Beaches of Baja California
Concierge.com's insider take:
Los Cabos is blessed with fine beaches on both sides of its narrow tip, though few places are safe enough for swimming. Playa Médano on the Sea of Cortez in Cabo San Lucas is the resort area's most popular beach, packed with bars, vendors selling straw hats, and stands renting kayaks and WaveRunners. The waters here are normally calm enough for swimming. Glass-bottom boats and water taxis depart for Playa del Amor from beneath the natural rock arch at land's end, El Arco. There are no facilities on this small patch of sand, but swimming and snorkeling with sea lions are both superb when tides are low.
A few resorts along the Corridor on the Sea of Cortez provide man-made coves for swimming. The waters are clear and calm, and colorful fish abound at Bahía Santa Maria and Bahía Chileno on the Corridor, popular destinations for booze cruises from Cabo San Lucas. You can reach the bays by taxi or rental car as well, but be sure to bring plenty of fresh water, snacks, and snorkel gear. Vendors sometimes sell necessities on the beach, but they aren't reliable.
Playa Palmilla just north of the One&Only Palmilla resort is the best playtime beach near San José del Cabo. Surfing is usually excellent here at Zippers, a wildly popular surf break and beach bar of the same name. Paddleboarding is becoming popular here as well; Cabo Surf Shop above the beach rents gear and offers lessons from real pros. Only those with foolhardy death wishes tackle the waters off San José's hotel zone—the constant sound of crashing waves should be a sign to stay away.
Mighty waves pound the sand and cliffs on the Pacific side of Los Cabos, where the waters close to hotels are far too rough for any form of water sports. North of Cabo San Lucas, however, the surf becomes more manageable around the small town of Pescadero on the road to Todos Santos. Locals and tourists gather at Playa Cerritos for informal parties on weekend afternoons at Cerritos Beach Club. Mario's Surf School in Todos Santos offers rentals and lessons at the best breaks in the area. Once again, swimming isn't great in these areas, but you can be a part of the beach-and-surf scene without full immersion. The Sea of Cortez beaches in La Paz, especially Playa Pichilingue and Playa Coyote, are quintessentially Mexican in style and amenities (umbrella and chair rentals, cafés in the sand serving oysters Diablo and whole fried fish). Both here and in Loreto, the beaches on nearby islands are the big attraction for snorkeling with sea lions and watching seabirds.
In Northern Baja, the Transpeninsular Highway travels along a coastline reminiscent of Big Sur, with vistas of waves crashing on craggy cliffs. The shorelines along Rosarito Beach and Ensenada are popular with surfers, who wear wetsuits much of the year, as the water here rarely rises above 65 degrees. Farther south, isolated towns and agricultural communities dot the wild coastline, and there are few hotels or pleasant swimming beaches. Instead, the sea is rough and brisk, leaving behind driftwood, shells, and all matter of flotsam from the open sea.—Maribeth Mellin