The Los Cabos area is a vacation hotspot, and for good reason. Those beautiful beaches. Those golf courses. Those hotels!
There is so much to do, but it’s also the ideal place to do nothing. It’s a party spot, yet also a secluded paradise.
However, if you’re planning a trip to Los Cabos (and why wouldn’t you?), you need to know the difference between Cabo San Lucas vs San Jose del Cabo – so you can decide which town is better for your vacation.
Lucky for you, we’re no strangers to the area.
It’s our Mexican home away from home, and we know it like the back of our hands.
So, we are here to help you with this vacation destination debate. We’ve got you!
Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo and Los Cabos
It’s all in the name.
So, let’s clear this up once and for all.
Is Cabo San Lucas the same as Los Cabos? The quick answer is no, but there’s more to it.
Here’s the scoop.
Los Cabos is a county comprising two towns: Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo.
The term Cabo usually refers to just the town of Cabo San Lucas. But sometimes it refers to the whole area (i.e., people say “Cabo” when they really mean all of Los Cabos).
So, that’s the difference between Cabo San Lucas and Los Cabos. Make sense?
Where is Los Cabos located?
Mexico’s Baja Peninsula has two states: Baja California and Baja California Sur.
You’ll find Ensenada and Tijuana in the northern state, which borders California, USA.
Baja California Sur, the southern state, has vacation hotspots like Todos Santos, La Paz and Los Cabos.
So, where is Los Cabos? And exactly where is Cabo San Lucas?
Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo are both at the southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula.
As you can imagine, Los Cabos is especially popular with Californians. After all, physically, it’s pretty much an extension of the state of California.
Flight times are short – only 2½ hours from Los Angeles, even less from San Diego.
From the Cabo San Lucas airport (i.e., the Los Cabos International Airport or SJD), it’s only a 20-minute drive to San Jose del Cabo. To Cabo San Lucas town, it’ll take about 40 minutes.
The city of Cabo San Lucas is the furthest south on the peninsula you can go.
San Jose del Cabo is northeast along the coast. And the distance from San Jose del Cabo to Cabo San Lucas is only about 20 miles.
The Tourist Corridor Highway connects the two towns.
The whole Los Cabos ocean oasis is set against the stunning natural backdrop of the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains.
With waterfalls, canyons and freshwater swimming holes, the mountain scenery is very different from Los Cabos’ desert landscape.
Fox Canyon, in particular, is the perfect place to hike one day, when your fingertips start pruning from all the ocean swimming and snorkeling you’ll no doubt do.
(It’s best to go on a guided trip for that, like this guided Fox Canyon day hiking trip.)
Cabo San Lucas vs. San Jose del Cabo in a nutshell
Right off the top, there are a few key differences between Cabo vs. San Jose del Cabo.
Cabo San Lucas in brief
Cabo is a buzzing city of 200,000.
Its electric vibe and modernity in the downtown area reflect that it’s a well-trodden tourist hotspot.
It’s not pristine, mind you. It is Mexico, after all.
The streets are forever dusty. And you’ve got to watch out for broken pavement and pokey wires that can trip you up when walking the sidewalks.
Cabo San Lucas is also a spring break mecca.
The city meets the water’s edge at the junction of the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California (also called the Sea of Cortez). It has beaches along the shores of the Pacific and on the Sea of Cortez side.
Its downtown area is easily walkable, making it convenient to explore. If you’re staying on Medano Beach (Cabo’s “it” beach) or close to town, you won’t need to rent a car.
There’s great souvenir shopping in Cabo too – at places like Artesano’s, the Marina Mercado flea market and The Glass Factory.
Cabo San Lucas is also famous for its party atmosphere. All day. All night. In town. On the beach. If you want to get loco. Whatever – you’ll love it.
San Jose del Cabo in brief
In contrast, San Jose del Cabo is the quieter side of Los Cabos.
It’s a smaller city of about 135,000, and it’s 250 years older. But it’s more spread out, and renting a car if staying here isn’t a bad idea.
