Hawksnest Bay is a lovely beach that is a favorite with locals and tourists alike because it is easy to access and very near Cruz Bay. It also offers a decent place to enjoy some snorkeling. If the main beach is too crowded, it is flanked by both Gibney beach and Little Hawk's Nest beach (to the right and left when facing the ocean, respectively) which are often much quieter.
The snorkeling along the black rocks on the right side of the beach was calm, yet interesting. I was constantly surrounded by schools of small fish, mesmerized by how hundreds of them would turn and dive in unison. Even with tons of them in front of your face, it’s impossible to reach out and touch these guys because they’re so quick. In addition, there was a fair amount of fish in and around the coral by the rocks. While it was a pretty mellow spot for snorkeling, I would recommend at least being a decent swimmer if you’re going to be near the rocks. It would be great practice for intermediate swimmers who are learning to work against a mild current that is moving them toward the rocks, which is how the conditions were when I was swimming there. Nothing particularly dangerous, just something I’d be careful of when taking a beginning snorkeler there.
Know Before You Go
If you're interested at all in history, this is an intriguing beach to read up on before you visit. Gibney Beach (formerly known as Hawksnest Beach) was purchased by Robert and Nancy Gibney in 1950. The two former New York City residents fell in love with the island of St. John after their honeymoon there in 1946 and could never stay away. Abandoning their former lives in the city, the Gibneys became permanent St. John fixtures, becoming a symbol for the beatnik generation in the process. The couple both wrote and worked on the island while raising their three children.
In the late '50s, the couple sold part of their land to J. Robert Oppenheimer who worked on The Manhattan Project and was considered the father of the atomic bomb. His daughter, who was given the land from Oppenheimer when he died, later gave the land back to the National Park. The Gibney children also inherited land after their parents' passing and in turn, ended up selling their waterfront property to the Virgin Islands National Park for the use of the people of St. John.
Beach Accessibility 2/5
Of all the different north shore beaches I visited, Hawksnest Bay was the one nearest to Cruz Bay--it's all of a few kilometers away from St. John's hub city. Bonus points for this location because there's quick access from Hawksnest to the two adjoining beaches (Little Hawk's Nest, Gibney) if you want some more privacy.
While I didn't come in contact with any fish or ocean-dwelling critters that rocked my world per se, the water was clear and there was enough to observe to keep me in the water, chasing parrotfish and angelfish around the black rocks. While there might not be as much area to swim around like there is around Waterlemon and Cinnamon Cays, I still enjoyed myself. You're more likely to visit Hawksnest Bay if you plan on doing beach lounging with some snorkeling, not the other way around.
Hawksnest Bay doesn't get as crowded as popular tourist stops like Cinnamon or Trunk Bay. But since it's a favorite with the locals (mostly for its beach, not so much the snorkeling), don't expect the shore to be devoid of towel dwellers. Not to belabor the point, but you can always visit one of the two adjoining beaches if you're looking for more seclusion.