Need a long weekend destination but not sure where to go? Check out my guide to a quick vacation in the US Virgin Islands.
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About a month ago, my best friend and I set out for a long girl’s weekend on St. Thomas. It was. So. Good. St. Thomas isn’t a destination you usually think of for a long weekend, but if you’re based in the east or southeast US, it’s soooo doable! I mean… tropical weather, beautiful beaches, nightlife, snorkeling… what more could you want for a quick winter getaway?!
While we definitely didn’t get to see it all, we got to experience just what we wanted in our 4 days on St. Thomas. My advice for a quick weekend getaway is to have a mission in mind. Ours was relaxing on the beach and enjoying good food & drinks! Of course there were tours we didn’t take and hikes we didn’t go on, but I didn’t feel like we were missing out because that wasn’t the purpose of our trip. And I know I’ll be back one day to explore the rest!
So this guide is for you gals and guys that just want to escape for a few days and enjoy the beauty of the Virgin Islands. St. Croix is a bit farther away so we didn’t make it to that island this time. Check back in the future for more info on St. Croix! But for now, let’s talk about St. Thomas and St. John, shall we? Check out the ultimate guide to a quick US Virgin Islands vacation.
ABOUT the VIRGIN ISLANDS
The Virgin Islands is a chain of islands in the Caribbean sea not too far from Puerto Rico. There are 3 main islands that make up the US owned islands–St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix. There are British Virgin Islands as well. But today, we’re going to focus on the USVIs (mainly because I’ve been there and not the BVIs).
The USVIs have a storied history. Long story short, there were native inhabitants and then Christopher Columbus discovered the island. It was owned by Spain for a bit, then France, then Denmark. The US finally purchased the islands in 1917. Please know I’m not a history major, so this is a VERY short history. But I thought it was important to point out so you know that the USVIs have a rich, melting pot of a culture!
While there are 3 main islands you can stay on, you can’t go wrong choosing either of them. But each has a unique personality! St. Thomas is the main island with the biggest airport and is the easiest to get to. It’s also well developed with lots of options for beaches, accommodations, nightlife, and restaurants. St. Croix is the largest island, with much of it being farmland. However, it still has plenty of beaches and two cities that have beautiful Victorian architecture and lots of history. St John is vastly protected land and home to the US Virgin Islands National Park. Most of the island is uninhabited, with just a small corner dotted with homes and shops.
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Don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before your trip! Check out my post on why you NEED travel insurance for your next trip. Especially in times of Covid and rapidly changing circumstances, you want to be protected from any unseen events that could cancel or change your trip!
HOW TO GET THERE
There’s pretty much only one way to get here: fly. Both St. Croix and St. Thomas have airports, but I would argue St. Thomas is a bit easier and has more flight options.
The only way to get to St. John is via ferry from one of the other islands. It’s super quick and easy, so don’t be discouraged about the extra step.
You can also take the ferry from Puerto Rico if you are feeling extra adventurous and extending want to extend your US Virgin Islands vacation.
WHERE TO STAY
If you are going for a long weekend, like we did, I recommend staying on St. Thomas. It has direct flights from many southern and eastern US airports while the other islands require other flights or ferry rides.
If you’re looking for a boutique hotel (my fave!) I recommend Skyline Vista Villa. If you’re on a budget, check out Concordia Ecoresort (looks so cool, I’d love to stay in those cabins!). And if you’re looking for a super lively beach scene close to nightlife I would recommend Club Wyndham Elysian Beach Resort.
We stayed in an Airbnb on the west side of the island. The Airbnb itself was absolutely wonderful but staying on that side of the island was a bit inconvenient. Due to the mountainous terrain, it took us awhile to get to some of the more happenin’ neighborhoods and beaches. Stay near the Red Hook neighborhood to be a bit closer to the action.
If you’re planning to stay more than a few days, absolutely stay on St. John! Or even split your time half and half. We only spent one day on St. John and it was so dreamy I want to spend my whole life there!!! It’s much more relaxed and has a smaller town/nightlife scene so just something to consider depending on what you want out of your vacation.