With colonial architecture and cobblestone streets, the city center has a more traditional, small town, Mexican feel.
San Jose del Cabo also has a more authentic Mexican vibe than its unabashedly bigger (and younger) sister.
Instead of partying, you’ll go to art galleries and high-end, farm-to-table restaurants where the food is all fresh, local and superb.
Because of its location on the southeast coast, all its beaches face the Sea of Cortez.
If comparing just the two towns, we prefer walking around San Jose del Cabo than Cabo San Lucas. It’s prettier, more sophisticated and less brash than Cabo town.
Which has the better beaches: Cabo San Lucas or San Jose del Cabo?
Even though San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas are practically neighbors, their sandy beaches are infinitely different.
Although gorgeous, not all of Cabo’s beaches are safe for swimming, especially not those along the Pacific Coast.
You really need to be careful if you want to swim in the ocean. The currents and rip tides are no joke, and a swim at the wrong beach or time can take a nasty turn if you don’t pay attention.
One of the safest beaches for swimming in Los Cabos is Medano Beach – and that’s in Cabo San Lucas.
Just like the town, the vibe of this Cabo San Lucas beach is lively. It’s an ideal beach for water sports like jet skiing or dancing at hip beach clubs and bars.
A more chill swimming beach in Cabo San Lucas is Lover’s Beach, near the iconic rock Arch (El Arco) at Land’s End.
Over in San Jose del Cabo, you have Palmilla Beach (also swimmable). It’s a more natural beach with only one public beach club.
One cove, in fact, has no beach clubs. It’s the type of beach where you take your own umbrellas, beach chairs and coolers.
El Ganzo Beach is also a great swimming beach in San Jose del Cabo. It has a beach club (El Ganzo Beach Club), but the scene is way more mellow than at the beach clubs on Medano Beach.
If you want to take it easy and catch up on your reading, go to San Jose del Cabo’s beaches.
Beach sunrises and sunsets
But there is more to beaches than swimming. There are sunrises and sunsets to think about.
Early risers can catch gorgeous sunrises walking the beaches on the eastern side of both Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo.
If you are sunset chasers like us, you’ll want to spend your time in Cabo San Lucas – you get full-on sunsets on the west (Pacific) side of Cabo San Lucas.
Two of the best snorkeling beaches in Los Cabos – Santa Maria Beach and Chileno Beach – are found on the Tourist Corridor. They’re a tad closer to Cabo San Lucas than to San Jose del Cabo.
But you’ll need wheels to get to these beaches, no matter which town you’re coming from.
The beach verdict?
It depends on your vision of what a perfect beach looks like.
If you want to chill, head to San Jose del Cabo’s beaches. If you want to dance in the sand while sipping bubbly or beer, Cabo San Lucas’ beaches are calling your name.
Or you could do like us and go beach hopping. Spend one day exploring San Jose del Cabo’s quiet beaches, and the next, party on the shores of Cabo!
Which is better for activities?
There’s tons to do in Los Cabos. You’ll never be bored in either town.
5 favorite things to do in Cabo San Lucas
1) Go whale watching
There’s something epic about seeing whales breaching not far from your boat.
From mid-December to mid-April, thousands of humpbacks and gray whales migrate from their cold home in the Arctic to the warm waters of Mexico to mate and give birth (even whales feel friskier in warm weather).
While you can spot far-off whales from your hotel balcony or the beach, the best way to get up close and almost personal with whales is to take a whale watching tour.
There are catamaran tours where you can listen to whale calls with hydrophones. Or, if you prefer something smaller, there are Zodiac boat tours.
It doesn’t matter which floaty thing you decide on, however. You’re practically guaranteed to find whales during the winter months.
2) Take a water taxi boat to Land’s End and Lover’s Beach
Lover’s Beach is not only swimmable, it’s also iconic.
Its golden sand is snuggled between the Land’s End rock formations and the rock Arch that made Cabo famous.
This small beach has calm waters and a dramatic landscape, so plan to stay a while. Or all day.
