12 Things to Do in St. John: Hidden Gems + Local Favorites!

by | Last updated Apr 14, 2024 | Outdoor, St. John

St. John USVI is the smallest of the three main U.S. Virgin Islands with 2/3 of the land designated as national parkland. It boasts world-class beaches, some of the best off-shore snorkeling in the Caribbean, and gorgeous hikes. Discover my favorite 12 things to do in St. John that you do not want to miss!

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01- Visit the Island’s Best Snorkeling Site 

Waterlemon Cay in St. John USVI

Waterlemon Cay

Waterlemon (not Watermelon as I kept wanting to call it) is one of the top snorkeling spots on St. John!

Because of the fact that it takes a little effort to reach, it is usually not very crowded. When my husband and I went around 9 am, there was only one other couple there.  

Waterlemon Cay requires about a 20-minute easy hike along the flat rocky coastline to the far end of Leinster Bay, which is adjacent to the Cay.

Entry into the water can be tricky because of the numerous sea urchins. Once you are in the water though, the snorkeling is fantastic!

We saw beautiful coral, sea fans, a shoal of squid, many tropical fish, and even two nurse sharks!  

Waterlemon Cay was our FAVORITE snorkeling destination in St John USVI.

My husband and I have snorkeled all over the world, and St. John is one of our favorites! If you want to know more about all the St. John snorkeling sites to check out, don’t miss my article below. 

02- Swim with Lots of Cute Turtles! 

Turtle at Francis Bay in St. John USVI

Sea turtle at Francis Bay in St. John USVI

Maho Bay boasts a beautiful narrow white sand beach, calm protected waters, and plenty of shade.

Most people will say this is the #1 place to see turtles. We did see a few turtles in the seagrass beds snorkeling in the middle of the bay, but we saw many more at Francis Bay.

The Maho Bay parking lot fills up quickly, so get here early. There is also a pop-up village across the street from the beach, which has a food truck, tiki bar, water sports rentals, and bathrooms.

The beach is very popular with families due to its easy access and shallow waters, so expect more crowds.

Francis Bay Beach is located adjacent to Maho Bay Beach. It has a nice long wide stretch of white sand, and calm protected waters. There are a few picnic tables and a portable restroom.

I saw at least 10+ turtles at Francis Bay. I actually began to lose count after a while.

Everywhere I turned, I saw another turtle. They love hanging out in the extensive seagrass beds. We even saw a few stingrays too.

03- Enjoy a (Not So) Secret Beach 

Hansen Bay Beach in St. John USVI

Hansen Bay Beach

Alright, the word is out now.

If you want to get away from the craziness of the North Shore beaches, switch it up and make the drive over to Hansen Bay Beach on the eastern side.

This gorgeous soft white sand beach boasts beautiful calm, protected waters.

There is a very friendly lady named Thalia. I believe she owns the land in front of Hansen Bay and very kindly upkeeps the beach with donations. There is not a lot of shade, so she has planted numerous palm trees which will eventually change that.

Thalia has chairs, kayaks, and paddleboards for guests to use. There are also picnic tables and portable bathrooms. She does ask for donations, so please bring some cash and leave some love in the donation box.

Snorkeling was fairly easy in this protected bay. Expect to see some turtles!

04- Enjoy a Grouper Reuben at Miss Lucy’s 

Grouper reuben at Miss Lucy's in St. John USVI

Grouper reuben at Miss Lucy’s in St. John USVI

We loved this gem of a restaurant located on the Coral Bay side! It offers fresh traditional island cuisine in a beautiful setting right on the water.

My husband and I split the crunchy fish and grouper reuben.

I know what you are thinking … grouper reuben?

Yes, and it was our favorite dish by far at Miss Lucy’s! It is served with coleslaw and Swiss cheese served on toasted rye bread with a remoulade sauce. Ah, so good!

We were also introduced to our first Lime ’N Da Coconut cocktail while at Miss Lucy’s. I am hooked! This delicious Caribbean cocktail is a frozen blend of rum, fresh lime, and cream of coconut.

