There is no better time to explore new places than long weekends. And while La Union is already a well-known weekend destination for weekend warriors, foodies and people ‘blessed’ with itchy feet in general, it was a first for this wanderlust, yours truly. Needless to say, I was filled with excitement and looking forward to what this gem of a town has to offer.
Exploring La Union
La Union, LU or Elyu in millennial speak, is a go-to spot for surfing in Northern Luzon long before better routes were in place a couple of years back. Now with the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEX), what used to be a five to six hour-trip from Manila is down to about four. We left Manila at dawn and reached our destination in 3 hours. If you have more days or energy to spare, you can go on side trips to Baguio or Tarlac for roughly an hour each stop. But since this was a chill trip by design, we ate, drank and slept Elyu for three days.
Eat, Drink, Surf and More
Elyu slowly became known also as a foodie destination in recent years, making it all the more popular and a must-visit in Luzon. Among the number of good options, some of our top picks are:
- Olas Banditos – For those unforgettable burritos with a twist, this is a must. Their drink concoctions are not bad either.
- The Coffee Library – overall good quality coffee and some place to quiet down or cool down from the afternoon heat.
- Great Gamble Seafood Shack – Their crab and scallop rolls are so good. This favorite may no longer be on the menu but can still be ordered as a special request.
- Tagpuan – For affordable post-surf grub, their beef tapa and lugaw are two thumbs up.
- Coast Call Kitchen and Bar – Their breakfast offerings are the best. We tried the s’mores pancakes and a few breakfast dishes i.e. Kuya Jun’s favorite (pictured below) and left with happy tummies. They serve not just Filipino faves but also international dishes.
- Last but not the least, the newly opened Seafoodobo. For those who can’t resist a seafood boodle fight, this cozy outdoor foodstop is just wow.
I’ve lined up a few more for my next trip, more on this in another post.
We decided to have a very loose itinerary on this trip, and so aside from visiting friends and family in the area, we only checked out a few places. For random picks, I’d say these are worth the time.
- Luna Pebble Beach – The pebble-lined shore of this stretch of beach is quite a surprise. At the time of visit, the waves were too strong for swimming but the landscape was enough to keep us there. Enjoy the unique ambient sound made by the waves crashing on the pebbles. Lingering for the calming sound for a while was so worth it. Added attractions in the area are the stone art gallery called Kamay na Bato and a rest house/mansion by the beach called Bahay na Bato.
- Ma-Cho Temple – Situated on a hilly side and overlooking the city of San Fernando is this Taoist temple. It is open to all visitors who want to take a peek inside the temple or soak in the view, all for free. Trying out the rituals and wood wishing is allowed and there are even staff available to teach you how.
- If there’s only one thing you can do in Elyu, it’s this — Don’t leave Elyu without at least frolicking in or lounging by the beach and enjoying the lovely sunset, drinks on hand. For this simple pleasure, we hung around at the Sunset Bay Beach Resort in Canaoay in San Fernando, La Union. The calmer beach here is perfect for families or friends who want to while away the time watching the lovely sunset. Ahhh, bliss.
- If you do find yourself with at least an hour or two to spare, spend time learning how to surf. The waves are beginner-friendly in good weather but challenging enough to forge or test your skill. San Juan Surf Resort along Urbiztondo beach in San Juan has a surf school if you want to be guided by a pro for just about $8 to 9$ an hour or just rent out a surfboard for $4 to $5 an hour. How cool is that?!
Gentrification Done Right
What I love about La Union is the relaxed vibe despite throngs of visitors arriving year-round. There is more than enough establishments for dining on every budget, as well as a wide selection of accommodation types– from hostels to hotels, rental houses or rooms– and yet the development has been gradual and unhurried, not unlike the pace and culture Elyu has come to be known for. One can imagine island living without completely giving up on things creatures of comfort can’t do without. Local businesses are aplenty and thriving, with a spattering of big businesses just enough to not resemble busy city streets. A city girl or guy looking to slow down and who does not always crave luxury living can definitely live here.
Another noteworthy thing in Elyu is that the prices are kept low or reasonable despite its obviously booming tourism economy. Local products of good quality are highlighted and celebrated in the restaurant menus, in the small stores lined up on otherwise empty highways and in shops located near the populous areas, whether or not owned by a local. I love the mix of local and imported goods sold in some shops owned by expats. It shows a love and respect for the hard work of local makers and producers in the land, and not just a boost to the local economy.
It was also a surprise to find a handful of local farms growing grapes. While I did not expect grapes to grow in tropical or temperate countries like the Philippines, I was even more surprised that it grows in lands very near the seaside. Is it possible for tropical countries or islands with lands abundant enough to have successful wineries and vineyards? How rich and fruity and exotic can those wines be…? Food (or drinks) for thought.