Water, as we Capetonians are well aware, is hard to come by nowadays… but thankfully we know of a place that still has plenty of it. It’s called the ocean, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. We’re lucky enough to live in a region blessed with some of the most beautiful coastal areas in the world, so even with the current water restrictions, there are bucket-loads of options when looking for a spot to take a refreshing dip.
Of course, sometimes you want more than just a dip. Sometimes, you want a safe space where you can chill with a drink in hand without having to worry about being capsized by an onrushing wave, and where the kids can play freely. Well, thanks to the Cape’s collection of tidal pools, the ocean’s got you covered there, too. These serene swimming spots are regularly filled by the tides, providing all the benefits of a swimming pool without placing any strain on our water supply. So grab some suntan lotion, pack a picnic basket, and pay a visit to one of these natural swimming pools in the Cape.
Important note Although the Cape is rich in natural beauty, tourists and locals alike are urged to take necessary precautions when exploring secluded areas, as crimes and accidents do happen.
Those venturing into the Table Mountain National Park should have the following emergency numbers on hand: 086 110 6417/ 107 or 021 480 7700. Criminal incidents should be reported to the nearest police station as soon as able.
We also recommend @safetymountain as a useful resource for hikers. This free safety tracking service allows you to notify local trackers of your contact details, intended route and travel time via whatsapp. You are then able to provide hourly updates on your progress, and to notify trackers when you are safely off the mountain.
1. St James Tidal Pool, St James
Arguably one of Cape Town’s most well-known and popular tidal pools, you’ll find this one below the railway line, in the seaside suburb of St James, which is tucked neatly between Muizenberg and Kalk Bay. During summer, the beach and tidal pool become especially busy, so it’s best to get there in the early morning to beat the crowds, and have a refreshing dip in peace.
Why we love it St James is a sheltered, ultra family-friendly beach, making it perfect for sunbathers and young families, though surfers can ride the reef here, too. Also, we adore its iconic, characteristic colourful change rooms; they add a bright splash of colour that, with the aqua waters below and children playing on the beach, paints an idyllic seaside-holiday scene, like something out of an Enid Blyton novel.
Where to find it St James Beach, St James, Cape Town
2. Miller’s Point, Simon’s Town
Found on the southern side of the False Bay coastline, some 5km outside of Simon’s Town, you’ll find Miller’s Point, which is divided into two sections. The first leads to a caravan site and The Black Marlin Seafood Restaurant, and the second section takes you to Rumbly Bay, where you will find one of two nearby boat launch sites and, wedged between, this secluded tidal pool. Caution is advised, as there are crafty baboons in the area, so please lock your cars carefully and don’t approach/feed these sneaky rascals.
Why we love it For its secret location – unless you know it’s there (quite a few locals do), you could miss it. It offers incredible views across the rocky bay, a fun water slide and some natural rock pools (ideal for kiddies to paddle in), change rooms, grassy picnic and braai spots. (No dogs allowed.) It’s also a great area for kayaking, snorkelling, surf skis and scuba-diving, with popular dive sites (Partridge Point, Castle Rock and Smitswinkel) nearby.
Fun fact The bay was discovered in 1825 by Edmund Miller, who made a whaling station here. When whaling was banned some years later, the coast remained virtually untouched for almost a hundred years. Today, Miller’s Point falls under the TMNP and is a popular whale-watching site, as two deep pools north of Miller’s Point attract the southern right whales and their calves.
Cost Boat launching fee is R90, and a separate entry fee is charged on weekends and during peak holiday season.
Where to find it Miller’s Point, M4, Simon’s Town, Cape Town
About 4km north of Simon’s Town lies the False Bay suburb of Glencairn, which is home to a beach that’s slightly longer and less populated than nearby Fish Hoek Beach. On the southern side of the beach is a tidal pool, where you can enjoy safe swimming – surfers and bodyboarders will opt for the northern end, with its small reef bank.
Why we love it It’s located near Glencairn Beach, a gentle, family- and dog-friendly beach that’s ideal for swimming, snorkelling, sunbathing and long strolls – on windy days, kite surfers can also get in some good air time. Both beach and tidal pool are easily visible from the railway line and, like the St James Tidal Pool, it holds a portion of the beach protectively enclosed within its old walls (built in the 1920s).
Where to find it Glencairn Beach, Glencairn, Cape Town
4. Maiden’s Cove Tidal Pools, Camps Bay
Hidden among clumps of rocks, these tidal pools offer spectacular views of the mountain and ocean. The Atlantic Seaboard is home to a buzzy restaurant strip, and the prospect of taking a dip in the pool (or sunbathing on the boulders that surround it) is yet another incentive to visit the area.
Why we love it As well as boasting some of the best views you’re likely to find from any poolside, Maiden’s Cove has a grassy area that’s perfect for a braai or picnic.
Good to know Whales and dolphins have been known to pass within sight of the shoreline during the whale-watching season (June to December).
Where to find it The first tidal pool is located between Glen Beach and Camps Bay Beach, the second between Glen Beach and Clifton Fourth.
5. De Kom Tidal Pool, Kommetjie
The charming town of Kommetjie is a popular destination for kite-surfers and camping enthusiasts; and this serene swimming spot, which lies within sight of the famous Slangkop Lighthouse, makes it an ideal pick for family outings as well. The area is known as “De Kom” (Dutch for “bowl”), and while it becomes a rather empty bowl during low tide, it lives up to the name when the tides advance. There’s a grassy area nearby, conveniently shaded by milkwood trees and well-suited to picnics.
