We lived in St. John, US Virgin Islands for 9 months in 2012. It is such a beautiful place, and one of my favorite places to live. The friendly people, the beautiful views, the beaches, and the hiking make this place a real gem. We first lived in "The Compound," which was a small apartment complex owned by the owners of Cruz Bay Watersports. Then we moved into a huge two bedroom apartment about a mile up Centerline Road, with a long balcony overlooking Steven's Cay and St. Thomas. Finally, we bought Salt Whistle (Yay!) and lived on a mooring in Great Cruz Bay.
The people who live on St. John are really laid back and friendly. There are only about 8,000 year round residents on St. John, so anytime we'd go into town we always ran into someone we knew. Even strangers were always friendly, greeting us with a warm smile and a "Good morning" or "Good afternoon." There was a mixed population. Some native Virgin Islanders, some Continentals (from the continental US), and some Down Islanders (from other Caribbean islands).
Almost 75% of St. John is National Park. Laurance Rockefeller came down to St. John on his sailboat in the late 1930's and thought it was so beautiful that he decided to buy a large portion of it and donate it to the National Parks so it would stay beautiful and green forever.
The whole time we lived on St. John we worked for Cruz Bay Watersports, based out of the Westin Resort and Villas in Great Cruz Bay. We had a lot of fun and made lots of friends working there. There were over 30 staff, so it helped us to meet people very quickly.
Skeeter worked mostly as captain of the dive boat, Sea Quest. I worked mostly as a dive instructor on Sea Quest and crew aboard Island Time, which took people to the British Virgin Islands to explore the Baths National Park on Virgin Gorda, Cooper Island Beach Club for lunch, and the Caves at Norman Island for snorkeling. We also rotated around various other position in the company, including the water sports store, the beach hut, and reservations.
When we had days off we had lots of beautiful beaches and hiking trails to choose from. Even the drive to the beaches or hiking trails were incredible. So many places to pull over and take in the views or take a zillion pictures. We often ran into some of the local wildlife on our drives to the beach or on our hikes, too. We'd see deer, donkeys, mongoose, and lots of different types of birds.
Our favorite beaches were Cinnamon Bay and Salt Pond.
Cinnamon Bay is an expansive sandy beach on the north side of St. John, usually with soft rolling waves. The bottom is nice soft sand, and you can swim out to Cinnamon Cay for some nice snorkeling around a coral reef. One time a wild donkey visited the beach and was digging through a tourist's bag and stealing her food. There is a shop by the beach and non-motorized water sport rentals such as stand-up paddleboards, surfboards, and windsurfing equipment.. There is a campground with a hiking trail, a modest restaurant, and free showers. The hiking trail is a short loop that takes you through sugar plantation ruins and has signs teaching you about the history and surrounding nature.
Salt Pond is on the east end of St. John, so it's usually less crowded. There is fantastic snorkeling out by the mouth of the bay, and two awesome short hikes up to Ram Head and over to Drunk Bay that we made sure to do every time we visited.
Ram Head is about a mile from Salt Pond Beach. First you hike along the waterfront over a hill. Then you pass through Blue Cobblestone Beach. Finally, you hike up a steep dry hill to the top of Ram Head. Lots of cacti here, and little shade so bringing lots of water is very important! You get some amazing views of the British Virgin Islands from up here.
The Drunk Bay trail starts at Salt Pond Beach and passes by the shallow salt pond and over to the mystical Drunk Bay. People are always creating art out of the rocks, dead corals, sticks, and coconuts on the rocky beach. It's really neat, and fun to make a piece or two to add to the gallery!
Our favorite hiking trail was the Reef Bay Trail. It starts about five miles up Center line Road and is a steep downward hike to the water. I think it was about 2.5 miles each way. It is very lush and green, and well shaded. There are some placards along the way telling you about the trees. You pass through various ruins from the days of the sugar cane plantations, too.
On the way there is a short spur that leads to some petroglyphs left there by the Taino Indians. If it rained recently there is a beautiful waterfall by the petroglyphs. Just before you arrive at the rocky Reef Bay you get to explore some historic sugar plantation ruins. It gets buggy near the bottom of the trail, so be sure to bring insect repellent!
For less strenuous hiking with amazing views our favorites were Peace Hill, the Annaberg Plantation, and Lind Point.
Peace Hill is just past Hawksnest Bay. The hike is very short, but uphill. It only takes about a 5 minutes to get up there. There is an old stone structure that used to be a big wind mill. Inside there is usually a huge bee hive. We used to like to bring a picnic and spend a while up on the hill, taking in the gorgeous views. You could see Hawksnest Bay, Cinnamon Bay, and Jost Van Dyke in the BVI. We'd usually pick up sandwiches from Baked in the Sun before heading into the National Park area.
The Annaberg Plantation is the furthest point on the north shore road. There is a path leading through the many ruins from the old sugarcane plantation, and usually some volunteers from the National Park there eager to share the plantation's history with you. The view from up there is incredible. You can see for miles and miles. Much of the US Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands is visible from up here.
After exploring the Annaberg plantation, one of St. John's best snorkeling spots is accessible from the same parking lot. A short flat hike along the waterfront will get you to the entry point to swim out to Waterlemon Cay. Be very careful not to slip on the rocks or step on any sea urchins getting into the water. Also, be aware that there can be a strong current on the back side of the cay, so I'd really only recommended this spot for strong swimmers.
The Lind Point Trail is the only trail easily accessible from the town of Cruz Bay. It begins by climbing the wooden stairs right behind the National Park building. It's about a 2 mile loop, with spurs that can take you to beaches or a view point. The lower trail can take you to Solomon Beach or Honeymoon Beach, which are usually nice and quiet and have great snorkeling. They are not accessible by car, so there usually aren't a lot of people there. There were even times that we had the beach entirely to ourselves! The upper Lind Point trail takes you to a breathtaking view point. When I worked for Cruz Bay Watersports and worked at the shop in town, I used to hike to the view point and eat my lunch there. It overlooks Cruz Bay and the barrier islands, which are the dividing point between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
Our favorite nice restaurant on the island was definitely Rhumb Lines. It's a little pricey, but well worth it. You have to walk through a convenience store to enter the restaurant, which is a little hidden oasis. The seating areas are made of bamboo, and the decor is Southeast Asian. Sometimes there is live music. The menu has Caribbean and Asian options. We usually went for the Pad Thai.
For delicious barbecue we loved Uncle Joe's BBQ. You can smell the delicious barbecue from over a block away, and it is irresistible. They don't have many items on the menu, but everything they have is mouthwateringly delicious.
Our favorite burgers were at Across the Street. It is across the street from the world famous "Woody's." You sit on a wooden deck that overlooks the street, and watch the drunken shenanigans unfold across the street at Woody's. We would inevitable see our Cruz Bay Watersports friends pass by on their way to the bars. At Across the Street you can put together any kind of burger you can imagine. They even have exotic topping options like peanut butter.
For pizza we were frequent customers of Ronnie's Pizza. They make a great supreme pizza, our go-to dinner on long days when we didn't want to cook.
It was definitely a sad day when we realized we'd have to leave St. John. After purchasing Salt Whistle we realized that she needed lots of work and there weren't any stores there to buy what we needed. Taking the $50 car barge over to St. Thomas to go shopping for boat parts 2 or 3 times a month was getting expensive and exhausting. We usually only had one day off per week together if that, and we sure didn't want to spend it like that! So we said our good-byes and brought our floating home over to St. Thomas.
St. John is one of my favorite places on the planet, and I hope you get a chance to check it out one day if you haven't already!