Looking for tips for one of the most beautiful places to visit this year? This is a guide to the best things to do in St. John and reasons why you should visit (and what to do when there)!
The stunning island of St. John in the US Virgin Islands is one of the main three islands along with St. Croix and St. Thomas. It is known for its picture-perfect beaches with crystal blue water and white sandy beaches.
The island’s history is somewhat mysterious, with artifacts and petroglyphs from ancient people hidden amongst the valleys and rock pools. In the small settlements on the island, the atmosphere is jovial and there is no shortage of bars and restaurants where you can enjoy the Caribbean way of life.
This perfect mixture makes Saint John one of the best islands to visit in the US Virgin Islands. This guide will take you through what to do on St. John – from the best beaches to where to drink a refreshing craft beer. Click here if you’re looking for the best things to do in St. Thomas instead.
These are my top favorite things to do in St. John, If you have any other recommendations please leave a comment below.
Best Things to Do in St. John
1. Virgin Islands National Park
The main attraction on the island is Virgin Islands National Park, an underrated national park that encompasses two-thirds of the island as well as a vast section of the surrounding water.
Within the park, there are numerous historical sites including ancient petroglyphs and the ruins of the plantations that were once commonplace throughout the island.
Along with the fascinating historical sites, the park is crammed full of gorgeous beaches and epic hiking trails. The national park service maintains the trails and beaches throughout the park keeping them clean and accessible for all visitors.
Virgin Islands National Park also hosts several ranger-led programs, including guided hikes, bird watching, and various other options. The park is free to enter, although there are some areas such as Trunk Bay that charge a small fee to enter.
I have listed most of the best individual things to do within the park in the points below. This is one of the least visited national parks in the United States.
2. Trunk Bay
Trunk Bay is one of the most popular beaches on the island due to its picturesque beauty and crystal clear water. The beach consists of fine white sands, backed by dense green foliage, making the beach feel like one you would find on a remote desert island.
Under the impossibly blue waters, there are magnificent coral reefs and numerous species of aquatic animals, including the Leatherback Turtle which gave the area its name.
Along the beach, there are a number of things to do with plenty of people renting out kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and various other equipment, allowing you to venture out further into the water and circumnavigate the rocky outcrops that sit just off of the shore.
For those keen on snorkeling, there is an underwater snorkeling trail that takes you through the coral reef, with various informative signs detailing what you are seeing.
Trunk Bay is located on the northern shore of the island, and due to its beauty, is a very popular spot during the high season, with a daily influx of cruise ship guests choosing to spend the day there. To maintain the natural beauty, there is a small fee to visit the beach.
If you’re not staying on St. John, don’t worry! You can take one of these excursions from St. Thomas and get to see Trunk Bay and other sights on the island!
3. Maho Bay
While there is no shortage of beautiful beaches on St. John, Maho Bay Beach offers visitors some of the best snorkeling on the island. While the beach is beautiful, it is important to note that many pictures online of the beach are from before Hurricane Maria caused a lot of damage in 2017.
Its natural underwater treasures are the biggest draw. The waters are home to three species of turtle; the Loggerhead, Leatherback, and the endangered Green Turtle.
Along with turtles, there are several species of fish and rays that visit the warm waters, although there is less coral here than on other beaches on the island.
If snorkeling is not your jam, there is a kayak rental available on the beach, with the tranquil clear waters providing a window to view the underwater world beneath. The beach can be reached by car and there is parking available just a short walk from the beach.
Maho Bay is not as popular as Trunk Bay so it is good for escaping some of the high season crowds.
4. Petroglyphs in Reef Bay Valley
In Reef Bay Valley, you will find one of the island’s rarest sites, ancient petroglyphs that possibly belong to Taino people that inhabited the island before European Settlers.
Carved over 1000 years ago, it is unknown what purpose they served, although it was most likely a religious area where people connected with their ancestors on a spiritual level.
Curiously, the carvings are mostly found carved into rocks just above pools of water which perfectly reflects the drawings. Along with the enthralling history, the petroglyphs are in one of the most beautiful areas on the island with a waterfall cascading down into the valley and plenty of green foliage to emphasize the tropical setting.
The valley is also home to some of the island’s oldest and tallest trees which create a nice shaded canopy to escape the Caribbean heat. The Reef Bay Valley petroglyphs are located close to the end of the Reef Bay hiking trail.
The hiking trail begins at Centerline Road, where you will also find some parking.
