Cabo San Lucas or San Jose del Cabo: Where Should You Stay

When I was researching a recent trip to Los Cabos in Baja California, Mexico, I learned more about the two cities that make up the area. I read about each city and since I couldn’t decide which I wanted to stay in I booked a few nights in both.

My first instinct was that I’d enjoy the culture of San Jose del Cabo better but I wanted to be close to activities that I had lined up out of Cabo San Lucas. And who doesn’t want to lay on the beach looking at Lands End.

There are positives and negatives to both cities, and it really depends on what you want to get out of the area on where you should stay. Consider what you want out of the following things and it should help you decide where you to book your accommodations in Los Cabos.

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Beaches and Views

Cabo San Lucas

You’ll find the better beaches in Cabo San Lucas. They have a little more color to them and the water is clearer. Both are because the currents and waves are much smaller in Cabo San Lucas. Which brings us to a big plus for Cabo that there are swimmable beaches.

Where to stay in Los Cabos? Should you stay in San Jose del Cabo or Cabo San Lucas?

We stayed at a property, Villa del Palmar, where you could walk out right out into the water. For me that’s a huge plus, it’s not the same having an ocean when you can’t get it.

On top of the water, the view itself from Cabo San Lucas just can’t be beaten. Laying on the beach and seeing Lands End, the very tip of Baja California is just beautiful.

The downside to the beaches in Cabo San Lucas is it’s hard to relax when every few minutes you have to respond “no gracias” to someone attempting to sell you new tours, souvenirs or even drugs. While everything else makes the Cabo San Lucas beaches better than San Jose del Cabo, this almost ruins them for me.

San Jose del Cabo

You’ll find long sandy beaches to walk, beautiful deep blue seas and waves to watch crashing along the sand. On top of that in San Jose, you can actually whale watch from the beach. We saw a few whales breach and a good amount of tails popping up, all while relaxing on our lounge chairs. That is something you don’t get in Cabo.

Los Cabos, San Jose del Cabo, Beach

While I couldn’t jump in the water and it wasn’t as clear, I was able to actually relax on the beach here.  One of the benefits of wider beaches was our hotel, Posada Real, had a much longer barrier of private space and the sellers mostly stayed outside of it.

While there were some people selling stuff they were much less aggressive, kept their distance and left me alone when I just didn’t make eye contact. This allowed me to settle in and just enjoy being on the beach.

Culture and Overall Feel

Cabo San Lucas

I knew I was going to a tourist place but I definitely didn’t expect it to be nearly this bad. I didn’t feel like I’d even left the country when I was wandering around. It was hard to find places that looked like more than tourist traps whether it was stores or restaurants.

While we found a couple places worth visiting you had to dig through the mess to get there.

I also felt like I was surrounded by the stereotype of Amercian tourists. While I met some nice people there were a lot of loud, often drunk, Americans and Canadians who didn’t seem to have any interest in actually witnessing another country.

Not just on the beach but everywhere you went, people were pitching you sales. Even in the hotel where they wanted you to upgrade to all-inclusive or by a timeshare. When we were walking around the marina you had to say no every ten feet it felt like. For me, this ruins a place.

San Jose del Cabo

Here I felt like I was actually somewhere, not just as a tourist attraction. I felt like people actually lived around the town, that there were places locals would go to eat and where you could get a feel for something.

With that, it is entirely still based on tourism and an American influence, things are written in English, menus have dollars on them. It’s not that you’ve left the tourist destination but you’re somewhere in between.

The only salespeople who found were those asking if you’d like to come into their store or restaurant. Typically of most major destinations.

In San Jose, you could find art galleries, expats sitting down for dinner, and locals out to grab a bite from the tamale stand. Overall, it was easier to relax and feel comfortable in San Jose del Cabo.

Food

Cabo San Lucas

Where to stay in Los Cabos? Should you stay in San Jose del Cabo or Cabo San Lucas?

We did eat good food in Cabo San Lucas. Our resort had tasty food, Villa del Palmar, and at very reasonable prices. It took a little bit of searching but I found delicious street tacos at Las Guacamayas. just a few blocks up from the marina, that was everything I was looking for.

Since everyone had recommended it we headed over to The Office, which looks like a total tourist place on the sand, but had one of the best meals for breakfast there, my burrito was packed full with flavor.

You have to dig a bit but the food in Cabo San Lucas is delicious.

San Jose del Cabo

The biggest difference I found with the food in San Jose del Cabo was how I didn’t feel I had to sort out the tourist spots from the good ones. You would find places packed with locals whether they were taco shops or sports bars.

