St. John, USVI. The smallest of the three U.S. Virgin Islands, and perhaps the most beautiful. With over 60% of its land preserved by national parks, it’s comforting to know that its natural beauty will be honored and preserved forever. St. John has friendly locals, which include donkeys and sea turtles. Its beautiful beaches perhaps the best of the entire Caribbean. If you’re craving a Caribbean getaway without the hustle and bustle of crowds, St. John is the perfect warm weather oasis. Sit back and relax, you’re on island time now!
As you guys know, a few weeks ago I was on vacation in St. John, USVI. Let me start by saying that St. John is one of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever been to. It’s casual feel, combined with the fact that it’s not overcrowded with other travelers are a couple of the main reasons I keep coming back. I’ve been three times now, so I feel that I have it completely down with what you need to see and what some of the best spots on the island are! Sit back, grab yourself a cup of coffee (or a glass of wine!), and enjoy because this is a long one! I’m sharing my favorite places to eat, the best beaches, where to stay, and things you have to do while you’re on the island!
GETTING TO ST. JOHN, USVI:
Depending on what airport is closest to you, getting there may look a little different for you than me! The first thing to know is that you cannot fly directly into St. John. They don’t have an airport… or even a stoplight! The easiest way to get there is to fly into St. Thomas (Cyril E. King airport), take a cab/van to the ferry landing (called Red Hook), and then take a ferry to St. John (about a 35-40 min. van ride depending on traffic, 20 min. ferry ride). It might sound confusing or hectic, but I promise it’s easy!
Your cab ride to Red Hook will venture through windy and steep roads if they go the back way when there’s traffic in town, but you will come out alive (deep breaths and buckle up)! An important thing to know is that no flights go into St. Thomas when it’s dark! The past couple times I’ve gone, I’ve taken a midnight flight out of Boston, had a layover in San Juan, Puerto Rico for a few hours, and then have flown into St. Thomas the very first thing in the morning (about a 30 minute flight). I like doing it this way because I feel like I miss out on less by traveling during sleeping hours, and I can maximize my time there. However, check your times and figure out if this would make sense for you! This is a great option for East-coasters, but if you’re from the West coast, it might not make as much sense for you! Airlines that fly directly to St. Thomas include jetBlue, Delta, American Airlines, United, and Spirit Airlines.
As soon as you land, go to baggage, get your bags, and then go directly outside the doors to wait for a cab. There will be plenty of people working outside and flagging down cabs and vans for you, and it’s very organized- just let them know you’re going to Red Hook and how many people you have with you. I have always shared a van with other travelers, and it’s worked out great! Make sure to have cash on you to pay and tip your cab driver (the rate they charge is per person plugs bags). Once you get to the Red Hook ferry terminal, you can buy tickets and get tags for your bags to be put on the ferry (they put your bags on the ferry for you, but I suggest keeping smaller bags like a purse or carry on with you). They just started taking credit cards, but it’s nice to have cash just in case! Your bags will be put on and off the boat for you. Note: You can also take the ferry all the way to St. John from closer to the airport (Charlotte Amalie to St. John) but I’ve never done this and have heard it can get a little rocky. A good thing to know is that there are only 3 departures a day from this location. This is why I would stick to going to Red Hook where there is a ferry leaving every hour on the hour from early in the morning to midnight. If you have to wait a little while, don’t worry YOU’RE ON ISLAND TIME, plus- there’s a bar at the ferry terminal! 🙂
WHERE TO STAY:
Every time I’ve been to St. John, my family has rented a villa through Catered to Vacation Homes. They are essentially a property management company that rents out people’s homes on St. John and also provides transportation to the villa when you arrive. Their guides/employees (not quite sure what to call them!) are so incredibly helpful! They have direct communication with you the entire day of travel to ensure that you’re picked up timely at the ferry landing in Cruz Bay. On your way to the villa, our past guides have showed us where grocery stores, gas stations, and popular restaurants are. A past guide even let us drop off our bags at our villa when we arrived prior to check in time, and then took us back to where we were picking up our rental car. Life saver. The other amazing thing about Catered To villas are that they have full kitchens (every time we have stayed there have been spices, sugar, food items that other guests have left that aren’t past the expiration date, and many other essentials in the cupboards). Many properties have full laundry, a cleaning service that comes to clean half way through your stay, and there are almost always beach chairs, towels, pool floats, and beach bags so that you don’t have to worry about packing any of those things! I know that I can take all the help I can get with making my luggage lighter! We would also do breakfast at our villa every morning because we found it easier than going to town, and would also do a couple dinners at home on the grill. Most villas are extremely private and have pools (ours even had a hot tub too)! I highly recommend going this route (especially if you have a large group), but if a villa is not your thing, there are many other options on St. John. I’ve linked some of the ones that have stood out to me below:
–Catered to Vacation Home Villas
–Caneel Bay Resort
–Gallows Point Resort
–Sea Shore Allure
-Book through St. John Villa Rentals
Note: For those who have asked, we have stayed here (our favorite one we ever stayed in because of the unreal views and the huge pool), here, and here on this trip.
The view from our Catered To villa rental was so incredibly beautiful!!
Our villa had its own private beach complete with a hammock. Absolute perfection.
WHERE TO EAT:
–Sam & Jack’s Deli- Love getting sandwiches here and then taking them to the beach for lunch.
–The Longboard- The Longboard is one of my favorite spots for afternoon drinks and appetizers. It definitely wins the award for best design aesthetic and “most instagrammable” restaurant on all of St. John. The Longboard is an open air restaurant with a large bar and a coastal feel. It’s extremely conveniently located in Cruz Bay, and is just about a one minute walk from the St. John ferry landing. Make sure to try their frozen painkiller, a Moscow mule with their house made ginger beer, their island wings, and their shrimp and avocado bruschetta.
