San Jose del Cabo vs Cabo San Lucas: 12 Differences

Cabo. Cabo San Lucas. Los Cabos. San Jose del Cabo. These names are tongue twisters at best, and downright confusing to those visiting Mexico’s Baja California Sur peninsula at worst.

I was among the people scratching my head over what name to use when I first arrived in Cabo let alone if there was a difference between them.

So, I’ll clear up these terms and help you understand San Jose del Cabo vs Cabo San Lucas so that you can pick the best-suited destination for your vacation.

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First Things First: Cabo vs Los Cabos

If you’re a native English speaker, you likely refer to the tip of Mexico’s Baja California Sur peninsula as “Cabo.”

This isn’t wrong, per se. Just ask Toby Keith.

He uses the word “Cabo” a whopping seven times in his song Cabo San Lucas. But he qualifies it seven times, too, saying “Cabo, Cabo San Lucas.”

Good going, Toby.

Although some Mexicans have assimilated the word “Cabo” into their vocabulary, more often than not, you’ll hear them use the term “Los Cabos.”

And, of course, they’re correct.

“Los Cabos” collectively refers to Cabo San Lucas (the popular tourist hub) and San Jose del Cabo (the historic, cultural town).

So, is Cabo San Lucas the same as Los Cabos?

Kind of.

Cabo San Lucas is part of Los Cabos. However, most tourists mean Cabo San Lucas when they say “Cabo” or even “Los Cabos,” leaving poor San Jose del Cabo out of the picture.

Still confused? Check out my article on Cabo San Lucas vs Los Cabos.

Now that I’ve drilled this one home, you’re surely itching to learn more about Cabo San Lucas vs Los Cabos. So, let’s get to it.

A Quick Overview of San Jose del Cabo vs Cabo San Lucas

If you don’t have time to read through the hours I spent writing about the differences between San Jose and San Lucas (no hard feelings!), this chart will give you the gist.

FeatureSan Jose del CaboCabo San Lucas
Amount of crowdsFewLots
Proximity to the ocean40-minute walkOn the water
Type of peopleLocalsTourists
Art and culture sceneYesNo
High-end shoppingNo Yes
Street harassmentLittleLots
Lots of resortsNoYes
Local restaurantsManyFew
Age groupOlderYounger and older
Car necessityHighLow
Boat tours availableLimitedMany

12 Differences Between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo

Without further ado, below are the biggest differences when looking at San Jose del Cabo vs Cabo San Lucas.

1. San Jose del Cabo Has Fewer Crowds

The plaza in San Jose del Cabo.

The high season in Los Cabos is from the winter to early spring. During this time, the Marina and side streets in Cabo San Lucas fill with tourists who arrived by plane and cruise ships alike.

It’s loud, energetic, chaotic, and perhaps a few choice swear words, depending on how you feel about sweaty strangers elbowing their way beside you.

In contrast, San Jose del Cabo is a quiet respite. It has a massive plaza with plenty of benches to sit and a quieter, local vibe.

You’ll likely be one of the only people browsing through the tiny boutique stores in San Jose, and reggaeton music won’t blare in your ear as you dine at a restaurant.

If you travel during the low season in Los Cabos (June – September), you can expect to encounter even fewer people in San Jose.

2. Cabo San Lucas Is on the Water

A view of Cabo San Lucas from the Mt. Solmar hike.
A view of Cabo San Lucas from the Mt. Solmar hike.

One of the biggest make-or-break differences when people compare Cabo San Lucas versus Los Cabos in terms of San Jose’s location is that San Jose isn’t directly on the water.

Instead, the town sits about a 10-minute drive or 40-minute walk inland from the Sea of Cortez.

This brings me to another point—Cabo San Lucas sits on the corner of where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean. As a result, many of its beaches face the Pacific.

In contrast, if you make the trip from downtown San Jose to its beaches, you’ll unquestionably be on the Sea of Cortez.

In both cases, the water is often vicious. Los Cabos isn’t a swimming destination with the exception of a few spots on days when the weather cooperates.

3. More Locals Frequent San Jose del Cabo

A San Jose del Cabo sign in front of the main church in San Jose.

If you get the opportunity to visit both San Jose and San Lucas, one of the first things that will likely stand out to you is that San Jose is composed primarily of Mexicans and Cabo San Lucas is primarily made up of tourists.

So, if the purpose of you comparing San Jose del Cabo vs Cabo San Lucas is because you want to see which one has a more local vibe, San Jose is hands-down the better option.

The heat can get brutal in Los Cabos depending on the time of year you visit, and San Jose’s plaza offers sparse trees for shade. So, I recommend visiting it in the evening when street vendors selling food and items geared more toward locals will greet you.