What also makes Lover’s Beach unique is that you can only get there by water.
The “007” way is to hire a water taxi and act like you own the boat as you approach the beach.
The healthier way is to go by stand-up paddleboard or kayak, ideally early in the morning when there’s no wind.
But as much as we love doing that, gliding up to a beach on a boat somehow just makes you feel like you’re living a James Bond movie, right?
3) Walk around the Cabo San Lucas Marina
The marina is the central core of Cabo.
Aside from all the lavish yachts you can gawk at (380 slips to be exact), you can shop, sip a margarita and have a bite to eat while watching the snoozing pelicans nearby.
There are malls, countless bars and restaurants all around the marina.
It’s also where a lot of fishing and other tours leave from.
(When you return with your catch in hand, you can bring it to Solomon’s Landing and have them cook it up to your liking.)
4) Swim at Medano Beach
Medano Beach is the most popular beach in Cabo.
It might not have all the unique landscape formations and cliffside drama of Land’s End, but its two-mile breadth of golden sand is, as we mentioned, the best place to swim in Cabo San Lucas.
You’ll find high-end hotels. Loads of restaurants. And bars a plenty.
You can have all-day happy hour while chilling on a lounger. Or dance to the music that plays throughout the day.
If you’d rather have a little more peace and tranquility, just walk along the beach heading away from the marina – it gets quieter as you go further.
Regardless of where you plop yourself down, you have to take a dip in the ocean. The water is placid – so take full advantage!
5) Hike up the Pedregal
Hike along the switchback cobblestone roads clinging to the side of the Pedregal Hills, right up to the top.
Not only will you get a great cardio workout, but you’ll have a bird’s eye view of Los Cabos.
You’ll see the marina, where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortez, cruise ships and mega million-dollar villas owned by the rich and famous.
(You may need to sneak past the security guards, though, to find a way in to this private community.)
5 favorite things to do in San Jose del Cabo
1) Meet the artists at the weekly Art Walk
Every Thursday in the high season (November to June), dozens of art galleries in the historic district of San Jose del Cabo stay open late and welcome people.
Usually, the artists are also present to discuss their pieces. Sometimes they offer wine, nibbles and comments on the art.
The San Jose del Cabo Art Walk is a happening event, so make a reservation for any nearby restaurants, or you’ll end up waiting a long time for a spot.
2) Bicycle around the Puerto Los Cabos Marina or to the estuary
Hop on a bicycle and pedal around the Puerto Los Cabos Marina.
Along the way, you’ll see lots of beautiful white yachts and pass quirky bronze sculptures.
Maybe stop at the El Ganzo Beach Club for a swim or a drink.
If you’re staying at Hotel El Ganzo, the bikes are free.
Alternatively, you can take an easy bicycle tour (maximum four people), where you bicycle from the San Jose del Cabo hotel zone to the lush estuary to see birds and learn about the indigenous Pericu culture.
3) Play golf
We’re not big golfers ourselves. But San Jose del Cabo has some world-class golf courses.
Many are designed by pros like Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Robert Trent Jones Jr and Greg Norman. All of them are bucket list golf courses consistently ranked as among the best in the world by the likes of Golf Digest and Golf Magazine.
Spoiler alert: Sometimes, you may not know whether to take a swing or a picture. These courses have views that go on for days.
4) Take a cooking class with a local
One of the main reasons we love going to Mexico is the food.
We can’t get enough. And as soon as we leave, we miss it.
Take a cooking class, and you can recreate it all at home. Most classes start with a trip to the local market.
Then, you’ll return to the chef’s home and cook authentic Mexican specialties from scratch, like homemade tortillas, margaritas, mole, enchiladas and more.
5) Shop locally
Because San Jose del Cabo is less touristy, you won’t find many shops full of mass-produced clothes, souvenirs and the like.
Check out the main plaza surrounding narrow streets for art galleries and boutiques run by local designers and artists. You’ll be able to find unique items.
The activity verdict?
Cabo San Lucas is the winner for its never-ending activity options.
