This year Japan has been facing some record-setting heat waves and Hokkaido is no different. While places down south have air conditioning, most people have to settle for fans since the summers are short and not worth having an air conditioning unit. So how do you beat the heat? Sure, cool drinks and ice cream can help, but there’s no better way to cool off than to hit the beach!
While the beaches in Hokkaido aren’t as famous as their pearly white counterparts in Okinawa, beaches such as the Otaru Dream Beach or Ishikari AsoBeach are popular spots for locals to gather and beat the heat.
A majority of the beaches are located near the Sapporo area, since the coast on the eastern side of Hokkaido are mainly rocky shore and cliffs. Also, the warm current on the side of the Sea of Japan makes water comfortably warm, despite how cold it can get in winter. The famous Hokkaido seafood is also thanks to this warm current!
Whether you want to have a full beach day or want to drop by on a road trip, there are all kinds of beaches with activities for everyone. Most beaches are accessible by a combination of JR and local buses, with paid parking for those driving.
Hokkaido beaches may not win on the classic beach resort vibe, but people here definitely know how to have a good time! On a busy day you’ll see a sight unique to Japan, hundreds of tents lining the seaside as people manage to claim some shade and privacy on the sand. Especially in Hokkaido, people have plenty of other gear, and barbeque is a must when going to the beach in Hokkaido. Beach houses will often rent you all the gear you need as well, and you can certainly grab different foods like ramen and yakisoba from the local stalls. Don’t worry about not having your own tent either, you can always take a break inside some beachfront stores, which usually have seating, cold drinks, and fans set up.
Another thing to try is beachside camping, which is popular with many young people. Bring a tent, set up a bonfire, shoot some fireworks, and enjoy a starlit night sky.
A quick note of advice however, there aren’t too many public facilities, so be sure to carry some change to use the shower or a changing room at the stores. Or you can always do the wrap around towel trick or change in the car!
Since summer is relatively short in Hokkaido, the season generally ranges from the beginning of July to the end of August. While some of these beaches are certainly accessible during other parts of the year, most of the food stalls and beach gear rental shops will be closed, though it’s perfectly fine if you’re just passing by. It is generally known by the locals that after Obon season in mid-August the waves can get a bit choppy and people tend to avoid going to the beach after August.
Exploring the Local Beaches
Escaping the city for some seaside fun, we decided to explore the popular beaches in the area and rented a car for a full day, 8am to 6pm, which was just right.
After picking up the rental car, we set off for Otaru Dream Beach, the most popular beach in the area, and easily accessible from Sapporo by car on local roads in about 30 min, via JR to Zenibako Station, or local buses from Sapporo. We arrived a little early around 9am, so we decided to walk along the coast. While Otaru Dream Beach is the most popular, other beaches closer to Zenibako and less crowded are just a 10 minute walk away.
At Sunset Beach and Starlight Beach, south of Otaru Dream Beach, most people where involved in watersports and the numerous beach houses were the central attraction for barbeques. Unfortunately as you can see, there is a fair bit of litter and debris gathered on the beach, since basking on the sand isn’t too popular here. Make sure you clean up after yourself for those after you!
Around 10am, people started to roll in one by one and eventually the parking lot was filling up quick. If you’re aiming to get a nice spot at the Dream Beach, it might be a good idea to beat the rush to get parking and a good spot on the beach.
The beaches along the coast East of Zenibako certainly have a ragtag feel, everything is just enough for people to gather and have a good time hanging out.
If you’re not looking to get sand in your shoes, the town of Zenibako is certainly worth visiting as well. It’s a quiet seaside town with some great places to eat, such as the Shirokuma Café, which has a nice patio in the back, where you can bask in some sunshine while enjoying a cup of coffee or a latte.
Back to our journey for the best beach hangout, we dropped by a soba shop in town for some refreshing cold handmade soba at Soba Koya, before heading north towards Ishikari.
After a half an hour drive on some local roads, we finally arrived at Ishikari Asobeach, which is a pun made from “asobi” meaning playing or having fun, and beach. By the time we arrived at around 2:30, the beach was jam packed, I guess this is where the “fun” was at!
The Ishikari Asobeach was much cleaner, no rubbish or debris, and had plenty of people playing in the water. While it wasn’t difficult to find a spot to set up, the nicer places were definitely dominated by tents, chairs, and barbeque set ups.
The water at the beach was a little cold at first since it was a warm day, but after moving around, the temperature was just right, no cooler than your local pool. The swimming areas are all roped off and don’t get much deeper than chest height towards the edge, and there were lifeguards on duty, so no need to worry if you aren’t the best swimmer.
Walking around and browsing the stalls, there was food, drinks, rentals, and even a chance to ride a jet ski! Still feeling a little full from lunch, I settled for some “kakigori”, or shaved ice, a classic treat to get when you’re at the beach. I also saw some people doing “suica wari” which involves spinning around a stick multiple times and trying to split a watermelon with the stick all while being blindfolded.
After taking a dip in the ocean and getting some tanning action, it was time to head back, around 5:00pm, before traffic picked up. A traffic-free drive back to Sapporo took around 40 minutes, just in time to drop off our rental car.
If you were to ask me, my personal favorite was the Ishikari Asobeach. While we didn’t spend a full day there, there was plenty to do and there is a bus stop just a five minute walking distance away from the beach. While Otaru Dream Beach was closer and considered to have a beach party vibe, the Asobeach was a good middle ground, and there was even an onsen located right next to beach if you want to wash off properly before heading home. Of course, if you’re looking for something nearby and want to get your meat grilling on, Dream Beach is your best bet.
The summers in Hokkaido can sometimes be tough to cope with, but the beaches are just a half hour drive away from Sapporo central and are a great way to cool off.
Below are some other beaches that are also worth checking out in Hokkaido.
Shimamui Beach in Shakotan Area
Everyone is familiar with the scene of Kamui Cape at Shakotan with the beautiful Shakotan Blue sea lingering below the cliffs, but take a small mountain road and you can get close to the water at Shimaui Beach.
While you won’t find any sand at this rocky beach, the scenery is beautiful and there are some light hiking trails as well. You can also take a dip in the stunning Shakotan Blue water, just be warned that many of the rocks are littered with sea urchins, so having some water shoes or goggles to look where you’re standing in the water is a must. Of course, if you are feeling it, this is the freshest place to eat sea urchin, known as “uni”, just don’t get stabbed by one when wading in the water!
Ranshima Beach at Ranshima
The oldest beach/seaside in Hokkaido, Ranshima is a bit further out, located right before Yoichi. Ranshima is more popular with the people west of Otaru, so it will never be crowded. There aren’t as many stalls in the area, but it’s a great spot for barbequing and camping, and is on the relaxed, quiet beach vibe. It’s a great place to drop by when driving along the national highway 5, since there are some restaurants located across the street as well.
Usu Beach in Date
Way on the other side of the peninsula, the Usu Beach is a great spot if you’re headed towards the Toyako Lake area or Date. The water here is shallower and family friendly, with various water sports, such as canoeing and yachting. There are facilities for rinsing and showering at the entrance, making it very convenient for families and children.
There is also an annual summer beach festival every July, and the nickname for the beach is the “Beach of Memories, where the only things you take home with you are summer memories and your rubbish!”
Put on your sunglasses and apply your sunblock, it’s time to hit the beach!
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