Best Beaches in South Africa: One of Kenton’s beautiful beaches. Photo: Ann Gadd
I’ve traveled to over 400 beaches around the coast of South Africa, photographing and doing research for the book Life’s a Beach. As a result, from the ghost town of Alexander Bay along the coast to Sodwana Bay, we stuck as much as our Duster would allow to the coastal roads—from mere sand tracks to freeways, we drove them all. Here is my take on the best of South Africa’s beaches:
Best Beaches in South Africa: Best Overall Beach
Kenton-on-Sea, Sunshine Coast, Eastern Cape
Kenton has loads to offer – Middle Beach on a low-tide is wonderful for for paddling, the stunning natural Mermaid’s Pool for a dip, interesting rock formations, and Shelly Beach, where a trek over dunes rewards you with a secluded, turquoise bay. Start your day with lazy river swimming floating upstream on an incoming tide in the Kariega or Bushman’s Rivers. In addition, Kite-board enthusiasts will find Cannon Rocks a fun spot, while surfers can head to Port Alfred. Fishermen can take a boat upriver or out to sea, hikers can head north to Kasouga beach for caves and secluded scenic strolls, or do the circular walk through the Joan Muirhead Nature Reserve, whilst beachgoers can choose between the prevailing wind protected lagoon mouth, or the excitement of the waves, with lifesavers on duty in season.
Restaurant: Try Stanley’s (3.5km from Kenton overlooking the Bushman’s River) for a great river view and the lovingly prepared set menu on Sundays. Tel: 082 774 9326.
Kenton Tourism: Tel: 046 648 2411
Calypso beach Langebaan, next to the Strandloper Bar. Photo: Ann Gadd
Best for Sundowners
Strandloper Bar, Strandloper Restaurant, Langebaan, West Coast, Western Cape
This is a tricky one, as my list of potentials is long, and naturally, your personal experience will depend on the weather. Alcohol is banned on SA beaches. So, the days of a picnic on the sand with a glass of bubbles is over. However, there are still some magic bars on the beach. For sheer Robinson Crusoe vibe, despite sporadic opening hours and the drinks having to be brought in each evening to stock the pub, head to the bar at the Strandloper restaurant. Sitting (rather uncomfortably) on driftwood benches, with the calm lagoon and massive boulders as scenery, you can almost imagine that you’ve recently been shipwrecked (rather than getting wrecked)!
The Blue Peter Hotel (opposite Little Bay, Blouberg) is a trendy historic venue for sundowners and pizza with a sea view. Dogs and children are welcome outdoors. (However, if you want a quieter more gentile experience, head to the upstairs lounge.) Cape Town’s beautiful people, hang out at The Grand Café (Granger Bay, Cape Town). Being served on the beach here takes luxury to new levels. The balmy evenings on the deck at Tobago’s in Green Point (great when you want to escape the South-East wind) where you can relax comfortably, watching the waves and the odd seal splash right before you. In KZN, I enjoyed sipping a cocktail at the Sandbar at Umdloti and watching kids romp in the tidal pool.
Strandloper restaurant and pub: Best to contact them first to check when they’re open as it varies: email@example.com 083 22 77 195 or +27 (0)22 7722 490. The restaurant has a set menu of local seafood treats. Booking essential.
Blue Peter Hotel: 8 Popham St, Bloubergstrand, Cape Town Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Grand: Haul Rd, V & A Waterfront, Cape Town Tel: 021 425 0551 Email:Beach@GrandAfrica.com
Tobagos: Radison Blu, Beach Road, Granger Bay, Cape Town Tel: 021 441 3000 Email: email@example.com
Cape Vidal Beach: Photo: Ann Gadd
Best for Scenic Beauty
Cape Vidal, Isimanagliso Wetland Park, northern KZN
Long stretches of white sand, turtles, safe, warm water bathing, boating, and the added bonus of being in the Isimangaliso Nature Reserve, make this my top choice for sheer, breath-taking beauty. Here you can take isolated beach walks and feel at one with nature, without the detraction of litter and crowds, knowing that just over the dunes lies a wealth of magnificent game, such as hippos, rhinos, bushbuck, bush-pigs, and Vervet monkeys. The monkeys are skilled thieves, so watch them carefully if the car door is open, as they’ll nick whatever they can find!
If you’re staying nearby St Lucia, watch out at night for the hippos strolling around town chopping the local gardens for dinner.
Handy Information: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Accommodation: Stay in the town of St Lucia and access daily into the park. We stayed in St Lucia at the Monzi Safaris tented lodge (81 Mckenzie St). Tel: 035 590 1697 Email: email@example.com
Or enjoy the beauty 24/7 by staying at Cape Vidal Beach Camp. Camp contact: 035 590 9012 or reservations 033 845 100.
