Best beaches in Cape Town for swimming, surfing & snorkeling

Cape Town is famous for its gorgeous beaches, and for very good reason! They’re stunning, there are so many of them, and they’re surprisingly varied. Some of our beaches are incredible for snorkelling, with some of the best conditions in the world for spotting marine life. Others offer some of the best surfing in the world, and others are just terrific for swimming and sunbathing. Truly, we have world-class beaches.

I’ve put together a list of the best beaches in Cape Town to help you decide on the perfect option for you. You can enjoy a lazy day of sunbathing and swimming at all of these – or take to the waters with one of the above activities!

I’ve also added a section on safety tips from a lifeguard, and another on dog-friendly beaches, so you’ll be fully prepared to enjoy Cape Town’s beaches.

Best beaches – quick breakdown

Before I jump into a more detailed guide to the beaches in Cape Town, let’s run through a quick list of the top options. This is for those of you who are in a hurry!

  • Learning to surf: Muizenberg
  • Surfing: Llandudno
  • Kitesurfing: Bloubergstrand
  • Swimming & sunbathing: Clifton 4th
  • Snorkelling: Windmill Beach

Cape Town’s best beaches

Cape Town has dozens of lovely beaches, but these are the best and most beautiful of them!

Llandudno

Best for: Surfing – but only for people with boards, as Llandudno is a residential-only neighbourhood, so you won’t find any boards to rent here

Llandudno is really one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. With perfect white sand, striking rounded rocks on either side of the bay, and a small natural forest surrounding it, it’s pretty impeccable.

Because of its fantastic beauty, Llandudno is a very popular spot, and you may struggle to find a place to lay down your towel on a perfect weekend day. But if you can get here during the week, or on a slightly less perfect day, you’ll have a lot more space to yourself. Or, just enjoy the happy crowds! Be sure to explore the rocky outcrop on the right, and watch the surfers from beyond the break.

On a day when the ocean is calm, you can also go kayaking here. We pulled out an old plugged-up kayak, and a little trip around the rocky outcrop brought us into contact with thousands of tiny pink jellyfish! It’s ever-changing, but who knows what you’ll find. You can also go kayaking in Hout Bay, just around the bend.

Clifton beaches 1 – 4

Best for: Sunbathing and socialising

Clifton 4th, photo courtesy of jbdodane

The Clifton beaches, located in the wealthy neighbourhood of Clifton, are widely known as Cape Town’s most beautiful and accessible beaches. The fine white sand and gentle ocean – usually not ideal for surfing – make them fantastic beaches for swimming and lazing about.

There are usually volleyball nets set up, lazy chairs and umbrellas available for rental, and cooldrink and ice-cream hawkers passing by, so that a dreamy lazy day is all catered to. Of course, this can all get a bit pricey, but the beaches themselves are free to enter, and you can bring your own gear along!

Clifton also has relatively few rocks hidden in the water, making them safer to swim at, and there are lifeguards on duty.

Muizenberg

Best for: Surfing, and learning to surf

Muizenberg’s famous colourful structures, photo courtesy of K. Venema

This is widely considered the best beach for learning to surf because it’s super long, experiences good conditions, has very few dangerous rocks, and there are plenty of surf rentals and lessons just above the beach.

Muizenberg is a beautiful area, with many tourists choosing to stay in the neighbourhood, as close to the beach as they can get. You can also have a swim, and/or surf, and then finish off a fantastic afternoon with a trip to one of the many cafes or ice-cream spots lining the top of the main beach area.

Boulders Beach

Best for: Swimming with penguins

Boulders Beach is one of the most unique beaches in the world. You’ll walk along a forested path for a little while, before emerging onto the beach that’s home to many of South Africa’s little African Penguins!

This beach gives you the incredibly rare opportunity to swim with free penguins without needing to suit up for arctic temperatures, and not as a curated experience. Just swimming off the same beach as the penguin colony itself.

The beach, as part of the Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area, has a conservation entrance fee of R65/person to keep the penguins’ local habitat as safe and pristine as possible. African Penguins – once rather rudely called Jackass Penguins because of the braying call they make – are an endangered species. But visiting them here, the only place in the world where you can, helps fund research and support for the birds. So it’s doubly worthwhile!

Windmill Beach

Best for: Snorkeling

Windmill Beach, photo courtesy of Peter Southwood

Windmill Beach is Cape Town’s best beach for snorkelling. It’s a beautiful little spot surrounded by rocks, with plenty of tree shade to sit under. But much more importantly, is what’s in the water!

