The US Virgin Island of St. John is home to some of the best beaches in the world with soft white sands and dazzling blue waters.
“What beach should we head to today?”
During the two and a half weeks on the island, my husband and I grappled with this question every morning with immense gratitude. To be spoilt for choice on an island sprinkled generously with almost a dozen spectacular beaches, each unique in its own way, with a different vibe, different amenities, and different surroundings, yet each filled with pearly white sands and overlooking the same clear, turquoise ocean. If this sounds like the question you’d like to ask yourself every morning on your trip, then St. John might just be the perfect place for you.
Here is a detailed rundown of five of the best beaches on St. John that hopefully make your mornings a tad bit easier as you search for the best beach in this Caribbean gem.
1. Maho Bay
There’s a good reason why Maho Bay is one of the best beaches on St. John and an instant hit with visitors. We found ourselves returning to this beach’s gentlest waters the most during our time on the island.
The exhilaration of this beach starts with the drive to Maho itself. One of the furthest beaches on the North shore, the drive leading up to Maho takes you via all the vantage points offering wide, sweeping views of the clearest, bluest shades of water, white sands, and dense green forests. The taxis will often stop or slow down at these locations so you can grab the perfect shot as you start your trip.
The gentle waters of Maho are great for even beginner swimmers or those looking to just lounge around in the water. This beach is bookended by flocks of sailboats and dinghies in the ocean on one side and tall, green mountains on the other. The calm waters lend themselves easily to water sports like kayaking, SUPs, and of course snorkeling. Sea turtles are the biggest draw here just a little distance off the shore. “I’ve lost count of how many sea turtles I’ve seen,” as one of the snorkelers we’d just met put it.
Reef2Peak just across the road from the beach provides you with easy access to rentals for all these water sports needs, plus the best value of 5$ beach chairs. Alongside is also a handy supply stand with hot dogs, snacks, cocktails, and reef-safe sunscreen.
Right next door is Maho crossroads, a low footprint energy-efficient pop-up village that houses a tiki bar with great cocktails, a food truck (open from 11:30 to 4ish) with a good selection of hot meals like burgers, tacos, and sandwiches that includes at least one vegetarian option daily. There is ample seating space to cool off in the shade with a painkiller cocktail in hand. This area also includes Love Maho Beach Boutique furnished with a variety of water sports gear including crystal kayaks, larger reclining chairs (20$ for all day, 10$ after 1 pm), and limited-edition merchandise. There is another retail stand out front with jewelry, beach bags, scarves, and other handcrafted St. John wares.
A couple of NPS vault toilets and a few picnic tables right alongside the beach complete the list of amenities. There is also a dedicated taxi stand making it easy to make your way back to Cruz Bay. The food as well as water sports equipment rental ends at 4 pm whereas the Tiki bar remains open until 6 pm.
If you have time for only one beach on St. John, I’d vote for that to be Maho where you get to see and do so much all in one place.
2. Trunk Bay
Trunk Bay beach was featured at #15 in the top twenty-five beaches in the world by Condé Nast Traveler in 2020 and for good reason. One look at the large beach with the quintessential white sands and turquoise blue waters and you’ll agree why this is one of the best beaches not just on St. John but anywhere in the world. The Trunk Cay rises in the middle of the ocean and provides the perfect backdrop for all your Instagram-worthy photos. This place is also home to the Coral Reef Underwater Park Trail which runs from the beach and along the west side of Trunk Bay Cay.
This beach has a 5$ entrance fee (for 16 years and older) but it also provides great amenities like restrooms with running water and showers. The facilities are open from 8 am to 4 pm and you will hear park officials reminding folks to start hurrying up at quarter to four. There are chairs and snorkeling gear available for rent at a shop along the way to the beach. For 10$ you can choose between three options from the low rise to the normal rise reclining beach chairs and camping style chairs.
There is a hot food stand where you can find hot dogs, hummus and veggie bowls, sandwiches, and rolls. They also carry soda, beer, and water as well as some sweet and savory snacks like chips and candy bars. There’s a beach bar with of course the ubiquitous painkiller and a variety of cocktails, frozen drinks, beers, and spiked seltzers. There’s also a small retail shop with merchandise including magnets and t-shirts.
The facilities and incredible beauty also mean that this beach attracts sizeable crowds. There is enough room for people to spread out and enjoy although you might find most crowds at the entrance. Walk towards the left or right end of the beach away from the entrance and you’re bound to find a nice spot with some shade. Be prepared to shift around slightly during the day to keep up with the changing angle of the sun.
At the far left, there is also a small semi-private section of the beach next to the rocks. This might give you some privacy if you don’t mind a few people dropping by every now and then to shoot the perfect profile picture.
3. Oppenheimer beach
This minimalist beach is the best choice if you’d like to enjoy simple pleasures like the uninterrupted sound of crashing waves, soft white sand, and the occasional crowing of a rooster in the distance. The absence of food stalls, crowds, restrooms, and other amenities allows you to experience such unadulterated beach pleasures with heightened awareness. The sand looks like golden powder as the sun’s rays seep into the clearest, blue waters. On one occasion, we were joined by a stingray gracefully flapping its fins and several fishes tickling our feet even when we weren’t snorkeling in the deep side.
