Moullie Point which is home to the iconic Blue Train. Okay not that Blue Train, rather a miniature kiddies version that has been in operation for over 50 years! I can only describe this activity park as a happy place, that keeps getting better with age. They have recently installed an all-weather eco-friendly ice-rink, the first of its kinds in South Africa and word on the street is they are adding a half-pipe for skateboarders. What I really love most about this attraction is that the proceeds go to worthy charities! Next to the Green Point Lighthouse, is another fabulous adventure playground. Well maintained and suitable for children of all ages, it gives parents the chance to just sit and breath in the fresh ocean air. Further along the paved promenade is a mini-golf course, a good option for the families looking for a bit of holiday competition! That said, this game was actually banned from our family vacations due to the over-competitiveness that resulted in the misuse of the putters! You have been warned.
Green Point Urban Park
Situated next to the Cape Town Stadium, is the Green Point Urban Park and Biodiversity Garden, a tranquil oasis with fabulous views of Signal Hill and the stadium itself. It is one of the Green Goal Legacy projects implemented during the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Created to minimize the carbon footprint of the building of the stadium and the overall operation of the event, making it even more unique. The Biodiversity Showcase Garden has over 300 indigenous plant species amongst which is a variety of art. If you don’t have time to visit Kirstenbosch, this is a free and easy way to see some fynbos and keep the children smiling. There are 2 play parks (one for toddlers and one for older kids), an outdoor labyrinth and a wetlands area. The family-friendly café – Tea in the Park, offers a simple yet delicious menu including South African specialities. I personally recommend the refreshing homemade Lemon Rooibos iced tea, and a hearty slice of carrot cake which gets rave reviews!
A Few Extra Nuggets
- The City Sightseeing Bus stops at the Lighthouse in Moullie Point and at the Green Point Urban Park. After a morning tour of the main highlights of Cape Town, these are both great places to jump off and stretch your legs. It’s only a short trip back to the V&A Waterfront should you be staying there.
- An alternative way of getting to Muizenberg, Kalk Bay or Fish Hoek is to take the train from the city centre. Traffic on the main road can be pretty bumper to bumper in summer and on weekends so this is a stress-free alternative.
- The last thing mom’s want to do on holiday is grocery shopping! But having a picnic at any of the above-mentioned locations is an awesome family activity. There are a number of picnic companies in Cape Town that will prepare and deliver personalised and gourmet picnic hampers to you. The Picnic Company has kiddies lunch bags and I love that the plates and utensils are eco-friendly.