4. Cabo San Lucas Is a Party Town

A frog holding a glass of mezcal.

If you’re debating between Cabo San Lucas or San Jose del Cabo for your bachelor party, spring break getaway, or any other celebration where you want lots of alcohol and all-nighters involved, San Lucas is your place.

Cabo San Lucas boasts plenty of bars and clubs to keep you entertained, with some big names being Mandala, Crush Nightspot, and El Squid Roe.

In contrast, San Jose del Cabo offers quieter, more artisan bars where you can sip on a glass of wine or an artisanal beer.

5. San Jose del Cabo Is Artsy

A pink artsy building in San Jose del Cabo.

Get your camera ready if you visit San Jose del Cabo, for its colorful, old buildings and eclectic decorations will make you glad that you upgraded your cloud storage before arriving in Mexico.

Needless to say, if you’re trying to figure out if you should go to San Jose del Cabo or Cabo San Lucas and you’re an art buff, make a beeline to San Jose.

In fact, San Jose del Cabo even hosts an art walk from November to July. This happens on Thursdays between 5:00 pm – 9:00 pm and is a wonderful way to see local artwork.

6. Luxury Shopping Is in Cabo San Lucas

When comparing San Jose del Cabo vs Cabo San Lucas, San Lucas has more high-end shops.

Before you get too excited, Cabo San Lucas doesn’t offer the array of luxury shopping choices as destinations like Cancun. However, when comparing San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas, it undoubtedly has more mainstream shopping choices.

The main mall in Cabo San Lucas is Plaza Puerto Paraiso, which sits conveniently on the Marina. There, you’ll find many upscale, big-name clothing stores.

In contrast, most of the shopping you can do in San Jose is at individually owned boutique shops.

Travel Tip: Visit the balcony on the second story of Plaza Puerto Paraiso by the food court for stunning views over the Marina.

7. There’s Less Street Harassment in San Jose del Cabo

When looking at San Jose del Cabo vs Cabo San Lucas, San Jose has colorful, ornate streets.

Balancing the positive side of destinations with hard-to-swallow truths is tricky for a travel writer. So in the name of honesty, here’s one of those difficult truths—there’s a lot of street harassment in Cabo San Lucas.

Most of it is annoying but harmless, and they don’t leave males out of their wrath given that the harassment usually starts with vendors trying to sell you a tour.

But if you’re female, and especially if you’re traveling alone, you can expect countless unsolicited comments as you explore the Marina and streets of San Lucas.

The fact that I experienced no street harassment in San Jose del Cabo as a solo female traveler speaks volumes.

So, on a personal level as a female, when comparing San Jose del Cabo vs Cabo San Lucas, I felt safer wandering around San Jose.

8. Cabo San Lucas Has More High-End Resorts

A beachfront resort from the viewpoint of Mt. Solmar.
A beachfront resort from the viewpoint of Mt. Solmar.

Let me start with this: All of Los Cabos is outrageously expensive for Mexico (and much of the U.S.). You can also find nice beachside resorts on the shores of both Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo.

However, of the two, you’ll have more high-end resort choices in Cabo San Lucas.

Staying at a resort in San Lucas doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be super close to the Marina, as there are plenty of hotels that wrap around the side of the Pacific Ocean or stretch in the direction of San Jose.

Nevertheless, you’ll likely be a short car ride away from San Lucas’ tourist attractions, if not within walking distance.

In contrast, you’ll likely want to take a bus or drive between your San Jose resort and the main town. Otherwise, you’re looking at a 1-hour, 20-minute round-trip walk in what will likely be the blazing sun.

9. Local Restaurants Abound in San Jose del Cabo

A local restaurant in San Jose del Cabo.

If part of your excitement about visiting Mexico involves finding hole-in-the-wall restaurants owned by locals, you’ll need to do some digging to find them in Cabo San Lucas.

And by “digging,” I mean walking 3 – 4 blocks behind the coast, where these local restaurants start to pop up.

On the other hand, you won’t have to wander as far to find delicious, local, and cheaper food in San Jose del Cabo. Even spots around the plaza, while expensive, tend to have a more local, less restaurant chain feel.

So, whether you stay in Cabo San Lucas or San Jose del Cabo, don’t overlook San Jose as the place to get some delicious Mexican grub.

10. The Younger Crowd Sticks With Cabo San Lucas

When comparing San Jose del Cabo vs Cabo San Lucas, San Lucas is on the beach.

This title is admittedly misleading because there are tons of retirees in Cabo San Lucas. In fact, I can’t even tell you how many times I heard Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline song blasting from yachts and restaurants.

