Port Elizabeth, or PE, may not have the range of attractions found in Cape Town or on the Garden Route, but it's a pleasant town that's worthy of a few days' exploration. There are some beautiful beaches (although you'll need to visit them early in the day in summer as the wind tends to pick up by midday) and some wonderfully preserved historic buildings in the older part of the city, called Central. A large part of the town's charm lies in its small size and quiet environment, but PE is not a total sleepy hollow. If you feel the need for a bit of nightlife, head to the Boardwalk complex near the beach, for its restaurants, cafés, theater, and casino, or to Parliament Street in Central, which has recently been pedestrianized and has a vibrant restaurant and nightlife scene. PE is a good base for exploring some other fantastic destinations, both wild and cultural, including Addo Elephant National Park. If you are traveling to any of the luxury game reserves east of Port Elizabeth (such as those in Addo, Shamwari or Kwandwe), it may be a good idea to spend the night before in PE, as many places advise you to check in before lunch and it could be a scramble to get there if you're driving or flying in that morning. Port Elizabeth's suburbs can be a little confusing. Humewood and Summerstrand are PE's two main coastal suburbs, with Humewood closer to the city center. The Humewood Golf Course, one of South Africa's best, is in Summerstrand, not Humewood, however (just to keep you on your toes).
The beachfront is lined with reasonably priced hotels and restaurants, as well as a few higher-quality ones.
Within the bay and starting closest to the city center and harbor (which is best avoided), the first beach you come to is King's Beach, so named because King George VI slept in the Royal Train here during a visit to the city before World War II. You may want to avoid the far end of King's Beach, as it can get pretty crowded.
Pollock Beach, adjacent to the suburb of Summerstrand, is one of the better swimming beaches, with a lovely small natural tidal pool. It also offers great surfing. (Generally the surfing in PE is not too challenging, unlike at Jeffreys Bay, just over an hour's drive to the west, which has some pretty exciting waves.) The far end of Pollock Beach is best avoided, as it can get crowded with somewhat boisterous, picnicking, partying crowds.
The pier marks the beginning of Hobie Beach, where sailing catamarans and Jet Skis launch. The section of beach closest to the pier is great for swimming.
The section of beach near McArthur Baths (041/582–2282) is great for swimming and very popular. If you'd rather swim in flat water, head for the bath complex (R30, open September–April), which has a range of pools, two of which are heated to a few degrees above sea temperature. There's no natural grass here, however, so you will need to rent a lounge chair (R6) to be comfortable.
South End Museum
South End was once the most vibrant part of Port Elizabeth, until it was flattened by the apartheid-era government to "tidy up" the city and put everything and everyone in their places. At the South End Museum a map, photographs, and paintings give you an idea of what the old South End was like in its heyday.
Humewood Beach runs from King's Beach to Shark Rock Pier. It's a great place for families, with shaded areas supplied by an overhead promenade. There's a convenient parking lot behind the beach (behind Buffalo Bills Steakhouse) and excellent facilities, plus lifeguards on duty during peak times. There are some grassy areas that lead into Happy Valley, but it's not recommended that you walk into the valley as it's often completely deserted and you may be in danger of being mugged.