Why St. Thomas’ New Hotels, Restaurants, and Beaches Should Be on Your Travel Radar
St. Thomas, USVI
With the St. Thomas’ first all-new hotel in twenty years (a beautiful boutique property that is a historical renovation of a famed artist guesthouse), new art galleries, amazing restaurants (both mainstays and new alike), and recent preservation and restoration initiatives driven by the island’s historical trust, St. Thomas is undergoing what some would call a renaissance after rebounding from the devastating back-to-back Irma and Maria hurricanes in 2017, and deserves a spot on travelers’ radars beyond its previous reputation as a cruise stopover. That being said – it does also serve as an excellent starting point and/or anchor for an island-hopping trip that includes others in the USVI and the BVIs.
Below are some of the top recs for the island, from where to stay and eat to historical and cultural sites, amazing beaches and day trips to neighboring islands. The island is also currently celebrating its 71st carnival through the end of the month.
St. Thomas combines the natural beauty of the Caribbean islands with an energetic atmosphere. Charlotte Amalie, the capital of the USVI, is the most visited port in the Caribbean and boasts one of the most beautiful harbors in the world. A mountainous island, St. Thomas offers stunning vistas in all directions, with views of the Caribbean from 1,500 feet above sea level. Breathtaking natural wonders like magnificent Magens Bay and Drake’s Seat are also world-renowned, and visitors can enjoy everything from the beaches to top restaurants, vibrant nightlife, historical sites, local art, boat charters, sport-fishing and golf courses.
WHERE TO STAY
The first all-new hotel on St.Thomas in more than 20 years, The Pink Palm is a beautifully designed boutique property that sits on just under an acre of land nestled in the hillside of downtown Charlotte Amalie with magnificent views of the city’s historic waterfront harbor. The 27-room hotel is a careful, historic renovation of famed Smith’s Fancy, known in the 1940s and 50s as a destination guesthouse for those in the fashion, art, music and film worlds, and offers guests a relaxing, private oasis while being steps from local restaurants, bars, art galleries and shops of the city .
Winding outdoor pathways and stairs lined with native plants and trees connect six buildings and communal outdoor spaces, including a terrace restaurant, cocktail bar, infinity green tile pool and hot tub, bamboo outdoor showers, and plenty of places to lounge and take in the Caribbean views. The Pink Palm will offer guest experiences including garden walks to learn about the island’s native species, events featuring local artists and partnering with local galleries, live music from local musicians and more.
WHERE TO EAT
For what many consider the best roti on island, head to Ideal in Charlotte Amalie. Other gems in Charlotte Amalie (and in walking distance to The Pink Palm) include Virgilio’s for Italian, Spanish-focused Amalia Cafe and sister-owned and operated Surf & Turf, which doesn’t limit turf to meat, but instead includes vegan options on the menu as well. For a minimalist surf vibe with gorgeous (screened-in) views, excellent cocktails, locally caught fish dishes (Caribbean lobster mac & cheese is amazing) and raw bar, Fish Bar (@fishbarvi) is an absolute island favorite located near Hull Bay, one of the few beaches on the island where surfers can catch some waves. And, one of the most iconic on St. Thomas is Oceana Restaurant & Bistro, with a menu that features both classic dishes and innovative twists and an extensive wine list to pair. Originally opened in 2002, Oceana’s main house dates back to the 18th century and remained almost entirely intact through the devastating back-to-back hurricanes of Irma & Maria in 2017, but much of the restaurant was destroyed. The team rebuilt and re-opened the doors in 2019.
WHAT TO DO
The most obvious is to check out some of St. Thomas’ more than 40 white sand beaches with beautiful turquoise beaches. Magen’s Bay is known as one of the Caribbean’s most beautiful, with accomodations and watersport rentals, but you can’t go wrong with any of them. If you like to work for your beach time, hike the Santa Maria Beach Trail that leads to a more secluded, less populated beach on the island. You can also take a day trip by ferry to neighboring islands Water Island and St. John, which both offer additional options for gorgeous beaches and places to imbibe and explore. St. John has an amazing dining scene with both laid back and finer dining options that are worth a ferry trip in the evening, too.
If you like the water but are not a fan of the sand, there is no shortage of boat charters that offer public and private group day sails and powerboat trips complete with snorkeling, lounging, cocktails and lunch, as well as sunset sails with stunning views.
If you’re sunned out, check out the shopping in Charlotte Amalie. Along with jewelry stores and souvenir shops, you’ll find local artist stands selling various works, along with unique galleries like 81C and Creative Native.
Of course, open-air safaris offer island tours that give the history of the island while stopping along the stunning vistas. If you’re exploring by foot, check out the 99 Steps in Charlotte Amalie, a series of brick steps brought by the Danes leading to famed pirate Blackbeard’s Castle (although entrance is still closed due to hurricane damage), one of the island’s National Historic Landmarks, as well as the Three Queens Fountain, commemorating three women, Queen Mary, Queen Agnes and Queen Josiah, who led a successful 1878 insurrection against the Danish Government demanding improved working and living conditions and better wages following emancipation.
Magen’s Bay (left); Ama Dennis, artist and owner of Creative Native (right)