–Beach Bar- Has a large drink list and is a nice lunch spot right on the beach; My favorite drinks here are the BBC & the Lime & Coconut. But seriously, did I mention you can drink and eat right on the beach?! Perfection.
–Zozo’s- Go here for a romantic dinner and don’t forget to make a reservation! It’s located at Caneel Bay. We had an amazing bone marrow crostini appetizer; Also do yourself a favor and get the veal chop. Finally, don’t skip out on dessert- the key lime pie panna cotta is out of this world!
–Extra Virgin- Go here for dinner (Unfortuntely didn’t get to dine here but it has rave reviews. My friend who is an old coworker who lives in St. John mentioned that the chefs moved from Zozo’s to here. Many ingredients are sourced locally which is always a plus in my book).
–Ocean Grill– dinner (Get the lobster ravioli, grilled mahi mahi, or scallops; All are so fresh and absolutely delicious. For a drink I’m obsessed with the champagne cocktail! If you like bellinis you’ll love it).
–St. John Waterfront Bistro- lunch; perfect burger spot.
–Vista Mare– dinner; If you love Italian, this is your spot!
The view from Beach Bar! If this picture were to keep going just a little to the right, you would see the ferry landing where you’ll arrive when you get to St. John. Not bad, huh?
Beach bar fun.
Enjoying drinks on the beach at Beach Bar
The Longboard’s beautiful coastal inspired decor
MUST SEE BEACHES:
My absolute favorite beach on St. John! This beach is free and has parking. There’s plenty of beach/sand for the kiddos to play in. The waves can be a little bit rough at the water’s edge where the waves break so make sure to watch your little ones closely! Cinnamon Bay has bathrooms, some concessions, and water sports equipment available for rent. Check out my post here for more on Cinnamon Bay.
Very calm water, with amazing snorkeling! Less beach compared to Cinnamon Bay, but is also free. Definitely do yourself a favor and bring snorkel equipment. You just may swim next to turtles or sting rays like we did!
Sometimes referred to as Gibney Beach; This beach is definitely off the beaten path, and there’s not much beach here since some of it is private property (after ducking underneath palm trees to get to the larger section of the beach, you will see that part of it is private property. Keep going to access the public area. We opted to stay closer to the tire swing where there’s a small spot of beach). This beach has very little parking; Only enough for about two cars. The best way to get here is to get dropped off by a taxi. It’s very quiet, has a romantic feel to it, and is perfect for couples. There’s also a tire swing on a palm tree which could be fun for kids (and adults, let’s be real!!!!). Note: The property is the former home of Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atomic bomb!
Some other North Shore beaches include: Trunk Bay (opt for Cinnamon Bay instead because it’s less busy and free), Jumbie Beach, Hawksnest, and Honeymoon.
No chance of getting crabby when you’re at Maho Beach 😉
THINGS TO DO:
-Snorkel at Maho Bay beach. You may even see a sea turtle or sting ray like we did!
-Go on a day sail to Jost Van Dyke (Make sure to hit up Soggy Dollar Bar- a bar literally on the beach and famous for its Painkiller cocktails).
-Take a day trip to the Baths at Virgin Gorda; With a passport, take the Inter Island Boat Service ferry out of Cruz Bay. (only on Thursdays & Sundays. It’s $90/person round trip plus customs fees but soo worth it to do at least once. Ferry schedule can be found here). Bring as little as possible or a backpack! You won’t want to hold onto much when going through the caves. The beach on the opposite side of Devil’s Bay through The Baths is absolutely breathtaking.
-Venture to the Coral Bay side of the island and get smoothies at Colombo’s Smoothies (plus they put in free rum if you want it)!!!!
-Horseback trail rides with Carolina Corral
-Go hiking to the Annaberg Sugar Plantation Ruins (more info here)
A day trip with Singing Dog Sailing to Sandy Cay & Sandy Spit is a must. Read more about it here.
Soggy Dollar Bar in Jost Van Dyke
The Baths of Virgin Gorda
The beautiful beach once you get through the Baths!
The Baths of Virgin Gorda
The Baths of Virgin Gorda
GOOD TO KNOW ABOUT ST. JOHN:
-Cell service is terrible and wifi is really spotty throughout the entire island so if you’re someone who plans on working a little bit while you’re there, you should make other plans! Besides, it’s nice to unwind and that’s the whole reason you’re going on vacation 🙂
-The locals are SO nice! Don’t be afraid to chat them up, and don’t be alarmed if they talk to you. One of the locals I met told us all about when he used to work in Cambridge, MA (basically Boston) and on Nantucket!
-Food in grocery stores is about 3x what you pay in the United States because of the cost to get it to the island.
-Gas is also more expensive so don’t be shocked when you see it at almost a whole dollar more than the continental U.S.
-The roads can be very windy and steep, and you drive on the opposite side of the road in St. John (but the steering wheel is still on the same side). Because of this, there are many blind turns and hills. If you’re not an experienced driver who would feel comfortable driving, make sure to stay in an area where there are adequate cabs (Cruz Bay, Great Cruz Bay, Chocolate Hole, Rendezvous, Hart, etc.)
-Dress is very casual! If you’re wearing pumps you will definitely stand out (and save yourself the space and just leave them at home, ladies!)
-That being said, it is definitely frowned upon by locals to wear only a bathing suit around town or in establishments. Pack your cover ups!
-Book your villa early (a year in advance would not be frowned upon) if you’re going that route! They fill up very quickly!
-I definitely recommend wearing bug spray if you’re staying in an area close to the water.
I mean, how does this not make you smile?! 🙂