Lime N Da Coconut at Miss Lucy's in St. John USVI

Lime N Da Coconut at Miss Lucy’s in St. John USVI

05- Spend a Day at St. John’s Famous Beach

Trunk Bay Beach in St. John USVI

Trunk Bay Beach

Trunk Bay is the most famous beach in St John USVI, and you will quickly see why.  It was rated #15 of the Best Island Beaches in the World 2020 by readers of Conde Nast Traveler.  

The white sand is super soft, and the waters are a mesmerizing aquamarine color.

There are plenty of facilities including a snack shack, a bar, beach chair rentals, snorkel gear rentals, showers, and restrooms.

A $5 fee per person is required to enter Trunk Bay. This is the only beach in St John USVI with an entrance fee.

There are little pockets of shade along the beach to set up shop. Arrive early to get one of those spaces! The beach fills up quickly.

We snorkeled the underwater snorkeling trail around Trunk Cay, which requires a fairly easy swim out. We saw some beautiful coral and fish, but I would not consider this a top snorkeling spot.

Go for the gorgeous beach but not the snorkeling!

See my full review of Trunk Bay below.

06- Venture Off-Road to Find 2 Snorkel Gems

Little Lameshur Bay Beach St. John USVI

Little Lameshur Bay Beach, St. John USVI

Some of the best places take a little effort to get to. You will want to rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle for these next two adventures!

First up is Little Lameshur Bay Beach (#9 on my St. John Snorkeling Guide).

This beautiful quiet beach has soft white sand and beautiful clear teal water. Getting to it is quite the experience!

There were a few sections in the road I was a little nervous to keep going even in a Jeep! I would probably not attempt this road after a big rain.

There is plenty of parking. A few sections of the beach offer some shade and picnic tables. This beach has a wonderful sandy bottom, and the waters are calm.

Snorkeling is absolutely fantastic if you snorkel along the left side as you face the water out to Yawzi Point.

Be aware the water does get choppy as you make your way out to the point. The underwater life is incredible, and there are a lot of deepwater canyons and crevices to explore.

Grootpan Bay Beach in St. John USVI

Grootpan Bay Beach

The second adventurous snorkeling site is Grootpan Bay Beach (#10 on my St. John Snorkeling Guide).

This is not a“let’s lounge all day on the beach” kinda place. Its rugged location and challenging access road seem to deter visitors. Only drive it if you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

When we went to Grootpan Bay Beach, there was only one other car in the parking lot. Even better! We love off-the-beaten-track places.

The beach is pebbly, and the water is clear which allows for some excellent snorkeling. We snorkeled along the left side as you faced the water over to Kiddel Bay.

There is a lot of beautiful marine life. We saw large schools of fish, beautiful hard and soft coral, and numerous waving sea fans. Waves can be choppy.

I would highly suggest wearing a snorkel vest and bringing an Ugo to keep your valuables protected.

We always bring our own gear like my favorite snorkeling mask and travel fins. All my recommended items can be found in the article below.

07- Sip the Best Island Cocktails at Skinny Legs

Skinny Legs in St John USVI

Skinny Legs in St. John

This Coral Bay restaurant has been around since 1991, when it was opened by two best friends Moe and Dougie.

They decided to name it after their own legs since Moe always wore white sneakers, and Dougie always had knee-high socks on.

This friendly laid-back restaurant has the most amazing juicy burgers and some of the best cocktails we have had.

Order the painkiller.

Skinny Legs never uses a fryer to make their food, and they never use a blender to mix their drinks. Esquire Magazine has even rated them in the Top 100 Bars in America.

08- Hike the Incredibly Scenic Ram Head Trail 

Panoramic views from Ram Head in St. John USVI

Panoramic views from Ram Head

St. John offers quite a few beautiful hiking trails.

We were told, if you only have time for one hike, this is THE hike to do on St John.

Ram Head requires moderate effort and offers stunning panoramic views at the end. You can also combine it with snorkeling or a beach day after you complete the hike in the morning.

The trail starts from Salt Pond Bay Beach and winds its way to Blue Cobblestone Beach before climbing upward to Ram Head. You will see cool-looking Turks Head Cacti along the way.

The views are incredible at the top with a nice breeze to dry off all that sweat from your workout.

FYI, the trail does not offer a lot of shade. It is hot! Prepare accordingly.

If you want to know all the details on how to make this hike happen, where to park, what spur trails to avoid, etc, check out my article below.

