One Week on St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

One Week on St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

White sand beaches, turquoise water, swaying palms, and a national park – St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands has all this and more.  We spent one week on St. John basking in its tropical glory and exploring all corners of the island (and beyond!)  In this guide, we share all there is to see and do, plus several restaurants we tried, to help you plan a fabulous trip to this beautiful Caribbean Island.

About St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

St. John is one of three U.S. Virgin Islands, with the other two being St. Thomas and St. Croix.  Located in the Lesser Antilles group of islands in the Caribbean Sea, St. John experiences a tropical climate.  The island is mostly a desert island with scrub bushes, cacti, and palm trees.  The topography is beautiful with rolling hills, making the Virgin Islands some of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean.

Historically, the Virgin Islands were “discovered” by Christopher Columbus in 1493, although the islands had been inhabited for over 3,000 years.  Over the years, the Dutch and English settled the islands, with the English taking over what is now the British Virgin Islands and the Dutch what is now the U.S. Virgin Islands.  The U.S. purchased the islands from the Dutch in 1917.  

Sugar cane plantations were a big industry on the islands, beginning in the 1700s with slave labor working the plantations.  In 1834, the English freed their slaves.  The Dutch followed suit ending their slave labor in 1848.  Interest in sugar plantations began to decline  and over time the plantations fell into disrepair.  Today, you can still see the ruins of many of these sugar plantations across the island of St. John.

Where we stayed

We stayed at the only big resort on the island of St. John, The Westin.  Located minutes from Cruz Bay, the Westin is pretty much the only game in town.  We have mixed feelings about the Westin.  Although features such as an on-site fitness center, deli, and in-room kitchenette and washer and dryer make it a great place to stay, especially for families, the beach isn’t that great and the on-site restaurant, Snorkels, is one of the worst dining experiences we had.  That means if you want to dine out you need to leave the resort.

The Westin Resort

There are always open-air taxis waiting to take guests from the resort to where they need to go around St. John.  And to return, they are plentiful around town and easy to find to get a ride back.  So, if you are not renting a vehicle, having the taxis at your beck and call is very convenient.

The resort had a major hit from Hurricane Irma in 2017.  It has been rebuilt, however could still use a little TLC in some areas.

Overall, we enjoyed our stay here.  With being the only resort on St. John, you don’t have any other options if looking for a resort stay.

When we went

Spring Break 2024.  The weather was perfect with temperatures in the 70s-80s and a slight breeze.  We had sunny days for the most part, except for one brief rainfall.

How to Plan Your Time:  One Week on St. John

Arrival and Getting Around

Arriving at the Airport

St. John does not haven an airport nor cruise ship port, so you will arrive in St. Thomas (airport code STT).  You will then take a ferry over to St. John (see below).

Getting Around

Do you want your own wheels to explore St. John at your leisure?  If so, there are a couple of ways to secure a vehicle:

1.) Rent on St. Thomas and take the car ferry over.  You will secure your vehicle at the airport and drive to the Red Hook ferry dock.  Red Hook is the only car ferry dock running from St. Thomas to Cruz Bay, St. John.  

2.) Rent on St. John.  If you rent your vehicle on St. John, you can take a passenger ferry over from St. Thomas.  These passenger ferries run much more frequently than the car ferry.  You then have two options of passenger ferries:  Charlotte Amalie, which is closer to the airport, but a longer ferry ride.  You will need to take a short taxi ride to the Charlotte Amalie ferry dock from the airport.  The second option is at Red Hook.  Red Hook is further from the airport, so expect a 30 minute taxi ride.  However, the ferry ride over is shorter between Red Hook, St. Thomas and Cruz Bay, St. John.

One of the car ferries

There are several car rental companies on St. John and the Westin even has an on-site rental affiliation.  The majority of these rentals are Jeeps, which works if you are traveling with 5 people or less.  

PRO TRAVEL TIP:  Do not pre-purchase your car ferry ticket.  You will catch whatever ferry is next and the ferry companies do not honor one another’s tickets.  You just pay once on board.  I also recommend purchasing just a one-way ticket as, again, you don’t know what ferry company you’ll end up on on the return trip back to St. Thomas.

WHAT WE DID

We rented a car on St. Thomas at the airport as we needed a larger vehicle.  When we booked our car, there weren’t any larger vehicles available on St. John, so that left us renting from Hertz at the St. Thomas Airport.  If we were to do it again, we would try to rent on St. John and have the flexibility of passenger ferries taking us over.  We had a long wait to get on the car ferry as many flights come in at the same time, which means many cars are trying to also get on the car ferry to St. John.

You also can do without a car.  You might not be able to explore the far reaches of St. John, but if you’re looking to hit the most popular beaches and dine in Cruz Bay then you will easily be able to get around via taxi.  Even though we had our own wheels, we still opted to take the taxi a few times, as parking could be tricky.

