St John is one of the chief islands of the Virgin Islands of the United States in the Caribbean; the other islands are St Croix, Water Island and St Thomas. St John is 4 miles east of St Thomas, which has the port city of Charlotte Amalie, the territorial capital, and the only major airport for the region.
Geographically, the US Virgin Islands are part of the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles and were formerly known as the Danish West Indies until they were sold to the US by Denmark in 1916. St John, only about twenty square miles in area with a permanent population of slightly less than 5000, is a resort destination for affluent tourists. The island has no airport of any kind, relying instead on ferry boats from St Thomas, Tortola, Jost Van Dyke and Virgin Gorda.
Most of the island of St John is protected parkland. The tourist season is from late October through June; the hot summer months are considered off-season. The two major towns are Cruz Bay, a port on the west side of the island, and Coral Bay, a smaller town on the east side. Both towns have restaurants and car rentals; each has a market for groceries and sundries.
Much of the island of St John was privately owned up until the 1950s when Laurance Rockefeller, grandson of John D. Rockefeller, donated much of the real estate he owned on the island to the US Park Service with the proviso that the land be left developed. Caneel Bay Resort, another large section of the island, though also owned by the US Park Service, is leased to a private resort operator. 60% of the island is owned by the US Park Service, including much of the shoreline and the offshore coral reefs. In fact, the reefs have been classified as a US National Monument since 2001.
As a result of these efforts for preservation of the original landscape and because of the restrictions on development, St John is renowned for its natural beauty and beautiful beaches. Trunk Bay has repeatedly made lists of the Top Ten beaches of the world. Access is easiest to the beaches on the north shore, a destination both for honeymooners and world travelers. Most of the beaches there are on land owned by the US National Park Service and open to public access, but with no resorts or hotels. One notable exception is Caneel Bay Resort, a privately-owned facility in an area that had once been the personal estate of the Rockefeller family. Cinnamon Bay and Trunk Bay are two areas well-known for excellent snorkeling along the coral reefs; underwater signs assist the tourist. There are public campgrounds at Cinnamon Bay and at Maho Bay.
The coast and shoreline on the east end of the island is privately owned and mostly inaccessible to the public. The south coast is public, but remote, with very few access roads of any kind. Sailing charters are available at many locations to let the visitor explore the island from the sea.