i would beach first and then shop later. The beaches get very hot and very crowded the later you go. As for shopping both sides of the island have really good shopping. If you are looking for higher-end french designer items then definately grab a cab to the French side. If you are looking for jewlery, cosmetics/fragrance, linens, leather goods, the Dutch side is very good and easy to get to- you take the water taxi for like $5 all day
Just wondered where the best shopping isin St. Marten? On the French side or the Dutch side? Is it worth going to both? Or shop in am Beach in pm? We will be there from 9-6pm. Thanks in advance.
Front St. in Phillipsburg (where you will be docking) is the largest shopping area on the island. DK Gems is one of the most popular jewelry stores on the St. Maarten boards. Deepti, one of the owners is a sweetheart. Rima's, a couple streets over from Front St. is a favorite of most for clothing, trinkets, etc.
If you're looking for Yurman jewelry, try Artistic Jewelers on Front Street. I dropped a few thousand there last year. Next time, the guys won't stay at the pier and let the girls go shopping together (after a morning on the beach w/cocktails)! Oh well, it was a very good shopping trip and I love all the pieces I purchased!