Parking

If you need to park in Cruz Bay, where the majority of restaurants are, we recommend Slim Man’s Parking.  We parked here frequently and the owner does a great job of trying to make room for your vehicle.  We also parked at the Terrace, a very steep incline up to a small parking area.  Just note that parking in Cruz Bay is very limited and tough to find, especially during the evening.  Give yourself plenty of time to find parking before any dining reservations.

DAY 1

Arrival Day!  Your flight will arrive on St. Thomas and then you will take a ferry over to St. John, arriving in Cruz Bay.  

On arrival day, we took the car ferry over and then drove to the Westin Resort.  We settled into our room at the Westin and then headed down to have dinner at Snorkels, the on-site restaurant at the resort.  I would not recommend.  The service was extremely slow and the food was just mediocre.  After ordering, we were told multiple items were not available only to have them actually brought out a long time later.  We were dining with friends and they waited an extra 40 minutes for their food while the rest of us had ours.  When talking with locals over the course of our week on St. John, they all said the same thing, “Do not dine at the Westin!”  Noted! 

With the not-so-great dining experience behind us, we headed to Dolphin Market, a small grocery store within walking distance from the Westin.  They had a surprisingly good selection of items, although a bit limited on produce.  We secured what we needed for the first few days.

DAY 2

On Today’s Agenda:

  • Full Day Boat Tour
  • Lunch at Lovango Beach Club
  • Dinner at Dave & Jerry’s

We hit the ground running, with a full-day boat trip on our first full day on St. John.  It was a blast and a great way to get a lay of the land…or island.  The trip was through Cruz Bay Watersports.  We arrived at Cruz Bay Watersports in Cruz Bay to check in and then boarded our boat for the day.

Boating around St. John for the day

Our captain asked us what we wanted to see and do.  Snorkeling, sightseeing, and swimming were top of the list.  And he delivered!  

He took us all around the island, pointing out the beaches and sharing great commentary as we passed various sites.  We anchored at Caneel Beach, site of the old favorite, Caneel Bay Resort.  This was one of the most popular places to stay on St. John until Hurricane Irma decimated it in 2017.  Since then it has not been rebuilt.  Currently, the owner is in negotiations with the National Park Service to hopefully come up with a solution for this much loved property.

The current state of Caneel Bay Resort

We loved snorkeling here!  We saw stingray and sea turtles.  The beach is beautiful as well.

Caneel Bay Beach

We stopped at a few other snorkeling spots, spotting fish and lots of sea turtle.  One of the more memorable spots was right by Little St. James Island, also known as “Epstein Island”.  Thankfully, Little St. James, along with Great St. James, have been purchased with plans to develop them.

Snorkeling at Little St. James Island | St. John

Lunch was at Lovango Resort & Beach Club, a private island resort.  Our captain dropped us off at the dock and we wandered the outdoor shops and had a delicious lunch.  Lovango is a beautiful place with great views.

Lovango Resort & Beach Club | St. John

On our last stop we anchored just off shore from Reef Bay Beach.  We jumped into the water and walked up onto the beach to check out the old Reef Bay Sugar Mill.  

The beach and path to Reef Bay Sugar Mill

The ruins were neat to check out, with overgrown greenery taking over this once productive sugar mill.  After exploring, we walked back into the water and boarded the boat.

Reef Bay Sugar Mill

After a full day on the water, swimming, snorkeling, and getting lots of great information on St. John and the surrounding islands, it was time to call it a day, and what a great day it was!

DINNER:  Dinner tonight was at Dave & Jerry’s steakhouse.  We didn’t have a reservation but they squeezed us in at the bar.  It ended up being one of our more memorable meals!  The food was amazing and the service was great.  We had a local saddle up to the bar and give us a long list of places to dine.  I took notes and we referenced it for the rest of the week.  We also learned to always make reservations for dinner on St. John!  It is funny how sometimes when you don’t make plans, the best plans just work themselves out.  This is how we felt after our fabulous dinner at Dave & Jerry’s.

DAY 3

On Today’s Agenda:

  • Easter Brunch at The Banana Deck
  • Cinnamon Bay Trail & Beach
  • The Windmill Bar

BRUNCH:  We started off our day with a delicious brunch at the Banana Deck.  Located in Cruz Bay, the restaurant features multi-level decks overlooking the water.  

After our relaxing brunch, it was time for a hike!  St. John has several hiking trails and we took the advice of our boat captain and hiked Cinnamon Bay Trail. This is the only trail where the hike begins at the beach, the trail goes goes up, and then you come back down to the beach.  Nothing is better than a dip in the ocean after a hike!