But don’t skip San Jose del Cabo, as there are some one-off and authentic things to do there.
Also, if you stay in San Jose del Cabo and book tours which start from Cabo San Lucas, many of the tours include hotel pick-up and drop-off.
Hotels and resorts: San Jose del Cabo vs. Cabo San Lucas
Accommodation competition is fierce in the Los Cabos area. We’ve read there are over 10,000 rooms to choose from!
Luckily for you (and us), we’ve spent a lot of time in these hotels and know where to steer you for luxurious places to stay in Cabo, San Jose del Cabo and the Corridor Strip.
San Jose del Cabo hotels
Along with several great boutique hotels, San Jose del Cabo has a wealth of high-end resorts. Three of our faves are:
- Zadun, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve: An ultra-luxe property with private pools and personal butlers.
- One & Only Palmilla: Incredible luxury escape, featuring traditional Mexican architecture, right outside of San Jose del Cabo. We were so pampered we felt like royalty.
- Viceroy Los Cabos: Super chic, all-white architectural stunner. It’s futuristic and innovative and oozes extravagance.
Cabo San Lucas hotels
But Cabo competes very nicely with:
- Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal: It’s set on the beach at the base of the Pedregal Hills. Indulge in your champagne breakfast while floating in your private infinity pool with ocean views.
- Nobu Hotel: Imagine impeccable Japanese food and teak Onsen tubs next to your private plunge pool. Nobu will sweep you away from all the hubbub that is Cabo and gently place you in the lap of Zen-style luxury.
Cabo San Lucas also has a great variety of top-notch condo-style accommodations on Medano Beach (which, as you know, is swimmable).
Will full kitchens and within walking distance to restaurants in Cabo town, they make vacationing easy.
Indeed, if you’re looking for resorts in Cabo with swimmable beaches, Medano Beach is the first place to look.
Elsewhere in Los Cabos
Not to be forgotten are the Corridor hotels, like The Cape, a Thompson Hotel – a buzzy, edgy hotel with staggering views and copper soaking tubs. It’s fresh. It’s unique. And it’s pet friendly.
And if you really want to get far away from it all, head to the East Cape, a 45-minute drive north of the airport. The Four Seasons Resort Los Cabos at Costa Palmas is as exclusive as it is secluded.
It’s really tough to say which of the towns has better hotels.
The entire Los Cabos area has incredible options.
But since there are so many extravagant hotels in San Jose del Cabo, we’d perhaps choose it as the winner.
Also, the boutique Hotel El Ganzo is one of our favorite hotels in Los Cabos, period. And it’s in San Jose del Cabo.
Very arty, it has a great swimming beach at its fingertips (a free 5-minute boat ride takes you there) and a cool rooftop pool with super views of fishing boats and dive-bombing pelicans.
It’s also less expensive than most of Cabo’s other 5-star hotels.
This hotel is another reason why we think San Jose del Cabo beats out Cabo San Lucas in the hotel department.
But we have to repeat – there are many fabulous places to stay in Cabo San Lucas too!
Really, both towns are winners in the hotel department.
Which is better for dining? San Jose del Cabo or Cabo San Lucas?
But there’s a big difference between Cabo San Lucas vs. San Jose del Cabo restaurants.
Cabo is big and bold and full of chain restaurants. There’s nothing wrong with them. You know exactly what to expect from a chain.
However, part of the fun of going to Mexico is finding those lovely places owned by local families cooking from their hearts. You’ll find some in Cabo San Lucas.
But you’ll find more in San Jose del Cabo. Those and organic farm-to-table restaurants, which we adore. San Jose del Cabo has them in spades.
Of course, rowdy younger sister Cabo – not to be outshone – recently opened El Huerto to compete.
Our winner in the dining department is San Jose del Cabo for its delectable choices of organic farm dining experiences.
Which one rocks it in the nightlife department?
There really is no comparison here. Cabo is known as a spring break paradise for a reason.