Why we love it The pool is expansive, with unobstructed views of the wide open ocean that enhance the sense of freedom. Flocks of flamingos occasionally turn up and prance around in the shallows. It’s not called Bird Island for nothing…
Where to find it South of Long Beach, on the edge of the catwalk that leads away from the Slangkop Lighthouse.
6. Soetwater, Kommetjie
Named for the freshwater pools that form as a result of rainfall, this strip of rocky coastline was proclaimed a conservancy in 2009, due to the wealth of animal life that abounds. The tidal pool can be found south of Kommetjie, adjacent to a braai area and picnic site that forms part of the Soetwater recreation area. Here, visitors can enjoy a refreshing dip in the midst of thriving biodiversity.
Why we love it The richness of the surrounding environment, made up of rocky shorelines and pristine white beaches. Denizens of this region include the African Black Oystercatcher, an endangered bird species. There’s a dense kelp bed just offshore; one of the many giant kelp forests that the Kommetjie shoreline is known for.
Cost Soetwater Resort entrance fee: R14 (adults); R7 (children, age 6 – 11 years)
Where to find it South of the Slangkop Lighthouse, below the coastal road leading from Kommetjie to Scarborough.
7. Wooley’s Tidal Pool, Kalk Bay
One of Kalk Bay’s plethora of pools, Wooley’s may not be as big as Dalebrook or St James, but it has its own merits. The addition of a smaller pool, tucked away in the corner of the larger tidal pool, provides a unique touch. Younger children can paddle around in the smaller section, while more experienced swimmers take a dip in the deep end. The flat rocks next to the pool are a nice spot to sit and watch the waves crash against the shore, but be careful traversing them, as they become slippery due to the persistent watery onslaught.
Why we love it Like Dalebrook, Wooley’s is easy to miss, and thus provides a less crowded alternative to the popular St James Tidal pool (although it does draw more visitors during holidays). It’s smaller and more cloistered than its Kalk Bay siblings, so parents may feel more confident about bringing younger children here, although be sure to keep them off the slippery rocks.
Where to find it Beneath the coastal road between Kalk Bay and Clovelly. You can access it via a staircase that passes under the railway line.
8. Saunders Rock, Bantry Bay
Nestled between Clifton and Sea Point is the exclusive suburb of Bantry Bay, with its beautiful white-sand beach, perfect for sunbathing and watching one of Cape Town’s famous sunsets. At the side of the beach, you’ll find the tidal pool, a popular swimming destination on weekends and holidays that’s fairly uncrowded during the week. Go for a late afternoon dip, watch the sunset and then dine out at one of the time-tested eateries on the Sea Point strip.
Why we love it The large granite rocks create a wind barrier, giving it shelter on those hot – but windy – summer days.
Where to find it Saunders Beach, Bantry Bay, Cape Town
9. Camps Bay Tidal Pool
Private Cape Adventures
Camps Bay is well known for its sun-drenched beach and tantalising turquoise water and deliciously surfable waves… Not looking to surf? Head on over to the beautiful tidal pool that’s perfect for a invigorating dip (and safe for the little ones to splash about in).
Why we love it It’s situated on the glamorous Camps Bay restaurant strip, making it the perfect dip-and-dine location.
Where to find it Camps Bay Beach, Camps Bay, Cape Town
10. Dalebrook, Kalk Bay
Nestled between St James and Kalk Bay, lies this easily missed – and often overlooked – tidal pool. To get to it, simply walk along the subway under the railway line. It’s one of the most beautiful pools along the coast, as it seamlessly melds into the ocean (as the eye skips over the low wall), but it’s best to get there in the early morning, as it loses a lot of the afternoon sun behind the mountains.
Why we love it The large boulders in the pool invite bathers to languish there and contemplate the horizon… And the low wall means that the water is kept clean with a constant flow of new, fresh water breaking over the wall’s edge. It’s also a fabulous whale-watching spot.
Good to know It has an outdoor shower (that’s currently switched off because of the Cape’s water crisis), and a changing room, making it the perfect pitstop on the way to a day of cave-exploring.
Where to find it Off Main Road, Dalebrook, Cape Town
11. Buffels Bay, Cape Point
Picnic Company & Mustard Catering
Even though it’s situated in the ever-popular and notoriously windy Cape Point Nature Reserve, Buffels Bay is a relatively sheltered and crowd-free beach. With breathtaking white sands, clear blue waters and green lawns, it’s easy to see why families and friends seek it out. It is perfect for picnics and braais, and the safe tidal pool is great for a post-hike (or -cycle) dip.
Why we love it The area is a rich biodiversity spot, abundant in flora and fauna, such as eland, bontebok, ostriches, Cape mountain zebra, and hundreds of different bird species.
Good to know On the other side of Buffels Bay (though accessed via a separate road) is Bordjiesdrif. It’s a sheltered, popular fishing spot, with a large tidal pool and grassier braai spots. The shoreline is fairly rocky, indicating the name’s meaning: “little plate reef”.
Cost Cape Point Nature Reserve tariff: R145 (adults); R75 (children)
Wild Card and My Green Card can be used at the pay point.
Where to find it Buffels Bay, Cape Point Nature Reserve, Cape Town
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Researched by Alicia Chamaillé, Matthew Flax and Tamlyn Ryan