We arrived at Cruz Bay (the primary city on St. John) via ferry from Tortola. The ferries are a little complex here as different ferries leave from different parts of the harbor. US Customs was pretty easy and unlike so many Caribbean ports, once through you are left completely alone. Yes, that's right. No one offered a taxi or hair beading or parasailing trips. It was quite refreshing. There are of course taxis around if you do want one.
There isn't much in the way of a beach in Cruz Bay or the associated harbors. There are a couple small lodgings with tiny stretches of sand but for the most part the beaches are everywhere else on the island. We stayed right in the middle of Cruz Bay, drove out to the beaches each day and then came back at night to enjoy the restaurants and nightlife in town.
Most people leave Cruz Bay along the north shore of the island where the bulk of the National Park is located and certainly the most beach access points. Trunk Bay, seen here from the road is the number one destination for cruise ship visitors. It isn't the first beach you reach from town but it is pretty spectacular.
Here is the view at sea level. The island in Trunk Bay is a wildlife sanctuary and access is not allowed. This is perhaps the most developed beach on the island. It has a restaurant, snack bar, small store and rather nice showering facilities. It was the most crowded beach we visited anywhere in the Virgin Islands but still quite manageable.
The highlight of Trunk Bay for us was the underwater snorkeling trail. It's a relatively short loop that follows the edge of a reef and has about ten or twelve underwater signs explaining different parts of the ecosystem.
This stingray we actually saw elsewhere in the bay. The underwater trail was full of reef fish. Trunk Bay is easily accessible from Cruz Bay by car or by the numerous buses (which are actually trucks and vans) that stop here.
A bit further down the coast from Trunk Bay is Cinnamon Bay. This is also a well-developed beach, largely because of the campground located there. We didn't spend any time at all on the beach at Cinnamon. Instead we stopped here to spend a little time in the interior at the Cinnamon Bay Ruins. The ruins cover a former estate and assorted out buildings.
You can follow a short hiking trail back along a creek (which will probably be dry) to the tombs of the former owners of the estate. It's one of the easier places to get into the interior (barely) of the island and it's something to do other than a beach, just in case you need a little variety.
The next major bay past Cinnamon is Maho which looks like this from above. We loved Maho which was almost deserted. There is not a lot of parking available here and there are some basic restrooms and a pavilion. The dark area on the far side of the bay is mostly due to sea grasses and it is frequented by sea turtles.
Snorkeling wasn't quite as good here as many beaches simply because there wasn't much reef near the shore. The sand is fantastically soft and if you're looking for a good place to just wander around comfortably barefoot with no real danger of stepping on urchins, coral or shells - this is the place to go.
The redeeming feature as far as snorkeling is of course the sea turtles. We saw two at Maho and they were there for several hours.
The next step along the north shore is Anneberg which is a popular place to take this picture with the remnants of the Anneberg Sugar Mill. This is a small area and can be easily explored in a half hour. There are also remnants of an Anneberg school a little ways away.
There are several beaches in the Anneberg area. Waterlemon is the most popular area which can be reached by hiking along the coast from the ruins. This is Leinster Bay which is a huge shallow tidal area. Not the best beach but there is a lot of sea life along the mud flats. Further east from the Anneberg area is the 'town' of Coral Bay. There are a few restaurants around and the drive out to East End is extremely scenic.
If you go through Coral Bay to the south side of the island you can reach Saltpond Bay. This is a short downhill hike from the parking area where you'll have the choice of spending time on the first beach you reach (Saltpond) or hiking a bit further to Drunk Bay. We spent an afternoon at Saltpond Beach which has picnic tables at assorted intervals along it. It is also completely overrun by soldier crabs like these. They are harmless and somewhat amusing to watch.
The sand was not as nice at Saltpond but there were very few people and the snorkeling was excellent. The east side of the beach had an enormous variety of fish including the trumpetfish hiding in this picture. The center of the bay has sea grass and we saw multiple sea turtles here as well so it is pretty much one-stop shopping as far as snorkeling from the beach goes.