Popular Cabo San Lucas Shore Excursions
Start by admiring El Arco, Cabo's premier site. It's one of the last two rocks that mark "land's end" between the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez. The centerpiece of most Baja California photos, El Arco is a big rock with a wide arch cut through it by generations of tides and sea activity. While you can see it from the marina or Medano Beach, it's much more fun to get up close - and you might glimpse sea lions. Try a glass-bottom boat tour, catamaran sail or kayaking tour with a provider such as Baja Outback ($74 for a four-hour tour). Standup paddleboarding is also popular; and scuba divers won't be able to resist the manta rays, parrotfish and other marine life at Lands End. For a bird's-eye view, go parasailing with an operator such as Cabo Expeditions ($55 single/$110 tandem).
The beaches just before El Arco attract dozens of tourists each day, even though the area, a protected marine preserve, has no facilities. Among the most famous are Lovers Beach, a deserted stretch of sand on the bay and its companion Divorce Beach, on the much wilder Pacific (if the crashing surf isn't enough a warning, we'll tell you that swimming is not recommended there). Far calmer is Pelican Bay, where excursion operators flock daily. You can swim there and snorkel around the rock where the birds rest.
From mid-December to mid-April, whales, including humpbacks, grays and blues, visit Cabo. You get close on a 15-person Zodiac, and the experience is amazing. Nearly every tour operator offers a whale-watching tour of some sort; expect to pay about $89 for a several-hour trip.
Cabo San Lucas considers itself the "marlin capital of the world," and regardless of which fish are running, there are numerous sportfishing operators that take individuals and groups on half- and full-day excursions. Some restaurants in town will even cook your catch.
Cabo San Lucas has loads of party restaurants to choose from, including El Squid Roe (Av. Lazaro Cardenas; 624-226-7130; open 11 a.m. to 3 a.m.) and the Giggling Marlin (Calle Mariano Matamoros S/N; 624-143-0606; open 9 a.m. to 1 a.m.), where drinkers are hoisted upside down like a trophy fish so waitresses can pour tequila shots down their throats. The most well-known is Cabo Wabo Cantina (Calle Vicente Guerrero S/N; 624-143-1188; open 9 a.m.), which is owned by rocker Sammy Hagar.
Numerous party-boat-style expeditions (mostly half-day) are available. Charter operators have booths at the marina where you can sign up. If you prefer your drinking with your feet in the sand, the beach bars at Medano Beach such as the Mango Deck (Playa El Medano S/N; 624-143-0901; open 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.) hold legendary spring break bashes, when half of southern California descends. The Tabasco Beach Club (Playa El Medano; 624-122-1401; open 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.), located farther down the beach on a quieter stretch of Medano, is a Cruise Critic favorite.
As with any tourist mecca, Cabo excursion operators do their best to keep up with the latest crazes, such as flyboarding, as well as offer more traditional choices such as ATV rides, dolphin discoveries and horseback-riding tours. One excursion we haven't seen elsewhere (at least in North America): an outback camel safari through the nearby Baja Desert. Cabo Adventures imported camels from Texas in 2011, stationing them at a private ranch about 30 minutes outside town. The three-hour excursion, which includes a nature walk, lunch, tequila tasting and a 10-minute camel ride on the beach, complete with a Bedouin-style safety helmet, is the company's biggest seller ($109 adults, $79 kids).
Rent a car and drive to San Jose del Cabo. A 20-minute drive from Cabo San Lucas along a winding highway that rings the Sea of Cortez, San Jose is charming, historic and peaceful (in other words, everything Cabo is not). Its adobe storefronts are centered around Plaza Mijares, with its green grass and shading trees. There's a historic mission, but the real diversion is boutique shopping for handmade jewelry, sporty cotton fashions, artwork and high-end household gifts. You won't find many tourist trinkets there.
Shops worth checking out in San Jose include La Paloma Boutique (Plaza Catedral, Calle Zaragoza) for easy-fitting yet sophisticated cotton casual wear made in Mexico, Arte, Diseno y Decoracion, or ADD, (Zaragoza, Centro) for gorgeous handmade picture frames, candlesticks and other home accessories, and La Mina (Hidalgo 33) for one-of-a-kind gold and silver jewelry. San Jose is also a great lunching spot.. Tropicana Inn Bar & Grill (Blvd. Mijares 30; 114-21580; open 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.) has a great people-watching sidewalk cafe and is a locals' favorite.
Todos Santos is another popular day trip if you have time. A government-designated "Magical Town," so-called because of its historic preservation, the colonial village is full of art galleries, restaurants and tourist sites, including the so-called Hotel California made famous in the Eagles' classic song. While tourists flock to take pictures at the hotel, built in 1947, the owners make clear on their website that there is no proven connection to the band. Still, there's no harm in stopping in the hotel's restaurant, La Coronela, for a drink (Calle Juarez S/N; 612-145-0525; open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., 11 p.m. if there's a band). The town's beach, Playa Cerritos, also makes Todos Santos a draw for surfers.
At Vitrofusion Y Arte (otherwise known as the Fabrica de Vidrio Soplado or Blown Glass Factory) on Cabo's outskirts, you can watch artisans create and design glass the old-fashioned way; there's also an on-site gift shop where they sell their reasonably priced merchandise (such as pitchers, decorative items and glassware). Glassware made there is also available from a number of stores in town. (Lazaro Cardenas S/N Edificio Posada Local 6-A; 624-143-0120)
Golf is huge in Cabo, with at least a half-dozen courses welcoming day visitors. The most famous is the Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol, designed by Jack Nicklaus, boasting ocean and desert views and rated as one of the world's top 100 by Golf Magazine. (866-231-5677; fees $95 to $365, depending on course, tee time and season)
Best for Partiers: Medano Beach, fronting the resort Bahia de Cabo and extending to Villa del Palmar, is a quick water taxi ride from the marina. Plenty of activities, including swimming, jet-ski rentals, kayaking, water skiing, banana boating, parasailing and volleyball, are available. Not exactly a retreat, this beach is a destination for fun-loving tourists, as well ashawkers of hair braiding, silver jewelry, blankets and more.
If you want to take in the action while maintaining some peace of mind -- if not your dignity -- buy a beach pass from one of the hotels. For those who enjoy Miami-style beach parties, Nikki Beach has an outpost at ME Cabo. ($30 day pass, with some money applied to your food and drink; open 9 a.m. to midnight). If your tastes run more toward Jimmy Buffett, Tabasco Beach Club has a following on Cruise Critic message boards (loungers free with food and drink purchase).
Best for Families: The "corridor" between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, which rings the Sea of Cortez, has plenty of calm stretches. The most popular is Chileno Beach, which offers calm waters and snorkeling. There are also restrooms and shade palapas available on a first-come, first-served basis (although no restaurants, so bring your own food and drink). You can reach it by rental car, cruise ship excursion or from several independent tour operators. (If you decide to go by taxi, make sure you have a way to get back.)
Best for Purists: Closer to Cabo's port, Playa del Amor (Lovers Beach) is snuggled between rock formations near El Arco and fronts both the bay and the Sea of Cortez. You need to hire a water taxi to drop you off and pick you up (they are easily accessible at the marina). There are no facilities, so bring a picnic and wear water shoes that can handle the sometimes sharp stretches of rock. Don't swim in the water off Divorce Beach, located on the wild and wooly Pacific side.