So you decided to come to St. Thomas. Good choice! There's a mind-blowing number of things to see, do and eat. To help you decide which beaches to visit, adventure sports to try, and restaurants to dine at, sit back and enjoy this primer on what to expect in the most diverse and dynamic of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
A sting ray in St. Thomas
Customs and culture:
Although St. Thomas is part of the United States, the culture and customs are different in many ways. The quicker you adapt, the more fun and productive your visit will be.
If you rent a car, remember that driving is on the LEFT side of the road. The steering wheel is also on the left, like in the mainland. So take a minute to get used to the unorthodox setup before you set out.
GPS won't really help you as you drive (or even walk) around the island, because many streets don't have names, and many businesses don't have formal addresses. If you have trouble finding something, just ask a local.
Speaking of which, locals appreciate when you preface any request with a "good morning" or "good afternoon." The culture is a little more polite here, and using a greeting will get you far.
The heat is oppressive and ever-present, so ALWAYS wear sunscreen and a hat, and bring a large bottle of water everywhere you go. Heatstroke is no joke, and unfortunately many first-timers (especially those from cold climates) underestimate their hydration level and get stricken with it.
Beaches, boating and adventure sports:
Coki Beach — Photo courtesy of Air Force 1 ToursNewbies who don't mind treading a well-worn path should head straight to Magens Bay or Lindquist Beach, two of the best on the island. The fine white sand, palm-fringed picnic areas, and crazy-clear water will remind you why you decided to visit. The smaller but equally beautiful Coki Beach is well-known for its excellent snorkeling.
Once you've had your fill of the famous beaches, you might want to check out some lesser-known (and less busy) beaches. Hull Bay, a local favorite on the north side, and Secret Harbour, in the east end, each has a distinctly different vibe, but both will treat you to a day or afternoon of blissful relaxation, recreation and libations.
Most of the above beaches offer some sort of watersports equipment rentals, including snorkel gear, stand-up paddleboards, and ocean kayaks. For more extensive watersports options, head to West Indies Windsurfing (at Vessup Beach), Lindbergh Bay (for jet skis), or Sapphire Beach (for parasailing). Intrepid types can try the water jet-pack experience at St. Thomas JetRiders, located at the Marriott Frenchman's Reef. Yeehaw!
St. Thomas JetRiders — Photo courtesy of Courtesy of TripAdvisorOf course you can't leave the island without spending at least one day on a boat. Calypso Charters offers day sails to the British Virgin Islands on power catamarans, while Nauti Nymph lets you captain your own boat anywhere you like. And many of the dive shops, such as Blue Island Divers, offer half-day trips to famous dive sites such as the wreck of the HMS Rhone and the Cow and Calf rocks.
Those who prefer to get their thrills on land should head to Tree Limin Extreme Zipline, St. Thomas's first and only zipline. You'll feel the wind whip through your hair while being treated to jaw-dropping views over Magens Bay and the BVIs.
Dining and nightlife:
The dining room at Havana Blue — Photo courtesy of Karen ElowittSt. Thomas is known for its excellent dining scene, which tends towards surf-and-turf (seafood and meat). Some can't-miss options include the Latin-Asian fusion at Havana Blue (at the Marriott), the exotic meats and white-glove atmosphere at Old Stone Farmhouse, and the mouthwatering bacon-wrapped scallops – and knockout views – at Thirteen.
After dinner, you can let your hair down at raucous joints like Duffy's Love Shack, where dancing on the tables is encouraged, or watch sports on TV at Caribbean Saloon. Those with more refined tastes might want to try Epernay wine bar in Frenchtown, or a martini at XO Bistro. For casual brew by the beach, Try Jack's (at Point Pleasant resort) or Iggie's Beach Bar and Grill (at Bolongo Bay Beach Resort).
Iggie's Beach Bar, at Bolongo — Photo courtesy of Karen Elowitt