The Perfect Way to Spend 72 Hours in Baja California Sur, Mexico from Outside tzemke

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The eel is not attacking us. But my son, who is seven, thinks it might, so he’s screaming through his snorkel. We are swimming in Santa Maria Bay, a protected marine sanctuary on the southern end of Mexico’s Baja peninsula. We’ve borrowed masks and fins from the Montage Los Cabos, where we’re staying, and the payoff is immediate: just off the white-sand beach, a coral reef is filled with colorful schools of tropical fish (and one scary-looking but harmless eel).

A soothing cove for travelers after some R&R or anyone with young children, the cove at the Montage Los Cabos is known for its serene setting and calm bay. (Photo: Courtesy Megan Michelson)

I’m not great at laid-back beach vacations. After ten minutes of sitting in a chair with a book, I start to feel restless. I much prefer trips to the ocean that involve an activity—surfing, snorkling, running along the shore—which is why a spring getaway with my family to Baja was the perfect fit: loads of adventure opportunities await, along with plenty of glorious sandy beaches.

Baja is known for its numerous beachfront resorts, clustered between the cities of Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo—known collectively as Los Cabos—but it doesn’t take much time or effort to get off the beaten path and venture into some of the state’s wilder and more rugged zones. And you really should, because with fewer crowds and ample activities, there’s plenty of room to roam.

From surfable breaks along the Pacific Ocean to more mellow waves on the Sea of Cortez, as well as mountains, charming pueblos, and desert landscapes worth exploring, there’s a topography in Baja California Sur for every type of traveler.

And with direct flights from 18 major U.S. hubs into Los Cabos International Airport, getting here for a long weekend is a cinch. Pack light, pick up a rental car, and be on your way. Here are my tips on how to do it right.

Friday

3 P.M.: Vamos al Norte

The variety of swell and breaks at Los Cerritos are just two reasons why this shorefront, ten miles south of Todos Santos, is frequented by beginners and experts alike. (Photo: Getty/Alfredo Martinez)

From Los Cabos, drive an hour north along the Pacific on scenic Highway 19. Your destination: Los Cerritos, a low-key beach spot not far from the artsy village of Todos Santos. Even beginner surfers like myself are welcome here, and my kids spent hours each day boogie-boarding and playing in the waves. Check in to Olas de Cerritos (from $153), a boutique hotel steps from the shorefront, with recently renovated rooms, a pool, and free breakfast. If you’re traveling with family or a group and want a condo with a full kitchen and living area instead, Surfside Residences (from $250) offers two-bedroom accommodations within eyesight of the swell, a restaurant, and a pool.

5 P.M.: Enjoy Happy Hour on the Playa

 Late-afternoon lazy hours can be spent at La Tuna. With year-round highs that range from the seventies to the mid-eighties, this open-air hangout is a perfect place to shelter from the sun and enjoy the coastal breezes. (Photo: Courtesy Megan Michelson)

Once you’re settled, stroll over to La Tuna, a waterfront bar and café that opened in April and hosts weekday happy hours from 5 to 6 P.M. I watched the sunset from a swing set up on the deck, and it was magic. You could stay there for dinner, too, or head a block away to Barracuda Cantina, which serves ceviche and fried-avocado tacos. In the evenings, there’s usually live music at Shaka’s, just down the road. Or call it an early night so you can be up and in the surf lineup at dawn.

Saturday

8 A.M.: Play in the Pacific

There are a half dozen well-regarded surf spots in Los Cabos. Summer lineups can be busy, but the fall tends to be the ideal season, when it comes to more constant swell, fewer crowds, and pleasant weather. (Photo: Courtesy Montage Los Cabos)

Coffee from Café Barra is the way to start your first full day here. The tiny outpost is located just off Cerritos Beach, next to the Costa Azul Surf Shop. Alternatively, pick up a smoothie or fresh juice from Tasi Juice Bar. I frequented the latter during my stay and am still dreaming about the acai bowls.

My family spent the morning on this beach. If you’re an experienced surfer, a total newbie, or a kid with a boogie board, the break at Cerritos has a little something for everyone. Check the surf report before you go, and watch out for the riptide close to the point. Mario’s Surf School has a tent on the shore, rents boards and beach chairs, and offers private lessons ($20 for a board; $80 for an hourlong session). Nearby Big Fun Beach Club awaits, too, with brunch, midday tacos, and volleyball courts.

1 P.M.: Bike The Magical Trails Around Todos

In the afternoon, head 20 minutes up the coast to delightful Todos Santos, a historic mission town designated a pueblo mágico for its charm. Filled with art galleries, cafés, and shops, this enclave is now a paradise for foodies and anyone seeking artisan goods. You could wander the downtown for hours, like I did, or explore the local trails by foot or bike.

Some 40 miles of well-built singletrack cross the foothills, with stunning ocean views. Over the Edge Baja rents everything from hardtails to electric mountain bikes and leads group riding tours in Todos Santos, including the 23-mile Ruta el Cardón, launched in February. Afterward, linger over libations at DoceCuarenta, a hip warehouse gathering place in a mango grove on the outskirts of town. Also refreshing is a scoop of passion fruit ice cream at La Paloma Paleteria, a personal favorite.