Restaurant: St Lucia Ski Boat Club, Sugar Loaf Rd, St. Lucia – great sundowners and pub grub overlooking the river where hippos and crocodiles entertain. For the best fresh fish in a pub environment – the Fisherman’s Restaurant. Tel: 035 590 1376
Best for Kids
Boulder’s Beach, Simonstown, Cape Peninsula, Western Cape
Flat water, boulders to climb, secret passages between rocks, small beaches, and the added attraction of penguins and thousands of dassies make this a lovely beach to entertain littles. However, the downside of Boulders Beach is the high tide. In season, when it’s crowded, and the tide is full, there are only a couple of meters (if at all) of beach. So check tides in advance and head there on a weekday, preferably. Several smaller beaches lead off from the boardwalk between Boulders and Miller’s Point, which you can explore for less crowded options. Penguins look friendly, but when threatened, they can nip hard.
The second choice is Island Beach at Groot Brak, which has the option of safe lagoon swimming and the sea. Access via a single lane over a narrow bridge makes it even more of an island adventure!
Restaurants: The Salty Dog (for fish and chips), Seaforth Restaurant for a pizza/seafood with a view, or The Sweetest Thing – a patisserie with divine goodies for sweet-toothed savors.
Boulder’s Visitor Centre: +28(0)21 786 2329.
Best for Watching Surfing
Victoria Bay (out of season) Garden Route, Western Cape
Surfers themselves will probably put Pipeline at Jeffery’s Bay (east coast) or Eland’s Bay (west coast) as their top go-to spots. However, as an observer, I love hanging off the end of a Durban pier. You feel like you’re part of the surfing experience. Sitting on the rocks at Victoria Bay or Nahoon (East London) has to be the most magic surf viewing spots in South Africa. Being so close that you can loudly hear the “Whoop, whoops” of the surfers as they take off on their next wave is also an adrenaline rush for viewers. At the slightest hint of a wave (and the place is a veritable wave machine), the surfers start arriving. Sit back and enjoy the action!
Facilities: parking is limited. A beach café provides snacks, and toilet facilities are available.
Paternoster beach. Photo: Ann Gadd
Best Beaches in South Africa: Great for Gourmands
Paternoster, West Coast, Western Cape
Despite its minor village status, Paternoster boasts at least 20 superb eateries. Most notable is Wolfgat. Wolfgat was voted best restaurant at the inaugural World Restaurant Awards in Paris in 2019 and, in 2021, the best restaurant in Africa, as well as receiving a host of other awards. Drawing inspiration from the surrounding landscape, chef Kobus van der Merwe’s signature Strandveld food menu comprises a series of tasting dishes. The food is enhanced by wild herbs, seaweeds from the local rock pools, and pickings from the garden. But booking is essential, generally way in advance. Other favorite options are the Noisy Oyster and Leeto. Leeto’s is so close to the sea; you can almost see the fish swimming.
Blikkie Pizzeria, (across the road from the beach), offers tasty food in the mid to lower price range. Plus, there’s a stunning view. For fresh fish and slap chips head to On the Rocks or De See Kat has beautiful vista views. An excellent eclectic choice of restaurants in a sleepy, scenic West Coast village.
Best Beaches in South Africa: Best for Remoteness
Alexander Bay, The Diamond Coast, Northern Cape
The beach at Alexander Bay is about as far from everything as you can get. Add the seasonal mist, and you have a vast, deserted, bleak seascape. But there is something beautiful about the place, filled with tales of diamonds and diggers and littered with deserted shacks and mines. Plus, there is always the possibility that you may spot a large diamond or two. Getting there takes some determination. It’s an hour’s drive from Port Nolloth, which is pretty remote. You need to sign in at the gate. Locating the road to the beach feels like Mission Impossible, particularly because the rusted sign indicating where the beach is, confusingly informs you that there is no entry allowed and, in barely illegible type, adds “between sunset and sunrise.” For Orange River access, I recommend a 4-wheel drive vehicle.
Alexander Bay is the driest town in South Africa. Unfortunately, it’s also not very geared for sleepovers. There is a campsite and a guest house, so best to day trip from Port Nolloth or McDougall’s Bay.
The petrol station is closed. There is a café, but don’t expect the usual takeaway joints, so bring a picnic—no restaurants in sight. Tourist Information: The Museum: Tel: 027 8311330
The old diamond mining factory on the beach at Alexander Bay. Photo: Ann Gadd
All photos: Ann Gadd Copyright