Cruising the Bay -- Arriving in Matsushima by sightseeing boat is a good introduction to the bay because you'll pass pine-covered islands and oyster rafts along the way. Board the boat in Hon-Shiogama for the 50-minute trip to Matsushima Kaigan Pier.
If you come by train or even if you arrive by boat, you might want to take a boat trip in the bay. Regular sightseeing boats depart from the pier once an hour between 9am and 4pm, making 50-minute trips around the bay; they charge ¥1,400 for adults, half-price for children.
On the southern edge of Matsushima, about an 8-minute walk from Matsushima Kaigan Station, is Oshima, a small island once used as a retreat by priests. Long ago there were more than 100 hand-dug caves carved with scriptures, Buddhist images, and sutras, but today the island and its remaining 50 caves and stone images are rather neglected. There's no fee, there's no gate, and the island never closes. Connected to the mainland by bridge, it's a nice quiet spot in which to sit and view the harbor; you can walk around the entire island in about 20 minutes. Because it was a Buddhist retreat, women were forbidden on the island until after the Meiji Restoration in 1868.
At the other end of Matsushima, about a 10-minute walk from the boat pier, is Fukuurajima, another island connected to the mainland, this time by a long red concrete bridge with orange-colored railings. It's a botanical garden of sorts, with several hundred labeled plants and trees, but mostly it's unkempt and overgrown -- which comes as a surprise in cultivated Japan. It will take you less than an hour to circle the island, and there are many resting spots along the way, including a snack shop selling ice cream and drinks. The island gate is open daily 8am to 5pm (4:30pm in winter) and admission is ¥200 or adults, half-price for children.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.