Shopping with a purpose: St. John’s stores not only support local artisans but also give back to the environment in budget-friendly ways.
After exhausting months of work, you’re finally on vacation—one of the best vacations in your life in St. John, part of the vibrant and welcoming U.S. Virgin Islands. After a long, relaxing day at the beach, you want to hit up some shops that will not only cross those gifts off your list but also allow you to indulge in something personable so you always remember your time on the island.
Most of the stores mentioned below are from Mongoose Junction, where you can also find many restaurants. When I visited Mongoose Junction last week they even had a kitten adoption agency visiting, so you’ll never know what you’ll find here in this shopping area founded on old cobblestone ruins. Parking is fairly easy with no charge, so no need to worry about finding a spot beforehand. If the island heat is getting to you, look forward to these air-conditioned, eclectic stores featuring talented, local artists and craftsmen.
ST. JOHN SPICE COMPANY – BEST SPICES, COFFEE, & TEA
When I think of St. John, this spice company immediately comes to mind. Right when you open the door, you get hit with the incredible smell of a thousand spices, coffee beans, and herbal fruit teas. This is a smell you will never forget for the rest of your life; it’s that strong and memorable.
You can of course find St. John ornaments, kids’ stuffed animal iguanas and stingrays, and handmade key lime soaps, but the real treasures are the spices. Top contenders: Cruz Bay Grill Rub, St. John Jerk Spice, White Chocolate Truffle Coffee, Kiss of the Jumbie Coffee, Blueberry Rooibus Herbal Tea, and Ceylon Ginger Peach Tea. Just writing this makes me want to go back! The last things I purchased here include the Marrakesh Espresso Coffee as well as a “St. John Strong” ornament, which especially hits home after the two hurricanes from September 2017.
The best part about this store? They can ship these food products, so all the coffees and teas make for great Christmas or birthday gifts that you don’t even have to carry back home. If there’s someone in your life who loves hot sauces, this is the place to find them. An entire wall filled with hot sauces ranging in heat have funny Caribbean labels of donkeys and iguanas sweltering. The owners have even installed a video camera outside to connect more tourists and locals with the shop through social media. You can go online to watch the waves outside the shop and see what the weather’s like any day of the week. Overall, St. John Spice Company is a true gem on the island, known for its fresh Caribbean products, award-winning BBQ grill rubs, and gifts that are certainly “more than a postcard.”
BAJO EL SOL GALLERY ~ BEST COFFEE & ART
This gallery is brand new and seriously blew me away. Not only does it have one-of-a-kind acrylic paintings from local artists but also handmade jewelry. While you’re enjoying turquoise tassel earrings and sunset photography, you can walk around sipping their freshly brewed coffee. Not gonna lie, this was one of the best vanilla iced coffees I have ever tried in my entire life; I’d go back every day if I could.
Bajo el Sol also has an entire wall of books ranging in topic from life on the island to poetry from people of color. This gallery actually hosts poetry slams where people come for wine and aperitivo beforehand. There’s even a long bar table and round stools for seating if you just need a break from the humidity outside. I can guarantee everything in Bajo el Sol will be something you’ve never seen before, from black and white modgepodged face collages to guava and mango homemade miniature pies—definitely one of the best stores on the island, especially for any art connoisseur.
CARAVAN GALLERY – BEST JEWELRY
A true favorite on St. John, Caravan Gallery is a family-owned boutique with thousands of designs and authentic artifacts. Although this store is small at the top floor of Mongoose Junction, its walls are covered in beads of all colors, textures, and moods. The staff is always willing to help you find what you’re looking for without being too pushy. Feel free to pull drawers out with more earring and ring sizes; sometimes the best things I’ve found in Caravan Gallery were in these hidden drawers underneath the glass cases.
If you’re Buddhist or enjoy Buddhism-related objects, this store is definitely for you—there’s meditation jewelry and bracelets inscribed with pieces of religious wisdom. Caravan Gallery has a vast amount of jewelry made of larimar, which is the Caribbean’s and Dominican Republic’s rare blue stone (especially famous in St. John). This stone can range from white, light-blue, green-blue, and deep-blue so feel free to take your time choosing which color suits you best. Caravan Gallery also has the well-known hook-bracelet. Islanders have worn this for centuries, adopting it as a symbol of unity and love as part of the simple horseshoe design.
