Trunk Bay, St. John, US Virgin Islands
Nearly 50 years after Laurence S. Rockefeller donated Trunk Bay to the National Park Service, making it part of Virgin Islands National Park, the beach and offshore coral reefs remain among St. John's most breathtaking and well-preserved attractions.
Considered the most beautiful beach on the island and often called the most pristine in the Caribbean, Trunk Bay's clear, warm waters and silky coral sands draw tourists in droves, and its well-maintained facilities include chair and snorkel equipment rentals and showers.
Visitors can bask in the tropical sun, snorkel the 225-yard-long Underwater Trail of reefs, or try their hand at underwater photography - the clean water and variety of colorful sea life promise spectacular photo opportunities.
Tourists looking for more active pursuits than sunbathing and snorkeling can opt to explore the park, which consists of hiking trails, and the ruins of historic sugar plantations, remnants of St. John's Danish colonial past.
After a long day of lounging or touring, island visitors can absorb the island's relaxed atmosphere over a sunset dinner at one of St. John's romantic restaurants, or they can dance the tropical night away at a local club while sipping frozen, fruity cocktails.
Best Luxury Accommodations
Caneel Bay Resort
Web site: www.caneelbay.com
Considered one of the Caribbean's most exclusive resorts, Caneel Bay sprawls across 170 lush island acres, and resort guests are privy to seven secluded beaches. Accommodations include 166 guest rooms and cottages constructed to blend with the landscape, rather than obscure it. The resort prides itself on removing guests from the bustle of their everyday worlds and guests are assured they will not encounter phones or TVs in their rooms. The resort allows guests to take advantage of Sun Fish sailboats and kayaks, scuba clinics, beach barbecues and island tours. After they've worked up an appetite relaxing on the beach, guests can indulge in dinner at the Wine Room, located in the candlelit ruins of an 18th-century sugar mill.
Best Family Resort
Westin Resort St. John
Web site: www.westinresortstjohn.com
The Westin is the embodiment of all things resort: the 34-acre property is dotted with 13 accommodation buildings linked by walkways and gardens and features the island's largest pool, a 1,200-foot-wide beach and every child's delight - the Westin Kids Club. Exclusive to little ones, the club is for children ages 3 to 12 and offers half-day, full-day and evening programs filled with outdoor and indoor activities, so Mom and Dad can enjoy a little alone time. When joining the Kids Club at check-in, children receive a coloring book and bath toys, as well as a sippy cup or sports bottle they can use for complimentary beverages during their stay.
Best Eco-Friendly Lodging
Web site: www.maho.org/harmony.cfm
At Harmony Studios, eco-savvy guests can rest easy knowing their studio dwellings are constructed of mostly recycled materials like "plastic lumber" and recycled glass tiles, are powered by sun and wind, and were built to best preserve St. John's ecosystem, including studios connected by raised walkways to prevent the land getting trampled. Harmony Studios may be simple, but its guests are far from roughing it. In fact, the guest accommodations have large, tiled bathrooms; kitchenettes; and furnished decks often with ocean views.
Garden By the Sea
Web site: www.gardenbythesea.com
An intimate bed and breakfast, this inn features only three guestrooms - perfect for couples seeking a private retreat to paradise. The inn is tucked between Frank and Turner Bays, and guests enjoy views of the sparkling waters dotted with sailboats from the main veranda or the privacy of their room's deck. The rooms exude a Caribbean air, painted in bright blues with white accents, and featuring large, wooden canopy beds, stone-walled bathrooms and private decks. Guests can start their day with a delightful meal taken on the veranda, which is surrounded by lush, tropical plants. Breakfast includes fresh fruits, homemade breads and muffins, and quiche or French toast.
Food & Drink
Best Fresh Seafood
This elegant, open-air restaurant has long been considered one of St. John's finest; the menu consistently boasts an abundance of freshly prepared seafood and a unique, Eurasian-themed menu. To start, try the lemongrass steamed mussels or the visually striking tower of tuna and salmon tartare layered with flavored sushi rice served over a wakami salad with a wasabi-soy vinaigrette. Main courses include salmon served with a Thai mint-truffle sauce; baked catfish in a plum-cocoa-curry sauce served with an udon galette; and sashimi tuna with a passion fruit-sake vinaigrette. Arrive early enough and watch the sunset from your dinner table - the restaurant overlooks lovely Cruz Bay.
