View of Trunk Bay from North Shore Drive. — Photo courtesy of Chelle Koster WaltonWith their scalloped edges and windowpane waters, the U.S. Virgin Islands of St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas equate with beaches supreme. A few of them queue up on worldwide best beaches ratings. Others are local secrets that might take some finding. Here are five of the most celebrated and five of the most secret beaches you can find in the Virgins.
Probably the most celebrated and awarded beach in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Magens Bay is also one of the most developed. Its coved sweep of sands lies within the verdant embrace of St. Thomas’ famously scenic hillsides below the Drake’s Seat overlook.
Sea grape trees and picnic tables line the fine white sand. Concessions feed appetites for beach food, beer, kayaking, beach lounging and other sandy pursuits. On weekends, the locals come to party, so head early to the fringe areas if you are looking for a peace.
Little brother St. John, a short ferry hop away to the east, is a more natural island whose main beaches are protected by the U.S. Virgin Islands National Park. Most famous, Trunk Bay Beach is known for its snorkeling. An underwater trail leads you along a string of plaques that identify fish and coral formations to a small cay in the bay. Concessions rent snorkel equipment, plus you’ll find a snack bar, lockers and showers.
A lot of cruise ship shore excursions come here, so plan early morning or late afternoon to avoid crowds. Palm trees and other greenery backdrop the scalloped white sand beach banked by the hills of St. John’s North Shore Drive.
Nearby Cinnamon Bay Beach also comes under national park auspices and is popular because it offers tents to campers (but make your reservations early). Snorkeling also rocks here, and you can rent kayaks as well to explore the bay and its cay. Snuggling into the soft white sand may be the best form of limin’ – the local jargon for chillin’ – in the Virgins. A snack concession and unheated showers are available.
On St. Croix, the largest of the three main U.S. Virgins, your choice of beach will depend upon your preferred beaching occupation. For a nature beach experience, hop a charter to Buck Island Reef National Monument, where you will find the islands’ second underwater snorkeling trail, a hiking trail, and all-natural Turtle Beach.
But if you are looking for a luxe beach experience, pay the small gate fee at The Buccaneer Resort and enjoy one of the most beautifully groomed, palm-studded beaches in the islands, plus the beach bar and other amenities. Watersports and beach toy rentals plus volleyball, Frisbee golf and other activities make this beach experience varied and fun for energetic types.
Looking for that quiet sneak-away spot that only the locals know about? On St. Thomas, it’s at Lindquist Beach (a.k.a. Smith Bay Beach) on the East End near Red Hook. Natural and sequestered from development, its fine white-sand beach borders the multi-hued crystalline blue waters that define the Caribbean.
On the campus of the University of the Virgin Islands, Brewer’s Bay Beach stretches long and wide along with postcard panoramas of calm aqua waters and sharply rising tropical forest. Add a couple of sailboats and an occasional plane rising from the airport across the bay, and you get the picture.
St. John’s most hidden beaches lie off the main North Shore Drive at the island’s east end near the town of Coral Bay. To find Hansen’s Bay Beach, look for Vie’s Snack Shack. Grab a couple of her awesome johnnycakes, then head down the path across the road to seclusion and a wonderfully intimate beach.
You might have to ask directions and do a bit of walking to find Salt Pond Bay, but the snorkeling is excellent, and you can hike around the salt pond for a change in water scenery.
Near Divi Carina Bay Resort on St. Croix, Grapetree Bay Beach has no amenities – but no crowds either. The long white sands stretch around a residential neighborhood. A barrier reef makes for calm waters where you may be lucky enough to see sea turtles swimming.