Things To Do in Cape Town - While Sober!
Updated: Oct 26, 2021
When a country totally cancels drinking, you have to find some other activities. As expected, there are plenty of things to do in Cape Town while sober! Now, we won’t go so far as to say we were happy about the prohibition, but it did force us - in a good way - to view the city through a different lens.
Reflecting back on our time in Turkey, we’d get a chance to stop wandering around in such a merry state!
Truth Coffee and the South African National Gallery
When you ask a fellow traveler about things to do in Cape Town, you’ll likely be pointed to Truth Coffee. The place is an absolute institution, and the coffee / brunch combination is a perfect choice for kicking off a day exploring the city (in normal times, they also have a full bar, but Bloody Marys weren’t in the cards for us during our stay).
Vibe-wise, Truth has what can best be called a steampunk-esque decor. If you’re wondering what steampunk is, you’re not alone. Picture the mildly-ridiculous, Will-Smith-probably-regrets-this-film Wild Wild West, add in some hipster mustaches, ironically shake it up in a retro cocktail mixer, and you’ve got yourself steampunk.
Bottom line - Truth Coffee is awesome. And, fortified with a solid foundation of eggs, pastries, and pour-over coffee, it’s a leisurely stroll from there to the South African National Gallery. Located just off Company’s Gardens in the heart of Cape Town, this is one of the city’s - and country’s - premier art galleries.
Neither of us could reasonably be accused of being art aficionados, but that doesn’t even matter here. The museum has something for everyone - from little kids learning about different art materials to experts in South African art to amateur observers like us.
And, the Gallery also houses one of the most terrifying sculptures either of us had ever seen - “Butcher Boys.” Composed of three life-sized, horned figures sitting on a bench, Jane Alexander created the statue in 1986 to represent the dehumanization of apartheid.
Staged in a quiet room in the back of the museum, the three figures seem alive. As you walk around them looking at the artwork along the walls, you cannot avoid the eerie sensation that you’re being watched, with one of the three figures poised to jump out of his seat at any time. Better to enter that room with someone else than on your own.
NOTE: You aren't allowed to take photos in the Gallery, so check out the above link for a full write-up and picture of this stunning sculpture.
Doughnuts and Croissants are Both Good - Why Not a “Doughssant?”
On a lighter note, we also compensated for the lack of booze with some gluttonous eating. A fellow visitor to Cape Town aptly summed up South African cuisine: “It’s like European quality with American quantities.” Yep - a lot of good food.
We found one particular culinary highlight around the corner from our second Cape Town apartment, the one in Green Point - Jason Bakery. It’s one of those local joints that always seems to have a line. And, despite Chipp’s general philosophy against standing in lines, waiting a few minutes to get some of the fresh-baked deliciousness is more than worth it.
In particular, the place offers a next-level combination of two incredible foods:
Do you like doughnuts?
Do you like croissants?
Why not combine the two!?
Enter the doughssant! Only available on Saturdays, Jason Bakery describes this flavor bomb as: A hybrid between a doughnut and a croissant. We cut croissant dough into the shape of a doughnut and deep fry it, before filling and topping with a unique flavour every week. We can proudly say we’ve never repeated a flavour since its inception in 2013.
Jenna sent Chipp out to get a loaf of bread for breakfast. Naturally, he returned with a doughssant.
Planetariums Aren’t Just for Elementary School Field Trips!
When was the last time you went to a planetarium? If you’re anything like us, the answer’s probably an elementary school field trip.
Well, turns out they’re still awesome. Cape Town’s South African Museum and Planetarium, as the name suggests, has a planetarium. Thinking back to our field trip days, we both kind of assumed it’d just be a narrator talking everyone through different constellations. But, they had no-kidding shows in the planetarium - incredible graphics projected onto the half-sphere ceiling.
We actually double backed for a second show after liking the first one so much. We started with “To Space and Back,” a really cool overview of how space travel has affected our everyday lives (e.g. GPS, cell phones, satellite imagery, etc.). Then, in a nod to Aliens, Sigourney Weaver narrated “Mission Extreme,” a future-looking show on the potential to use asteroids to enable travel deep into our solar system. Wild!
