See Why St. John Is America’s (Not-so-) Best-kept Tropical Secret

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Even if you’ve previously visited the Virgin Islands, until you’ve set foot on St. John, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

The postage-stamp-size dot of land east of St. Thomas is among the smallest developed islands in the Caribbean. With few roads, near-zero chain businesses of any kind, and the vast majority of land designated as national park, it feels a thousand miles from anywhere. Here are just a few of the best places to eat, play, and stay in one of America’s best tropical destinations, St. John, USVI.

Play

The Caribbean is home to some of the world’s most stunning beaches and St. John alone is home to many of them. Pick up a dirt cheap Jeep rental in Cruz Bay and spend the day exploring the island’s North Shore through Virgin Islands National Park where every beach seems even more incredible than the last. From east to west, you’ll find Maho Bay, Cinnamon Bay and, finally, Trunk Bay. The latter is staggeringly beautiful: soft, white flour sand, impossibly turquoise water, and the island’s best snorkeling with an underwater snorkel trail to boot.

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Farther inland, near the island’s geographical center, Reef Bay Trail provides some of the best and most challenging hiking on St. John. The well-maintained trail drops from a 900-foot elevation to sea level in just two miles. Along the way, you’ll pass the famed Petroglyphs — a series of pre-Columbian Taino carvings situated above a beautiful reflecting pool.

Eat & Drink

Surprisingly, the craft beer boom has even found its way to the Virgin Islands. The Tap Room microbrewery and pub in “downtown” Cruz Bay offers the island’s largest selection of craft beer on tap. Most are brewed on-island by St. John Brewers with Caribbean-inspired varieties like Tropical Mango Pale Ale and Virgin Islands Liquid Sunshine Belgian-Style Ale.

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When you’ve had your fill of the island’s downtown core, take a drive to the less-developed eastern end. Here, tiny Coral Bay is ringed by quiet beaches and funky, no-frills dive bars. Skinny Legs Bar & Grill bills itself as “a pretty OK place” with cheap beer & booze specials and some of the best burgers in the Virgin Islands. When you’ve had your fill of Mango Painkillers (the island’s specialty), head outside to feed your cocktail fruit garnish to the bar’s mascot donkeys.

Stay

In lieu of the island’s few chain hotels, find a proper Caribbean inn. Dating back to the mid-1800s, Estate Lindholm offers some of St. John’s oldest and most charming accommodations.

The 14-room, adults-only, garden hotel boasts architectural remnants of the island’s historic sugar plantations with quaint, tropical-inspired rooms and plenty of modern amenities. Situated high on a hill overlooking Cruz Bay, the real win here is the panoramic views, which, to be truthful, can be found everywhere you look on St. John. 

Related: The Manual’s Travel Guide to St. Thomas, USVI