The Los Cabos area at the southernmost tip of Baja California is beach-laden, resort-heavy and home to some of the best bars and restaurants in the state. While many visitors are happy to just relax at their hotel with a margarita or five, it’s also easy to escape these tourist hubs to atmospheric towns, desert oasis hot springs and protected marine parks. All this and more are within a half to a three hour drive.

The six following day trips offer a huge variety of activities: from surfing, diving and hiking, to visiting museums and cobblestone lanes bursting with architecture.

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Todos Santos

Wander a Pueblo Mágico and surf wild beaches

If you take only one day trip from Los Cabos, Todos Santos should be it. Designated as a Pueblo Mágico by the Mexican government (a town with original architecture and flourishing culture and traditions), this desert oasis tucked behind miles of white sand Pacific Coast beach, entices many visitors to stay on much longer, some even becoming expats. 

Fill a half-day exploring the cobblestone streets, perusing art galleries and shops. Stop in at the Centro Cultural (housed in a former schoolhouse) to admire the circa-1930s murals in the courtyard and learn about the town’s lively history via old photos and artifacts. The restaurants here are some of the best in Southern Baja and include star Mexican chef Javier Plascencia’s Jazamango for modern local cuisine with views over a desert garden. 

Then hit the blustery, wave-pounded beach for endless walks or surfing (for intermediate to advanced levels only). If you’re around between December and mid-April you can hook up with Tortugueros Las Playitas to watch sea turtle hatchlings wriggle down the beach and swim out to sea.

Todos Santos is around a one-hour drive north from Cabo San Lucas along Hwy 19.

A diver swims into a "tornado" of silver big eyed jack fish
Witness "tornados" of big eyed jack fish in Cabo Pulmo Marine Park © Hoatzinexp / Getty Images / iStockphoto

Cabo Pulmo

Dive with whale sharks and tornadoes of fish

This tiny desert hamlet might not look like much at first, but once you put your head underwater amidst the 17,571-acre Marine Protected Area (MPA) it’s one of the most spectacular places in Baja. Over 200 species of critters inhabit the rich Cabo Pulmo Marine Park, including the famous “tornadoes” of big eyed jacks that school like a murmuration of starlings at El Bajo dive site. Other species you might see include giant grouper, manta rays, sea turtles and – from October to February – whale sharks. The coral and anemone-covered hull of the sunken ship El Colima is another spectacular sight.

Sign up for a snorkeling tour or a multi-day diving course that starts in swimming pools in Los Cabos and eventually will bring you to Cabo Pulmo. If you decide to stay longer, Cabo Pulmo itself is a very mellow scene with a few family-run seafood-oriented restaurants and interesting town personalities to meet.

The town and park are around a two hour drive from Cabo San Lucas. Dive trips usually include transportation to/from your hotel.

Los Cerritos

Learn to surf on a boho-vibe beach

Whether you’ve come to Southern Baja to learn to surf or just play in the waves, Los Cerritos is the best place to do it. The beach may not be as pristine as others in the area, but the swell rolls consistently over sandy bottom and it’s an easy paddle out to catch a few waves. There’s also an outer reef break for more advanced surfers. Hook up with board rental and/or surf instructors right on the beach and you’ll be standing on a board in no time.

The waves themselves can get crowded and there’s a fun beach shack bar ambiance around the main entrance by the parking lot. That said, the beach is vast so it’s easy to find a quiet stretch to throw your towel, if that’s what you're after. There’s also safe swimming for those who prefer ocean forays with less adrenaline.

This beach sits only 15 minutes north of Cabo San Lucas on the way to Todos Santos, so you could conceivably combine the two places for one very long day trip.

A river flows through rocky terrain in Cañon de la Zorra and empties into a large, tree-ringed pool Getty Images
Hike into Cañon de la Zorra for an off-the-beaten-track waterfall adventure © Fitopardo / Getty Images

Santiago & around

Hike to hot springs and a waterfall oasis

Driving into this village in a valley surrounded by desert, farmland and low hills feels like you’ve arrived somewhere very remote – but you're only 55km from San Jose del Cabo. Pastel homes peek out from behind palapa palms, and the pleasantly lush town centers on a colonial plaza. Much of the food served in Los Cabos restaurants is grown here.

While quiet Santiago is worth a visit, its surrounding sights are the bigger draw. Take a short, dirt-road drive into the Cañón de la Zorra all the way until you reach the sign-posted Rancho Ecólogico Sol de Mayo. From there, hike several minutes to an outlandishly beautiful 40ft waterfall pool for a refreshing dip and a picnic (bring your own, as this is a remote and rustic destination). To warm up, head back south of town for hot springs: El Chorro is near the town of Agua Caliente, and Santa Rita sits near the tiny Ejido village of San Jorge. The hot springs feature on many day trip itineraries out of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, so go early or late in the day to have them to yourself.

Los Barilles

Kite surf thrills and leaping mobula ray viewing

Growing Los Barilles is a mix of desert Baja backroads and new, Southern California-esque development. While the long white beach and laid-back vibe is reason enough to visit, it’s the 20- to 25-knot winds that make this place famous. Wind surfers and kite boarders flock here from September to March. This high season also coincides with whale season (January to March) when you’ll often see whales spouting over the white caps and great schools of mobula rays leaping above the waves; the latter is an incredible sight to behold and is worth the drive here itself. Grab a snack for the road at Caleb’s Cafe, which offers American-style baked goods, including incredibly gooey and delicious sticky buns.

Outside the windy months, the sea is calmer and good for stand-up paddle boarding. The town, however, falls into a slumber and many businesses close for the season. It’s about a one and a half hour drive from Cabo San Lucas to Los Barilles.

a tourist rows an orange kayak in Los Islotes National Marine Park off Espiritu Santo Island
Grab a paddle and hit the waters of the Sea of Cortez Islands © Design Pics / Stuart Westmorland / Getty Images

La Paz

Experience the Sea of Cortez islands

If you’re tired of tourist hot spots and want to experience a more laid-back Southern Baja, the sprawling, colorful city of La Paz is the answer. Start by strolling along the 1960s-feeling, 5.5km-long malecón (promenade) to check out local sculpture art and admire the turquoise sea. Then wander inland through the old architecture of the Plaza Constitución, peruse the small but well curated National Museum of Archaeology and lunch at one of the many higher-end local and international restaurants – or walk out a few more minutes out of the commercial zone to Taco Fish La Paz for what might be the best fish tacos in town. 

It’s worth staying in La Paz far longer than one day, especially to visit Espíritu Santo, an island that’s part of a Unesco World Heritage site made up of 244 Sea of Cortez Islands. You can visit the island on popular speedboat trips or multi-day sea kayaking adventures. Nearby there’s also exceptional diving with frequent whale shark sightings (October to March) and visits to a very lively sea lion colony.

The city is about a two hour drive from Cabo San Lucas via Todos Santos or just over three hours via Santiago and Los Barilles, so you could reasonably take a few days to make a loop.

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