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Destination St John

Sometimes even HipGuide needs to go far, far away from velvet ropes. So on this vaca, that even meant no St. Barth, no St. Tropez...

St. John is the idyllic one of three islands that make up the U.S. Virgin Islands. (St. Thomas and it's poorer sibling St. Croix being the other two. We don't happen to recommend the latter.)

A nine mile island which is over 80% National Park.
Originally owned by the Dutch, sold to the Americans for 24 million bucks, and preserved when Laurance Rockefeller decided to buy up the land and sell it back to the U.S. on the condition of land preservation.
Other than the locals - some descended from the Arawak Indians- the island is also inhabited by mongoose, goats, iguanas, tiny lizards and we're told 1 donkey for every 10 people.
For an island the same size as Manhattan, hey that's only 400 asses.

Our ticket: $340 roundtrip through Orbitz (from NYC's JFK).
We also like www.lowestfare.com.
You can't fly into St. John, so buy a ticket to St. Thomas (airport code: STT). From the St. Thomas airport, a half hour cab ride ($11) takes you to Red Hook Ferry which goes across to St. John (there's also a ferry in St. Thomas at Charlotte Amalie, but we liked the Red Hook one). Ferries run on the hour till midnight ($3 a person). If you miss making the ferry, kill time by going the 50 yards to Duffy's St. Thomas for some conch fritters and the local blender drink, the Painkiller.

The ferry arrives in downtown St. John, which is called Cruz Bay. We recommend renting a car, otherwise you can't drive around the island to the various beaches. You cannot take a rental car from St. Thomas to St. John so don't try. We used St. John Car Rental (340 776 6103, approx $340 for a jeep for the week). If you're used to the right, remember to drive on the left side of the road and be patient for the occasional slow crossing crab. Also watch out coming across sharp hills as many locals hitchhike.

3 good options.
1. Rent a house
A quaint 2 bedroom cottage is yours for anywhere from approx $1200-1600 for the week. We used Carefree Getaways and stayed in Chocolate Hole, next to Cruz Bay. Unless you like mountainous driving late at night, you will want to stay close to Cruz Bay. (That means not the Coral Bay side of the island.)
Another company we did not use but checked out is:

2. Gallows Point Resort
Too scared to rough it? The posh hotel we recommend is called Gallows Point. In between Cruz Bay and Chocolate Hole, it has pretty, modern condos, their own garden, their own snorkeling reef and own pool, and a fantabulous restaurant called Zozo's which overlooks the sun setting.

3. Westin
The big hotel on St. John is the Westin. It houses one of the two worthwhile spas on the island as well. Mostly focused on residential hoteling (think time share), the hotel is also the departure dock for Cruz Bay Watersports which offers parasailing, jet ski, sailing and the requisite excursions to Jost Van Dyke and Virgin Gorda. Lounging beside the pool, we nearly passed out with joy when the staff brought us cool face towels scented with mint. Don't be surprised when an iguana tries to share your deck chair. The beach cafe also serves the best pina colada on the island.

Downtown Cruz Bay is about two blocks by two blocks so trust us when we say you don't need an address to find these spots:
1. Lime Inn
Our fave meal.
This tiny stone terrace serves the best Caribbean lobster in St. John. Also a must for their frozen key lime pie.
approx $28 a person

2. Zozo's
The second best meal we had was on the second floor at Gallow's Point. An al fresco terrace serving new Italian. We had the best jumbo shrimp over black ink linguini here. The luscious cliche, at 6:30 p.m. a lone sailboat drifted in front of the sun which was setting in front of us.
approx $60 a person
340 693 9200

3. Morgan's Mango
A pretty wooden bar and the house classic, the blackened mahi mahi with mango rum sauce, is the reason to dine here. Our vote for our third best meal.
approx $35 a person
340 693 8141

4. Cafe Roma
If you can no longer take more mango with your side of mango, the basic Italian dishes here will help you to forget you're on an island. Don't expect al dente however and the specials far outrule the regular menu.
approx $31 a person

drive to it:
5. Skinny Legs
On the other side of St. John from Cruz Bay is Coral Bay. If Chocolate Hole is the Malibu of St. John, then Coral Bay is the Venice Beach of the island. While the beaches on this side of the island tend to be rocks (versus sand beaches), the locals descend on this classic shack for burgers. We liked the enormous piles of condiment packets on our table and the serve-yourself popsicle freezer. Outside the restaurant is the best giftshop on the island.
approx $15 a person

6. Chateau Bordeaux
The highest point (1300 ft.) on St. John with the best view, the outdoor portion of this spot is practically a tree house. Half way on the drive between Coral Bay and downtown, this spot is perfect to stop for a banana smoothie. Watch out if you make it full octane however, they're STRONG.
approx $5 a person for a drink
340 776 6611

7. ASolare
Although everyone will tell you it's the island's "best" restaurant, we didn't like our meal here. Six dishes later, we were pretty disappointed and much poorer each. The view off the stone terrace does overlook the bay and it's only worthwhile to come here if you plan to sit outside so ask for the view.
approx $75 a person
340 779 4747

8. Paradise Cafe
This little outdoor stand in one of the two downtown shopping corners had the best mango smoothie and tasty various sandwich wraps were individually created with love by the owner. A good lunch stop on your way to the beach.
approx $8 a person

There are many reefs and beaches around the island but we recommend two in particular.
1. Trunk Cay
Of the sandy beaches, Trunk is the most beautiful one that requires no hiking. Drive up to the parking lot, with showers and picnic tables. Tons of blonde, pristine sand, it was so stunning, we actually saw a couple getting married on the beach.