When I went snorkelling here, it was without a wetsuit, so I could only spend 20 minutes, and even then I spent the rest of the day recovering from the cold (in other words, bring a wetsuit!). But in that time, I saw hundreds of colourful sea urchins, lots of gently swimming fish, and even a small sand shark, resting at the base of the tall kelp forests.

I have a number of friends who go snorkelling and freediving regularly, and they all suggest Windmill Beach as their top pick. So, it’s well-vetted!

If you’re keen on a little snorkelling inspiration, check out my interview with local underwater photographer Helen Walne!

Bloubergstrand

Best for: Kitesurfing and kayaking

A long, long beach, Bloubergstrand is a lovely place to chill on calm days. On windy days, its long coastline is also dotted with kitesurfers, as it’s the perfect place to get into the sport. I used to pass the beach twice a week, and often see kitesurfers soaring three, five meters in the air! So if you’re keen on that rather scary-looking adventure sport, this is definitely the beach to visit.

Bloubergstrand is so long that it doesn’t have lifesavers, so be sure to stay shallow and avoid any strong currents. And if you come here on a calm day, it’s another lovely beach for kayaking and even stand-up paddleboarding.

Beta Beach

Best for: Sunbathing and enjoying the views

Another of the city’s prettiest beaches, Beta Beach is a secluded little spot in Bakoven. You’ll have gorgeous views of the Twelve Apostles and Lion’s Head from here. It’s also hemmed in by large boulders, so there are gentle waves and very little wind.

Heading down to Beta, you’d be excused for thinking it’s a private beach. But, while it is surrounded by very exclusive property, it’s totally public, and a lovely little footpath will take you right there. Just be aware, it really is a small beach, so you’ll either have to visit early or during the week.

Camps Bay

Best for: swimming and sunbathing

Camps Bay Beach backed by the Twelve Apostles, photo courtesy of Serena Tang

This beach is a lot more commercial than the others, backed by a line of restaurants, bars and cafes. Still, its view of the Twelve Apostles is fantastic, and it’s super accessible. You can just walk right off the Hop-on Hop-off sightseeing tour, or the Myciti bus, and you’re right here.

It gets really full on a beautiful day, but it’s pretty spacious, with some lovely swimming. There are also giant rounded boulders along its left flank, which you can scramble up for an even better view! Finally, Camps Bay beach has a tidal pool, which is the perfect spot for kiddies to learn to swim.

Noordhoek Beach

Best for: Long strolls, sunset views and evening dog walks

Noordhoek at golden hour, photo courtesy of Ian Usher

A stunning beach far from the madding crowds, Noordhoek Beach seems to stretch on forever! It’s a huge beach, perfect for a long walk and a more natural environment than the spots further North. Do keep in mind, though, that on windy days the sand can whip up quite painfully!

You can reach Noordhoek Beach by driving over Chapman’s Peak – one of the most beautiful drives in the whole world. This beach feels totally unspoiled and quiet, making it the perfect spot for a romantic stroll. I’d recommend starting on the Northern side, close to Chapman’s, as this has a good path, as well as bathrooms and lovely restaurants. You can really make a day of it!

Dog-friendly beaches

Our Luna learning to splish-splash and roll about in the sand

Dogs, unfortunately, can have a negative impact on the natural habitat that coastlines and beaches provide – and some people don’t love having a curious and enthusiastic dog bounding sandily into their space. Personally, give me a dog covered in sand and sea salt any day, but each to their own!

Because of this, Cape Town has set some specific beaches as off-leash dog-friendly beaches. Taking your pup to one of these spots, where they can wade and paddle and bound around excitedly, is one of the best dog-friendly activities in Cape Town.

Other beaches, like Llandudno, allow dogs off-season, or in-season before 9 am and after 6 pm – some require them to be kept on the leash even then. So, check your local beach’s allowances. Or, bring your pup to one of the beaches below!

  • Clifton 1st
  • Clovelly
  • Danger Beach
  • Dolphin Beach
  • Fish Hoek Beach
  • Glencairn Beach
  • Gordon’s Bay Main Beach
  • Granger Bay
  • Hout Bay
  • Lagoon Beach, Milnerton
  • Long Beach, Kommetjie
  • Long Beach, Simon’s Town
  • Mouille Point
  • Sonwabe Beach
  • Strandfontein Beach
  • Sunrise Beach
  • Sunset Beach, Milnerton
  • Table View

Safety tips for swimmers in Cape Town

This section is written by my husband, Glenn, who trained to be a lifeguard from the age of seven! These are safety tips for anyone who doesn’t know Cape Town’s waters well and wants to be prepared for our rather dramatic oceans.