Here are just some infamous night spots in Cabo San Lucas:
- El Squid Roe: Three stories of clubbing madness. Cage dancing. And servers with tequila tanks who ply the crowds with shots on demand. As we said, it’s madness and an absolute must-do in Cabo.
- Giggling Marlin: Watch the rowdy floor shows while hanging upside down and taking in shots. Their motto is, “If our food, drinks and service aren’t up to your standards, please lower your standards.” What else do you need to know?
- Mandala: A see-and-be-seen nightclub. No tequila tanks. No upside-down shots. Just high-energy clubbing to incredible DJs.
- Jungle Bar: If DJs and crazy clubs aren’t your things, you might like the Jungle Bar. Don’t get us wrong, it’s rowdy. But it has live music, so it has yet a different vibe from the other clubs.
The nightlife winner
The winner is obviously Cabo San Lucas. You’ll have too many choices to get your party on when the sun goes down in Cabo.
In San Jose, you really don’t have any.
So, which is better? Cabo San Lucas vs. San Jose del Cabo
Ooof, that’s a hard one. We love all of Los Cabos, so it’s difficult to choose. But here goes…
When we’re looking for a quiet stay at an uber luxury resort (or a boutique beach escape – hello Hotel El Ganzo!), we head to San Jose del Cabo. It’s serene and authentic and the perfect antidote to the mayhem of Cabo.
But when we want the ease and convenience of being able to swim and SUP every day, walk the beach and walk to restaurants in town, we stay on Medano Beach in Cabo San Lucas.
(And, of course, if you want to blow off a little steam and need a little action, you should def stay in Cabo.)
The choices in Cabo town are endless, so it’s perfect for first-timers who want to do it all, as well as for repeat die-hard Cabo fans like us.
What day trips can you do in Los Cabos?
There’s more to explore beyond San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas too.
We’ve taken a lot of day trips from Cabo San Lucas (where we usually stay). Our top nine are:
- Todos Santos is a coastal Pueblo Magico known for its charm and quaint artisan shops.
- Los Cerritos is a hippy expat beach and a famed surf spot.
- La Paz is a must if you want to swim with whale sharks.
- Los Barriles is a small beach town known for fishing and adrenaline junkies.
- Canyon of the Fox is a UNESCO biosphere reserve for secret waterfalls and hiking.
- El Chorro and Santa Rita Hot Springs. We repeat. Hot springs. Need we say more?
- Cabo Pulmo is an impressive national marine park for snorkeling, kayaking, and diving with sea lions.
- Miraflores is a tiny leatherworking village.
- San Jose del Cabo… It’s the easiest day trip from Cabo San Lucas (if you’re staying here) and clearly worth a visit, or we wouldn’t be writing this blog post, would we?
Since you’ve flown down to Cabo, it’s worth exploring the entire area while here.
Frequently asked questions about Cabo
Cabo vs. Los Cabos: What’s the difference?
Sometimes “Cabo” refers to Los Cabos and sometimes to the town of Cabo San Lucas.
So, if you’re asking, “Is Los Cabos the same as Cabo?” the answer depends on what you mean by “Cabo.”
If Cabo means the whole area, then there is no difference.
If Cabo means the town, the difference is the town versus the whole area.
Cost of a taxi from Cabo San Lucas to San Jose del Cabo?
A taxi between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo costs between $60 and $70 USD, more at night (around $80).
If you can get an Uber, it’s cheaper.
However, taxi drivers are vehemently fighting Uber, so it can be tricky. For example, you can’t get an Uber from the airport or some hotels. (But your Uber driver can usually pick you up on the street near your hotel for a trip to town or to the airport.)
Is there a bus from Cabo San Lucas to San Jose del Cabo?
There sure is. And it’s pretty easy to use.
The public bus runs every 10-ish minutes and costs just a few bucks. We’ve taken it many times, and it’s safe. It’s one of the best ways to get around Los Cabos on the cheap.
Photos: 1, 3, 5, 7, 10, 12, 13, 17, 18, 21, 25 © Janice and George Mucalov, Cabo Visitor