St John, USVI Beach Guide

St. John is the least developed of the U.S. Virgin Islands and one of the great ecotourism destinations in the Caribbean. That’s no surprise when you consider that two-thirds of this rugged, emerald island falls within the bounds of Virgin Islands National Park.

The landscape mosaic of St. John includes some truly spectacular beaches, including many protected by the National Park Service. All USVI beaches are open to the public up to the high-tide line. Some of these breathtaking sands rank among the most esteemed in the West Indies.

The following eight are arguably the best beaches in St. John, though there’s stiff competition! We’ll highlight what’s especially attractive about each of these seaside locations and then segway into a roundup of the perfect St. John beaches for different visitors and different kinds of trips, from hidden gem beaches to romantic idylls.

 

The Top 8 Beaches in St. John

1. Trunk Bay Beach – One of the Globe’s Best

Description. Widely regarded as one of the finest beaches in the world, Trunk Bay Beach lies on St. John’s northwestern coast within Virgin Islands National Park. It offers a third of a mile or so of postcard-perfect white sands rimmed with tropical greenery and turquoise waters.

Why It’s Unique. Trunk Bay fulfills the idealized image of a perfect, straight-out-of-paradise tropical beachfront. Just offshore, a 225-yard-long National Park Service-designated underwater snorkeling trail. This trail provides an outstanding taste of Caribbean snorkeling, including around the coralline fringes of Trunk Cay.

Best For… Scenery, swimming, snorkeling

Amenities. Trunk Bay Beach includes a variety of facilities and services, including restrooms, showers, picnic tables, a covered pavilion, a snack shack, and a bar. Unlike your average St. John beach, you can rent a variety of beach equipment here, too. Including chairs, snorkel gear, and flotation devices. Furthermore, lifeguards are stationed here daily.

Accessibility. Easily reached by car from the village of Cruz Bay, Trunk Bay Beach has a sizable parking lot.

Know Before You Go. There’s a small day-use fee to visit Trunk Bay Beach, unique among St. John beaches.

WIMCO’s Insider Tip. For a bit more elbow room, stroll to the western side of Trunk Bay Beach, which tends to be a little less busy.

2. Maho Bay Beach – Kid-Friendly & Calm - Marine Life Viewing

Description. This beautiful beach on the North Shore lies between Maho Point to the east and America Point to the west. It’s an excellent place for snorkeling, swimming, and sea-life-viewing, with plentiful palm shade as well.

Why It’s Unique. The sheltered and shallow waters of Maho Bay Beach, which overlie a broad and gentle nearshore shelf, are ideal for family swimming. Maho Bay is also one of the best beaches in St. John for snorkeling: Extensive seagrass beds make Maho Bay’s depths a likely place to spot sea turtles. 

And the flats and coral formations also offer opportunities to see stingrays, wrasse, tarpon—even docile nurse sharks (which, nonetheless, shouldn’t be approached or otherwise provoked!).

Best For… Snorkeling, families, wading

Amenities. You’ll find restrooms at the west side of Maho Bay Beach. There are also rentable pavilions here.

Accessibility. Maho Bay Beach lies right off the North Shore Road (Route 20), so access is easy and direct.

Know Before You Go. Roadside parking can be limited at Maho Bay Beach.

WIMCO’s Insider Tip. You’ll generally have your best chance of seeing a sea turtle at Maho Bay Beach early or late in the day.

3. Cinnamon Bay Beach – Family-Friendly Beach for Swimming, Watersports

Description. Another of the North Shore beaches on St. John—and one of the longest of the island’s strands—Cinnamon Bay Beach lies between Trunk Bay to the west and Maho Bay to the east. This half-mile beachfront is ideal for swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing, and paddlesports.

Why It’s Unique. Cinnamon Bay Beach offers plenty of room to spread out, and the on-site watersports rentals put snorkeling and paddling fun at your fingertips.

Best For… Watersports, families

Amenities. Cinnamon Bay Beach is one of the most developed St. John beaches, with the Cinnamon Bay Resort & Campground at hand and restrooms, showers, concessions, rentals, and a beach shop available.

Accessibility. Well-loved and well-appointed, Cinnamon Bay Beach offers ample parking off North Shore Road.

Know Before You Go. Bring along sturdy sandals or hiking shoes to explore the Cinnamon Bay-area trails, which include several ruins of the historic, Danish-era buildings that were part of Cinnamon Bay Plantation.

WIMCO’s Insider Tip. A good place to head for when snorkeling is Cinnamon Cay, just offshore.

4. Honeymoon Beach – Splendid Scenery & Good Swimming

Description. Set on the far northwestern shore of St. John, the beachfront along Honeymoon Bay is swoony, as the name suggests. 

Why It’s Unique. The gently sloping beach face at Honeymoon Bay provides great conditions for wading, swimming, and snorkeling. Luxuriant sea-grapes and palms—plus a good-sized maho tree near the center of the beach—cast welcome shade. Offshore views extend out to St. Thomas as well as Grass, Mingo, and Lovango cays to the northwest.

