A day in St. John involves food, beaches, nature, and shopping – though not necessarily in that order.
Caneel Beach Terrace — Photo courtesy of Caneel Bay ResortFood definitely comes first. One must fortify with a hearty breakfast before setting off on a day's journey around the island. Not only because you'll need the energy, but because there are so many excellent spots on St. John at which to eat the first meal of the day. Start your day in Cruz Bay at either the Inn at Tamarind Court or Caneel Beach Terrace, both sit-down restaurants offering a variety of breakfast staples. Caneel serves it up buffet style, while Tamarind is a la carte. Or, if you just want something quick and informal, try the artisanal bakery Baked in the Sun, or Deli Grotto at Mongoose Junction.
Hawksnest Bay, St.John — Photo courtesy of Karen ElowittAfter breakfast, it's best to head straight for the beach. Beaches are best in the morning, when the water is calm and the crowds not too thick. The north shore offers an endless string of sheltered coves and bays where you'll find absurdly clear water, powdery white sand, and numerous watersports opportunities. The major attractions are Caneel Bay, Hawksnest Bay, Cinnamon Bay, Trunk Bay, and Maho Bay, but you'll also find some smaller (but also sweet) beaches tucked into the north shore line, including Jumbie Bay, Francis Bay and Gibney Beach. If you want a full suite of amenities such as bar, changing rooms, watersports concessions and even camping, Cinnamon Bay is ideal. For snorkeling, Trunk Bay is most renowned, due the underwater trail just offshore. For standup paddleboarding or kayaking, the calm, azure waters of the immense Maho Bay are ideal.
For lunch, drive over the mountain to Coral Bay, St. John's "other" town. You can try the incredible handspun pizza at the quirky Donkey Diner, feast on West Indian food at Miss Lucy's, or have a fresh fish sandwich at Shipwreck Landing.
Reef Bay Trail, St. John — Photo courtesy of Karen ElowittIn the afternoon, spend an hour or two hiking one of the phenomenal trails that criss-cross the Virgin Islands National Park, such as the Reef Bay Trail or the Cinnamon Bay trail. Here, you'll pass by native trees and bushes, see local wildlife such as deer, iguanas, and birds, and visit ruins of old sugar mills.
If hiking's not your thing, you can see a slice of the island on horseback. Carolina Corral offers two-hour horseback, donkey and carriage rides through the hills overlooking Coral Bay and Tortola.
Donald Schnell Studio, St. John — Photo courtesy of Karen ElowittAnd as a third alternative - if you really don't want to be out in the great outdoors - head back to Cruz Bay for some shopping. You won't find any chain stores here, just unique boutiques specializing in art, crafts, jewelry, beach clothing, and a few other odds and ends. Bajo el Sol in Mongoose Junction is one of the best known art galleries, selling works by local and international artists. Also in Mongoose Junction you'll find hand-made silver pieces at RI Patton Goldsmithing, and top-of-the-line resort wear/beach wear at Bougainvillea. Elsewhere in town you'll love the funky knick knacks, tableware, jewelry and home decor at Pink Papaya, and the handmade ceramics at Donald Schnell studio.
For dinner, get ready to shell out some cash. There are a number of pricey dining options in Cruz Bay, but they are oh-so-worth-it. The best fine-dining experience, and arguably the best restaurant on St. John, is Asolare, at the Estate Lindholm Bed & Breakfast. The innovative Asian-fusion flavors, outstanding staff, and unparalled view make it a top choice for visitors with a few dollars to spare. But Asolare faces stiff competition from places like Zozo's and La Tapa, whose Mediterranean flavors have earned it a spot as an island favorite.