St. John’s is one of the smallest and “greenest” islands in the Virgin Islands, with only about 20 square miles, yet two-thirds of the island is a protected National Park. According to our guide, the U.S. purchased the USVI’s from the Danish Government in 1917 for $25 million, and Laurance Rockefeller purchased some of the land on St. John. In 1956, Mr. Rockefeller donated a majority of his St. John property and gave it to the U.S. National Park Service under the terms that it would be protected from development. As a result, St. John is an eco friendly island with limited development and not as commercialized like its neighbor St. Thomas, only 4 miles away.
It’s the perfect destination for hikers and snorkelers, with enough trails and pristine beaches to keep one exploring for at least a week. St. John also offers relaxing destinations off the beaten path.
We had one day to discover St. John, and Cool Breeze Car Rentals (www.coolbreezecarrental.com provided us with a rental Jeep to see the highlights below:
1. Cruz Bay Tourist Office: stop by the Tourist Office, http://www.visitusvi.com/, and you can get the maps you need to plan out your day http://www.usvi.net/usvi/maps/. Also, you will find hiking routes like the Reef Bay Trail, as well as information on restaurants, shops, etc. Other helpful links/resources for the USVI’s are located at: http://www.usvi.net/
3. Drive the Island: head upwards on the steep and windy main road that runs along the island’s spine towards the eastside of the island. Stop along the way for great photos at the turnouts where you can see panaramic vistas of the island and its bays.
4. Grab lunch at Skinny Legs Bar & Grill http://skinnylegs.com/: drive to Coral Bay and stop at Skinny Legs Bar & Grill for a delicious lunch – meet Moe and hear about the origins of this restaurant – great story!
5. Hike the Reef Bay Trail: the National Park Service offers guided hikes along the Reef Bay Trail. If you choose a self guided tour, plan for approx. 2 hours hiking time, and make sure you get a map and have plenty of water. The trailhead is at Centerline Road, about 5 miles east from Cruz Bay, and the 2.4 mile trail descends almost 1,000 feet to Reef Bay Valley, past the ruins of the Reef Bay sugar factory near Genti Bay.
6. Visit an old Sugar Mill: there are several old Sugar plantation ruins that dot the island, including the famous Annaberg Sugar Plantation. St. John’s volcanic soil paired with its hot climate made it a perfect place to plant/grow sugar cane.
7. Relax at a Beach: there are several beautiful beaches to visit, and here are some of the best beaches we discovered – Maho Bay , Cinnamon Bay, Trunk Bay – which has an underwater guided trail where snorkelers can explore marine life among the protected coral reefs.
8. Stay more than 1 day, and check into Caneel Bay! Before heading back to the Port, one of our last stops was Caneel Bay where we discovered the famous Rosewood Resort and had a chance to snorkel at Paradise Beach with one of the resident turtles. Caneel Bay, A Rosewood Resort, http://www.rosewoodhotels.com/en/caneelbay/ provides luxury accomodation within a “paradise as it was intended”.
From the Rosewood site, you’ll find that:
“Caneel Bay invites you to disconnect in pristine surroundings and low-key luxury. The beach vacation resort, nestled within the Virgin Islands National Park on St. John, remains faithful to the vision of founder Laurance Rockefeller and his reverence for the environment. Seven secluded beaches border 170 lush Caribbean acres where rooms have been artfully built to blend into the landscape. The resort remains purposefully absent of modern glitz and digital distractions. A perfect getaway from the furious pace of the world at home. Nestled within Caneel’s lush grounds are 166 charming accommodations outfitted in casual luxury. Each intimate retreat has been thoughtfully decorated with natural woods, native Caribbean stone, hand-crafted furniture, commissioned artwork and richly woven fabrics. The resort remains purposefully absent of modern glitz and digital distractions; in keeping with tradition, there are no telephones or TVs in the individual guest rooms.”
9. Dine at one of St. John’s Restaurants: a local provided us with their favorite list of restaurants on the island – see below.
La Tapa– excellent Spanish inspired cuisine and wonderful sangria. Live jazz on Mondays. (downtown Cruz Bay) http://www.latapastjohn.com
ZoZo’s– delicious Italian. Fine dining with beautiful views out towards St. Thomas. (downtown Cruz Bay)http://www.zozos.net
Rhumb Lines– My personal favorite “local” place. They have awesome Pad Thai and a variety of Asian and Caribbean inspired menu items. The chef has worked all over Asia, mostly in Thailand I think. Typically have live music/guitarist. (downtown Cruz Bay)
Happy Fish– Sushi (Market Place, Cruz Bay)
Fatty Crab– New St. John, a very popular NYC establishment- owners in NYC also own a home on St. John, hence the recent opening there. A lot of spicy dishes, Malaysian cuisine. (downtown Cruz Bay) http://www.fattycrab.com/about/
Woody’s is famous for their happy hour. Definitely worth visiting for drink specials. But I have to say, their food is fantastic. It’s the kind of super low key/super casual (think shorts and flip-flops straight off the beach kind of casual) seafood. It’s very, very resh- you won’t even want to put condiments on any of the food- shrimp, scallops, and local mahi mahi cooked every which way possible. Big fan!! (downtown Cruz Bay)
Skinny Legs– famous for their burgers and “same day service.” http://skinnylegs.com/