Best For… Swimming, scenery

Amenities. You’ll find restrooms, seasonal concessions, and watersports rentals at Honeymoon Beach.

Accessibility. For a fee, you can park in the Caneel Bay Resort parking lot to access Honeymoon Beach. It’s also possible—and rewarding—to hike in from the Virgin Islands National Park Visitor Center at Cruz Bay on the Lind Point Trail, a two-mile round-trip.

Know Before You Go. Caneel Bay Resort offers a golf-cart shuttle to Honeymoon Beach for its guests.

WIMCO’s Insider Tip. The most productive snorkeling awaits off the west end of the beach.

5. Hawksnest Beach – A Locals’ Favorite

Description. This pretty beach, in Virgin Islands National Park, lies in the deep horseshoe nook formed by Hawksnest Point and the Peace Hill headland.

Why It’s Unique. Hawksnest Beach offers decent snorkeling on its several reefs, plus body-surfing amid its slightly rougher waters. Sea-grape thickets provide nice shade.

Best For… Sunbathing, scenery

Amenities. You’ll find picnic facilities, restrooms, and changing rooms available.

Accessibility. There’s plenty of parking off the North Shore Road serving Hawksnest Beach.

Know Before You Go. The snorkeling at Hawksnest Beach is definitely decent, with elkhorn coral heads and plenty of tropical fish, but it’s not a top draw.

WIMCO’s Insider Tip. You’ve got a good chance of rubbing shoulders with locals at Hawksnest Beach, so take advantage—a fun way to get a sense for daily life on St. John!

6. Salomon Beach – Quiet & Beautiful

Description. Only accessible via trail, Salomon Beach on St. John’s northwestern shore is a hidden treasure sort of strand, beloved by locals and sought out by an increasing number of visitors in-the-know.

Why It’s Unique. Without direct road access, Salomon Beach remains a little off the beaten path. However, it’s reasonably popular among St. John residents and vacationers are willing to make the modest, easy walk.

Best For… Privacy, views

Amenities. Salomon Beach is undeveloped, but you’re an easy walk away from Honeymoon Beach’s facilities to the east.

Accessibility. Besides the golf-cart shuttle provided by the Caneel Bay Resort, the main access to Salomon Beach is by hiking about a mile on the Lind Point Trail from the Virgin Islands National Park Visitor Center in Cruz Bay.

Know Before You Go. Salomon Beach used to be frequented by beach-going naturists, but authorities have cracked down on nudity here.

WIMCO’s Insider Tip. There’s fine snorkeling on the reef, bridging Salmon and Honeymoon beaches.

7. Caneel Bay Beach – Good Jumping-Off Point for Water Sports

Description. Another of the stellar North Shore beaches on St. John. The palm-flanked, white sands of Caneel Bay Beach edge a pretty cove at the southwestern base of the peninsula stretching north to Hawksnest Point. It’s a popular spot for beachfront R&R, snorkeling, and watersports.

Why It’s Unique. Caneel Bay is an excellent place for sailing and paddling. Its seagrass pastures and coral reefs provide ample opportunity to spy parrotfish, angelfish, sea turtles, and other marine creatures through a snorkel mask.

Best For… Watersports, leisure 

Amenities. This beach is home to the Caneel Bay Resort (originally established as a Rock Resort by Laurance Rockefeller). Here you’ll find ample restrooms, a restaurant, and a watersports rental center.

Accessibility. You can hike to Caneel Bay Beach from the west via the Lind Point Trail or access it via the Caneel Bay Resort, which in the past has charged a day-use fee for non-guests.

Know Before You Go. Hammered by Hurricane Irma in September of 2017, Caneel Bay Resort may still be in recovery mode when you visit this beach.

WIMCO’s Insider Tip. Good spots to aim for snorkeling off Caneel Bay Beach include the seagrass beds in the middle of the bay and the rocky margins on either side.

8. Salt Pond Beach – Farther-Flung Beach With Calm Waters, Great Snorkeling, & Magical Hiking

Description: Far from the hustle and bustle of Cruz Bay.  Salt Pond Beach is the most popular North Shore beaches of St. John. It shows off the loveliness of the island’s far southeastern point in Virgin Islands National Park. Its calm waters invite swimming and snorkeling while hikers enjoy rewarding scenery in the vicinity.

Why It’s Unique. Tempting as the seagrasses and reef formations are off Salt Pond Beach, and snorkeling is top-grade here. There are topside marvels to seek out as well, including the stacked cairns of Drunk Bay, the eponymous Salt Pond itself, and the spectacular 200-foot coastal vantage of Ram Head.

Best For… Snorkeling, hiking, views

Amenities. Salt Pond Beach is remote and lacks amenities, so plan ahead and bring your picnic, blanket, snorkel gear, and other essentials with you.

Accessibility. From the parking area or roadside pull-offs, it’s about a half-mile hike down to Salt Pond Beach, which is only accessible by foot.

Know Before You Go. The protected nature of Salt Pond Beach’s waters and gentle sandy beach face also make it a good place for taking a dip in general, including for families with young kids.