WHAT TO DO
So how should you spend your time on your US virgin islands vacation? Here are a few ideas:
BEACH IT, of course! USVI has amazing beaches and beautiful water. How else should you spend your time? On St. Thomas, some of our favorites were Sapphire Beach, Lindquist Beach, and Hull Bay. On St. John, go to Maho Bay to snorkel with turtles or Trunk Bay, Cinnamon Bay, or Peace Hill. Bonus about Maho Bay? It’s part of US Virgin Islands National Park.
Looking for more national park travel inspo?Check out all my national park guides here!
Take a ferry to Water Island. Just off St. Thomas, Water Island is a great day trip. Check out the ferry schedule, hop on and head over to the beach! There’s a bar, Dinghy’s Beach Bar, where you can rent beach chairs, grab lunch, and have a few cocktails. A perfect day, in my opinion.
Take the cable car up to Paradise Point. Paradise Point (as you can imagine) sits on top of the island and gives you incredible views of the island and sea. Have lunch at Prime at Paradise Point while you’re there—order a Bushwacker!
Hike—there’s so many good ones on St. Thomas! Magen’s Bay Trailhead and John Brewers cave both look amazing. If you have more than one day on St. John there’s plenty of wonderful hikes to explore there, too.
Snorkel! You can rent snorkel gear, bring your own, or go on a snorkeling excursion but the snorkeling is excellent around the US Virgin Islands!
WHAT TO EAT
This list is exclusive to St. John and St. Thomas, because I haven’t quite wandered over to St. Croix. But make sure to check back in the future for updates!
On St. Thomas, there’s sooo many good spots in Red Hook! Try Agave for fresh Mexican (get the flautas!) and delicious margaritas, Pesce for yummy Italian, and Caribbean Fish Market for fresh seafood. The Easterly is a great option for a more upscale experience.
Frenchtown Deli was a GREAT place to pop in for breakfast and grab a sandwich and it’s right on the water. We also enjoyed Bumpas in downtown Charlotte Amalie for french toast and a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich.
Over on the east side of the island, I LOVED The Shack! Right in Hull Bay, the fish tacos were ~to die for~ and we loved being able to grab a drink at the bar after and walk right over to the beach. You absolutely must do this your first day there–it’s a great intro to the beautiful beaches and eats in St. Thomas!
In St. John, Longboard is a great dinner spot. It’s a bit pricy, but fresh and the cocktails are amazing! I had the ceviche with plantain chips and it was *chef’s kiss.* I’ve heard wonderful things about The Lime Inn as well, but it was closed on the day we went.
The whole reason I wanted to write this post was because I needed to highlight that it’s absolutely possible to see the islands in a long weekend! So, to add to this post I’m going to share the itinerary we followed from our recent 4 day trip to help you plan a quick US Virgin Islands vacation!
It’s a bit longer than a “weekend,” but totally reasonable to visit St. Thomas for 4 days. So let’s get into it!
Head out on an early flight, you want to make the most of your day! Aim to get in between noon and 2 pm to enjoy the afternoon. You’ll be on the beach in no time! Be sure to plan for a rental car once you arrive.
After getting to St. Thomas, grab your rental car and head to your stay! We stayed at an Airbnb on the west part of the island, so it took us about 15 minutes to get there. Unpack, get your bathing suit on and get to the beach!
Because of where we were located, it was easy to head to Hull Bay for lunch and beach. I LOVED this location because a) it’s beautiful b) The Shack is right across the street and has excellent food & bevs, c) it’s a bit quieter to easy into your vacay.
If you’re staying closer to Charlotte Amalie or Red Hook, there’s plenty of other beaches to hit like Magen’s Bay or Coki Beach.
Day one is all about enjoying the beach and getting introduced to St. Thomas! So have a few drinks and relax on the beach until the sun goes down!