This was the one day where we experienced rain, but we decided to go for it anyway, hoping the rain would cease.  We took a taxi to Cinnamon Bay Beach, which also houses the only campground on the island. 

Cinnamon Bay

When we got dropped off it was still pouring rain so we waited for about 15 minutes, hoping it would pass.  The rain finally slowed and we then headed out onto the trail.  It was wet and a little muddy but we soon had sunny skies.  It was humid because of the rain, but we had the trail almost to ourselves!

Cinnamon Bay Trail is a 1.9 mile out and back.  It is noted to be “moderately strenuous” as it is a steady incline the whole way up. 

The trail

At the fork, you can continue on the Cinnamon Bay Trail or detour up to see the ruins at American Ruins. 

The whole group minus my friend and I continued on Cinnamon Bay Trail.  We took the trail to see American Ruins.  Once we reached the top, we had the ruins to ourselves!  Overgrown and perched on the edge of a cliff, the views were incredible.  The scene felt like something out of a movie.

Beautiful views at the top

We hiked down to Cinnamon Bay Beach and jumped right in the water!  There were big waves due to the earlier rain churning up the sea, but we had a great time rolling in them. 

Cinnamon Bay Beach

After a bit of time here, we cleaned up in the outdoor showers and then caught a taxi and headed to…The Windmill Bar!  

The Windmill

The Windmill is a popular spot to watch the sunset.  Perched high in the hills, grab a table near the railing for the best views. 

The Windmill at sunset

Live music and Painkillers (a delicious rum-based drink) round out your time here.   At the advice of a local, we tried both the banana and vanilla painkillers, which are on the secret menu.  They were both delicious!  And the views were amazing. 

DAY 4

On Today’s Agenda:

  • Ferry to St. Thomas
  • Skyride to Paradise Point
  • Explore More of St. Thomas
  • Dinner at The Refinery

In the morning, we took the ferry over to St. Thomas as someone in our party was flying out today.  After getting them off to the airport, we spent the morning riding the Skyride to Paradise Point to get incredible views of Charlotte Amalie below.

While here, we had lunch, which was mediocre.  We did enjoy their claim-to-fame drink, however, the Bailey’s Bushwacker.  The drink was frozen chocolately goodness complete with a cherry on top.  

The delicious Bailey’s Bushwacker

To ride the gondola up to Paradise Point, secure your tickets at the ticket booth.  You are then directed to the gondola and will ride up to the top, taking in incredible views of Charlotte Amalie along the way.  

Riding the gondola up to Paradise Point

Once up, you can explore at your leisure, with food and drinks from the bar, a few shops, and of course taking in the panoramic views.

View from Paradise Point

We headed back to the ferry to ride back to St. John, spending the afternoon back at our resort relaxing poolside.  However, if you want to explore more of St. Thomas before heading back to St. John, there are some great things to do.  Magen’s Bay, located on the north end of St. Thomas, it is frequently recognized for its beauty.  Magen’s Bay is a tropical beach paradise with it’s gorgeous beach and views, native trees, and amenities. 

Braden and Ava at Magen’s Bay many years ago

Either before or after your time at Magen’s Bay, stop at Drake’s Seat, a lookout with panoramic views of Magen’s Bay and beyond.

DINNER:  Tonight we dined at The Refinery.  We had a table right on the sidewalk where we got to people watch during our meal.  The food here is Caribbean tapas, which was unique and delicious.  We all picked a few items from the menu and shared among the table.  We highly recommend dining at The Refinery.

DAY 5

On Today’s Agenda:

  • Trunk Bay
  • Dinner at The Longboard

Trunk Bay is often noted as being one of the world’s most beautiful beaches.  With its beautiful cove, large white sand beach, and clear, turquoise water, it’s no surprise.  

Trunk Bay

Due to its rankings as top in the world, it is very popular.  The parking lot is very small and the beach can get crowded, especially if it is a cruise ship day.  Mike waited for a long time for a parking spot to open up to no avail.  He ended up backtracking and parking down the road a bit and waited for a taxi to come by.  If you self-drive to Trunk Bay, try to get there early.  Otherwise, this might be one to take a taxi to.

Trunk Bay features amenities on site such as bathrooms, showers, a bar and small walk-up restaurant serving fare such as sandwiches and wraps.  

NOTE:  Trunk Bay beach is the only beach on St. John that charges an admission fee.  As of 2024, the cost is $5 per person. ages 16 and up.

Trunk Bay also features a snorkel trail as part of the U.S. National Park system.  The interpretive sign on the path to the beach shows the snorkel path. 

The sign showing the snorkel trail

Enter the beach at the far eastern side, in front of Trunk Cay.  While snorkeling, we saw some colorful fish and the underwater signs, which have recently been updated to share about the fragility of the reefs and ecosystem.  The beach was so awesome it was hard to leave!  We showered up and then headed to another spot in Cruz Bay for dinner tonight.

