St. John Named a Top U.S. Family Vacation Destination

Most of us look forward all year to our family beach vacation. Spending real, relaxed time with kids, and maybe extended family too, is one of the great joys of life. Throw in perfect weather, amazing beaches with crystal clear water, pristine natural beauty of a national park, and it’s downright heavenly. The Travel Channel recently named St. John as one of the best vacation destinations for families. Here’s what makes it so special.

St. John is Accessible, But Not Too Accessible

St. John doesn’t have an airport, so visitors fly into Thomas from any one of numerous US cities before reaching their final destination by ferry. In a world consumed with convenience, not every traveler is willing to go that extra mile (actually 3 miles). But for those in the know, the payoff is so worth it. Far from being an inconvenience, most St. John aficionados crave the ferry ride for the spectacular views and the anticipation of what awaits. Learn more here. 

St. John is U.S.

In a complicated world, many families find comfort in staying in the U.S. As a U.S. territory, St. John is American soil, protected by Uncle Sam. The language is English, the power is 110v, and the Dollar is the currency, so no exchange-rate hassles or costs. For all that’s familiar on St. John, there’s also a wonderful dose of the exotic. While it’s U.S., it’s the Caribbean first and foremost, with a slower pace of life, where the simple pleasures come into focus.

St. John is Safe

With only 4,000 residents, St. John is like a small town where people know each other and look after one another. That makes it a refuge where crime is exceedingly rare. While it’s still prudent to not invite a problem – for example by leaving valuables in plain view on the seat of your unlocked rental Jeep – the safety rating means that St. John is a place where families can truly relax.

 St. John Activities

Families vacationing on St. John prefer the term “experiences” over “activities.” You won’t find movie theaters or water parks or bowling alleys. Instead, think snorkeling with sea turtles, learning to paddleboard in Maho Bay, hiking to Honeymoon Beach (and taking a golf cart ride back), taking a boat trip to the BVIs, or just playing with the little ones in the gentle surf of an exquisite white sand beach.

St. John Offers Wonderful Private Accommodations, Not Big Impersonal Resort Hotels

Private villas, apartments, and suites dominate the St. John accommodations market. There are some great small Cruz Bay hotels, but most families opt to rent a home with more room to spread out, a stocked kitchen to prepare meals, and amenities like a washer/dryer to keep things civilized and make packing a breeze. Aside from being more enjoyable in every way, renting a St. John vacation home affords more opportunity to be a part of the community as you live like a local during your trip. It really adds to the entire experience of being a traveler rather than just a tourist.

St. John’s Beaches are World Class

There are lots of reasons St. John is an ideal family destination, but for most people it’s all about the beaches. The sand is perfect and the water in this part of the Caribbean is as clear and calm as it gets. That means you can get up close and personal with coral reefs and all kinds of marine life, including friendly sea turtles, colorful reef fish, stingrays, and more. From Honeymoon, Hawksnest, and Trunk, to Cinnamon, Francis, and Salt Pond, each St. John beach is both unique and spectacular. For families, it’s hard to beat Maho Bay, which is the most protected bay on the North Shore. It’s almost always calm, with perfect sand that slopes gently into the clear water, and sea turtles galore.

St. John Transportation

Getting from the airport to the ferry is easy, (as explained here) you can take the public taxi vans or safari trucks available outside baggage claim. No car seats are required or available for these public transport vehicles. The best way to travel once on St. John is by renting your own private jeep. You can also rent a car seat from Island Baby to be placed in your jeep when you pick it up at the car rental place. Using public transportation while on St. John to explore the island is not recommend as it can be unreliable.


Chocolate Hole Bay, St. John USVI

Chocolate Hole Bay in St. John is the other walkable beach from Down Yonder Villa or the Garden Suite. Same directions like you’re going to Hart Bay, except don’t turn left on Tamarind Road, keep straight on Chocolate East until you reach the Pond Bay development. There are two public parking areas, the first one is paved and the second one isn’t. The beach is mostly rocky with a little sand here and there, but it’s a great place to walk and explore. There’s surprisingly good snorkeling on either side of the bay, especially near the point. Chocolate Hole Bay is a dog friendly beach. 

Sunset Serenade Suites is 1.1 miles away from Chocolate Hole Bay

Down Yonder Villa and the Garden Suite are .5 miles away from Chocolate Hole Bay


Hart Bay, St. John USVI

This is an awesome pebble beach with sand here and there, located down an easy trail right in the Chocolate Hole neighborhood. There’s pretty good snorkeling in spots, with rock formations, coral, and sea life. The seas can get quite rough when weather is coming from the Southeast. We love the vibe of this usually deserted beach. If you’re staying at Down Yonder Villa or the Garden Suite, it’s a 10-15 minute walk to the trail head and another 10 minutes to the beach. Walk up Southshore Road towards town, take the first left on Chocolate East Road, then the first left on Tamarind Road, keep to the right and you’ll see a small sign for Hart Bay in front of a small parking area. Hart Bay is a dog friendly beach. 

