7 Historic Beaches Worth a Visit on the U.S. Virgin Islands
On St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas, and Water Island, every coast is a museum—and every tanning session can double as a history lesson. From Cinnamon Bay to Honeymoon Beach, read on for the backstories of some of the Caribbean’s most beautiful stretches of sand.
1. CINNAMON BAY BEACH (ST. JOHN)
In the days before European settlers arrived, the U.S. Virgin Islands were occupied by two (often warring) groups known as the Caribs and the Taínos. A wealth of information about the latter has been discovered beneath the sands of Cinnamon Bay Beach on St. John. Here, archaeologists have unearthed what they believe was a Taíno temple, built at some point between 1020 and 1490 CE. Since 1998, the scenic coastline has also yielded hordes of Taíno artifacts with religious connotations, such as tiny sculptures of various deities. Other recovered objects include pots, beads, and golden discs.
2. COLUMBUS LANDING BEACH (ST. CROIX)
Thanks to the rhyme every kid learns in elementary school, the fact that Christopher Columbus supposedly “discovered” the New World in 1492 is common knowledge. But there aren’t many poems out there about the man’s three return trips. In September 1493, with 17 Spanish ships at his command, Columbus embarked upon a second expedition into the western hemisphere. This time, he came across a Caribbean island that the natives called “Ayay.” Columbus rechristened it “Santa Cruz,” though you might know this landmass better by its current name: St. Croix.
The famous explorer himself never went ashore. Instead, he sent a group of scouts to investigate the terrain. These sailors landed on a beach on the western side of Salt River Bay. In doing so, they became the only participants in one of Columbus’s voyages to ever set foot on what is now U.S. soil. Unfortunately, things quickly went downhill for the adventurous seamen. The party encountered several Taínos who’d been taken prisoner by some nearby Caribs. Columbus’s men decided to bring the natives back to the waiting ships, but en route, the Spaniards were attacked by a contingent of Caribs. Some historians maintain that this was the first documented confrontation between Europeans and Native Americans.
3. HONEYMOON BEACH (WATER ISLAND)
The United States bought St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas from Denmark in 1917. Then, in 1944, America took nearby Water Island off the Danish government’s hands for the modest price of $10,000. It was subsequently leased out by the Department of the Interior to a private developer in 1950. A terraforming visionary, the developer more or less built the landmass’ most popular attraction: Honeymoon Beach. Originally, this was a rocky patch of coastline that stretched just 50 feet in length. But under his direction, the beach was massively expanded—a process that involved removing some 200 truckloads’ worth of debris.
In 1996, Water Island was handed over to the territorial government. Today, the radically transformed land is a magnet for scuba divers, sandcastle-builders, and, yes, newlyweds.
4. THE CANEEL BAY BEACHES (ST. JOHN)
A grandson of industrialist John D. Rockefeller first laid eye on this tropical paradise in 1952. Utterly spellbound, he proceeded to purchase most of St. John and set up a resort on Caneel Bay. He couldn’t have picked a better location for this vacation spot, as the facility is surrounded by no less than seven beaches which continue to delight its guests today.
In 1956, the wealthy philanthropist gave some 5000 acres worth of land on St. John to the United States’ National Park Service (NPS). By accepting this gift, the government agreed to honor two key provisos. As per his wishes, the plot was converted into a brand new National Park—which now covers a grand total of 12,909 acres and spans multiple islands. The Caneel Bay resort, which hosts movie stars and dignitaries, is open for ten months each year.
5. LINDBERGH BAY BEACH (ST. THOMAS)
What does Charles Lindbergh have to do with the Virgin Islands, you ask? In 1927, he made history by becoming the first pilot to ever complete a solo, non-stop, transatlantic flight. Less than a year later, Lindbergh celebrated the feat by flying across Latin America, South America, and the Caribbean in an epic victory tour. On January 31, 1928, he touched down in St. Thomas, at the invitation of the then-governor. The aviator’s landing site was a golf course located on a part of the island known as Mosquito Bay. After his departure, this whole area was renamed Lindbergh Bay. Accordingly, its long, palm tree-dotted beach came to be known as the Lindbergh Bay Beach.
6. MAGENS BAY (ST. THOMAS)
One of the most oft-visited beaches on the Virgin Islands, Magens Bay is another hotspot for Taíno artifacts. Flutes, pottery fragments, and even sculptures have all been found in the area. Presidential history buffs might also be interested to learn that John and Jackie Kennedy once went for a swim there on December 16, 1958.
7. GIBNEY BEACH (ST. JOHN)
Located on the Denis Bay peninsula, this white-sanded seashore was once the favorite vacation spot of a man who helped split the atom. In 1957, a veteran of the Manhattan Project bought two acres of nearby land and built a modest beach house for his family. Before the physicist’s untimely death in 1967, he could often be seen sailing offshore with his wife and their daughter. Sadly, his home away from home was eventually destroyed by a hurricane. At present, a government-run community center—complete with a front porch and kitchen—sits in its place.
What better way to explore the U.S. Virgin Islands’ rich history than in the Islands themselves? Learn more about the upcoming Centennial at VisitUSVI.com.