We happened to be in South Africa in the southern hemisphere’s peak summer months, too - pretty nice to sit in a dark, air-conditioned planetarium for an hour or so. And, related, it’s cool to see the different constellations projected overhead, but from the perspective of the Cape Town sky. All of the famous northern hemisphere constellations, many of which were named by the ancient Greeks, appear upside-down - another interesting tidbit when you find yourself on the “bottom of the world.”
The Oranjezicht Market and a Ferris Wheel Ride
Jumping back to the food thing, Cape Town has an incredible farmers market / collection of food stalls just outside of the V&A Waterfront. Called Oranjezicht City Farm Market, you couldn’t ask for a better place to stroll around, graze, and people watch on a Saturday.
From Thai food to coffee to beers to local cheeses to American-style breakfasts to traditional African dishes and pretty much everything in between, you can find a delicious bite there. Honestly, as with any full-blown cornucopia, the challenge isn’t really finding something good to try - it’s deciding which one (or ones) to try. Chipp went pretty standard and opted for eggs benedict. And then Thai dumplings. And then a cookie. And then a smoothie.
Eventually, you just need to force yourself to leave if you don’t want to get sucked into the just-one-more-snack vortex. Nostalgia from other childhood memories - like the planetarium trip - pulled us away. A 10ish-minute walk from Oranjezicht, you’re right back into the heart of V&A Waterfront. While definitely a touristy area, it’s hard to say no to a ferris wheel - couldn’t even guess the last time either of us had been on one. Awesome way to see the city - and try to digest some of the massive caloric intake from the market...
Exploring the Bo Kaap Neighborhood and Museum
Bo-Kaap - formerly known as the Malay Quarter - is a Cape Town neighborhood on the slopes leading up to Signal Hill. Historically, it housed slaves from Malaysia, Indonesia, and other parts of Africa.
When freed slaves were finally allowed to buy property, many bought the homes in Bo-Kaap. And, story goes, this ability to purchase homes resulted in the multi-colored houses giving the neighborhood such a distinctive look. Apparently, slaves had to keep the rental houses painted white. So, to celebrate ownership, the residents painted the houses a mix of bright colors - beautiful effect.
Today, a lot of the families in the still tight-knit community have lived there for generations. And, as a visitor to Cape Town, it’s 100% worth the visit up Wale Street into the heart of Bo-Kaap to experience this incredible culture. The neighborhood boasts the first mosque in South Africa, and the oldest building houses the Bo-Kaap Museum, an amazing place to get a sense of the area’s history.
Oh yeah, and make sure to eat some Cape Malay style food after strolling around the neighborhood. An interesting mix of Middle Eastern curries and other spices plus traditional Dutch dishes, Cape Malay food is unbelievable. Bobotie, in particular, is the perfect comfort meal. A delicious balance of curried spiciness and fruity sweetness, it’s pretty clear why some people consider it to be South Africa’s national dish.
Are These Wings… Grilled?
This is less a thing-to-do-in-Cape-Town and more just an interesting cultural experience (or sacrilege?). Grabbing a bite one day, we were both surprised to see “Buffalo Wings” on the menu. Nostalgic for Bills games and late nights slamming wings, we decided to try out the local version.
For background, in South Africa, you don’t “grill” or “BBQ” - you braai (rhymes with “fry”). But, ironically, this open-flamed style of cooking - while delicious in the right context - has nothing to do with frying. So, we shouldn’t have been surprised when our “wings” came out, and clearly had been grilled, not deep fried.
Chipp to server: “Hmmm, are these grilled wings?”
Server, very enthusiastically: “Oh yeah, our cooks throw them on the braai out back!”
Chipp: “Interesting… So these are more deep-braaid, not deep-fried, wings?”
Server, not grasping Chipp’s stupid humor: “Um, yeah, I guess…”
Lesson learned. A “Buffalo Wing” doesn’t always equal a wing. Healthier on a grill? You bet. Let’s just not call it a wing!