St. John USVI Ultimate Travel Guide
Here is our Ultimate Guide to a trip to St. John (with or without children).
Top 3 Reasons to Visit St. John:
- Beaches: you can access ALL major beaches – they aren’t “controlled” by large resorts (which is how many Caribbean islands beaches sadly are).
- Beaches: ~60% of the island is a National Park, meaning commercial & residential development on the majority of the island & beaches is minimal… you get to truly experience island beaches in their “natural” state!
- Beaches: fabulous sea life & snorkeling here, right off of the beaches!
Here are my top tips – if you would like to know more, don’t hesitate to comment here or send me a DM!
Getting around: Rent a wrangler; you’re going to want to explore the island / beach hop and 4wd is a must on the island. We learned from our rental agent, to rent a Wrangler on St. Thomas (where your flight lands) and take a ferry over to St. John. Our rental from Amalie Car Rental was FAB! Brand new yellow wrangler, with working a/c. The best part: They PICK YOU UP at the airport & meet you at departures at the end of your trip. The jeeps on St. John are pieces of crap to be honest and you’ll pay the same rates.
- Where to stay: If you want a quieter island experience, I recommend staying in Coral Bay. There are affordable rentals, fabulous views and you are VERY close to excellent beaches. Pay attention to your location in Coral Bay though because it will make a difference in how long it takes you to get to each beach. Our villa was in an excellent location, we were at Maho Bay
- We had a wonderful experience with St. John Ultimate Villas and worked with Kristen there; she was incredibly helpful & accommodating! Our Villa was Lakohely and it was perfect for a family of 4.
- I’d highly recommend staying somewhere with a pool. It gets SO hot on the island and if you’re away from the beach, you’ll want to be poolside.
- What to do: go to a world class beach everyday, snorkel, get a tan, swim in the pool at your villa; try somewhere local for dinner than repeat. If you’re looking for an activity filled vacation…this may not be the place for you. It truly is all about the beaches here.
- When British Virgin Islands are open (they weren’t for our last trip), it would definitely be awesome to take a boat over to Jost van Dyke or Virgin Gorda!
- Beach Overview & what to expect at each one:
- A wonderful thing about St. John beaches…very mild waves. They are so kid friendly! There are also restroom facilities at every beach. Be prepared to get into your car still sandy ha! There are not water / spray-down stations like you have at FL beaches.
- Hands-down favorite, Maho Bay: You park on the side of the road, walk across the road, you’re at the beach. It’s truly inconceivable that this is a real place but it is! We got to swim with the sea turtles here, every time we went. Very special.
- Right next to Maho, is Francis Bay: which is also a turtle nesting beach! You can take a quick walk on the trail (warning, it goes by sulphur “lake” and is stinky). This is a super similar beach and was usually less crowded than Maho.
- Further around the bend is: Leinster Bay; this is a fantastic place to snorkel but it isn’t as soft/sandy beach it is more rocky/little shells. Definitely wear your water shoes. It is a pretty far walk from where you park, to where the beach is. I wouldn’t recommend taking kiddos. We did it and they complained most of the time LOL.
- Cinnamon Bay was new to us this trip and quickly became favorite because it is one of the longest beaches and has views for days 😉
- Don’t miss Oppenheimer’s / Gibney Beach…only 4 cars can park by this “almost” private beach. You enter through the black gates, go down the drive and voila! You’re there. It is gorgeous but a very short beach. If you’re traveling as a couple…highly recommend booking 1 of the 2 cottages on the beach there. Cory & I can’t wait to go back and stay there 🙂 the Garden Villa does permit up to 2 children, so maybe we’ll take the boys!
- Trunk Bay is a must visit. GORGEOUS and wonderful snorkeling. They even have an underwater trail.
- Hawksnest Bay has the BEST snorkeling only 20’ or so off of the beach. It was really incredible to see so much coral and variety of sea life.
- What to Bring:
- If you are planning to cook some / prepare meals for the beach, I would either pack or pre-ship any dry grocery items that aren’t too heavy/will hold up in transport. While there are grocery stores on the island, it can be very expensive (I.e. Can of Pringles = $5 or small jar of Peanut Butter = $8). We primarily shopped at: Dolphin Market in Coral Bay and if we were in Cruz Bay, we also went to: Starfish Market.
- It’s very easy and inexpensive to rent snorkel gear on the island. We’ve rented from: both trips. Super friendly people!
- Clear bottom inflatable boat & air pump – if you have a little person who doesn’t like to snorkel, don’t miss out on the fun because of them! LOL! We learned our lesson last year in Turks & Caicos…this year we brought this boat with us, so all 4 of us could go out in the ocean and explore.
- Where to Eat: many restaurants were closed due to COVID when we went. Be prepared for higher than average prices, it’s the island mon! Also, you would expect amazing seafood to be in abundance here…it’s really not! So don’t be afraid to order a burger or chicken 😉 We did eat at home quite a bit which was fine! Here are a few recos:
- At the Beaches:
- I would definitely pack drinks & food for the day anywhere you go. Only Maho Bay has some vending; the rest have still been closed due to Hurricane damage.
- Coral Bay:
- Skinny Legs is a must! Fab atmosphere; they usually have live music. Delicious burgers & of course, cold beer.
- Miss Lucy’s – best conch fritters I’ve ever had!
- Rhumb Lines – this lovely restaurant used to be Indigo Cafe; it has beautiful patio; a little more on the “fine dining” side but was still kid friendly.
- Aqua Bistro was closed this visit but is now open again! It is FAB!
- If you have a boat, go to Lime Out! It is a floating taqueria in Coral Bay!
- Salty Mongoose Pizza & Rum Bar wasn’t open when we were there but it looks fun!
- At the Beaches:
Other sites to see:
Annaberg ruins – shares very important history of the island and gorgeous views.
Where to watch the Sunset: Peace Hill! Go a little before sunset so you can see the gorgeous views in full sunlight.
Random things to know:
- You drive on the LEFT side of the road
- There are wild donkeys all around the island – they’re very friendly and so cute.
- There are wild cats everywhere; beware when you’re at a restaurant. If you feed one, they all emerge.
- Midgees or sand fleas…they are really bad close to dusk (afternoon 3/4pm). I wouldn’t be on the sand then, it is painful when they start to attack!
- You need to buy bottled water; do not drink out of the tap. We brought our 2 large Hydroflask water bottles & would refill them everyday.
- I would also bring YETI-type cocktail/wine cups for your beverages, as it is so hot on the beach.
- There are medical centers & clinics on St. John but no hospitals. You would need to go to St. Thomas for hospital.