Sharks

While Cape Town has more shark sightings than most places in the world, you still don’t need to worry about them all that much – the total amount of people killed worldwide by sharks each year is typically lower than the amount killed by toasters in any single given country!

That aside, the colder west coast (i.e Atlantic Ocean) practically never has sharks – if I remember correctly, there was one possible sighting in the 10 years I was lifeguarding there.

On the warmer east coast (Indian Ocean) sharks are much more common, but here we have constant shark watch stations keeping an eye out. There are signs on every east coast beach detailing what the various shark-related flags indicate, and here is a resource covering the same. Really though, the lifeguards will always make sure people know and get out of the water if a shark is spotted!

Rip currents

These, not sharks, are something to worry about! Most beaches in Cape Town can develop fairly gnarly rip currents, which can launch an inexperienced beach-goer from wading depth into deep water surprisingly quickly.

A rip current is a channel of water slightly deeper than the rest of the beachfront where a disproportionate amount of the water from each swell washes quickly back out to sea. You can spot them by looking out for sections of water that are moving in a slightly different direction or at a different pace than the rest of the water. The water in rip currents is often sandy due to the more rapid water flow churning the seafloor. Finally, rip currents will usually interfere with the formation of waves, so you’ll often see rips as a gap or deformity in the line of waves approaching the beach.

The easiest way to spot them though is to listen to the lifeguards! The space between the red and yellow flags indicates a section of beach that has been deemed safe from rip currents and other dangers for swimmers.

If you do get caught in a rip current, the most important thing to do is conserve strength and avoid fighting it. Even when only waist-deep, it is very difficult to move against the current. Instead, you should swim perpendicular to the current, trying to get out of it rather than trying to get back to the beach.

Rip currents typically peter out just behind the backline of forming waves, so the worst-case scenario will place you there. While this may seem scary, as long as you didn’t tire yourself out fighting the current, you’ll easily be able to follow the waves in even from here – or else to tread water until a lifeguard or helpful surfer can guide or haul you back to the shore!

Following surfers

A frequent beachside argument between lifeguards and tourists goes as follows: “Please don’t swim in this area, there’s a rip current and it’s highly unsafe.” “But I just saw that guy in the wetsuit go out here, how come you didn’t come to spoil his fun?”

Surfers have a few big advantages over the average swimmer. The absolute most important one is that they will, as a rule, know the ocean and that beach in particular far better than the average swimmer. Someone really familiar with the sea can go out in nothing but a speedo and play happily in surf that would be likely to drown someone who’s only ever swum in pools. Besides that, they’ll typically wear wetsuits, which are made of rubber – which floats! So they have an easier time treading water in general than an equally competent swimmer without a wetsuit. Speaking of floating, they’re also heading out on big old boards that can float their entire body weight, and are tied to their ankles so they don’t lose them.

This all comes together to mean that lifeguards typically don’t fuss about surfers unless one is clearly inexperienced, obviously in trouble, or signalling that he needs help.

Surfers want to get out to where the big waves are as quickly and with as little effort as they can – they need their strength for paddling onto the waves! For this reason, surfers will typically seek out and hop directly into the rip current, exiting towards the very back of the waves and paddling across in the calm water to find the best waves. In other words, the opposite of what anyone without a board should be trying to do.

Do not follow the surfers out to sea, and do not get annoyed with the lifeguards for treating you differently to the surfers, unless you’re a surfer yourself!

Rocky coastlines

A side note to rip currents and a danger of their own, Cape Town’s rocky coastlines are very much a beauty to be wary of as a swimmer. Many of Cape Town’s beaches – especially those with potentially dangerous rock formations – develop powerful waves that attract surfers but crash violently against the rocks.

In addition, rocks often promote the development of currents (although typically not rip currents specifically) that drag along the face of the rocky area, potentially sucking weak swimmers towards the danger zone if they fall in or get too close. That danger zone really can be both deadly and hard to escape. Waves can easily carry more than enough force to break bones, which is bad news when they’re throwing you against rocks.

In general, if you see waves breaking against rocks, it’s best to steer well clear, leaving a wide berth when swimming in the area.

Last thoughts on Cape Town beaches

Cape Town has so many beautiful beaches, you could visit one every weekend and fill up the whole summer with new and exciting places! Beach-going is one of the greatest things to do in summer, and it’s free! That’s a pretty big deal in a city with limited free and cheap things to do.

The safety tips apply mostly to swimmers, but following them is sure to keep you safe and sound, whether you’re living in Cape Town, or you’re just popping in for a week.

Let me know if you have a favourite beach in Cape Town that you think should be added to the list. I’d love to see it!

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