Depends on if you want> sunset views or sunrise. Quiet more away from it all or close to everything.
Cruz Bay side: sunsets & close to everything
Coral Bay side: sunrises & quieter, about 20-25 min from Cruz Bay
We always stay on Cruz Bay side because we love watching the sunset as we eat dinner on our deck. 5-8 minutes to town.
Cruz Bay side: best for most first time visitors; best for families with children; best for those who like to go out in the evening. The reason for all of these is that Cruz Bay is a much larger town than Coral Bay. There is a greater selection of grocery stores, general shopping, restaurants, and easier access to boat rentals, day trips, and other activities. All of the ferries come into Cruz Bay so if you wish to travel to St Thomas or any of the BVIs access is much easier. I usually recommend the area from Greater Cruz Bay to Rendezvous Bay. Rendezvous Bay, in particular is a lovely and quiet location less than ten minutes from town. You can actually be pretty isolated on that side by going further north and east (there are rentals in the Hawksnest area which are five minutes from town) or going south and east (the Reef Bay area can be as much as 15 minutes or more from town).
Coral Bay side: recommend for people who want less crowds. The Coral Bay area, though certainly growing, is much less developed. Fewer properties, fewer grocery options, less restautants and shops. Most people who stay on that side don't make many runs into Cruz Bay. There are many people who have been coming for years that gradually migrate to the Coral Bay side. Perhaps the memories of how St John was two decades ago echo more strongly on that side of the island.
Just be honest with yourself about what you like and want from your trip. There is no "better" on this question. Which ever one works for you.
ACB is right. You have to ask yourself what you really want. Coral Bay is quiet and less populated than the areas closer to Cruz Bay. The majority of visitors, however, seem prefer being closer to town. We've been going to STJ for nearly 20 years and we stayed on Great Cruz Bay one time and vowed to NEVER EVER stay over there again. We go to STJ to have a quiet relaxing vacation and be close to the beauty and serenity that this wonderful island is to greatly blessed with. We prefer to have a view of the chain of islands rather than a view of lots of roof tops of other villas. To each his/her own.
Thanks for the advice. We've been struggling with sunsets verses a more peaceful setting. I think less roof tops and a little quieter wins out.
Here are a couple of other things to consider and please note that we've stayed on both sides and are divided ourselves because: Coral Bay is quieter and more isolated in a sense but it means more driving if you want to get the ferry to other islands, love to shop, rent a boat, or try new restaurants. That means you have to enjoy the drive from Coral Bay to Cruz Bay. We love the drive but it depends on how comfortable you are driving on windy, slow, steep roads that can be slippery at times and you can have some locals around "rush hour" drive on your tail and maybe make you nervous. Secondly, IMHO, the beaches on the Cruz Bay side are wonderful and more plentiful and I think the snorkling is usually more peaceful (less wind) there.
That being said, we head back for trip number 6 or 7, (lost count), in December and will stay on the Coral Bay side at the Concordia Eco-resort because above all we love the quieter, funkier feeling of the Coral Bay side. There are a couple of fantastic restaurants there like Sweet Plaintains and Shipwreck Landing and we don't care about shopping. But you know what? You'll be going to the best island in the Caribbean so you can't miss either way!
We like the Cruz Bay side for a few reasons.
We like the restaurants and shopping in Cruz Bay and we like to be close to it. Coral Bay is great and we do spend some time there but we just like to be a qiick ride to our favorite places.
I think that you can find plenty of quiet places on the Cruz Bay side, it is not like any part of STJ is side by side row houses. We have found houses that have no visible neighbors and views to die for that are 10 minutes from the ferry dock.
I think the key is to find a house that you like and get to know the island. There is always the next trip to try another side or even head way out to the East End!
I agree with Tink, you can find isolated and private properties in the Cruz Bay area and still be close to the action (such as it is). Our first trip was spent in Coral Bay and we loved it, but we are morning people, so sunrise is not an issue. Our second trip was spent in Fish Bay, while convenient in some respects, we love Coral Bay and the drive was a PIA. Now we stick to Coral Bay, but someday I want to see the sunset. However, in a 10 day trip, we may spend 1 day in Cruz Bay, we don't shop much and we are satisfied with the restaurants, nightlife and entertainment in Coral Bay, so for us thats where it is! But it may not be for everyone, it is a little isolated and not much nightlife. But 15 minute from most beaches and quiet. By the end of your stay you will know all waiters and barmaids, not so bad, they are great. And they are more apt to remember you. (Or better at faking it!)