With numerous surfing areas, accessibility and a variety of amenities for visitors, the municipality of San Juan in La Union is dubbed as the Surfing Capital of the North.
The best season to ride the waves is October-April, with December-January as the peak months. Outside the surfing season however, you can still count on the town’s chill vibe and congenial locals who make you feel welcome. So whether you’re visiting during the off-peak surfing season or if you’re just not the surfing type, La Union is still a great place to visit.
Without further ado, here are five things you can do to enjoy La Union, even without the waves:
1. Go on a food trip at Urbiztondo.
Barangay Urbiztondo is where one can find a cluster of good places to eat. For comfort food, enjoy a burger at Mad Monkeys. Its main offer, a classic burger with an inch thick patty made of 180 grams of pure beef that’s bathing in melted cheddar and beer sauce, is an unlikely combination that marries the sourness of beer and the creaminess of cheddar cheese.
Surely, you’re going to need a cup of chunky fries to go with it. Combos including the burger, fries and beer or soda is at ₱250. Need more food? Just walk a few blocks from Mad Monkeys for nachos and pizza at Surf Shack.
For coffee and dessert, head to El Union Coffee. It’s right along MacArthur Highway where buses pass by. Bestsellers include their Dirty White Iced Mocha (₱120) and indoor S’mores (small at ₱160 and large at ₱300). Looking at trying something new? Order their Dirty Horchata, a combination of rice milk, cinnamon and a shot of espresso.
Tip: They’re closed on Tuesdays!
For a mix of local and international delicious dishes, head out to Coast Call Kitchen & Bar at San Juan Surf Resort. With its spacious dining area that can accommodate 100 guests, it’s an ideal place to eat when you’re with a large group. They’re also one of the few establishments that open as early as 6:30 AM. Price range for meals start at ₱200.
For delicious budget meals there’s Tagpuan sa San Juan (right next to Mad Monkeys) which specializes in Filipino rice bowls such as tapa, bagnet, pares, tokwa’t baboy (tofu and pork) and chicken adobo. There’s also lugaw (rice porridge), Kansi (a beef soup dish from Bacolod), and mami. Rice bowls start at ₱60. It’s not on the menu, but you can pair your meals with a legit aromatic cup of brewed coffee. For satisfying meals and shakes at less than ₱100, try Kelle’s Kitchen.
A little concerned about calories? Don’t fret, there’s good food for you, too! Makai Bowls at Flotsam and Jetsom Hostel serves delicious smoothie bowls. Angel and Marie’s Place, right along MacArthur Highway also serves filling smoothies that can be a meal on its own such as banana and peanut butter as well as banana and mango.
For those who want to dine with a view of the beach, food establishments along the stretch of Urbiztondo beach include Le Point Bar (happy hour starts at 5:30 PM!), Sandbar Café (pizza, beer, and rice bowls), Sea Nymph Surf Café (for pancakes and omelettes) and Gefseis Greek Grill, a must-try for those who want a taste of authentic Greek food.
2. Take a day tour at Luna, La Union.
Luna is a municipality named after the famous Luna brothers: the feisty and valiant, General Antonio Luna and the artist, Juan Luna. Their mother, Dona Laureana Novicio Luna is from the same place formerly called Namacpacan.
At the town proper, you can find a couple of places of interest. One is the statue of General Antonio Luna on a horse, another is Luna Park, and St. Catherine of Alexandria, a parish church established in 1690 and declared as a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum. The church is also declared as the official shrine of Our Lady of Namacpacan, a wooden statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary which has been with the parish since 1871.
From the church, walk 650 meters to Pebble Beach, aptly named for the stones (instead of sand) sprawled over the shore.
Here, you can also find Baluarte, the ruins of an old watchtower. While it is open for visitors, restoration works are currently in place as the other half crumbled during typhoon Lando. Here’s a link to the walking map from St. Catherine of Alexandria to Baluarte.
Tip: Come in early to avoid the heat or late in the afternoon to watch the sunset. It’s a good place to listen to the sound of the ocean!
From the town proper, take a tricycle (₱50) to Bahay na Bato in Nalvo Norte, a beautiful art gallery of wood carvings and stone art, built along a pebble beach. The gallery is located at Nalvo Norte and is open daily from 6:00 AM – 8:00 PM. A small fee of ₱20 is collected per person. Children below 4 feet can come in for free!