Los Cabos, San Jose del Cabo, Jazz, Music, Downtown

I found restaurants that felt just out of a cute neighborhood in San Francisco with a Mexican flare. The best tacos I ate were at La Lupita, where the only disappointment was I wasn’t hungry enough to eat more and try new flavors.

After a few recommendations, I even tried Italian food. I was confused on why everyone kept suggesting it but once I had my dish from La Forchetta I knew why. It was just as good as any of my favorite Italian spots around the states. So in both places don’t be afraid to try something other than Mexican.

Activities

Cabo San Lucas

Los Cabos, Cabo San Lucas, The Arc, El Arco, Lands End

Here you’ll find access to a wide variety of activities. From the marina, you’ll find whale watching, deep sea fishing, snorkeling and much more. You’ll also find the launching points nearby for trip up to La Paz and Todos Santos, zip line and ATVs. Since most tourists stay in Cabo San Lucas that is where most of the tours leave from.

It was either a nice walk down the beach, a quick cab ride, or my favorite a water taxi down to the  marina to pick up your tour. Even when we felt like we were running behind we were able to get down there in more than enough time.

If you don’t want a tour you can even just take a water taxi, the glass bottom boats out to Lover’s Beach. They’ll drop you off for awhile and then come pick you up again.

If you’re looking for water activities or tours you have much easier access when staying in Cabo San Lucas.

San Jose del Cabo

With that said, it’s about a $40 cab ride to Cabo and most of these activities. Depending on how you do it, it’s easy enough to fit two into one day and only make the trip once. You may be further from the activities but none of them are out of reach. On our snorkeling trip, most people were staying out in San Jose.

Los Cabos, San Jose del Cabo, Art Walk, Local Art, Artist

One of the unique things in San Jose is their art galleries and the Thursday night Art Walk. You have local artists come out in the streets, Locals, expats, and travelers all wandering the streets eating delicious food and exploring the art.

If you want to rent a car, San Jose makes a great launching point for visiting some of the smaller towns along Baja. This is one of the things I wish I’d had time to do and is what I have in mind for my next trip. Both La Paz and Todos Santos are within day trip distance.

Nightlife 

Cabo San Lucas

Cabo is well known for its nightlife and parties. Whether at the resorts or the clubs, even though it was the offseason, there were more than enough places to go out and party. You can head to Cabo Wabo and you’ll never know who will show up to perform.

While no one played when I was in town the night before I arrived John Mayer made an appearance, the day I left Adam Levine did.

There are clubs right on the beach and the crowds to match. If you’re looking for a place to party on vacation Cabo is one of the world’s top destinations.

San Jose del Cabo

If clubs aren’t your scene and you’d rather grab a drink in a bar you can find that in San Jose. You’ll find live music playing, fire pits to sit by and a variety of other relaxing settings to grab a drink.

There is still a crowd out and interested in having fun around San Jose but it has a more low-key, less party focused vibe.

On top of that, I was able to find a few local breweries and get my hands on craft cocktails.

My Choice: San Jose del Cabo 

I’ll start with the fact that Cabo San Lucas is not all bad. Watching the sunrise with Lands End right there, was the perfect way to start each day. Being able to jump in the water and swim during it made the location even better.

Also, having access to the marina and different tours made our lives much easier. But what it comes down to is San Jose del Cabo is more my speed.

Where to stay in Los Cabos? Should you stay in San Jose del Cabo or Cabo San Lucas?

For me having a more laid back, less tourist and party-based feel made all the difference. I loved exploring the cute galleries, shops, and restaurants in Downtown San Jose and could really relax on the beach. Plus who doesn’t love whale watching from the shore?

Next time, I visit Los Cabos I’ll plan on staying in San Jose and rent a car for at least a few of the days. Getting the chance to explore a little more about the Sea of Cortez.

For more information about Los Cabos check out these great books on Amazon including Fodor’s Los CabosLonely Planet Baja California & Los Cabos, and 101 Coolest Things to Do in Mexico.


Traveling to Los Cabos Soon?

Whether you stay in Cabo San Lucas or San Jose del Cabo you’ll love your visit to Los Cabos .
Learn more about and book more fantastic hotels in Los Cabos Priceline and TripAdvisor.


Where to stay in Los Cabos? Should you stay in San Jose del Cabo or Cabo San Lucas?

Have you had the chance to visit Los Cabos? Do you have one city you prefer over the other? If not what are you looking forward to most when you get the chance to visit. Leave a comment below.

About Megan

Megan MacNee is the founder of Traveling Nine to Fiver. From nine to five she works in the non-profit world in California. She focuses on exploring the world from her own backyard to across the globe. You'll find her sharing about explorations through food, books, travel, and more.