The easiest of the US Virgin Islands to reach, St. Thomas is both the gateway to St. John and St. Croix and a beloved family vacation destination in its own right. Tourists primarily flock to this popular Caribbean paradise for its beautiful beaches and world-class snorkelling. It’s also steeped in maritime history and pirate legends, which make for some interesting attractions. By Lindsay Cohn
The frequency of international travellers has left a mark over the years. As a result, St. Thomas exudes a cosmopolitan atmosphere, especially in the bustling capital of Charlotte Amalie, which is brimming with Danish colonial architecture, duty-free shops, and cultural landmarks.
This is the ultimate guide for a family vacation in the stunning US Virgin Islands
A busy port for cruise ships, the island swells when big boats dock. Given St. Thomas is only 32 square miles (82.8 square km), you can see many major sights and relish some beach time all in a few hours. However, many people prefer to spend a couple of days or more on the island to cover more sun-soaked ground and splash in the turquoise tides.
Getting to St. Thomas
St. Thomas is the most accessible of the US Virgin Islands. American, Delta, JetBlue, Spirit, and United all operate direct flights from major East Coast airports, including New York, Boston, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta, and Washington, DC. From takeoff to landing, it’s only about four hours (of course, this varies slightly depending on the departure point). St. Thomas is also easy to reach via plane or boat from other Caribbean destinations, making it a requisite stop on any island-hopping holiday.
Best things to do on St. Thomas
St. Thomas has a treasure trove of sandy stretches with dozens of beautiful beaches. Postcard-worthy and popular Magens Bay on the north coast is ideal for swimming, kayaking, and paddleboarding. Those wanting to avoid the crowds will find quiet places like Lindquist Beach, part of the 21-acre protected Smith Bay Park, situated on the island’s eastern end.
With some of the clearest water in the world and tons of tropical fish, it’s no surprise that snorkelling is one of the main draws here. Families especially love the calm bays that make swimming and exploring fun and safe for kiddos. Some of the top spots to see magnificent marine life include Coki Point Beach, Secret Harbour, and Brewers Bay. It’s also highly recommended to join a boat excursion to Honeymoon Beach on lesser-known Water Island.
Charlotte Amalie is a vibrant hub for shopping, entertainment, and history. There are more than 100 duty-free stores, including many jewellers. (Some travellers even report bringing an extra suitcase dedicated to carrying back souvenirs.)
Keen on learning a bit more about Virgin Island’s past on your family vacation? Check out the eye-catching 17th-century Fort Christian, which showcases a central clock tower and on-site museum. St. Thomas is also home to the second-oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. The Pirates Treasure Museum brings the legends and lore of deep-sea escapades to life through interactive exhibits.
For a workout and superb panoramas, climb the 99 Steps. Colloquially referred to as “step-street,” it’s a staircase built from bricks brought over by 18th-century Danish ships. Another high-altitude must, the Skyride aerial tram climbs 700 feet above Charlotte Amalie to Paradise Point.
Budding botanists of all ages should take a trip to Phantasea Tropical Botanical Garden, while art fans won’t want to pass up the chance to visit the childhood home of French impressionist Camille Pissarro. Nightlife enthusiasts can hit the lively beach bars and clubs.
Best St. Thomas hotels and resorts
Marriott’s Frenchman’s Cove
Perfect for family vacations and group getaways, Marriott’s Frenchman’s Cove in the US Virgin Islands features spacious villas with two or three bedrooms, living and dining areas, fully equipped kitchens, and patios. The hillside property also treats guests to ample amenities — including an infinity pool with a waterslide — and activities, as well as gorgeous vistas of Pacquereau Bay.
Secret Harbour Beach Resort
Located on the quieter east end of St. Thomas, Secret Harbour Beach Resort is a favourite among families and couples looking for a relaxed escape that doesn’t skimp on fun outdoorsy activities. Besides snorkelling, scuba diving, and tennis, guests rave about the renovated condo-style units that are just steps from the sand.
The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas
A luxury resort that very much caters to families, The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas sits on a beautiful sandy beach and has a slew of kid- and parent-approved amenities, ranging from a top-notch kids’ club to a pool with a waterslide. There are four restaurants, 180 revamped guest rooms, and the famous sunset catamaran cruises.
At Home in the Tropics
For a boutique stay with a central location, At Home in the Tropics provides a laid-back vibe that feels more grown-up than many of the area’s larger resorts. Housed in a lovely historic Danish building overlooking the harbour, the bed-and-breakfast offers a pool, four coastal-inspired guest rooms, and equally breezy common spaces.
Best St. Thomas Restaurants
Pangea Terra Table
Pangea Terra Table focuses on farm-to-fork fare made with seasonal organic ingredients served in a lovely alfresco setting with a lively bar. Beyond the delicious food, the restaurant’s sustainability initiatives — which include an on-site garden, using zero plastic, and composting — are admirable.
Heidi’s Honeymoon Grill
The perfect spot for a leisurely lunch on Water Island, Heidi’s Honeymoon Grill serves flavourful fish tacos and strong rum cocktails to day-trippers. Grab a shaded table on the deck and soak in the sparkling views until your food arrives.
Prime at Paradise Point
Craving a fancier dinner — perhaps one that involves leaving the kids with a babysitter back at the hotel? Prime at Paradise Point is a special-occasion-worthy choice, with indulgent dishes like local lobster, tomahawk steak, and truffle mac and cheese.
Side Street Pub
Hungry shoppers who need to refuel between duty-free purchases can head to Side Street Pub for slow-cooked pulled pork tacos, homemade salsa, and Caribbean chicken sandwiches. It’s a family-owned hidden gem in Charlotte Amalie, with friendly service that’s well worth the effort to find.
This story first appeared on www.travelandleisure.com
(Main and Feature Image Credit: Steve Heap/Getty Images)