Stretching down from the north-facing lower slopes of Devil’s Peak, Observatory is a vibey and diverse suburb where buffalo, hippo, elephant, zebra, jackals, antelope, lions, and leopards were once prevalent.
In the dark days of Apartheid, Observatory – or Obz, as it is affectionately known by locals – thumbed its nose at the authorities and the Group Areas Act to become a melting pot of mixed race households. This embrace of our rainbow nation is still prevalent, with a diverse community of residents and visitors.
Observatory will never escape its bohemian hippy reputation, so you’ll find lots of arty shops, boutiques with vintage and unusual clothing, and health food stores. But it’s not all about crystals and dream catchers, dozens of bars and restaurants catering for all tastes offer a vibrant nightlife scene that goes on until the small hours of the morning.
Observatory is on all the main public transport routes and is less than six kilometres from the Cape Town CBD – about a 10-minute drive outside of rush hour traffic. Most restaurants, bars and retail shops are located along Lower Main Road, and there is a shopping complex and supermarket in St Peter’s Square, which is opposite Groote Schuur graveyard. The architecture of Sir Herbert Baker is widespread.
The area is home to the South African Astronomical Observatory (Observatory Road), which gives the suburb its name, and is the national centre for optical and infrared astronomy. Every second and fourth Saturday of the month at 8pm visitors are invited to an evening programme which includes a talk, an introduction to the historic McClean telescope and the observatory museum, as well as the observatory building. If the weather is clear, you’ll get a chance to observe the night sky through the McClean and other telescopes.
On 3 December 1967, Dr Christiaan Barnard performed the world’s first heart transplant at nearby Groote Schuur hospital, and today you can visit The Heart of Cape Town Museum there (Groote Schuur Drive) which recreates that famous day in history and honours all those who played a major role in the surgical feat that pushed the boundaries of science into the dawn of a new medical era.
Hone your driving, chipping and putting skills at the River Club (Observatory Road), or play a short round of mashie on the nine-hole course. After you’ve worked up a thirst and an appetite, stop in at the Slug & Lettuce for a beverage and a meal. Children are kept entertained in their own supervised club area.
Tuck into delicious burgers at Jerry’s Burger Bar (123 Lower Main Road), open day and night, or pop in at Hello Sailor (86 Lower Main Road) for great food and great vibes. Upstairs is Stones pool bar (94 Lower Main Road) where you can while away many hours potting balls and sinking drinks.
For real local flavour, head to 58 (58 Lower Main Road), a biker bar frequented by colourful locals. Beer is sold in quarts and there is a small outside area hidden at the back.
Put away your cell phone for a couple of hours and talk to real live humans as you gather around an 18-seater communal dining table to enjoy a five-course meal specially created by chef patron Julia Hattingh, accompanied by SA’s finest wines, at Reverie Social Table (226 Lower Main Road). During the day there is free Wi-Fi while you tuck into the lunchtime plat du jour.
Two places you must visit in Trill Road, just off Lower Main, are Café Ganesh for great, unfussy, delicious and reasonably priced food (the lemon meringue is to die for); and 1890 House Sushi & Grill which has a reputation for some of the best sushi in Cape Town.
You can find live music or comedy almost every night of the week at Obviouzly Armchair (135 Lower Main Road), where you can also rent a room for the night. A courtyard out back has a fire pit for long social nights.
For delectable bakes, pastries, cupcakes and all things sweet and decadent, visit Queen Of Tarts (213 Lower Main Road). It will change your life, we promise. Light meals are served, and baking demonstrations take place on Saturday mornings. If you’re a cheese lover, chefs’ favourite The Real Cheese is your go-to place. It’s right next door at number 215.
Work it all off at City Rock (Anson Street), an indoor climbing gym with facilities including bouldering (climbing 3-4m high without a rope), sport top rope and lead climbing, automatic belay walls, training areas and a yoga studio.
If you prefer to spectate more than participate, there’s the Magnet Theatre in Lower Main Road where the repertoire of South African productions, inspirational performance events and inspired educational programmes emphasise the human body in the act of theatre.