7 Historic Beaches Worth a Visit on the U.S. Virgin Islands

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iStock

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.

Amazon's Best Cyber Monday Deals on Tablets, Wireless Headphones, Kitchen Appliances, and More

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Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Cyber Monday has arrived, and with it comes some amazing deals. This sale is the one to watch if you are looking to get low prices on the latest Echo Dot, Fire Tablet, video games, Instant Pots, or 4K TVs. Even if you already took advantage of sales during Black Friday or Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday still has plenty to offer, especially on Amazon. We've compiled some the best deals out there on tech, computers, and kitchen appliances so you don't have to waste your time browsing.

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Amazon

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11 Fascinating Facts About Mark Twain

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Mark Twain is widely considered the author of the first great American novel—The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—but his rollicking tales aren’t the only legacy he left behind. His poignant quotes and witticisms have been told and retold (sometimes erroneously) over the last century and a half, and his volume of work speaks for itself. Over the course of his legendary career, Twain—real name Samuel Langhorne Clemens—wrote more than a dozen novels plus countless short stories and essays and still found time to invent new products, hang out with famous scientists, and look after a house full of cats.

1. Mark Twain is a nautical reference.

Like many of history’s literary greats, Mark Twain (né Samuel Langhorne Clemens) decided to assume an alias early on in his writing career. He tried out a few different names—Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass, Sergeant Fathom, and, more plainly, Josh—before settling on Mark Twain, which means two fathoms (12 feet) deep in boating jargon. He got the idea while working as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River—a job he held for four years until the Civil War broke out in 1861, putting a halt to commerce. (However, another popular theory holds that he earned the nickname in a bar. According to reports in a couple of 19th-century newspapers, he’d walk into a pub and call out “mark twain!,” prompting the bartender to take a piece of chalk and make two marks on a wall for twain—two—drinks. Twain denied this version of events, though.)

2. In addition to being a steamboat pilot, Mark Twain also worked as a miner.

Shortly after his stint on The Big Muddy, Twain headed west with his brother to avoid having to fight in the war. He took up work as a miner in Virginia City, Nevada, but the job wasn't for him. (He described it as "hard and long and dismal.") Fortunately for Twain, he didn’t have to work there long. In 1862, he was offered his first writing job for Virginia City’s Territorial Enterprise newspaper, where he covered crime, politics, mining, and culture.

3. A story Mark Twain heard in a bar led to his “big break.”

Historic American Buildings Survey (Library of Congress), Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1864, Twain headed to Calaveras County, California in hopes of striking gold as a prospector (he didn’t). However, it was during his time here that he heard the bartender of the Angels Hotel in Angels Camp share an incredulous story about a frog-jumping contest. Twain recounted the tale in his own words in The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. It was published in 1865 in The New York Saturday Press and went on to receive national acclaim.

4. It took Mark Twain seven years to write The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

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Twain started writing the sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876, but he wasn’t too pleased with his progress. After writing about 400 pages, he told a friend he liked it "only tolerably well, as far as I have got, and may possibly pigeonhole or burn" the manuscript. He put the project on the back burner for several years and finally finished it in 1883 following a burst of inspiration.

5. Mark Twain invented a board game.

While Twain was putting off writing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, he was busy working on a game he dubbed Memory Builder. It was originally supposed to be an outdoor game to help his children learn about England’s monarchs, but he ended up turning it into a board game to improve its chances of selling. However, after two years of work, it was still too convoluted to be marketable and required a vast knowledge of historical facts and dates. That didn’t stop him from patenting the game, though.

6. Mark Twain created "improved" scrapbooks and suspenders.

Memory Builder wasn't Twain's only invention; he also patented two other products. One was inspired by his love of scrapbooking, while the other came about from his hatred of suspenders. He designed a self-adhesive scrapbook that works like an envelope, which netted him about $50,000 in profits. His “improvement in adjustable and detachable straps for garments” also ended up being useful, but for an entirely different purpose than Twain originally intended. According to The Atlantic, “This clever invention only caught on for one snug garment: the bra. For those with little brassiere experience, not a button, nor a snap, but a clasp is all that secures that elastic band, which holds up women's breasts. So not-so-dexterous ladies and gents, you can thank Mark Twain for that."

7. Thomas Edison filmed Twain at home.

Only one video of Twain exists, and it was shot by none other than his close friend Thomas Edison. The footage was captured in 1909—one year before the author died—at Twain’s estate in Redding, Connecticut. He’s seen sporting a light-colored suit and his usual walrus mustache, and one scene shows him with his daughters, Clara and Jean. On a separate occasion that same year, Edison recorded Twain as he read stories into a phonograph, but those audio clips were destroyed in a fire. No other recording of Twain’s voice exists.

8. Mark Twain did wear white suits, but not as often as you might think.

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When you think of Mark Twain, you probably picture him in an all-white suit with a cigar or pipe hanging from his lips. It’s true that he was photographed in a white suit on several occasions, but he didn’t start this habit until later in life. According to The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, “In December 1906, he wore a white suit while appearing before a congressional committee regarding copyright. He did this for dramatic emphasis. Several times after that he wore white out of season for effect.” He also refused to trade his white clothes for “shapeless and degrading black ones” in the winter, no matter how cold it got. So take that, people who subscribe to the “no white after Labor Day” rule.

9. At one point, Mark Twain had 19 cats.

Twain really, really liked cats—so much so that he had 19 of them at one time. And if he was traveling, he would “rent” cats to keep him company. In fact, he had a much higher opinion of felines than humans, remarking, “If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.” He also had a talent for coming up with some great cat names; Beelzebub, Blatherskite, Buffalo Bill, Sour Mash, Zoroaster, Soapy Sal, Pestilence, Bambino, and Satan were just a few of the kitties in his brood.

10. Mark Twain probably didn’t say that thing you think he said.

Twain is one of the most misquoted authors in history. According to one quote wrongfully attributed to him, “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.” What Twain actually said was, “[He] was endowed with a stupidity which by the least little stretch would go around the globe four times and tie.” There are many, many examples of these.

11. Mark Twain accurately predicted when he would die.

When he was born on November 30, 1835, Halley’s Comet was visible from Earth. It appears roughly every 75 years, and Twain predicted he would die the next time it graced the sky. As he put it in 1909, “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’ Oh, I am looking forward to that.” He ended up passing away at his Connecticut home on April 21, 1910, one day after Halley’s Comet appeared in the sky once again.

This story has been updated for 2020.