A Tale of Two Towns: San Jose del Cabo vs. Cabo San Lucas
October 18, 2023
While 90% of the population think San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas are interchangeable they couldn’t be more wrong. It’s true that both towns are located in the southernmost tip of the Baja California Peninsula in Mexico and are known for pristine beaches, crystal-clear turquoise waters, and varied terrain — but the similarities stop there. We’re here to set the record straight on the two cities and break down the difference between our beloved San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas, once and for all.
The Visitors + Vibes
There’s a reason why Cabo San Lucas is a spring break favorite (and sometimes even a cautionary tale.) The resort destination is known for nightlife, all-inclusive properties that tend to be a little less than luxe, and the busy marina that always appears to be at full capacity. You can expect a college-aged crowd looking to take advantage of Mexico’s 18+ drinking policy, young couples on a quick, weekend getaway trip and families who love water sports and adventure.
San Jose del Cabo, just 20 miles northeast of Cabo San Lucas, could not be any more different. While Cabo San Lucas is perpetually active, San Jose del Cabo exudes tranquil, laid-back vibes and the crowd it attracts embodies that energy perfectly. The town’s historic center and main square AKA Plaza Mijares, traditional Spanish architecture, and charming, narrow streets favor a more eclectic clientele more interested in museums than margaritas. When you factor in the local-owned galleries and boutiques it’s clear why San Jose del Cabo is less of a tourist trap and more of a cultural destination that’s steeped in traditional Mexican culture and values.
One of the most significant differences between San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas is their beaches. San Jose del Cabo has several picturesque beaches that are more secluded and less crowded than those in Cabo San Lucas. The most popular beaches in San Jose del Cabo are Playa Palmilla, Playa Santa Maria, and Playa Costa Azul. These beaches offer a relaxed atmosphere, clear waters, and are perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and surfing. Before you plan your beach day make sure to check out our full list of favorites. Trust us when we say we covered everything, including parking.
Cabo San Lucas, on the other hand, has some of the most infamous and arguably overrun beaches in Mexico. These beaches are more crowded and offer a livelier atmosphere, with vendors selling souvenirs and offering water-based activities. Playa El Médano is known for its party atmosphere, with several beach bars and restaurants that offer live music and DJ sets. Playa del Amor, on the other hand, is a more secluded beach that can only be accessed by boat. If you prefer a more relaxed vacation, there are also many all-inclusive resorts in Cabo that offer private beach access and a quieter atmosphere.
The Food Factor
Let’s be real – when it comes to traveling food is definitely a factor and even though these two towns are only 20 miles apart the culinary experiences say otherwise. Beyond the basics – traditional Mexican dishes and geographically influenced seafood – each town has its own distinct offerings when it comes to cuisine.
Cabo San Lucas is known for its lively dining scene (and it really is a scene), with a wide range of high-end restaurants and bars catering to more to tourists than locals. The main marina area is jam-packed with dining options, mainly focused on fresh seafood and international fusion options. It's not uncommon to find restaurants with celebrity chefs and trendy, insta-worthy dishes with a price tag to match. The vibrant nightlife scene also plays a part when it comes to dining as many bars and restaurants offer live music and entertainment.
San Jose del Cabo leans into its more laid-back legacy, with fewer high-end restaurants and a greater focus on local, authentic cuisine. The town's historic center is home to many traditional Mexican restaurants, serving dishes such as tacos, ceviche, and mole. San Jose del Cabo also has a strong farm-to-table movement, with many restaurants sourcing their ingredients locally and incorporating traditional Mexican ingredients and flavors into their dishes. The town's streets are also home to many food carts and stalls, offering more casual options for those on a budget.
Another huge difference between the two towns is street food. San Jose del Cabo is known for the street food scene, especially in the historic center, while Cabo San Lucas is lacking in this arena its more developed tourism industry. So if you’re looking for on-the-go tacos, tamales, churros, and more the obvious choice is San Jose del Cabo.
The After Hours Activities
No trip to Mexico is complete without a little fiesta, and both towns have their own distinct spin on the nightlife scene. Cabo San Lucas is definitely more party focused, complete with mega DJs, a bustling bar scene, and nightclubs that stay open past dawn. For obvious reasons, this town tends to attract a younger crowd and was an MTV destination (back in the day!) for a reason. San Jose del Cabo is the polar opposite, but that doesn’t mean the nightlife scene is nonexistent. The town’s historic center is surrounded by authentic, local bars and nondescript nightclubs that cater to a more authentic crowd. You can expect to see old friends catching up over carafes of sangria, dancing on cobblestone to the sounds of local musicians, all night long.