2. Waterlemon Bay
The best snorkeling on the island is off the Annaberg Ruin. Drive to the ruin, park and hike to the Bay. Just keep in mind, don't bring a cooler or anything heavy because it is a hike.

It's an island. Leave the Paul Smith and Manolos at home.
Everyone goes to happy hour at a divey wings shack called Woody's, where oh by the way, the Corona is $1.50 and a vodka cran is a whopping $2. Completely outdoors (steps right onto the sand) is the Beach Bar. A stone's throw away from the ferry (so you can rendezvous here too) is this outdoor tiled version of Cheers. Thursday is the dead night on the island. Save your energy for Fridays at Duffy's. A bar that smells suspiciously like it came out of the movie Cocktail, everyone crams in and dances their patootie off to cheese like Grease. We heard that annoying 50 Cent tune SIX times in one night. (What the hell is that: "burfday", it's "BIRTHday")

1. The Caves at Norman Island
Make sure your passport is au courant so you can go over to the British Virgin Islands. From St. John, you can see Tortola, and just beyond that is Virgin Gorda which has feisty, gorgeous fish. Below VG is a tiny island called Norman Island. Seismic and volcanic activity has created the renowned caves. Legend has it that part of sunken gold stolen from the Spanish Armada was hidden here and never recovered. If you go and find it, we claim 50%!

2. Jost Van Dyke
Reputed to be one of the world's top beaches, another excursion is north, also crossing into BVI to Jost Van Dyke. Jost (pronounced "yost" like "yo!") has a bar called Soggy Bottom. You jump off the boat into the water and swim to it with just your money. They hang it up to dry while you indulge in a Painkiller.

You can rent your own boat but unless you plan on talking to a volleyball for some years, we don't recommend it. The excursion company we liked can be found at the Westin and is called Cruz Bay Watersports.
340 776 6234
They also specialise in two wreck dives. One of which is right for those certified to about 60 ft.

Souvenir central it ain't!
1. Rum
Pick up some duty free Cruzan rum which comes in unusual flaves, mango, banana etc. And yes, their vanilla is the best. (Sorry, Absolut.)

2. Local symbol
St. John has a classic cuff bracelet worn by men and women alike.
St John Bracelet Company
340 776 6465
We went with a charm bracelet customised with a tiny St John charm and a hermit crab charm.

1. Currency
Currency is U.S. dollars. Local ATM fees are high so debit card it.

2. Sunblock
20 minutes in the sun at noon so close to the equator will fry you even with SPF 45 on, so bring the strongest you can find (European brands, such as Photoderm, have Mexoryl SX, which is stronger than Parsol so bring that if you can find it.)

3. Bug spray
At 4 p.m. the mosquitoes come out to play. We made Deep Woods Off our Eau de St. John.

4. Boat races
Rumour has it that during the Winter high season, the locals race boats at 4 p.m. outside of Skinny Legs, but alas, a sporadic hard to confirm activity.

5. Fire coral
Don't stand on the coral. Not just because you'll destroy a nearly extinct wildlife crucial to the ecosystem, but because if you do, it will burn you for 7 days straight. If you do hit it by accident, or a jellyfish gets you, human pee will take the sting out. Gross but true.

6. Taxis
Too stubborn to take our advice on renting? Communal open air taxis go everywhere (but can add up and you'll wait).
340 714 7913

above St. John


1. Devil Wears Prada
Anna Wintour anyone? Despite bad reviews, we loved the magazine industry tell all.

2. Cad
Eh. Rick Marin's self absorbed history of how badly he treated women before meeting posh and fun Ilene Rosenzweig is just painful.

3. Dirty Girls Social Club
Six Latinas forge their paths after meeting at Boston U. Not bad. Dishy.

4. Wacky Chicks
We love Simon Doonan but could not get into the inside jokes of his new book profiling oddball personalities.

5. A Big Life (in Advertising)
Mary Wells Lawrence's autobiography on her pioneering life on accounts such as Braniff Airways is fascinating even for those not in advertising.

6. Red Carpet Diaries
Steven Cojocaru is irrepressible and we bust a gut when he started a letter to his doppelganger Steven Tyler with "Papa?"

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