DINNER:  Tonight we dined at The Longboard, an elevated Caribbean restaurant.  It is a small venue and when we dined we were in the direct sun, so it was a bit hot!  However, the food was great!

DAY 6

On Today’s Agenda:

  • Lookouts along North Shore Road
  • Annaberg Sugar Plantation
  • Lunch at Miss Lucy’s in Coral Bay
  • Dinner at Morgan’s Mango

Today was all about exploring the rest of St. John.  We had been to two of the most popular beaches (Cinnamon Bay Beach and Trunk Bay), explored by boat, hiked, and spent a lot of time in Cruz Bay.  Even though St. John is small, there was a whole other side of the island to explore.

During our drives the previous days to the beaches, we had passed amazing overlooks with views of the beaches and islands beyond.  Today, we finally stopped at the overlooks and took in the views.

Looking out over Cruz Bay

Caneel Bay – you can see the devastation from Hurricane Irma

Maho Bay

Trunk Bay

Next up was the Annaberg Sugar Plantation, one of the biggest sugar plantations on St. John.  Annaberg produced sugar, molasses, and rum in its heyday.  Today you can see the intact windmill tower, various buildings, and site of the slave quarters. 

Annaberg Sugar Plantation

The views overlooking Annaberg Beach are gorgeous as well.

Annaberg Sugar Plantation overlooks Annaberg Beach

LUNCH:  Lunch was at Miss Lucy’s, a popular stop on this eastern side of the island.  To be honest, we didn’t get the hype.  They were out of several items and what we ended up getting was fine, nothing special.  The views are really nice, however, as you are sitting right on the water.  

Miss Lucy’s

From here, we turned around and headed back to Cruz Bay.  We made a pit stop at Sips, a coffee and wine shop.  It is a great place to get a coffee beverage.  We really liked our espresso martinis to go! 

Sips, a great place for a coffee or an espresso martini

DINNER:  Morgan’s Mango is one of the most popular restaurants on St. John.  It is a fine dining restaurant in an open-air setting and reservations are a must!  We were luckily able to snag a spot for one of their two seatings.

Morgan’s Mango

From the fish to steak to dessert, everything was incredible.  We recommend trying the key lime pie:  a well balanced key lime cheesecake with white chocolate mousse topping – delish!

DAY 7

On Today’s Agenda:

  • Day Trip to Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands
  • Lunch at Top of the Baths
  • Dinner at Lime Inn Tacos

How about a day trip to the British Virgin Islands?!  The BVIs are next door neighbors to the USVIs, so a day trip here is relatively easy.  When researching which island to visit, I fell in love with Virgin Gorda and The Baths Beach.  Massive boulders tumble down to the sea with many strewn around the hills in various locations.  This island is about 30 miles from St. John, so we had about a one hour ferry ride there.

Here is the link to our full article on our day trip from St. John to Virgin Gorda.

After getting a passport stamp from customs and immigration, we were free to explore.  We caught a taxi to the Top of the Baths.  This is the starting point for visiting The Baths Beach and it has an on-site restaurant, shop, and bar as well as a pool in the middle of the restaurant!  

View from the Top of the Baths

After a leisurely lunch, we then walked the path down to the beach.  The path is sandy and takes you in between the massive boulders.  It took us less than ten minutes to get down to the beach.

The path to The Baths beach

The beach is incredible!  These boulders sit in the water creating pools in between them (or “baths”). 

It was a bit crowded when we first got down there due to cruise ships being in port that day.  But once they all departed, this beach felt like a magical place.

The incredible Baths beach

DINNER:  On this last night, we stopped at The Lime Inn, a sister restaurant to the popular Lime Out.  Lime Out is located in Coral Bay, on the far eastern side of St. John.  You arrive by boat (no swimming up!) and eat your tacos on floating rafts in the water.  We didn’t have time to make it to Lime Out so Lime Inn was our next choice.  We had a yummy margarita at the bar while waiting for our take out order to take back to the resort.  The tacos were fantastic!

St. John, USVI is a wonderful island to visit.  Not only is a large portion of the island part of the U.S. National Park system, but some of the world’s most beautiful beaches are on St. John.  You have many excellent restaurants here and can island hop, to the BVIs or St. Thomas and St. Croix, the other USVIs.  St. John is a special place and one of our favorite Caribbean islands we have visited.

Read more!

We have a guide on visiting the British Virgin Islands as a day trip from St. John:  Day Trip to the British Virgin Islands from St. John.

For more guides on Caribbean islands, check out Starfish, Stingrays, Sand, and Sea:  Beach Time in Grand Cayman as well as our review of the Beaches Resort, Turks & Caicos.  

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