WIMCO’s Insider Tip. Along with edging reefs, a rocky rise in the middle of Salt Pond Bay offers some of the most fruitful snorkeling.

Best Beaches in St. John by Category

Now that we’ve run down our picks for the best beaches in St. John, let’s drill down on the sands and the beachfront destinations depending on what you’re seeking on your U.S. Virgin Islands escape!

Best Snorkeling Beaches in St. John

  • Trunk Bay Beach: One of the most unique snorkling experiences. The National Park maintains an underwater snorkeling trail at Trunk Bay with underwater signs providing a wealth of interesting information.

  • Hansen Bay Beach: Also known as Vie’s Beach, Hansen Beach on the east side of the island gives snorkelers a great chance to see pompano, jacks, rays, and other sea life among staghorn and other corals.

  • Maho Bay Beach: Explorations of Maho Bay’s seagrass expenses may yield sightings of rays, nurse sharks, tarpon, and other exciting marine life.

  • Salt Pond Beach: Host to everything from hermit crabs to sea turtles, the seagrass beds and reef outcrops off Salt Pond Beach are another hotspot for snorkeling safaris.

Most Romantic Beaches for Couples in St. John

  • Hawksnest Bay Beach: Whether you’re dipping your toes in the water or relaxing in the shade of the sea-grapes, Hawksnest Bay Beach casts a swoony spell.

  • Maho Bay Beach: White sands, murmuring coconut palms, turquoise waters—you’ve got everything you need for romantic seaside bliss at Maho Bay Beach.

  • Trunk Bay Beach: What could be more romantic than a side-by-side stroll down one of the most beautiful beaches on the planet?

  • Salomon Beach: Secluded Salomon Beach is postcard-perfect and quieter than many North Shore beaches on St. John, which is exactly what many lovebirds seek.

Best Beach Bars & Restaurants in St. John

  • The Beach Bar: Situated along the Cruz Bay beachfront close to the ferry dock, the Beach Bar offers breakfast, fare, pub grub, and spunky cocktails along with regular live music.

  • High Tide Bar & Seafood Grill: Also fronting the sands of Cruz Bay right in the heart of things, this open-air eatery serves up breakfast, lunch, dinner, and happy hour—and fantastic sea vistas!

  • Aqua Bistro Restaurant & Bar: This Coral Bay establishment hits the spot with crowd-pleasing fare such as fish tacos, seafood sandwiches, and burgers. Live music enhances dinner several times a week.

Best Hidden Gem Beaches in St. John

  • Mermaid’s Chair Beach: Remote and tranquil Mermaid’s Chair Beach can be accessed by swimmers, snorkelers, or paddlers from the Hawksnest Beach area.

  • Whitesand Bay Beach: This beautiful pocket beach within Hurricane Hole rewards kayakers with seductive North Shore seclusion.

  • Cocoloba Beach: Fall in love with the beauty of Fish Bay on St. John’s southwestern coast at this under-the-radar strand.

Best Beachfront Villas in St. John

While there aren’t any St. John villas directly on the beach, the following provides beach access and accommodations close to sand-and-surf.

Villa 2B at Peter Bay (MAS 2BE): Soak up the sun and a beach only steps away at this two-bedroom villa in Chocolate Hole.

Villa Carlota (MAS CAR): This five-bedroom North Shore villa provides a luxurious perch close to the Trunk Bay and Peter Bay beach fronts.

Villa Sea Palms (ST SPM): You’ll find yourself only minutes from the Great Cruz Bay beachfront staying at the three-bedroom Villa Sea Palms.

Also see:

All villas in St John

 

Frequently Asked Questions About St. John Beaches

Let’s close things out by running through some of the more frequently asked queries about visiting the USVI beaches of St. John, not least the stunners we’ve sung the praises of above.

Are St. John Beaches Crowded?

Yes and no! Some, especially such easily accessible and justly renowned North Shore beaches as Trunk Bay and Cinnamon Bay, can be pretty crowded. While you may have lesser-known strands or those only accessible by foot or boat (such as Salt Pond Bay Beach) to yourself. But even at the highest-profile beaches, you’re often able to walk your way to roomier reaches.

Do Any of the Beaches Have Food & Drink Available in St. John?

Many of the best-known St. John beaches lie within the Virgin Islands national park, where there is little commercial development, so pack food and drink. That said, you may find food carts and vendors at some of these beaches. 

Do I Need a Car to Get to Most Beaches or Are Their Taxis?

Taxis and public busses are available on St. John and certainly a reasonable option for exploring the island’s beachfronts, although a rental car provides the most freedom and flexibility.

Are There Changing Rooms or Facilities on the Beaches in St. John?

Some but not all beaches in St. John have restrooms. Among the ones that do offer facilities are the Trunk Bay, Cinnamon Bay, Hawksnest, Maho Bay, Caneel Bay, Honeymoon Bay, and Great Cruz Bay beachfront.

Do Any of the Beaches on St. John Have Chair & Umbrella Rentals?

Yes, a number of the more trafficked beaches do, including Trunk Bay and Cinnamon Bay Beach.


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