Best Island Nightlife
Duffy's Love Shack
Web site: www.duffysloveshack.com
No trip to the islands is complete without a little nighttime debauchery among locals, and the favorite place to clink margarita glasses on St. John is at Duffy's Love Shack, a bona fide thatched roof bar, with indoor and outdoor decks linked by rope bridges. After one or two Duffito Mojitos (mint, cane sugar, rum and lime) or Booty Calls (bananas, Irish cream and pi��a colada), guests are sure to shake their own booties to the DJ's tunes. Should you be around for Taco Tuesday, indulge in tacos, shots and upside-down margaritas while playing "pin the tail on the burro." In the mood for lobster with your frozen drink? Thursdays are Lobster Lunacy nights: lobster, salad, vegetables, corn on the cob and rice. Just remember: Duffy's is cash only.
Best Beach Picnic Takeout
Uncle Joe's Barbecue
Imagine spreading out a blanket on the smooth white sands of a Caribbean island beach, turquoise waters yards away, and unwrapping a picnic of barbecue ribs and chicken legs? That's right. Islanders in the know say Uncle Joe's cooks up some of the tastiest and juiciest barbecue anywhere, and the establishment boasts some of St. John's cheapest treats. Meals come with corn on the cob, rice and a scoop of coleslaw or macaroni salad. Though eating at one of Uncle Joe's few sidewalk tables is an option, most folks prefer getting takeout for impromptu seaside dining.
Best Historic Adventure
Annaberg Sugar Plantation
Web site: www.nps.gov/viis
When Danish settlers arrived on St. John in the 1700s, they took advantage of the island's copious sugar cane and built more than 25 sugar mills, the best preserved being the Annaberg Sugar Plantation, built in 1718. The mill produced rum and molasses as well as sugar, and slaves operated the mill until the island's Dutch colonial era ended in 1848. The plantation is now part of Virgin Islands National Park and allows visitors to experience a sense of both the island's colonial past and post-emancipation culture. The Park Service offers self-guided and ranger-guided tours of the historic factory ruins, slave quarters, windmill and other remains.
Best Underwater Fun
Snorkel Trunk Bay
Web site: www.nps.gov/viis
Filled with colorful corals and fish, Trunk Bay's crystalline turquoise waters are a snorkeler's paradise, and perfect for first-time or inexperienced underwater adventurers as well as the pros. The bay's warm waters feature more than 650 feet of underwater trails marked with signs offering information about coral and sea life in the region. Snorkel equipment and floatation devices are available to rent at the beach's gift shop.
Best Day Trip
Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Isles
Web site: motoryachtcinnamonbay.com
Once they climb aboard the Motor Yacht Cinnamon Bay for transportation to magnificent Virgin Gorda, guests are all but guaranteed a luxurious trip. This mahogany wood yacht was formerly used by the Rockefeller family and boasts awnings, showers and a wet bar. Upon arriving at the Virgin Gorda baths, guests are surrounded by sparkling pools filled with warm turquoise water and grottos formed by boulders that lie on the beaches. Snorkel, dive from boulders, or relax and wander through the grottos, stopping to grab an icy drink at Poor Man's Bar on the beach.
Best Outdoor Adventure Trail
Reef Bay Trail
Web site: www.nps.gov/viis
The Reef Bay trailhead at Centerline Road winds down St. John's tallest mountain peaks, descending some 947 feet, and takes hikers through a subtropical forest filled with exotic plant life (including mango and lime trees), past now-defunct sugar mills and horse mills reminiscent of colonial days gone by, and a must-hike side trail that heads down to a 40-foot waterfall and freshwater pool surrounded by rocks carved with petroglyphs. This magical, mysterious spot has long been an enigma to locals and scholars alike, though several unproved theories exist as to who carved the petroglyphs. Get back on the main trail and head down to Reef Bay to explore the ruins of the Reef Bay Sugar Mill. The trail is part of Virgin Islands National Park; the park visitor's center in Cruz Bay offers guided hikes and provides transportation to the trailhead and a boat ride back to Cruz Bay from the trail's end &mdash saving weary hikers the uphill trek home.