Driving to Kanazawa
With the new Hokuriku Shinkansen which opened in March 2015, travellers can reach Kanazawa from Tokyo in merely 2.5 hours, making travel to Kanazawa by rail the preferred option these days. However, if you prefer to self-drive, here are some tips:
There are many possible routes to drive from Tokyo to Kanazawa. My preferred route would be via Kawaguchiko, Matsumoto, Takayama and Shirakawa-go (click here for Google Map route). This route covers some excellent sightseeing spots including:
- Matsumoto Castle (read in our June 2009 visit)
- Shin-Hotaka Ropeway (read in our Dec 2007 visit)
- Takayama (read in our Dec 2007 visit)
The direct drive from Kyoto to Kanazawa is not particularly interesting. It uses the Hokuriku Expressway which is largely made up of tunnels – so don’t expect much sightseeing. If you take the route to the East of Lake Biwa, you can visit Hikone Castle.
For us, we were staying in the mountains North of Kyoto, so our host recommended us to drive up to Wakasa-Obama. At Wakasa Fisherman Wharf, you can find some cheap and fresh seafood or take the Sotomo Scenic Cruise (not operating in winter).
The GPS default route from Nagano to Kanazawa was to take the expressway all the way, heading North to Joetsu before turning South-West to Kanazawa (see default route on Google Map). However, when we did this drive in the opposite direction (from Kanazawa to Nagano), we went through the route options on the GPS (see this post on how to do that) and opted for a route that took the expressway between Kanazawa and Itoigawa, subsequently going South to Hakuba before crossing over to Nagano (see alternative route on Google Map). The crossing from Hakuba to Nagano had 200 yen toll fee, but overall the alternative route we took was still cheaper than the default route.
Driving in Kanazawa
Kanazawa’s key sights (Kenrokuen, Kanazawa Castle, Higashichaya District, Samurai District, Omicho Market) are compact within an area that can be covered on foot. Hence, driving is not necessary if you are visiting these places.
However, from Kanazawa, I recommend renting a car to take side trips to Noto Peninsular and Toyama Bay. In particular, the Chirihama Beach Drive is a great experience – best done with your own rental car.
Day 10: Kyoto to Kanazawa
Our host in Kyoto knew that we had originally planned to visit Kayabuki No Sato at Miyama the previous day, but shelved it in place of Ine which he recommended. So he told us we should go to Kayabuki No Sato that morning, which would be along the way to Wakasa-Obama and Kanazawa.
Kayabuki No Sato was a miniature version of the more famous Shirakawago, with a cluster of traditional thatched-roof farmhouses. Not sure about Shirakawago since I have never been there, but Kayabuki No Sato remained undisturbed by tourists. Once my raucous boys were gone that is.
The villagers were up and about their daily chores when we were there and we were able to get a glimpse of traditional village life in Japan.
After a quick walk around Kayabuki No Sato, we drove on to Wakasa-Obama for our much-anticipated seafood brunch. The seafood at Wakasa Fisherman Wharf was super cheap and good. I’m so glad our host recommended us to go there!
After everyone was fed and happy, we proceeded with our uneventful drive to Kanazawa. Upon arriving at Kanazawa, we went first to Higashichaya district.
Luckily we wasted no time and made a beeline for the famous ‘gold-plated soft serve’ ice-cream shop. We were one of the last ones to get our hands on the ice-cream for the day, as it was sold out shortly after.
Eating around higashichaya district was prohibited. Hence, we finished up our ice-cream at the shop before going around the rest of the district. Most of the shops were closing by then. The shops there all closed at about 5pm during our visit.
After dinner, we went back to the hotel, Hotel Resol Trinity Kanazawa, and called it a day.
Day 11: Kanazawa to Noto Peninsula
We had initially planned to spend the morning doing a walking tour of Kanazawa, visiting Omicho Market, Kanazawa Castle and Samurai District. But lo and behold, it was raining that morning. We went to Omicho Market as planned since it was sheltered.
