St. John, US Virgin Islands
Trunk Bay, with its silky soft sand and calm, turquoise waters, is the most breathtaking beach I have ever been to.
- More about your oliver guide: Nichole Rowles
- Trip type: Family, Beach
- Activity level: easy
- Ideal length of trip: 5 days
to & from
Fly into the St. Thomas Airport. Then take a taxi to the ferry terminal in Red Hook, which is about a 30-minute ride. The ferry to St. John leaves hourly.
Where to Stay
St. John was devastated by back-to-back Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017, but the island is once again ready for visitors! The two major resorts, Caneel Bay and the Westin, were still closed in summer 2018, but the Westin hopes to reopen in January 2019. We recommend renting a villa through one of the island’s vacation rental companies. You will be met at the ferry in Cruz Bay, escorted to the villa and given a tour of the property. We have had good experiences with Catered To Vacation Homes and with Destination St. John. Choose a villa with easy access to Cruz Bay where the vast majority of the island’s restaurants and shops are located. Alternatively, Gallows Point Resort in Cruz Bay is open.
Where to Eat and Drink
St. John is the smallest of the three U.S. Virgin Islands, and just about everything on St. John comes via St. Thomas. It is not always easy to find a crisp salad on the island, and while there are some good restaurants, the food is mostly casual.
- The Longboard - Ceviches, gourmet tacos, and poke bowls.
- North Shore Deli - Good sandwiches and breakfast pastries. Located in Mongoose Junction right by the park's entrance, North Shore Deli provides an easy stop to pick up some take out items before heading to the beaches for the day.
- Greengos -- Greengos has locations in St. Thomas and Puerto Rico, too. HUGE tequila selection!
- The Tap Room - Offers hand-crafted beers brewed on the island, and the pub menu, including the pizza, is good, too.
- La Tapa -- A more upscale option. Recommend sharing a bunch of the smaller plates.
- Skinny Legs -- Famous in Coral Bay. Popular bar and burger joint. Cash or PayPal only. Closes early.
What to Do
St. John is nearly two-thirds national park. The joy of visiting this small island is renting a JEEP and driving through the lush park and snorkeling at the different white sand beaches. Some of the reef was damaged by the recent hurricanes, but we still saw plenty of sea life, including sting rays, turtles, reef tip sharks, tarpon, cuttlefish, and more. Some of our favorite beaches on St. John include:
- Maho Bay. The grassy sea bottom practically guarantees that you'll see sea turtles.
- Trunk Bay. This is the crown jewel of St. John, and the one beach that offers restrooms, showers, on-site snorkeling gear rentals, picnic tables, etc. There is a snorkeling trail, marked by three buoys, that provides underwater plaques with information about the coral and reef fish. Some of the signs have become difficult to read, and one was missing altogether, but Trunk Bay remains a good snorkeling spot.
- Salt Pond Bay. Driving to Salt Pond will take you to the eastern side of the island, which was hit hardest by the hurricanes. You'll gain a greater appreciation for the island's recovery efforts by driving to this quieter part of the island -- and likely come upon some wild donkeys along the way. Salt Pond Bay offers a protected cove and good snorkeling.
- Leinster Bay and Watermelon Cay Beach. Park at Annaberg Sugar Mill Ruins and walk 15 minutes along a pebbly trail to enter the water close to Watermelon Cay. Great coral here, and many snorkelers report spotting harmless nurse sharks and rays. Swim counter clockwise around the cay in order to be safe with the current.
While cruise ships don’t stop in St. John, some that dock in St. Thomas bring tourists over to snorkel at Trunk Bay. The secret to enjoying this beautiful beach is getting there early in the morning and beating the crowds.
The national park’s visitor center in Cruz Bay is a big building, but there is hardly anything in it! Get a map of the park from one of the snorkeling shops or retailers and skip the visitor’s center.
What to Pack
Bring bug spray! Lots of mosquitoes, particularly at dinnertime.
Bring a portable sun shade if you can fit it in your bag. Many of the beaches lost palm trees and shade plants in the 2017 hurricanes.
Thanks to support from Michael Bloomberg and Kenny Chesney, St. John has made a remarkable recovery. The vast majority of restaurants and shops were open when we visited in summer 2018, and we had no issues with cel service or WiFi. Having said that, St. John is a quiet place. Go to enjoy its raw beauty and beaches. But even we were ready to leave at the end of the week.
Looking for more intelligence on this slice of heaven? Find Laura Page’s family guide to St. John’s Island here.