When you’re ready for dinner, stop at Moe’s Grocery for charcuterie or head over to Caribbean Fish Market in Red Hook for some fresh seafood and beautiful sights. Then head over to Bernie’s for drinks with the locals. (Or hit the hay, it was an early flight after all!)
Up and at ‘em! Today is going to be fun. Get on your bathing suit and hop in the car to head over to Sapphire Beach. Sapphire Beach is beautiful, busy, and the perfect place to enjoy the day. You can get everything you need right here!
Have breakfast at The Beach Buzz (the bagel sandwiches are excellent!) and then go straight to the beach. You can rent chairs, but be mindful of who you rent them from because a lot of them are reserved for the condo renters. We just used our beach towels and it was just fine! The beach is super busy with families and couples but don’t let that deter you. There’s plenty of space and the best part is the two bars associated with Sapphire Beach Bar. Walk up and grab a drink to take back to your chair. Or grab a table and have some lunch when you’re hungry!
I know it’ll be hard to “get tired” of Sapphire Beach, but once you’ve soaked in some rays and the beautiful Caribbean sea, pack your bags. Head over to experience more of St. Thomas’s beautiful beaches just down the road from Sapphire. Lindquist Beach is a stone’s throw away and a little more quiet. But if you’re still in the mood for a busier beach head over to Coki Beach!
At this point, you’re already in Red Hook which is the perfect spot for dinner. Enjoy some delicious margs and Mexican at Agave and then head over to Duffys Love Shack or Bernie’s for after dinner drinks.
If you’re looking for a bar where a lot of locals go, try Chicken n’ Bowling. (I may or may not have called it Chicken n Bones about 100 times haha) They do in fact have bowling and good chicken wings… but also a great bar scene!
Your last full day of your quick US Virgin Islands vacation may just be your best one. Today, grab some breakfast at Frenchtown Deli and then head back into Red Hook to catch the ferry.
The ferry to St. John runs every hour throughout most of the day. Tip: you can book your tickets online beforehand to avoid having to stand in line. The ride will only take you about 20 minutes!
Once you get to St. John grab a taxi and head to Maho Bay. It’s a bit more crowded than some off the beaten path beaches, but I promise it’s SO WORTH IT!!! You will definitely (ok most likely) see sea turtles! Maho Bay is also great for travelers taking the ferry over because similar to Sapphire Beach, it has everything you need. There are a few bars where you can get drinks to take to the beach or grab a bite to eat. You can also rent beach chairs, kayaks, and snorkel gear here. It’s not necessarily budget friendly but it’s worth it.
Spend the day enjoying the beautiful island and snorkeling with sea turtles! Oh, and you can mark another national park off your list because Maho Bay is part of the Virgin Islands National Park!
Stay until evening and walk around Cruz Bay. Then grab dinner at Longboard or The Lime Inn! If you have time or energy after dinner, check out Drink for drinks.
Grab the ferry back and head to bed. (or get another drink, who am I to judge?)
Book a later flight home so you can still explore some on day four! Four pm or later should give you time to enjoy the day and still get back in a reasonable time (assuming you’re flying back to the east coast, may want to adjust for further destinations).
Grab some breakfast at Bumpas Sandwich Shop or Glady’s Cafe. This will put you right in the center of Charlotte Amalie! Charlotte Amalie is the main area of St. Thomas and full of beautiful colonial architecture and shopping. Take some time to stroll the streets. Some areas you don’t want to miss are the 99 steps, Blackbeard’s Castle, and Fort Christian!
The airport at St. Thomas is smaller, so even if you have a TSA precheck plan to get to the airport 2 hours early. If you have extra time after exploring town, you can hit a beach–there’s a couple near the airport!
The US Virgin Islands was never very high on my list but gosh, it was such a great trip! It’s not overly pricey, easily accessible, and perfect for a long weekend when you’re trying to preserve PTO. I hope this guide to a quick US Virgin Islands vacation is helpful for you to plan your trip!
Let me know in the comments: did you plan a US Virgin Islands vacation with this guide? What did I miss?