After we had our breakfast of tuna & friends at Omicho Market, the rain showed no sign of letting up. So we ditched the rest of our walking tour plan, went online to Tabelog to find a cafe in Kanazawa and ended up at Takakura Machi Coffee. Their signature pancakes were awesome.
After coffee and pancakes, we drove to Chirihama Beach Drive – something I was really looking forward to since I first saw this place on Japan Hour.
Two-thirds of the beach driveway was closed due to high waves, but thankfully one-third of it remained open and we got to experience the beach drive in spite of the rain.
We had initially planned to drive all the way up to Wajima to see the sunset and light-up at Senmaida Rice Field. But there was unlikely to be any nice sunset with such bad weather and frankly, I don’t think anyone was in the mood for a light-up in the rain. So we went right to our next accommodation: Kinpaso Hotel at Wakura Onsen.
We spent the day soaking in the onsen, playing table tennis and snooker and enjoying a buffet dinner at Kinpaso Hotel. Now THAT is a way to spend a rainy day in Japan.
Day 12: Noto Peninsular – Toyama Bay – Nagano
We started the day with a buffet breakfast at our hotel before driving on to Toyama Bay. We first came to Himi Banya, but were too full to try their famous Himi beef and just made do with a grape soft serve (because we couldn’t leave without eating anything). The grape soft serve was nice btw.
The rain had stopped but the weather wasn’t exactly peachy. We went to the bay area which was supposed to be surrounded by beautiful snow-capped mountains, but it was too cloudy to see the mountains. If weather is good, there is an observation deck behind Himi Banya where you can go up to take a photo from.
We skipped the climb up the observation deck since there wasn’t much of view and just hung around to check out the enormous waves crashing ashore.
As we continued our drive along Toyama Bay, the weather seemed to be getting better and we caught a glimpse of the mountains at last, peeking faintly through the clouds. Stare hard at the photo below, can you see the mountains in the background?
We drove on to our next destinations, Toyama Kitto Kitto Market, where we had lunch along with what seemed like the whole town.
Toyama Bay area was famous for their white shrimps. And firefly squid – but we were there in the wrong season. So we ordered all sorts of white shrimp cuisine.
Next, we went to Kaiwomaru Park which was very near Kitto Kitto Market.
I was pretty curious what was on the ship. You can pay to go up the ship, but the kids were not interested.
You may be feeling puzzled why the kids were not interested in the ship. That’s because they spotted a playground in the park. Complete with a view of the mountains.
We let the kids play to their hearts content since we had a long and boring drive to Nagano after that.
After the kids were tired out, we drove on to Nagano, where the kids slept most of the way. When the kids woke up at Hakuba, we made a quick stop at 7-11 convenience store for everyone to take a toilet break, before completing the drive to Nagano.
When we finally arrived at Nagano, we dropped off our luggage at our hotel and went to Nagano Station for dinner.
We spent the night at Chisun Grand Nagano, which was not my first choice hotel frankly. I wanted to book Hotel Metropolitan Nagano which was right smack next to the station and cheaper, but was too slow to do so and the hotel was fully booked. Chisun Grand Nagano was nice though, just a bit further from the station.
Links / Telephone Numbers / Map Codes
- Kayabuki No Sato [Tel: 0771-77-0587 / Map Code: 282 465 245]
- Wakasa Fisherman’s Wharf [Tel: 0770-52-3111 / Map Code: 282 899 604]
- Rainbow Line [Tel: 0770-45-2678 / Map Code: 380 644 774]
- Omicho Market [Tel: 076-231-1462 / Map Code: 41 559 153]
- Chirihama Beach Driveway [Map Code: 135 182 726]
- Kinpaso Hotel (Wakura Onsen) [Tel: 0767-62-0201 / Map Code: 590 304 445]
- Himi Banya [Tel: 0766-72-3400 / Map Code: 135 118 353]
- Toyama Kitto Kitto Market [Tel: 0766-84-1233 / Map Code: 40 702 370]
- Kaiwomaru Park [Tel: 0766-82-5181 / Map Code: 40 703 313]
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