On my recent trip to South Africa, I spent a day exploring various neighborhoods and finding out where to have fun in Johannesburg. There was so much I didn’t know I didn’t know about Johannesburg, like the fact that gold was mined there for 90 years, evidenced by the enormous mountains of unearthed yellow sand, most of which to this day are still waiting to be removed. Or, that the Dutch East Indies Company scooped up land there to plant lemon trees and other fruits and vegetables so their ships could stop there and pick up supplies to thwart scurvy. The biggest meteorite ever recorded landed just 60 miles south of Johannesburg, and last but not least, there’s this neighborhood called Melville where all the cool people hang out.
Johannesburg is home to a vast array of wealth and poverty “developing apart” to this day (“apartheid” means “developing apart”). For example, there is posh Sandton, where the wealthiest residents work and reside in gated mansions, and destitute Soweto, where the residents who don’t live in cobbled-together shacks squat in old factory worker dormitories called The Hostels and get in trouble regularly for stealing electricity from the streetlights. Like Los Angeles, the city is spread out and feels like a collection of independent communities — and you can’t really get from one to another without a car, as the buses never seem to come and even the taxi system is considered extremely sketchy. There is a train called the Gau which goes to the airport, but its stops are very limited at this point. I stayed in Sandton at The Saxon Hotel, a former residence-turned-hotel where Nelson Mandela famously wrote Long Walk to Freedom, but shopping at Gucci isn’t really my speed, so I asked around and then told my Abercrombie & Kent guide I’d like to spend some time in Melville, Johannesburg (among other places, but Melville was my favorite).
%Gallery-107956%If Johannesburg is LA, Melville is Silver Lake. Melville immediately struck me as artsy and cool, and I felt instantly at home in the comfortable, stylish restaurants and cafes with indie-rock vibes and friendly people of all colors. One of the first shops I spotted was a vintage clothing store — a good sign, as that’s an amenity which, in my book, is a cornerstone of any fabulous neighborhood — then a bookstore, a sushi place, and then Love Revolution, a cozy coffee shop with an educated hipster appeal. While Melville has some great bars, there’s no loud, scenester-y dance clubs which would attract the kind of crowd that might disturb the laid-back peace. As I wandered, I encountered a few locals selling souvenirs on the street, and while no one gave me the New York hassle, there were definitely a few vocal shoutouts offered free of charge. In other words, this neighborhood isn’t just cute restaurants and shopping for yuppies, it has a certain gritty, bohemian character.
If you find yourself in Johannesburg, I would highly recommend spending a Saturday or at least a meal in Melville, where you can get a proper (and nifty!) taste of life between the superlative worlds of Sandton and Soweto. Check out the gallery for a peek inside some of the most charming establishments; a mini tour of Melville, Johannesburg.
[Photos by Annie Scott.]
My trip to South Africa was sponsored by Abercrombie & Kent, but the ideas and opinions expressed in this article are 100 percent my own.