At 4.4 miles long, the hiking trail in St. John is of moderate difficulty. The return journey is a little more difficult as you will need to ascend for 2 miles to return to the trailhead.
The National Parks Service offers a guided hike which includes transportation to the trailhead and a boat back to Cruz Bay (perfect for those not wanting to attempt the more challenging return hike).
5. Cinnamon Bay Beach
Cinnamon Bay Beach is the longest beach on the island, which helps dissipate the crowds and offers a more peaceful experience during the high season.
The waters are calm and warm, perfect for snorkeling. It is likely that you will see a turtle or two and plenty of fish as you explore beneath the waves. However, one of the more curious animals to visit the beach is the island’s deer population.
Emerging from the forests in the early morning and late afternoon it is not uncommon to see the deer enjoying their time on the perfect white sandy beach.
For the best chance to see the deer, I recommend spending a night at the beach’s campsite where you will be able to reach the beach in the early hours to witness these beautiful creatures enjoying the peace before human activity ramps up and the sun becomes too hot.
To the west of the beach is Little Cinnamon Beach, a secluded little beach that can be reached by a slightly challenging hike that is well worth the reward.
Just off of the coast of Little Cinnamon Beach is the wreckage of a plane that can easily be snorkeled to. Reaching Cinnamon Bay Beach is easily done by car, once there you will find a number of amenities from food and drink to water sports rentals.
6. Annaberg Sugar Plantation Ruins
Annaberg Sugar Plantation provides a glimpse into a darker time in the Virgin Islands history when the sugar cane industry dominated the island and enslaved people were forced to care for the crops.
There are a number of plantation ruins scattered across the islands but none quite as well preserved as the Annaberg Sugar Plantation.
Located on the western edge of the island, the ruins are well-maintained, with informational signs dotted around telling the history of the plantation and buildings.
There are also the remains of rudimental houses built for the enslaved people, which provide a bleak and harrowing depiction of the arduous life forced upon them.
The ruins can be reached by car, with a parking lot a short and easy walk from the plantation. Take time to explore the area and hiking trails that lead away from the plantation as you will be greeted by some of the most spectacular views on the island.
Some of the island tours will also make a stop at the Annaberg Sugar Plantation Ruins. I recommend taking the St. John Island and Trunk Bay Beach Tour, where you will get to spend an hour visiting and learning about the history of the plantation, before heading to some of the island’s beautiful beaches.
7. Elaine Lone Sprauve Library and Museum
The Elaine Lone Sprauve Library and Museum is one of the oldest buildings on the island and home to a library and museum documenting the island’s history.
Architecturally, the building stands out, with its bright yellow facade accented by white detailing. The house was built in the 18th-century, passing through many owners before finding itself abandoned until the late 1970s when it was restored to its former glory and opened to the public.
While the museum itself is small, fascinating paintings and pictures provide a great insight into life on the island and how it came to be as it is today.
The library is also very interesting, saving a number of records and newspapers from throughout the history of the island and the wider Caribbean. The building is free to enter and can be fully explored within a couple of hours.
Address: Southside Road, Enighed, St. John, Virgin Islands
8. Reef Bay Sugar Factory
At the very end of the Reef Bay Trail are the remains of a sugar factory built at the start of the 19th-century. Unlike many of the other buildings related to the sugar plantations on the islands, the factory has survived remarkably well and was in use up until the early 20th-century.
The St. John attraction is now managed by the national parks service and there are a number of signs that guide you through the buildings explaining their functions and the history of the landmark.
Within the main factory building, some of the original machines that would have been used during sugar production are still housed. There are also other buildings and dwellings scattered around, but sadly some of these have not fared as well as the main factory building.
The factory can only be reached by completing the Reef Bay Trail, the walk to the factory is much easier and passes by the petroglyphs.
However, the route back can be a little more challenging with lengthy inclines. To avoid having to hike back, you can join a guided tour offered by the National Park Services, where a boat will return you to Cruz Bay after completing the hike to the Reef Bay Sugar Factory.
9. Honeymoon Beach
Spend a day at Honeymoon Beach, one of the island’s most idyllic and beautiful beaches. Despite its close proximity to Cruz Bay, the beach feels a little more secluded and can only be reached by a 1-mile long hike on the Lind Point Trail.
The St. John beach is now home to some of the few remaining leaning palms that were once commonplace throughout all the beaches until being destroyed by Hurricane Maria.