The Google maps location for this beach is inaccurate so you need to be mindful of the directions. To get here by car, follow along the white picket fence around Gibney’s estate which ends at a wrought iron gate and three prized parking spots. This limited parking is the main reason behind the lack of crowds at this beach. Or if you’re arriving by taxi, just let the driver know that you’re headed to Oppenheimer beach and they will drop you right at the iron gate. This stop lies between Hawksnest and Trunk Bay beach stops. This is not a popular drop-off spot for taxis so make sure to keep an eye out and remind the driver else they might zip by.
Be mindful of the tide before heading here since the water can take over most of the beach during high tide. We found ourselves constantly having to back away to make room for the waves during one of our high tide visits.
This beach is a great fit for people looking to spend some quiet time away from the crowds. There are no loud voices, music, and other distractions at Oppenheimer. Please respect this spirit of the beach. If you are a large, loud group, this isn’t the best beach on St. John for your party.
4. Cinnamon Bay
A unique view of a crumbling wall with two burnt red windows, one shut and one open greets you at Cinnamon Bay. From the open window, you can admire the landscape of powdery sand and clear blue ocean with passing sailboats. The long stretch of this beach makes it a great choice for leisurely walks. This beach is a great pick for those looking to elevate a great beach day with a lesson in history and physical activity.
The Cinnamon Sugar factory ruins are an easy walk just across the beach. Those looking to sweat out some more can take the Cinnamon Bay Trail and connect to America Hill for a great bird’s eye view of Maho Bay and the pink, exposed brick ruins of America Hill. There is a steep incline at the start, but once you get past that, it is a more gradual ascent where you walk through the lush tropical forests and six switchbacks that take you to the top of America Hill.
The beach was limited in amenities at the time of our visit. There were just porta-potties and no food options until earlier this year. The historic Cinnamon Bay Beach & Campground suffered massive damage during Hurricane Irma in 2017 and was undergoing a challenging rebuilding and renovation effort. But all of that is in the past now with the reopening of Cinnamon Bay Beach and Campground on January 22, 2022. This reopening of the only campground in Virgin Islands National Park was eagerly awaited by locals and visitors alike.
For day beachgoers, this good news means the reopening of Rain Tree Cafe which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the main building. There is also a food truck near the building with snacks, drinks, and ice cream on most days. Water sports rentals are back so you can get your hands on snorkel equipment, paddleboards, kayaks, and beach chairs to make the most of your time on this special beach once again.
And if a day just isn’t enough, you can choose between eco-tents, cottages, and simple campsites (with or without tent rental) to spend the night watching the stars, being lulled to sleep by the waves, and waking up to birdsong.
5. Honeymoon and Saloman Beaches
Honeymoon beach is the “all-inclusive” package when it comes to the top beaches on St. John. This is also the closest to reach from the Cruz Bay ferry dock if you’re visiting from St. Thomas for the day.
If you are driving or arriving by taxi, you will go up to Caneel resort and transfer to a shuttle there for 5$ per person each way that will take you to the beach. Another fun (and highly recommended) way to reach this beach is by hiking the Lind Point trail that starts just up the steps behind the US Virgin Islands National Park Visitor Center. This trail is about 1.2 miles each way and an easy hike to reach both beaches.
The trail forks into Upper and Lower Lind Point sections about 0.2 miles in and the two sections eventually meet before hitting the beaches. Salomon is the first beach to arrive, and you can take the left to reach a small, intimate beach without the crowds that will await you at Honeymoon. Since Saloman is only accessible by hiking, you will likely have the entire beach to yourself.
Continue further on the trail to reach Honeymoon Beach in all its glory. This beach has the same turquoise waters as the other beaches but the sand here is slightly coarser. Normally, this place boasts of some of the fancier amenities that you won’t find at any of the other beaches. The rental chairs here are the fully reclining chaise lounge chairs for 15$. Cabana rentals with outdoor sofas and hammocks for big groups, snorkeling gear, stand-up paddleboards, and kayaks are also available. The list of facilities also includes restrooms and lockers. There is a gift shop where you can buy that island magnet or tropical t-shirt that you’ve been meaning to get. You might also want to consider the all-day pass with Virgin Islands Ecotours that starts from 49$ for adults if you are planning to partake in multiple activities on the water.
Bikinis on the Beach Bar & Grill serves some of the best beach food and cocktails on the island. The veggie hummus wrap and mahi-mahi sandwich that we dug into were both very fresh and flavorful. And the painkiller here was one of the best we’ve had on St. John.
Unfortunately, since January 26, 2022, all the services provided by Virgin Island Ecotours have been suspended for unexpected repairs and maintenance. This includes Bikinis on the Beach Bar & Grill, The Watersports Center, cabana rentals, and eco-tours. However, they are set to open again at the beginning of April 2022 so make sure to check the latest update on their website before heading out.
It was my love of mountains and hiking that initially drew me to St. John. But once there, it was these beaches that took my breath away.
It is natural to feel confused with so many amazing options. But remember that you can never really go wrong no matter which one you choose. Whether you are spending a couple of days or a couple of weeks, I hope this guide gets you started on exploring the beauty of St. John.
I’d love to hear which beaches you are planning to head to in the comments below! And if you’ve already been to St. John, which were your favorite spots on the sand?