But when comparing Cabo San Lucas versus Los Cabos San Jose, you’ll see far more young people in San Lucas.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why, given Cabo San Lucas’ booming nightlife and round-the-clock activity.

But if you’re looking for a quiet respite with what tends to be a more mature crowd, San Jose del Cabo fits the bill.

11. A Car Is Best for San Jose del Cabo

A motorcycle parked on a colorful street in San Jose del Cabo.

If you’re wondering whether San Jose del Cabo or Cabo San Lucas is more centrally located for exploring, San Lucas is undeniably the answer.

So, if you choose to base yourself in San Jose del Cabo, I recommend either renting a car or taking the bus. I’ll talk more about how to take the bus between San Jose and San Lucas at the end of this post.

But for now, know that unlike in downtown Cabo San Lucas, you’ll likely want some form of transportation to travel between downtown San Jose and its beaches.

12. Boat Tours Are Easier to Take from Cabo San Lucas

A glass bottom boat facing El Arco in Cabo San Lucas.

When comparing San Jose del Cabo vs Cabo San Lucas, you’ll have countless boat tour options from San Lucas.

That’s because the Marina sits in the heart of town. And, yes, while tour vendors can get overly pesky, you’ll have wonderful bargaining opportunities when looking for a tour.

In contrast, boat tours run from San Jose’s beaches, but they often cost more since they’re further away from the main attractions. There will also be fewer vendors vying for your attention, which means you’ll have less negotiating power.

If you’re interested in bargaining tips and more for a boat to see El Arco, check out my post on the glass bottom boat tour.

Traveling Between San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas

Here’s the good news: You don’t have to choose between Cabo San Lucas or San Jose del Cabo. These destinations are only about a 30-minute drive apart, making it easy to travel back and forth between them.

The most expensive ways you can travel from Cabo San Lucas to San Jose del Cabo and vice versa include:

  • Taxi
  • Uber
  • Renting a car

Personally, instead of sinking dozens of dollars into the round-trip drive, I prefer to take the Ruta del Desierto bus.

For a mere 34 pesos per way (as of April 2022), which is under $2 USD, you can go directly from San Lucas to San Jose.

The Ruta del Desierto buses are the large purple buses you’ve likely already seen around Los Cabos. They’re quite comfy, and you can feel the air conditioning when they’re not too packed with people (and when it’s not broken).

The buses run frequently—every 10 minutes or less throughout most of the day.

When you get on the bus, let your driver know that you’re going to “San Lucas” or “San Jose” and they’ll charge you accordingly (having the exact change is best, when possible).

You can follow along with Google Maps to determine when you need to press the button on the bus to get off or ask a fellow passenger for help (it’s Cabo, so the chances are in your favor that they’ll have at least a basic grasp of English).

Unique Things to Do in Los Cabos

A dog on the Mt. Solmar hike.

Calling all animal lovers!

Regardless of whether you stay in San Jose or San Lucas, if you enjoy spending time with cats and dogs, I highly recommend taking some time out of your vacation to volunteer at Los Cabos Humane Society.

You can also hike with dogs up Mt. Solmar, which is located at the tip of Cabo San Lucas.

Make sure to bring close-toed shoes and lots of love to give the pups as you climb up this private hill, which arguably offers the best views in all of Los Cabos.

Where Will You Base Yourself?

Rock formations near El Arco off Cabo San Lucas.

There’s no doubt about it—the differences between San Jose del Cabo vs Cabo San Lucas are vast.

That’s advantageous, in my opinion, since not everyone will love both destinations.

Personally, I found San Jose to be a welcome respite from the crowded streets and booming nightlife of San Lucas.

But as much as I loved San Jose’s art and culture scene, I’m glad I ended up basing myself in San Lucas since it was nice being steps away from the water while still being close to non-beach activities.

If you have questions about the differences between San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas, leave a comment and I’ll be happy to help.

Alternatively, if you’ve already been to one or both of these destinations, I’d love to hear your insight and takeaways.

P.S.- Do you plan on taking a glass-bottom boat ride to see Cabo’s famous arch? If so, don’t miss my post on 14 must-know tips on saving money and helping you prepare.

I also recommend my Cancun vs. Cabo post if you’re still on the fence about the best-fit beach destination for you.

2 thoughts on “San Jose del Cabo vs Cabo San Lucas: 12 Differences”

  1. Thank you for your tips on Cabo San Lucas and San Jose Del Cabo. Do you know the most economical way to travel from SJD airport to Cabo San Lucas?

    1. Hi Chris,

      The most economical way to travel from the Cabo airport to Cabo San Lucas is by taking the Ruta del Desierto bus. These bus runs every 10 minutes, and it takes about one hour to arrive in San Lucas.

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