Big Sur, California is thus far my favorite place on earth. There were moments when driving down the East Coast of the Izu Peninsula that I was reminded of the Central California coast. It was an absolutely lovely day and the beautiful views were getting me more and more excited about our Labor Day weekend holiday. We rented a beach house in Yumigahama which was described as one of the best but lesser visited beaches in Izu. Yumigahama is a long stretch of beach is in a cove ringed by jagged rocks. The house was older, but held all the necessary amenities. It was only $120 a night for three bedrooms, and we could bring the dogs too. Poor Ries and Harley never get to go anywhere with us since we almost always take the train, and we were excited they could join us. A small parking lot and the street were all the stood between the house and the beach. It was perfect for our family. As soon as we got settled, we took the one minute journey to the beach. We are used to the very crowded beaches by us (at least in the summer), but there was hardly anyone at Yumigahama. It was amazing to not just have a beach house for the weekend, but to practically have our own beach too. We swam for a couple hours then took the dogs for an evening walk on the beach and through the tiny town.
We decided to begin Saturday by exploring. I wanted to stop at Cape Irozaki first. However, I didn’t have the correct map pin, and Mike didn’t respond in time when I saw a sign to turn left. We overshot it and decided to visit it later (unfortunately we never made it back but I’m not too disappointed since we saw a lot of amazing things). From there, we were on our way to Monkey Paradise on Cape Hagachi when we stumbled on a gorgeous overlook hundreds of feet above the water. We pulled over and parked the car at Cape Aiai. This is probably the most spectacular view I’ve seen in a very long time. Down below a beach looked like it was straight out of a Mediterranean travel brochure. We soon discovered you could only get there by boat as we witnessed boats dropping off lots of people. Apparently Hirizo Beach is a very popular destination. Down the road from the overlook, steps led up to a higher point. We hiked up and Will was excited to find a bell that he proceeded to ring again and again and again. Hopefully, most of the onlookers were far enough below us that the wind likely drowned out the sound.
The highway wound up and down often on the edge of cliffs and through small fishing villages. Again and again we saw dramatic coastline vistas. We had found the “Highway 1” of Japan. Mike and I paid ¥700 each to enter the monkey park (Will was free). We took a very short bus ride down the mountain to a picturesque cove where at least fifty monkeys roamed free. It was hot so most of the monkeys lounged in the shade neglecting the fun playground equipment. Will sat on one of the swings, and a monkey joined him on the other. That monkey soon decided he did not want to share the swings and hissed pretty loudly. Lots of tiny, cute baby monkeys played throughout the park or rode on their mother’s belly or back. Will loved watching the monkeys play with a hose and slide down a water pipe. He narrated their play as if they were firemen at the firehouse. One monkey took a liking to Mike and spent quite a bit of time stroking him and examining his hands. It was definitely a fun stop.
We continued heading north to the town of Dogashima. The scenery remained spectacular, and we happened to spot Fuji one time before it clouded over again. In Dogashima, we had a delicious sushi lunch and then walked around Dogashima Park. Giant rocks formed what liked like a very large natural pool. If we didn’t see a boat exit, I wouldn’t even have seen the narrow pass that cut through to the larger ocean. A trail led us along the side of the rocks and up a carved staircase. The rocks were very fun to scramble over and climb up. The water was such a vibrant blue that it looked fake. We followed the trail to an overlook of the Dogashima Tombolo. Will practiced saying tombolo over and over while I admired the rugged coastline. A little further on the trail we got to look down through an opening into a cave just in time to watch a Jet Ski shoot through it.
It was almost 3 o’clock by the time we got back to Yumigahama. We’d had magnificent weather all day, but the skies were turning to gray. We went out to the beach anyway. There was a boogie board at the house, and Mike gave Will his first boogie board lesson. It was largely unsuccessful. It was late afternoon when it began to sprinkle. I could see blue skies on the horizon so we decided to wait it out insisting to Will that he’d likely see a rainbow. We sat there about 20 minutes of light rain watching the blue sky inch closer and closer. After it stopped raining, we decided on a beach picnic. The freshly washed pine trees lining the beach were letting off the most wonderful fragrance and sure enough we were rewarded with a large rainbow as we ate our dinner on the beach. I was totally falling in love with Izu.
On Sunday morning we drove north-east for 15 minutes to Ryugu Sea Cave. I had heard this cave was shaped like a heart but I didn’t see the likeness. The cave was partially collapsed letting in some brilliant sunlight and illuminating the cave walls. A decent-size opening led out to the ocean where aquamarine water dazzled. Will was immediately delighted throwing rocks in the water and running in and out of the water as the waves came in. We found pretty big crabs in some of the tide pools. Will was having so much fun that we hung out for longer than I anticipated. This was fortunate because I noticed someone walking up above the roof top opening. We left the cave and just north of the entrance found a trail leading up on top. There were several places where you could peek down into the cave. It was at one of those that I realized that looking down the cave is shaped like a heart. The trail also provided excellent views of the beaches north and south. We looked down to the sandbank beach just north of the cave and were stunned by its beauty, reminiscent of Thailand. There was also a steep sand slope that people were sledding down. We decided to hang out there for a while.
Just as we arrived, we witnessed a spectacular sledding wipe out. Watching people sky, slide down, and often fall provided a lot of free entertainment (see video below). Will loved climbing on all the rocks and immediately invented some elaborate game that kept him amused for a very long time.