09- Try a Tasty Seamoss Smoothie at Shaibu’s

Shaibu's Gourmet Grab & Go Entrance in St. John USVI

Shaibu’s Gourmet Grab & Go entrance

This wonderful vegetarian restaurant located near Starfish Market in Cruz Bay serves up some delicious, fresh vegetarian food, smoothies, and fresh juices.

It was started by Chef Shaibu Abdulai, who was originally from Ghana and then later came to North America to get trained by the Culinary Institute of America. He also runs his own private catering service called Oasis Private Chefs.

We ordered a cold noodle Thai peanut salad and a fresh veggie panini made to order that was incredibly flavorful and delicious.

The star of the show was the Sea Moss Smoothie.

I know, sounds kinda weird, but it was so good.

The ingredients were sea moss, cashew, almond milk, agave, and spice.

I also had a local turmeric ginger juice, which I really think helped my inflamed, sore muscles after all that hiking and snorkeling. I might have to start drinking this juice post-workouts!

10- Make Your Own Cocktails with Local Rum

Lime n da coconut drink made with Botany Bay rum in Coral Bay St John USVI

Lime N Da Coconut drink made with Botany Bay rum in Coral Bay, St John USVI

We love to try the local food and drink of the places we visit.

For example, we enjoyed some lovely Saba Spice when we were in Saba and tried our favorite rum, Foursquare, while in Barbados.

When you visit the U.S. Virgin Islands, check out Botany Bay rum.

My husband and I purchased the Botany Bay Estate Reserve rum, which is made in small batches and aged in French and American oak barrels.

We made some great Lime N Da Coconut cocktails. It was delicious as a mixing rum!

11- Rent a Jeep and Drive the Windy Roads

Amalie Car Rental Jeep in St. John USVI

Amalie Car Rental Jeep in St. John, USVI

St. John is truly the ultimate DIY island!

I strongly recommend renting a Jeep to explore all its gorgeous beaches, snorkeling sites, and hiking trails.

We rented our Jeep in St. Thomas and took the car barge over to St. John. Great way to do it! As soon as we arrived, we were off and ready to explore.

Our Jeep came in handy when we were navigating all the windy hills on the eastern side of the island and also when we went off-the-beaten path to some lesser-known beaches like Little Lameshur and Grootpan.

Remember you drive on the left even though it’s a United States territory!

Check out my article below to find out who we think runs the best car rental service.

12- Rent a Vacation Villa with a Killer View 

St. John Villa Rental View of Coral Bay

View of Coral Bay from our St. John villa rental

There are really two main areas you can stay on in St. John: Cruz Bay (western side) or Coral Bay (eastern side).

We chose Coral Bay because we wanted amazing views.

A lot of the villas on this side are perched high in the hills overlooking the harbor. Our vacation rental did not disappoint.

I could sit outside on the balcony all day just soaking in that view!

Some people prefer Cruz Bay though because it’s closer to all the restaurants and nightlife. Each to their own.

Are you still trying to figure out where to stay?

Do not miss my curated list of the best boutique rentals on the island!

Final Thoughts

St. John USVI surpassed my expectations. It reminded me a little of Kauai. If you love finding your own adventure, you will love St. John! I hope this list of the best 12 things to do will get you well on your way to planning an amazing trip!  

St John donkeys

St. John donkeys

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Questions about our best things to do in St. John?

Let me know in the comments below!

  1. Angie B.

    We are very new on traveling and we are wanting to go to one of the islands, St. John Island or St. Croix Island. We are looking for staying in a resort that are right on the beach, beach front rooms and we are looking to relax and want a quieter island. This is a vacation to unwind leave our stresses behind.

    Can you help us and give us some ideas on where to go and stay? We need any and all help you can give us.

    Thank you so very much

    • Nichole

      Thanks for reaching out. Great choices … both St. John and St. Croix are beautiful.

      To help you decide between the two islands, I have written a post comparing the two that hopefully helps you to decide: St John vs St Croix.

      To answer your question on where to stay in St. John and St. Croix, don’t miss my two articles that go over the different neighborhoods in both St. John and St. Croix and the best properties in each:

      Where to Stay in St Croix

      Where to Stay in St John


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