6 P.M.: Release Turtle Hatchlings

Locals and tourists in San José del Capo line up to release hundreds of olive ridley hatchlings into the sea. Few of the turtles will survive to adulthood, which is why hatchery programs are so important to the population. (Photo: Getty/Paul J. Richards/AFP)

If you’re visiting between early December and late March, check to see if Tortugueros Las Playitas, a local turtle sanctuary, is releasing baby leatherbacks or olive ridleys into the Pacific on a beach north of Todos Santos. You can participate in the process to help restore endangered turtle populations.

7 P.M.: Dine at an Amazing New Restaurant

In the up-and-coming village of El Pescadero, right on Highway 19 near the turnoff to Los Cerritos, the restaurant Crudo is reached by driving down an obscure gravel road, but the rewards are worth any doubts you might have about whether this is the place: a fantastic raw bar, natural wines, trivia nights, and karaoke.

We ate dinner at Pescadero 62, which opened this spring with a great outdoor patio, complete with a vintage Volkswagen bus, a colorful wall-size mural, and an eclectic menu featuring tuna tostadas, fresh oysters, and an incredibly good crispy chicken sandwich.

Sunday

9 A.M.: Fuel Up Like a Local

Café fare at Agricola is centered around the bounty of its 37-acre farm. You can stock up on everything from fresh bread and wine to vegetables and desserts.  (Photo: Courtesy Megan Michelson)

Breakfast is a quick stop at Agricole, a farm-to-tienda grocer and café in El Pescadero that sells coffee, house-baked pastries, and the most delicious fresas con crema (heaping cups of strawberries and cream) I’ve ever tasted.

Before heading south on the highway, pop in to Baja Beans, a nearby coffee shop that hosts an artisan and farmers’ market out front every Sunday.

11 A.M.: Tour an Organic Farm

Schedule a free walking tour of Flora Farms, a 25-acre working organic farm just north of San José del Cabo that grows fruits and vegetables and harvests chicken and eggs year-round. If you want to stay for lunch in Flora’s Field Kitchen, you’ll need to make a reservation—it’s incredibly popular, and for good reason: the food is as fresh as it gets. The farm also holds cooking classes, art workshops, and movie nights.

1 P.M.: Stroll the Streets of San José del Cabo

San José del Cabo feels festive and welcoming year-round. Popular attractions include the Gallery District, which hosts an art walk on Thursday evenings, and the historic mission, which dates back to 1730. (Photo: Courtesy Megan Michelson)

Brightly decorated with festoons of papel picado, San José del Cabo has a vibrant center, yet it’s much quieter and has more of a throwback vibe than its sister city, Cabo San Lucas. Start your walk at Plaza Mijares, and grab a torta or tacos for lunch in the mellow courtyard café of the Drift Hotel. I stopped here for a midday meal, but it would also be a good spot to post up for the night if you want to stay in town (from $178).

3 P.M.: Choose the Best End to Your Weekend Adventures

Depending on the kind of long weekend you’ve planned, I can recommend two final stays with outside options.

A townhouse bedroom at the Montage. The resort has 122 guest rooms and 52 residences, a spa, and four restaurants. (Photo: Courtesy Montage Los Cabos)

For a splurge to cap off your trip, book a room at Montage Los Cabos (from $1,200), where I was handed a grapefruit margarita the moment I arrived and a beach butler arranged towels on my lie-back chair. The hotel is ideally positioned on one of the most beautiful beaches in Baja, Santa Maria Bay, which has calm waters and easy swimming and paddling. Besides high-end service and gourmet dining, the real beauty of the Montage is the adventure planning: an on-site concierge helped us book guided mountain-bike rides and canyoneering outings; while these activities are not included in the nightly rate, snorkeling, paddleboarding, kayaking, and yoga classes are.

We spent our final afternoon there on the beach, followed by off-roading to a short trail, where we hiked up a canyon with a creek running down the center of it. Afterward? We headed straight to Paletas, the hotel’s on-site market, for house-made popsicles in a range of tropical flavors. Dinner that night was at the hotel’s Mediterranean-inspired Marea restaurant, which overlooks the water.

For a more affordable lodging option, the Cabo Surf Hotel (from $338) is located just ten miles up the coast on Playa Acapulquito. Friends have stayed here before and raved about the convenient beachfront location and laid-back vibe, especially refreshing in contrast to many of the more ostentatious resorts in the vicinity. The hotel has standard rooms with great beach access, a pool, and on-site surf instructors.

The beachfront at the Cabo Surf Hotel, just off Route 1, is a good place to park yourself with an umbrella. It’s a more relaxed vibe than at many of the resort properties around Los Cabos. (Photo: Courtesy Mary Turner)

When to Visit Baja California Sur

With its gorgeous waters and golden sands, Santa Maria Bay is the desertscape we dream of when we picture a perfect trip to Baja California Sur. (Photo: Getty/Fitopardo)

While visitors flock to this region year-round, November through April tend to be the most popular period, due to cooler, milder temperatures and the possibility of seeing more abundant marine life, including stellar whale-watching. Gray whales begin arriving in the waters off the Pacific coast of the peninsula in December for their mating season, before migrating back north toward the Arctic in late spring. Plenty of certified outfitters offer whale-watching excursions by boat, but you can also spot them from most beaches along the western coast.

The author hiking in Baja Sur on her recent spring trip. (Photo: Courtesy Megan Michelson)

Megan Michelson is a frequent Outside contributor who loves tacos and is bad at surfing but continues to try anyway. 

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