Owing to the small size of St. Thomas (14 miles long by 2 miles wide), it's fairly easy to see a lot of the island's top attractions in a single day. Hop over on the ferry from Cruz Bay to Red Hook before 9am and you'll have maximum time for beaches, shopping, historical sights, and of course lots and lots of fine food.
Fish Tails, Red Hook — Photo courtesy of Karen ElowittFirst, breakfast. When you exit the ferry terminal in Red Hook, the closest restaurant is Fish Tails, which just happens to have an excellent breakfast menu. In addition to several types of eggs Benedict (their specialty), you can also get French toast, omelets, and steak and eggs. It is located literally right next to the ferry dock.
99 Steps, Charlotte Amalie — Photo courtesy of Karen ElowittAfter you've filled your belly, catch a bus or taxi into Charlotte Amalie (the capital city of the Virgin Islands) for some shopping and historical sightseeing. Morning is a good time do this, because the heat doesn't peak until about 2pm – and the heat in St. Thomas is not to be trifled with! The majority of stores specialize in jewelry, but you can also find everything from antiques to liquor emporiums to chocolate shops, most of which are located along the waterfront, on Main Street, and on the cobblestone 17th century alleyways that connect them. Favorites include the rare nautical artifacts at SOS Antiques, the unique table linens and clothes at Mr. Tablecloth, and the locally handmade items at the Native Arts and Crafts Cooperative. Around the perimeter of the downtown area you'll see colonial historical landmarks such as the 17th century Fort Christian, the 99 Steps, the Camille Pissarro Gallery, and Government House.
After spending two or three hours sightseeing and shopping, you're bound to be hot and hungry. Luckily Charlotte Amalie has several excellent restaurants in which to quench your thirst and satisfy your appetite. You know the expression "when in Rome?" Well, when in St. Thomas, you must have at least ONE meal consisting of local Caribbean fare. A perennial favorite is Cuzzin's (on Back Street) which offers native West Indian dishes such as island-style mutton, curried chicken, and conch stewed in onion-butter sauce. Their signature dish is Cuzzin' Nemo, a blend of lobster, conch, scallops, and shrimp served over pasta.
Coki Beach, St. Thomas — Photo courtesy of Karen ElowittAfter lunch, prepare for an afternoon at the beach – of course. One can't visit St Thomas without experiencing some of its truly spectacular beaches. If your style is big and bold, go for Magens Bay beach, one of the most famous in the Caribbean. The calm turquoise water, huge expanse of palm-shaded white sand, and excellent amenities make it an all-around perfect spot for stand-up paddleboarding, picnicking, sunbathing, or just people-watching. Nearby, the Udder Delite Dairy Bar makes a perfect stop for a snack. The liquor-spiked milkshakes are legendary.
However, snorkeling is not one of Magens' strengths. For that you'd have to head to Coki Beach or Secret Harbour, both of which have excellent offshore reefs with an abundance of tropical fish. Coki is a little more on the lively side, with loud music, heavy cruise ship traffic, and lots of locals looking to relax and party. Secret Harbour is the opposite, with just a small number of sunbathers looking to hang out in tranquil seclusion – and there are great sunsets to boot!
Havana Blue — Photo courtesy of Karen ElowittIf you have time for dinner before heading back to your cruise ship, the one place you can't miss is Havana Blue. This innovative eatery at the Marriott Frenchman's Reef hotel serves up incredible Latin-Asian fusion dishes such as duck crepes with jalapeno and espresso sauce, plantain-crusted red snapper with spicy green chile-lime sauce and Asian slaw, and grilled ancho-rubbed beef filet with wasabi mash. The desserts alone are worth coming here for: try the Cuban chocolate cake with coconut ice cream, or the banana-macadamia spring rolls with strawberry balsamic puree. The bar at Havana Blue is also a good place for an innovative after-dinner cocktail such as a hibiscus margarita or a ruby roja.
Before you know it, your day is over, and you'll be heading to the ferry terminal and back to St. John. But don't worry, ferries run till midnight, which leaves you plenty of time to get acquainted – even if it's just a little bit – with St. John's sister to the west.