City Bowl -- Near the Waterfront, beaches, and Winelands, and in easy reach of most of the city's best restaurants, with great views, the residential suburbs that flank the city center are the most convenient place to stay. Opt for one of the many elegant guesthouses on the mountain slopes of the upmarket suburbs of Oranjezicht, Higgovale, and Tamboerskloof, with excellent views of the city and harbor.
Bo-Kaap (Upper Cape) -- Stretching from the edge of the inner city and up the slopes of Signal Hill, this lively suburb of historic houses painted in a rainbow of pastels and bold colors is historically one of the most interesting parts of Cape Town. With its concentration of historic mosques, rough cobbled streets, and a distinctive sense of community and vibrant "Cape Malay" culture, this is a great place to experience Cape Town's much-vaunted "diversity," although it's slowly changing under the influence of foreign investment.
De Waterkant, Green Point, Mouille Point & Sea Point -- Wedged into a strip of land between Signal Hill and the Atlantic Ocean, this area -- with a mix of residential and commercial property -- for some time, has been the most dynamically evolving part of Cape Town. De Waterkant is a tiny enclave that has evolved into a chi-chi shopping area, with cobbled streets and a fine square (Cape Quarter) surrounded by restaurants. It's world-renowned for its popularity with gay travelers, who spend a lot of their vacation time swinging through the densely concentrated bars and clubs located here and in neighboring Green Point. Closer to the water, the beachfront that stretches along the coast of Mouille Point and Sea Point has been largely ruined by the construction of dense high-rise apartments (although, come sunset, the seaside promenade is still a salubrious place to walk, jog, or hold hands), while pockets along Sea Point's Main Road are hangouts for hookers and drug dealers. This area used to be the heart of Cape Town's nightlife and is experiencing a steady comeback, especially as vibey Green Point puts on the glitz for 2010. You'll find a wide selection of restaurants on Main Road, from Green Point to the very end of Sea Point, but mind yourself after dark.
The Waterfront -- The Victoria & Alfred (V&A) Waterfront is one of the most successful in the world and -- for good or bad -- one of Cape Town's top attractions. Hotels have glorious sea and mountain views, and many shopping, dining, and entertainment options are right at your doorstep. You'll pay for the privilege of staying here, though (the cheap options aren't worth it). And it's a little out of touch with the rest of the city; most of the locals you'll meet here are the ones working the shops.
Atlantic Seaboard -- If you're looking for a beach holiday, stay on the Atlantic seaboard, where Table Mountain drops steeply into the ocean, creating a magnificent backdrop to the seaside "villages" of Bantry Bay, Clifton, Camps Bay, Bakoven, and Llandudno. The beaches are the most beautiful (Camps Bay, lined with restaurants and cocktail bars, is the most accessible), and gorgeous people strut their stuff on the pristine, fine white sands. The sunsets here are awe inspiring.
Southern Suburbs -- The three worth highlighting are Woodstock, Observatory, and Constantia. Woodstock, with its totally unglamorous, semi-industrial feel, has been targeted for (positive) development and is seeing an injection of capital and creative energy that is transforming it into the next residential hub, already boasting the city's most fabulous Saturday market and enticing new shopping venues. Observatory (less than 10 min. from town), with its quaint Victorian buildings and narrow streets, has an interesting bohemian feel; its proximity to both the University of Cape Town and the huge Groote Schuur hospital makes for a particularly eclectic mix of people. Farther south (about 20 min. from town), the oak-lined streets and old, established mansions of Constantia are arguably the city's most exclusive addresses, with the lush surrounds of the Cape's oldest wine-producing area attracting the rich and famous who prefer their privacy to the glare of the sun-soaked hoi polloi in Camps Bay.
False Bay -- Distance from city attractions is the drawback of the suburbs of the naval base of Victorian-era Simons Town, overdeveloped Fish Hoek, Kalk Bay, St. James, and Muizenberg, but they are definitely worth a day or two of your attention, particularly if this is not your first visit to Cape Town. Kalk Bay, in particular, has a plethora of quaint restaurants and shops -- even a dinner theater. The sea is a few degrees warmer on this side of the mountain, and because this part of the coast faces east, dawn can be breathtaking, though obviously at the expense of sunsets.
Southern Peninsula & Cape Point -- Surrounded by mountains, the fast-developing town of Hout Bay has its own harbor and marks the start of the breathtaking Chapman's Peak Drive, which snakes past the burgeoning town of Noordhoek, and such sweet villages as Kommetjie, Misty Cliffs, and Scarborough, before reaching Cape Point Nature Reserve. Close to the shore, the best of these seaside enclaves have superbly white sandy beaches backed by magnificent cliffs, and they retain a dreamy, villagelike feel. Some, such as Noordhoek, though, have spawned huge housing developments. If you need to be near the action rather than surrounded by nature, you'll probably find these places a little too far from the city.
Cape Flats -- This is where the majority of "coloureds" (the apartheid name for people of mixed descent) live, many forcibly relocated from District Six (a now-razed suburb adjacent to the city) by apartheid policies. The residents of the Cape Flats suffer from a high unemployment rate and lack of cohesive identity and hope, and the area has become a fertile breeding ground for drug-fueled gang wars. Even farther east are the "black suburbs" (historically referred to as "townships") of Gugulethu, Langa, and Nyanga, and the vast shantytowns and new residences of Khayalitsha (visible from the N2 as you drive into town from the airport). To get a balanced view of Cape Town and a real insight into South Africa's history, a visit to these areas is highly recommended.
Winelands -- No trip to Cape Town would be complete without at least a day spent here; indeed, many prefer to stay here for the duration of their visit -- Cape Town lies no more than an hour or so away; the airport, 45 minutes. The university town of Stellenbosch is the cultural epicenter of the Winelands, and its oak-lined streetscape offers the greatest sense of history; the wine produced by its terroir is also generally the best. However, Franschhoek -- reached via either Stellenbosch or Paarl -- is located in the prettiest of the wineland valleys and has a well-developed, albeit very touristy, infrastructure that includes an overwhelming concentration of award-winning restaurants; if you overnight in only one wine-producing region, make sure it's Franschhoek. Deciding where to stay is ultimately a matter of availability; places situated on wine estates with views of the vineyards and mountains are most desirable. By contrast, the town of Paarl is far from attractive, but it makes a convenient stop-off for lunch as you head toward the quaint winelands village of Tulbagh. The lack of pretense, scant traffic, and prime accommodations at a fair price make Tulbagh one of the sweetest little destinations in the country.
Northern Suburbs -- With their kitsch postmodern palaces and endless "first-home" developments, these suburbs don't really warrant much attention. However, if you're heading north to see the West Coast, you should consider stopping at Blouberg Beach for the classic postcard view of Table Mountain across the bay; take the R27 Marine Drive, off the N1, to get here.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.