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St. Barts has long been a winter getaway hot spot for celebrities, dignitaries, and discerning travelers alike. And it's easy to see why with white sand beaches, high-end shopping and decadent (yet flip-flop friendly) dining options. But when I booked a trip recently to the ritzy French-speaking island, I had one main thing on my mind: family-friendly spots.
Yes, I was traveling with a very energetic 18-month-old and wanted to find places and things to do that both he would enjoy and we wouldn't be nervous parents. The good news? There are plenty. From hotels and restaurants to activities, here is your family guide to St. Barts.
From many cities in the eastern part of the U.S., the travel time to this part of the Carribean is under five hours, making it an easy vacation for families. But, because the island is so small, there are no direct flights from the U.S. to St. Barts. You typically have to fly into nearby St. Maarten. From here, you have two choices: a 45-minute ferry ride or a 10-minute puddle jumper. If you're looking to save time, go with the flight (we went with Winair). But we warned that landing in St. Barts is quite the experience. It's one of the shortest runways in the world with a mountain on one and the ocean on the other. So, it feels a bit like an amusement park ride on take-off and landing.
Where to Stay
St. Barts has several stunning luxury properties with new ones, like Hotel Barrière Le Carl Gustaf, opening soon. While spas and onsite fine dining options are lovely (and widely available) hotel offerings, we wanted something that was low key, practical, and luxurious. That's how we ended up at Les ilets de la plage.
The property is comprised of just 12 individual villas ranging from one to three bedrooms, each with full kitchen facilities, air conditioning, satellite TV, WiFi throughout, maid service, and daily delivery of fresh pastries and bread. When we arrived, there was a high chair waiting in the dining room, a crib set up in the bedroom, and to-go dinner in the refrigerator from the famous Maya's restaurant. Not to mention, the hotel staff asked for a grocery list before our arrival and had everything waiting.
Of course, like many of the best hotels on the island, it's located right on the ocean with some villas so close you could almost jump right in. Others are on a hill with views of the beautiful St. Jean Beach (just a couple minutes walk from the iconic Eden Rock hotel, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property, which also has some family-friendly suites and villas). The location is just a couple minutes from the airport and five minutes to the main town of Gustavia, meaning you can avoid a lot of driving on the notoriously narrow, winding roads.
Where to Eat
The great part about St. Barts is you can roll up to pretty much any restaurant in beach gear. Plus, pretty much everywhere welcomes babies and children. But you might be more comfortable at certain eateries with younger ones in tow. For lunch, we headed to Le Sereno St. Barth, which just launched a new Italian restaurant and Michelin-starred culinary team. While the pesto pasta was to die for, the best part was the beachfront location meaning my son could play in the sand while I actually enjoyed my meal. You can even make an afternoon of it as the hotel is located on Grand Cul de Sac beach known for its super shallow, kid-friendly waters. We also dined at L'Isoletta where you order pizza by the meter (choosing up to four different toppings per meter) and can sit comfortably with a toddler as all the tables and chairs are low to the ground. No high chair needed.
We opted to eat out for all of our dinners as we wanted to explore the food scene as much as possible. The result? Our first night, we ate at Sante Fe, which has been around since the 1960s. The spacious restaurant is perfect for carving out some family space and the manager even parked our car for us since we were struggling with a sleepy toddler. Eddy's Ghetto was another great spot as we were also able to have our own dining nook on the charming back patio while still having a view of the dimly-lit, romantic interior. Plus, the baby gobbled up the seared tuna belly.
For one meal, we did leave the little one behind and hired a babysitter (the hotel arranged it for us). We ended up at Fish House restaurant in the heart of town that's known for, you guessed it, freshly caught fish. Honestly, the only thing that made it not family-friendly was the space. It's a tiny space with a handful of tables, making it ideal for a date night, but not a baby. Although, there were plenty of families there with slightly older children who were enjoying dishes like fish and chips. And although we didn't eat there, La Cantina in Gustavia was packed with families and kids. Excellent cocktails, tasty tapas, and plenty of stroller parking, what more could you want?
I will make one note, though. St. Barts is very much European, meaning you will not find a spot serving dinner before 7 pm. So, plan accordingly if you have ravenous kids used to a 5 pm meal or toddlers (like us) with 7 pm bedtimes. For us, that meant eating while he snoozed in the stroller while wearing pajamas.
What To Do
Having the beach is obviously one of the best activities in St. Barts. The water, for the most part, is calm and warm, making it ideal for swimming, skimboarding, and any other water sport. Lorient, Grand Cul-de-Sac, and St. Jean (where my son loved watching the planes take off and land) are probably the safest for children, but kids will also enjoy exploring the millions of unique shells at the appropriately-named Shell Beach.
If you've had enough beach time, head to Blue Gecko studio. Here kids can make arts and crafts (with adult supervision) that will be a perfect souvenir to bring home. Or, if you're a hiking family, spend time making your way to Fort Gustav, an 18th century Swedish fort with incredible views, a lighthouse, and the remains of canons children will love.
The main town of Gustavia can also make for a fun morning or evening outing. Walk around popping in and out of place like Popie's, which has adorable children's clothing made from famous Liberty Fabrics, and checking out the massive yachts in the harbor. And don't leave without taking a quick drive to Un Dimanche à La Mer in Saint-Jean. Located in a tiny Creole cottage, it's probably one of the coolest toy shops in the world featuring tons of handmade wooden toys from France.
Finally, though St. Barts is under 10 square miles, it can be challenging to get around without a car. I'd recommend renting one (we did through Avis as they were right at the airport and had a car seat), to scoot around the island at leisure. Just beware the roads are quite narrow, so take it slow and get the optional rental insurance just in case. Plus, taking a drive around the island will take about an hour and makes for another great family activity.