Hiratsuka City has always been popular for the Tanabata festival, which is why tourists flock to this city around the first weekend of July. With its proximity to Tokyo, ease of navigation, spots where one can go, and of course the beach, one can enjoy Hiratsuka at any time during summer.
If you are on a budget and still want a quick summer getaway, Hiratsuka could be your best bet. It’s better to pick an ordinary weekday for your vacation, so you can save on hotel cost. There are quite a number of hotels located close to the station. I stayed at The Hours Hotel, and while the hotel does not offer free wi-fi, they definitely made up for it with spacious rooms, a desktop computer in each room (with unlimited internet access, of course), and free drinks at the lobby. Too bad their drink bar does not open until 3:00 PM. The good news is that one can have hot or cold drinks from that bar until midnight.
What’s truly nice about Hiratsuka is that nearly all the spots in this city can be accessed via bicycle. At only 200 yen, one can rent a bicycle from 6:00am to 10:00pm, from a rental shop right beside the west exit of JR Hiratsuka Station. This just perfectly fits my kind of travel experience. I remember thoroughly enjoying my day trip to Karuizawa simply because I was able to go around numerous spots on a rented bicycle, while eating oyaki.
While riding my bicycle I was surprised to find a preserved D52-403 locomotive just across from the Museum of Art at the City Museum. According to Wikipedia, the D52-403 is one of the 285 Class D52 2-8-2 steam-powered locomotives built by the Japanese Government Railways between 1943 and 1946, and one of the only 7 locomotives that have been preserved. It was a bit disappointing, though, to note that the grass surrounding the historic locomotive had not been cut for a while.
After the brief art and history tour (both the Art and City Museums were closed leaving me to view only their exteriors), I took my bicycle all the way to Hiratsuka Beach Park from the station’s south exit. It was a breezy 15-minute drive along the city’s wide, brick-tiled path walk, then crossing the highway heading to the beach center. When I arrived the sun was high in the sky and the sand was too hot to walk barefoot on, but the waves had already started to get big. As it was a weekday when I visited, I expected that there wouldn’t be a lot of beach goers, but there were quite a number of people who were surfing the big waves.
As the beach park closed at around 6:00 PM, I still had lots of time to make use of my bicycle. I went to Hachimangu Shrine, about five minutes from the station’s east gate. The shrine was virtually empty by the time I got there, save for a few passers-by and early evening joggers. Yet, even when it was almost dark, one can still marvel at the beauty of the still calmness of its koi-rich pond, as well as the lanterns that adorned the entrance and walls surrounding the shrine.
I returned my bicycle around 8:00 PM, just in time for dinner. There are quite a number of decent restaurants around the station, offering dishes from various countries. Wanting something different, I decided to check out the Cinta Jawa Café, located about 3 minutes from the Hachimingu Shrine. Cinta Jawa Café offers Indonesian cuisine and boasts original Indonesian décor, giving it an authentic Southeast Asian ambiance. While their nasi goring looked very tempting, I opted for lemongrass-flavored grilled chicken with steamed rice, and I also ordered their vegetable salad with peanut sauce dressing. The lemongrass chicken wasn’t spectacular (I regretted passing on the nasi goring), but the vegetable salad was something worth having seconds of. Also worth reordering was the unexpectedly thick fresh avocado shake topped with chocolate syrup which, quite frankly, seemed more like a hearty dessert than a drink.
The next day, I decided to do a little bus adventure and hopped on the first trip of the Number 35 bus, taking me all the way to Shonandaira Observatory TV Tower from Hiratsuka Station’s North Exit. I was already on the bus when I realized that it was a good call taking the first trip, as it would give me at least an hour to enjoy the magnificent views of Sagami Bay and Hiratsuka City from the observatory. On a clear day, Mount Fuji can also be seen. The Number 35 bus has only 4 trips per day from Hiratsuka Station: 9:00am, 10:00am, 1:00pm and 4:00pm. If I had taken the 10:00am bus, I’d only have had ten minutes to enjoy the observatory before having to catch the 10:45am bus back to the station (or wait until 1:45pm, or walk at least 20 minutes, about 1.6 kilometers, to the closest bus stop).
After I got back to the station, I got my luggage from the hotel and took the train back to Tokyo, promising to come back to this unassuming but fascinating city. Before I finally left Hiratsuka, I passed by a kiosk called Zou No Mi Shonan Hiratsuka, a shop that sells flavored fried bread. I tried their chocolate ice cream cup with fried and baked bread, and that combination of warm bread pieces with the cold ice cream was, for me, the most fitting way to cap this short yet truly relaxing holiday.