The beach also has its own amenities, including rental stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, and deck chairs. If you get hungry or thirsty, make sure you check out Bikinis on the Beach Bar & Grill for some island cocktails and great seasonal food.
If you are planning to rent out equipment, I recommend purchasing the Honeymoon beach day pass. The day pass will give you unlimited rentals of stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, and beach furniture as well as access to amenities such as locks, restrooms, and showers.
10. St. John Brewers
Craft beer has become a staple across much of the continental US and its reach has made it to the islands. St. John Brewers is an awesome little craft brewery that has been supplying the islands with thirst-quenching beers for over two decades.
They offer a great range of beers that play with the tropical flavors that are so abundant on the island. The brewery has its own taproom, where you can find a rotating selection of its beers including its core range and more seasonal small batch options.
I tend to opt for a fruity IPA such as the Juicy Booty Hazy IPA or a more sour beer. Along with a great offering of beers the taproom has a classic pub menu, perfect for soaking up any alcohol consumed that day. Visiting is one of the best things to do in St. John for craft beer lovers.
Along with alcoholic drinks, St. John Brewers makes their own sodas. Ginger beer and root beers are perfect nonalcoholic substitutes. For those looking for a little more of an energy kick the brewery even produces their own energy drink called the Green Flash.
Address: 2nd Flr, Mongoose Junction Cruz Bay, St. John
11. Lime Out Taco Boat
There are few meals in this world better than tacos, and where better to each delicious tacos than when floating in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean.
Situated in the middle of Hansen Bay, the lime green taco boat is one of the best and most novel places to eat on the island. It is only accessible by boat and aims to offer a fun and relaxing dining experience.
The tacos can be enjoyed on your own vessel, a provided float, or at the bar attached to the side of the floating pontoon including underwater seats that help you stay afloat while you eat.
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Lime Out offers eight different types of tacos, with an option to suit various tastes and dietary needs. They also serve a great range of cocktails and draft beers to help wash down the tacos.
Reaching Lime Out can only be done by boat, stand-up paddleboard, or kayak. Once in the vicinity of the bar, it is ok to swim around Lime Out, but swimming across the harbor channels is not allowed.
When anchoring your boat, be sure not to drop anchor on coral or seagrass, which could cause irreversible damage to the ecosystem below.
There are a number of tours that offer the chance to have lunch at the Taco Boat, a perfect way to visit the boat for those who do not wish to rent a vessel to get there. I recommend taking the St. John Lime Out Snorkel with Floating Taco Bar Lunch & Swim-Up Bar tour, where you will get to enjoy a morning of snorkeling before heading to Lime Out for some delicious tacos and cocktails.
12. Hike Ram Head Trail
When you imagine St. John, you probably solely think of tranquil white sandy beaches where the vibrant sea gently laps. However, hidden along the southeastern coast is a more rugged side to the island.
Ram Head Trail is the best way to explore the wilder side of things. The 2.3-mile trail leads you round to a rocky head passing through some of the island’s more unique landscapes.
The trail starts at Salt Pond Bay, where on one side you have a gorgeous bay where the inviting crystal clear waters will do their best to entice you in. On the other side of the beach is the Salt Pond, which could not more the polar opposite of the bay.
The swampy water may not be as appealing for swimming, but it is important for the island’s ecosystem. As you work your way along you will encounter rocky beaches unlike any other on the island. The waves seem to crash more violently on these beaches with ocean waters rolling in from the Atlantic Ocean in the distance.
The final part of the hike is through a path lined by cacti up to the top of Ram’s head. From the top, you will be able to enjoy incredible vistas of the island and out across the sea to beautiful Saint Croix.
Parking is available at Salt Pond Bay, and the trail takes a few hours to complete. I recommend starting earlier in the day when the weather is cooler and the crowds are yet to arrive. Given the rugged terrain hiking shoes and sensible attire are recommended.
Where to Stay in St. John
If you’re visiting St. John, it may likely be by cruise ship. But, if you’re looking for accommodation options, here are some of the top-rated places to stay in St. John.
- Estate Lindholm (4-star lodging in the national park)
- Gallows Point Resort (4-star luxury living)
- Coconut Coast Villas (outdoor pool!)
- St. John Inn (3-star less than 3 miles from Honeymoon Bay Beach)
Are there landmarks in St. John that we missed? What are your top things to do in St. John? Let us know in the comments below! Thanks!
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