The best beach, hands down, is Trunk Bay, the biggest attraction on St. John. To miss its picture-perfect shoreline of white sand would be like touring Paris and skipping the Eiffel Tower. One of the loveliest beaches in the Caribbean, it offers ideal conditions for diving, snorkeling, swimming, and sailing. There are even lifeguards on duty. The only drawback is the crowds (watch for pickpockets). Beginning snorkelers in particular are attracted to the underwater trail near the shore; you can rent snorkeling gear here. Admission is $4 for adults 17 and over. If you're coming from St. Thomas, both taxis and safari buses to Trunk Bay meet the ferries from St. Thomas when they dock at Cruz Bay.
Caneel Bay, the stomping ground of the rich and famous, has seven beautiful beaches on its 170 acres, and all are open to the public. Caneel Bay Beach is easy to reach from the main entrance of the Caneel Bay resort. A staff member at the gatehouse will provide directions. Hawksnest Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches near Caneel Bay, but because it's near Cruz Bay, where the ferry docks, it is the most crowded, especially when cruise-ship passengers come over from St. Thomas. Safari buses and taxis from Cruz Bay will take you along Northshore Road.
The campgrounds of Cinnamon Bay have their own beach, where forest rangers sometimes have to remind visitors to put their swim trunks back on. This is our particular favorite, a beautiful strip of white sand with hiking trails, great windsurfing, ruins, and wild donkeys (don't feed or pet them!). Changing rooms and showers are available, and you can rent watersports equipment. Snorkeling is especially popular; you'll often see big schools of purple triggerfish. This beach is best in the morning and at midday, as afternoons are likely to be windy. A marked nature trail, with signs identifying the flora, loops through a tropical forest on even turf before leading up to Centerline Road.
Maho Bay Beach is immediately to the east of Cinnamon Bay, and it also borders campgrounds. As you lie on the sand, you can see a whole hillside of pitched tents. This is also a popular beach, often with the campers themselves.
Francis Bay Beach and Watermelon Cay Beach are just a few more of the beaches you'll encounter when traveling eastward along St. John's gently curving coastline. The beach at Leinster Bay is another haven for those seeking the solace of a private sunny retreat. You can swim in the bay's shallow water or snorkel over the spectacular and colorful coral reef, perhaps in the company of an occasional turtle or stingray.
The remote Salt Pond Bay is known to locals but often missed by visitors. It's on the beautiful coast in the southeast, adjacent to Coral Bay. The bay is tranquil, but the beach is somewhat rocky. It's a short walk down the hill from a parking lot. (Beware: A few cars have recently been broken into.) The snorkeling is good, and the bay has some fascinating tidal pools. The Ram Head Trail begins here and, winding for a mile, leads to a belvedere overlooking the bay. Facilities are meager but include an outhouse and a few tattered picnic tables.
If you want to escape the crowds, head for Lameshur Bay Beach, along the rugged south coast, west of Salt Pond Bay and accessible only via a bumpy dirt road. The sands are beautiful and the snorkeling is excellent. You can also take a 5-minute stroll down the road past the beach to explore the nearby ruins of an old plantation estate that was destroyed in a slave revolt.
Does St. John have a nude beach? Not officially, but lovely Solomon Bay Beach is a contender, although park rangers of late have sometimes asked people to give up their quest for the perfect tan. Leave Cruz Bay on Route 20 and turn left at the park service sign, about one-quarter mile past the visitor center. Park at the end of a cul-de-sac, then walk along the trail for about 15 minutes. Go early, and you'll practically have the beach to yourself. As we mentioned earlier, people also sometimes shed their swimwear at Cinnamon Bay . Again, rangers frequently ask beachgoers to put their (only slightly more modest) bathing suits back on.