St John in the US Virgin Islands is one of my favorite islands in the world. It may not be far away, it may not be an intense cultural experience, and it may not be off the beaten path, but it’s got something that many a tropical island does not have.
7000 ACRES OF NATIONAL PARK.
Virgin Islands National Park makes up about 63% of the island, meaning that the majority of the beaches are protected, undeveloped, and untouched. And there are so many amazing beaches, it’s hard to pick just a couple to visit. They are all lush and perfect with their own personalities. That’s why I’ve put together this guide – so that you can pick the right beach. Or two. Or seven. Starting at Cruz Bay, I’ll go clockwise around the island.
Honeymoon Beach/Solomon Beach
Good for: sunbathing, swimming, kayaking, paddleboarding, snorkeling, shade.
Who’s There: low key travelers, Caneel Bay guests, families, couples
Accessibility: If you aren’t staying at the Caneel Bay Resort, you must arrive via the trail. The walk can be a half mile or more, depending on where you start. It’s so worth it! You can even stop off at Lind Point for a panoramic view over the Cruz Bay harbor.
*There’s a watersports/store hidden in the forest behind the beach – Virgin Island Ecotours.
Good for: Swimming, shade. The beach isn’t very wide so it’s not ideal for sunbathing.
Who’s There: Families and groups. It can be lively, depending on the time of day.
Accessibility: It’s the first beach you hit once you enter the National Park from Cruz Bay and it is right off the road. There’s quite a bit of parking in the lot.
Good for: seclusion, swimming, quiet, sunbathing
Who’s There: Denis is often pretty empty. The far end is private property so sometimes the owners of the land will be on the beach.
Accessibility: You have to park at the Peace Hill parking area and hike down to the beach. It’s a short walk through the woods, about 0.2 miles. Don’t miss the sugar mill ruin and the views on the very top of Peace Hill.
Good for: shade, relaxation
Who’s There: it’s tiny, so there aren’t a lot of people there even when it’s crowded.
Accessibility: There is a parking area across the street from the trail. The beach is about 100 yards off the road through the trees.
Good for: sunbathing, swimming, snorkeling, paddleboarding, groups, picnics, drinking, walks.
Who’s There: everyone is there. It’s the most well known beach on the island, so you should come here regardless. It does get super crowded by mid-day, however.
Accessibility: There is a large parking area right off the road. Once you’ve gone through the official entrance (there’s a $7 national park fee – per person), there are showers, bathrooms, a store, and a snack shack (with bar!). Lifeguards are on duty and the underwater snorkel trail is free.
Good for: swimming, sunbathing, paddleboarding, kayaking, windsurfing, groups, beach parties, camping, walks, sand sports.
Who’s There: Cinnamon Bay is long and wide and attracts a LOT of people. There is a campground and restaurant on premises so expect a mix of overnight guests and day visitors. This is a perfect beach for a party. And there are a good amount of people (young and older) doing just that.
Accessibility: There is a large parking area available plus parking along the road. The restaurant is open to everyone, as is the store and the water sports rental shack. The restaurant is not a great budget option however.
Good for: swimming, snorkeling, paddleboarding, kayaking, groups, shade.
Who’s There: Families, quiet couples, small groups by the picnic area. The sand is narrow so it’s not ideal for sunbathing or big groups.
Accessibility: Maho is long and very close to the road. On one end is a parking area in the coconut grove, on the other end is just street-side parking. There are bathrooms and a picnic area on the western end.
Leinster Bay / Waterlemon Cay
Good for: snorkeling, trail hiking.
Who’s There: hikers and snorkelers. This is not a sandy beach.
Accessibility: Park at the Annaberg Plantation parking lot and the trail head can be found at the edge of the rocky beach. The Leinster Bay Trail follows the beach and leads to the opposite end of the bay, about 1km. From the end of the trail, you can either hike up the hill for a view of Coral Bay, or swim out to Waterlemon Cay for some of the islands best snorkeling.
Good for: snorkeling, sunbathing, floating bar, seclusion
Who’s There: low key travelers, locals, groups visiting the floating bar.
Accessibility: Hansen Bay is a haul (it’s out on East End) but it’s definitely something worth traveling for. This beach is also one of the few privately owned beachesin St John so you have to pay a small fee of $2.50 at Vie’s Snack Shack to enter. Vie’s, which is a great place for lunch or a snack, is next to the parking area and across the road from the beach entrance. The Angels Rest floating bar sometimes docks in the middle of the bay and you can swim out for a drink.
*The snorkeling here is great. On both ends of the bay you’ll see some large schools of fish and some interesting coral.
Salt Pond Bay
Good for: snorkeling, seclusion, quiet, hiking.
Who’s There: Concordia Eco-Resort guests, low-key travelers, small groups.
Accessibility: The drive out to Salt Pond Bay may take a while, but it is worth every minute – I promise (Unless you are staying at Concordia Eco-Resort and then you are already there!). Once you park in the lot, you’ll have to hike through some forest before reaching the beach. The sand isn’t the best on the island, but there are high chances you will spot a few sea turtles if you snorkel out by the boats. You can also hike over to the salt pond, but it’s rough over there and not good for swimming.
Good for: boat launches, getting bit by no-see-ums.
Who’s There: people launching boats, people with long sleeves and pants.
Accessibility: There is ample space for multiple trucks to launch boats into the water here, but other than that, there is no need to access Chocolate Hole. I was on the rocky beach for a total of 5 minutes and received 99% of insect bites I got my entire trip to the Virgin Islands. Unless you are staying in one of the houses on the bay, don’t bother.
Have you been to any of these beaches? Which ones were your favorite?
In case you were wondering, my favorites are Honeymoon, Maho, and Salt Pond (for the snorkeling).
* Here is the USVI cruise ship docking schedule. Depending on what’s in port, you may want to plan your beach schedule to avoid the cruiser influx.
* Check out the TravelShus Interactive Map in order to get a sense where these beaches are located, as well as restaurants, hotels, and bars.
* You drive a US car on the left side of the road in the US Virgin Islands. Please be prepared for this when you rent a car on the island.
Check it out: TravelShus’ Interactive Guide to St John, USVI