20 minutes away from the town proper, is Occalong Falls (also called Ukkalong Falls), a small waterfall in the middle of a lush setting in Barangay Cabalitocan. Tricycles can be rented from the town proper.
Tip: As this is frequented by locals on weekends, it is best to visit on weekdays or early in the morning to avoid the crowd.
How to get to Luna
From San Juan, La Union, ride a jeep going to Balaoan. Travel time is 30 to 40 minutes. From Balaoan town proper, take a tricycle to Luna. The ride will take about 20 minutes and the fare is ₱10/head or ₱50 for the entire tricycle. As an alternative, you can also make this as your first stop from Manila. Ask the bus conductor to drop you off at Balaoan and take a tricycle to Luna.
3. Visit the Centennial Tree in Bacnotan.
An exciting visit for tree lovers, this hundred year old Acacia tree serves as a majestic centerpiece of Carcarmay Elementary School. In 1998, it was proclaimed by DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) as a Philippine Centennial Tree in 1998, making it a protected tree.
How to get to Bacnotan
From San Juan, take a jeep marked “Bacnotan.” Travel time is 20 minutes. From Bacnotan, take a tricycle to Carcarmay Elementary school. It’s about 8.3 kilometers away and the road condition is rough in some sections.
Another outdoor destination is the Arosip Eco Trail in Barangay Erosip, a 6.5 KM trail passing on three waterfalls, Zim-Sim-Ug Twin Falls, Pad-tok Falls and Tekdag-Aso. Due to its location, an early start is recommended. To get here, take a tricycle to Barangay Casiaman. From Barangay Casiaman, walk to the barangay hall in Arosip and ask for a guide.
4. Hike and swim at Tangadan Falls in San Gabriel.
This popular waterfall in Barangay Amontoc is swarmed by visitors on weekends and holidays for good reason. The trail to the falls only takes an hour and is very scenic as it passes a dam, gigantic rock formations, and a forest. In 2015, it was featured in a local flick, “Flotsam the Movie,” starring Solenn Heusaff and Rocco, drawing more visitors.
Tip: Start hiking by 6:00 AM to avoid the heat and the crowd.
How to get to Tangadan Falls
From San Juan, rent a tricycle to San Gabriel and from there, get a guide to Tangadan Falls. Some tricycle drivers in town also offer a ride plus guiding services to Tangadan. A fare of ₱600 is common. You can also inquire at your hostel for assistance in arranging a trip.
5. Stay in!
Surfing towns in general, with its laid back atmosphere, is an ideal place to laze around. Stay at unique accommodations in Barangay Urbiztondo where you can get a feel of that relaxed surf vibe!
Circle Hostel, an eco-hostel, offers both hammock and dorm-type accommodations. A place that combines both creativity and interaction, its walls are surrounded by murals, most of which are contributed by visitors. Mixed dorm rate starts at ₱450 per night.
Flotsam and Jetsam Hostel, with its stylish accommodation reflects the owners’ vision of offering a space that celebrates art, music, style and design. Dorm rates start at ₱780.
If you’re the type who fancies the bed and breakfast feel, check out Urbiz Garden Plage. It’s located in the quieter side of Urbiztondo beach, where you can enjoy a lot of quiet time, surrounded by colorful flowers and plants. Room rates start at ₱3,000.
If you’re splurging, book at Urbiztondo’s premier resort, Kahuna Beach Resort & Spa, which offers 40 Balinese-inspired rooms, rest houses, and villas. Weekend rates range from ₱5,949 to ₱28,000+ depending on the accommodation type. For comfortable mid-range accommodation offering easy access to the beach, check out San Juan Surf Resort. Room rates start at ₱1,980.
How to Get to La Union:
From Cubao, ride a bus bound for Abra, Laoag, and Vigan. Bus companies plying these routes are Dominion Bus Lines, Viron, and Partas. Aircon bus fare is ₱422 and travel time is around 7+ hours depending on traffic. If you are bringing a private vehicle, travel time will only take about 5 hours via TPLEX.
Tip: If you have limited time, it is best to leave at night so you can get there early. It is also recommended to select the bus route that will travel via TPLEX.