Sunset Serenade Suites is 1.5 miles away from Hart Bay

Down Yonder Villa and the Garden Suite are .5 miles away.


Reef Bay, St. John USVI

This is really 2 distinct places. There’s one Reef Bay beach at the end of the Reef Bay Trail, accessed mid-island from Centerline Road. The trail is awesome, moderate to strenuous heading down, and quite strenuous going back up. At the bottom, there are ruins and an isolated coastline with ever changing sand and rocks. The crystal clear water is incredibly refreshing after the hike.

The other Reef Bay (also called Parrot Bay) is accessed from the Reef Bay subdivision beyond Fish Bay, down an easy/moderate trail, about 10 minutes to the water.  The trailhead can be a bit tricky to find; look for other vehicles parked along the road for no apparent reason. This is an amazing spot with incredible views of St. John’s rugged Southern coast. There’s good coral here and there and a sometimes a surf break that attracts a few surfers. If you like to get off the beaten path, go here and you won’t be disappointed.

a view of reef back from up a hill
reef bay trail sign with directions
part of reef bay trail with a sign

Lameshur Bay, St. John USVI

This off-the-beaten-path gem is located 1.5 miles past the Salt Pond parking area. The last trail is unpaved so the short distance will take 15 minutes. There are actually 2 bays. You reach Great Lameshur Bay St. John first — a long, rocky, crescent beach where access isn’t super easy. Next door is the real charmer, Little Lameshur Bay, with some of the best snorkeling on St. John. The beach offers soft, white sand and the bay is very protected and usually very calm (except when the weather is coming out of the South). There are great trails around and cool ruins to explore.


Salt Pond, St. John USVI

Salt Pond is a very special spot in St. John. It is the most popular beach on the South shore. To get here, take Centerline Road to Coral Bay, go right at the ball field, then drive 4 miles to just past the entrance to Concordia (now closed). Where the road turns sharply right is the parking area.

It’s a 10-15 minute easy/moderate walk down to the beach at Salt Pond. Once there you’ll discover a perfect crescent bay with white sand, good snorkeling, and trails to explore the surrounding areas. Insider tip…if the seas are rough on the North shore, head to Salt Pond where it will almost certainly be calm. This is also the start of the Ram Head Trail.

trail to salt pond
walking trail to salt pond

Hansen Bay, St. John USVI

Less than a mile down the road from Haulover you’ll find this delightful spot with soft white sand. It’s become a popular beach hangout for Coral Bay residents and guests, especially on weekends. While there, you’ll definitely want to paddle out to Lime Out, the floating taco bar for a delicious lunch and cold beverages. Hansen is a dog friendly beach.

lime outs boat in hansen bay
island abodes at lime out
a boat docked in hansen bay
a view of hansen bay

Haulover North, St. John USVI

Look for the narrow trail across the road from the beach. After maybe 300 feet it opens up to an incredible view of the Sir Francis Drake Channel across to Tortola. The shoreline is rocky and craggily usually with just a trace of sand her and there. The main draw is awesome snorkeling, especially to the left as you’re facing the water. Water shoes are highly recommended. Use caution getting in and out, and avoid completely when seas are rough.

Photo credit: Salty Daze Charters

 


Haulover South, St. John USVI

Take Centerline Road to Coral Bay, then veer left at the ball field, pass Skinny Legs, and keep on driving for 3 more miles. Easy parking on the road. The sand and pebble beach is right there. Pretty good snorkeling on either side of the bay. The water is typically very calm. This is a sweet spot if you want to get away from everyone else, and you can hike to another beach (North Haulover) without getting back in the Jeep.

 

Photos Credit: Salty Daze Charters


Leinster Bay and Waterlemon Cay, St. John USVI

a view of lamsure bay st john
a view of lamsure bay st john

Head toward the Annaberg Ruins, park where you can, and start hiking along the shoreline. You can stop anywhere to swim or snorkel or chill, but keep going for 20-30 minutes and you’ll find some nice sand and an easy swim out to Waterlemon Cay. It’s definitely worth snorkeling to this perfect little island and walking around. On the way you’ll likely see lots of fish, stingrays, turtles, and sea stars. Just be sure to give yourself time to get back to your Jeep before dark. Another way to get here is to park past the Moravian Church in Coral Bay and hike in on the Johnny Horn Trail. It’s a pretty strenuous hike, so be prepared with plenty of water.

travel guide st john usvi
traveling with childen to st john is a breeze