Mike and I took several swims in the warm turquoise water and explored around the beautiful beach too. Occasionally other people came down for a short dip in the water and a small group continued to slide. However, the beach remained largely vacant despite all the people that were visiting the cave. We spent a couple hours there, and Mike and I decided later this accidental discovery was our favorite part of the trip. If we’d packed a lunch we may have never left, but hunger finally won.
Back at Yumigahama, we visited a food truck with a lovely deck across the street from the beach. We ordered a pizza for Will, a pork and kimchi bowl for Mike, and grilled snapper for me. We happily dined on the yummy food enjoying the ocean views. I was surprised to see that on such a pretty Sunday afternoon they were still so few people enjoying the beach. After lunch, Will and I spent a lot of time floating in my tube. I think we could’ve stayed there for the rest of the day but we also wanted to hike to Cape Tarai which was a couple kilometers from the house. We didn’t set off until late afternoon, and the sun was already sinking. Passing signs for the trail, we learned we could have hiked all the way to Ryugu Sea Cave which was only about 3.5 km away by coastal trail.The trail began at a rocky beach and giant rocks jutted out of the water. A triangular sea arch resembled a tepee added to the scene. Mike found a small cave and wandered in Will rushing after him. I was feeling kind of regretful that we did not just hike to the sea cave until a few minutes into the hike. This was a legitimate hike not just a scenic walk. We climbed pretty high and it was still hot and humid despite the late hour in the day. At a fork, we opted for the easy route to Cape Tarai instead of “the good walking trail”. The hike was nice and wasn’t difficult or long just more than we bargained for after a full day. A small wild boar crossed our path at one point and we saw several butterflies as we trekked through the forest. The viewpoint at Cape Tarai was a hundred feet or so above the sea. The waters north-east were a brilliant blue while the setting sun cast shadows over the rock islands and jagged coastline. Will loved the cape and climbed up and down the rocks like a billy goat until we had to drag him away.
We arrived back at Yumigahama Beach feeling very sweaty. We decided to use what was left of the daylight to take a quick dip in the ocean. The dogs kept Will company on the shoreline as none of the boys wanted to get in the water. Will missed out; it was the most refreshing and delightful swim. After dinner, we brought Will back out to the beach for some fantastic star gazing. There were more stars than I’ve seen in a long time, and we even got to see a shooting star. It was a near perfect day.
Our last day began with bright sunshine perfect for relaxing at the beach until we had to check out of the house. I was feeling very sad about leaving Izu. Therefore I wasn’t too disappointed when mid-morning it began to cloud over as it would make saying good-bye easier. For most of the morning, we were largely the only people at the beach until a group arrived that had been training (for something unknown) on the beach throughout the weekend. They began jogging down the beach. Will was playing in the sand when they passed. He got up and starting running after them. Mike and I laughed until we realized he was not stopping. I got up and sprinted as fast as I could to catch up with him. I finally succeeded about three quarters of the way down the beach. So I also began jogging a bit back from the group where I could keep an eye on Will but hopefully not intrude. They did not realize Will was following them until they turned around. The expressions on their faces were priceless as they realized a toddler had joined their running pack. We proceeded to run back with them passing Mike and our spot mid-beach. Will have no trouble keeping up with them and at one point lapped them running ahead. I think he pulled a muscle soon after that as he stopped and told me his leg hurt. I think he ran at least 2 km and was given high fives by one of the trainers (see video of Will running below).
If the drive down to Izu reminded me of the California coastline, then drive up the interior and out of Izu reminded me of the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky. The highway snaked through very narrow valleys and along the sides of heavily forested mountains. It was very pretty, but there were so stressful moment sharing the two lane road that was barely large enough for one vehicle. I will declare that Izu is currently my favorite place in Japan (Mike said this is only true until the next trip. We shall see). The gorgeous scenery exceeded my expectations often reminding me of many other remarkable places in the world. I thought we’d spend some more time relaxing but there were just too many beautiful things to see. My heart is happy and my soul is fulfilled. That’s more than one can hope for on a weekend away.
Note on driving: We took coastal surface roads following Sagami Bay from Zushi on the way to Yumigahama. We spent either ¥600 or ¥800 on a few bypasses. There was no traffic and it was an easy but scenic drive. On the way back we took the toll roads as google maps said it was thirty minutes faster. There was also no traffic on this route, but it took us the same amount of time and we spent ¥3600 on tolls.
More photos, videos and helpful tourist links below
This is a day trip we did previously to Izu that could be done on the way in/out of the area. https://sushitoiletninja.wordpress.com/2016/06/16/in-hot-water/
- Sand Skiing Wipe Out Video:https://youtu.be/IgUKS59ZFiU
- Will Jogging Video: https://youtu.be/ZQFaKvRNGSE
- This is a long video but is a compilation of our weekend away: https://youtu.be/jZa5NL44kX0
- Our Airbnb: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/5949047?location=Yumigahama+Beach+Resort%2C+Kamo+District%2C+Shizuoka+Prefecture%2C+Japan&s=tjgRhvEy
- Cape Aiai Map Pin: https://goo.gl/maps/L3B7CfVXqa12
- Cape Irozaki, Cape Tarai, and Ryugu Sea Cave info: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6303.html
- Cape Irozaki Map pin (I’m almost certain): https://goo.gl/maps/5YELziPAFp62
- Cape Tarai hiking trail map pin (parking available): https://goo.gl/maps/LQZhztp94aC2
- Dogashima: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6312.html
- Monkey Park: http://shizuoka-guide.com/english/detail/page/detail/3638
- Sandbank Beach Map Pin: https://goo.gl/maps/LSWydRM6HrJ2
- Yumigahama Beach Map Pin: https://goo.gl/maps/wK3MFoTXNwr