The Best Beaches on the Baja California Peninsula

Whether facing the Sea of Cortés, the Pacific Ocean, or sandwiched between both (ah, Los Cabos), the beaches and waters of the Baja California Peninsula serve up surfing, some swimming (be careful out there, the waters can be pretty rough), boating, wildlife viewing, and, of course, all the sunny days you can handle.

Bahia Santa Maria, Mexico
There are nearly as many snorkeling options in Los Cabos as there are fish in the Sea of Cortés, and that’s saying a lot. If you’re somebody who prefers going it alone, pick up a snorkeling mask and fins and head to Chileno Bay for some undisturbed fish-seeing. But if you need a little more hands-on guidance, the outfit to dial is Pez Gato. Their twice-daily, four-hour tour includes everything you’ll need—snorkeling gear, drinks, fresh fruit, and sandwiches—plus a friendly and knowledgeable crew who will keep you entertained with facts about the region as you navigate the waters to Santa Maria, a horseshoe-shaped bay that’s home to a marine sanctuary and some of the clearest waters around.
While it can get busy, Chileno Bay and its beach of the same name—considered by many repeat visitors to be the best all-around beach in the area—offer a calmer vibe than the party-hearty Medano Beach. Those who want to experience Los Cabos underwater should head here for snorkeling or scuba sessions. Expect to see colorful fish, sea turtles, manta rays and sea fans.
One of the most popular beaches in Los Cabos, Playa el Médano is considered the safest for swimming. It’s also quite long, offering lots of space for sunbathers to lay out a towel for the day. Those are two reasons why it attracts the crowds; another is Medano’s reputation for a party atmosphere. The beach’s proximity to downtown Cabo San Lucas makes it easy to hop onto the sand, order a margarita or a michelada (a beer-based Mexican concoction) and take part in the local scene.

La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico
Baja California Sur’s capital deserves more than a day trip. The cosmopolitan city is home to some of the peninsula’s finest restaurants, and its beaches rival any in the world. Ensenada Grande, on Isla Partida, is part of the Espíritu Santo Archipelago and is, in a word, stunning. Golden sands give way to clear waters that are framed by volcanic formations (ask your guide to point out “La Máscara”). On the mainland, visit Balandra, a lovely white-sand beach whose waters shimmer a vibrant turquoise. It’s famous not only for its splendor but for the unusual mushroom-shaped rock known as El Hongo, as well. El Tecolote doesn’t quite have Balandra’s beauty, but it offers much more in the way of activities. Camp, grab a bite, and start here before heading on to an Espíritu Santo adventure.
Magdalena Bay, Baja California Sur, Mexico
The ocean churns as a 36-ton mammal swims up to the boat. With your arm plunged into the cool water, you await the touch of a California gray whale. Like a house cat craving a scratch on the head, the whale pushes its rubbery skin, rough with barnacles and battle scars from boats and orcas, against your palm. From January through March, hundreds of gray whales settle in Magdalena Bay, on the southwest coast of Mexico’s Baja peninsula. From their feeding grounds off the coast of Alaska, they’ve made one of the longest animal migrations—more than 5,000 miles—to mate, give birth, and raise their young here. Visitors who join local fishermen and outfitters in the bay are practically guaranteed to see whales, and the luckiest will encounter “friendlies,” including proud mothers who nudge their wrinkly black calves toward the surface. Sea Kayak Adventures offers a new trip that combines gray whale sightings in Magdalena Bay with blue and fin whale watching in the Sea of Cortez. From $1,495. (800) 616-1943, This appeared in the January/February 2013 issue.
La Paz, B.C.S., Mexico
The one-hour drive from Cabo San Lucas to Todos Santos is dotted with tempting detours. Chief among them is Playa Cerritos, one of the few Pacific-side beaches safe for swimming. Of course, it’s not the swimming conditions that attract legions of surfers each year, but the wonderful swells and breaks, which invariably make for an excellent outing on the waves. You can rent a board or sign up for lessons at Mario Surf School, and otherwise there’s plenty to support a day at the beach. Grab a bite at the Cerritos Beach Club, pick up a trinket or two from one of the local artisans, and treat yourself to a shoreline horseback ride or an oceanfront massage.
San Pedrito Beach road San Pedrito Beach, 23310 El Pescadero, B.C.S., Mexico
Just down the beach from the dreamy Rancho Pescadero hotel is Baja’s popular San Pedrito surf break. I paddled in just in time to get this dreamy shot of the clouds melting into the horizon.
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