The best part? The prices. Not to say that there aren’t pieces of jewelry that are a couple hundred bucks, but there are prices that will match whatever budget you’re aiming for. While I was here I bought a necklace with little white beads that was similar to the length of a choker necklace. Now, I wear it every day. I also bought a pair of small turquoise gem earring studs which are entirely unique compared to anything I’ve seen. My necklace was $20 and the pair of earrings was $18. Not too bad for the high quality and craftsmanship.
LOCAL MARKET – HANDMADE BEAUTY
One of the most exciting things about St. John is discovering handmade art and clothing by local islanders. Most of these pieces are unique to each artist, as they dedicate their time to energetic works of art which hold a place in their hearts. From flowing dresses with hibiscus flower patterns to turtle canvas paintings, each table you come across is individual and memorable. The sellers are some of the friendliest people you’ll meet in town, and they love chatting with tourists and helping them find what speaks to them.
You can also find many pieces of jewelry here like rings, St. John license plates, and bound notebooks made of woven tree bark. Not only will you help support local artists but you’ll bring home pieces you can’t find anywhere else.
BAMBOULA – BEST CLOTHING & MUSIC
This beautiful store encompasses some of the most fashionable pieces of clothing and jewelry made by people in the Caribbean. Right when you walk in it’s a sensory experience of vibrant color, positive energy from the staff, and steel drum music playing in the background. You can even go in the back to play the steel drums yourself! They have great samba/salsa CDs you can purchase too in order to bring that Caribbean flair anywhere.
One of my favorite parts? The little black and white cat which roams the store. He’s very friendly and greets anybody entering the large wooden doors.
I’ve purchased a random assortment of things here in the past, from handmade toy cars made of metal scraps to beaded rings and headbands. Bamboula also features handmade woven baskets, textiles, and home decor such as pillows and wall art. I even saw a purse here that was more like a work of art, with a beautiful painting on the front. All in all, the jewelry ranges from metalwork to beadwork and ranges in price for all types of budgets.
LULEE – BEST ASSORTMENT OF TRAVEL GIFTS
Lulee is a fairly new store with some of the cutest pieces of clothing and minimalistic-style jewelry. There’s a changing room for anything you’d like to try on as well. One of my favorite corners of this store was the children’s section, with St. John inspired onesies and island-themed children’s books. So if there’s a baby in your family, here’s where to find tiny tshirts and toys!
Honestly, when I entered this store, I never wanted to leave. My family kept saying, “Cmon, Amanda. Time to go.” But then I spotted the coconut-scented candles (which smell like the best coconuts on the planet). There was also a notebook section with bright and colorful planners, sticky pads, and reminder paper.
This store would be a terrific place to hit up before heading to the beach or pool as well: there’s floaties for wine coolers, palm tree drink holders, flip flops in many designs, and fruit-patterned paper straws. Lulee Boutique surely holds a little St. John magic here on the island mixed with the perfect outfit and personal items helping you jetset in style.
FRIENDS OF THE PARK STORE
Mongoose Junction is also home to the Friends of the Park Store known for handmade and sustainable products. Every eco-friendly purchase you make helps preserve and protect natural resources of the National Park while educating visitors as well as locals about environmental protection.
When I recently visited St. John I especially noticed that they’re paying even more attention to reducing waste. Restaurants are now using paper straws and biodegradable cups, and stores are selling sunscreens which don’t hurt coral reefs. If you’re looking to book a hike somewhere on the island, you can book ranger-led hikes to Reef Bay or L’Esperance; rangers will lead you back on a boat tour along the picturesque south shore.
Big Planet: Land of St. John t-shirts, swimsuits, and surfwear. Huge store! Three stories!
Portico: Home decor that’s top of the line. Everything from dishware/chinaware to tropical pillows, patterned rugs, and decorative lamps. Many people buy St. John glasses here to remember their stay.
Sugarbirds: American-made crafts, ornaments, photography, and clocks. I found tiny art made out of roof shingles here—very creative artists. Great find for children’s books as well.
Amanda spent one week in St. John