La Union (or Elyu for the locals) has always been a surfer’s paradise, bringing in people from all walks of life and from all parts of the world to surf, enjoy their unique selection of restaurants, imbibe the surfer’s lifestyle, and simply relax and enjoy the sun, sand and waves. I’ve been going back here for all of these reasons, and more–and I have to say, each trip is different because there is always more to discover in this stunning place. Apart from having the fifth longest coastline in the world, and being an easy five-hour drive from Metro Manila, you can surf practically the entire year. The surf town of San Juan, La Union comes alive during the north swell season when northeast trade winds (or the amihan winds) bring consistent swells to the coastline from October to April. The rainy season also proves to be a great time to surf, as the southwest monsoon, or habagat, can yield waves from July to September. But of course, be prepared to surf in the rain during those months.
My first time to Elyu was quite a memorable experience. This was years ago–I think it was in 2004 or 2005–I was invited by Bianca, my sister-in-law to go surfing with her friends and we ended up taking a sleeper bus going there and we all stayed together in a cozy little room facing the ocean. The next day we rented surf boards and learned how to surf, which was super challenging for me because I’m really not a strong swimmer and as I found out, paddling out was soooo tiring. I did manage to stand up though but only once. The rest was a series of wipeouts that left me absolutely exhausted! It was one of those spontaneous, last-minute trips that you absolutely had to do in your 20s (it is pretty difficult to do these kinds of trips nowadays, as bringing along a toddler requires a lot of planning). It was a crazy fun experience that I will surely remember forever.
My last few trips to La Union have been a different kind of experience altogether. Since we now travel as a family (complete with nanny), we require a more comfortable means of transportation, and a bigger, nicer room. I don’t want to say it comes with age, but yes, these days I prefer a lot more pampering than when I was in my 20s. I only hope it doesn’t take away the authenticity of my Elyu experience, though yes, in a way it kind of does if you’re really into the surfer lifestyle. But what’s great is that San Juan has so much to offer, and is really worth exploring no matter what age you are, or season in your life (single, married, kids–it doesn’t matter).
You will be happy to know there are plenty of options for accommodations in La Union–you can rent a small, breezy hut; stay in a budget-friendly hotel; or book an establishment with a resort-like feel. The last few times we went we stayed in Kahuna Beach Resort, which I think is the biggest hotel there–it has a Balinese-resort feel and is one of the few places with a swimming pool. I thought it was pretty complete and comfortable–right in front is a station where you can rent surfboards and the waves in front of the resort were excellent for surfing at the time we went. Don’t take my word for it though, I’m just quoting my husband who surfed by his lonesome while I took photos. We booked a Deluxe Pool View Room that had access to a private pool, and was a few steps away from the beach. It was around P7,000 for our room, and I thought it was pretty complete and comfortable.
Then, there was that time we checked in at Flotsam & Jetsam Artist Beach Hostel, which my husband really loved because to him it felt like we were really in La Union. The hostel is much smaller compared to Kahuna, but had a cool surfer beach vibe that was just charming. There’s a nice range of rooms to choose from–they have dorm-style accommodations, private rooms with shared bath, and more premium rooms with its own bath. We stayed in a Garden View Twin with Daybed, which was cozy for 3 adults and a baby. But since it was well-designed, it didn’t feel cramped or too small. It felt like we were staying in an Airbnb, which was a nice break from all the hotels we’ve stayed in the past. It costs us only P3,800 a night, which was pretty good.
Although La Union is a surfing town, there is really more to do than just surfing. What I discovered is an eclectic mix of restaurants, coffee shops and establishments that allow you to relax, meet new people and enjoy good food and coffee. Here are 10 cool things to do while you’re in Elyu.
1.) Learn how to surf.
This is a no-brainer, but hey, for those of you who forgot that San Juan, La Union is a surfing village, well it is! The high number of surfers and surfing wanabees (myself included) is really what sustains this town, and is actually what helped make the place what it is today. I love that there are so many health-conscious restaurants that have sprouted because of the surfing lifestyle, and that people are happily embracing it. Unfortunately you wont be seeing any photos of me carrying a surfboard or posing beside one. We’ve decided that Carlos is the real surfer (and half-man/half-fish) between the two of us. But since I support what he loves, here I am suggesting that you try to surf, at least once in your life. If it’s not for you, you can come join me while we enjoy what other things La Union has to offer.
2.) See a beautiful sunset.
This long stretch of beach offers the best light show, pretty much every day (except when its overcast or raining). And since I absolutely love sunsets (sunrises have a different appeal but I am not a morning person), this is one thing I think anyone will enjoy while they are at La Union. You get a beautiful spectrum of colors that quickly change from yellow to orange, pink and blue. I usually lay my banig (straw mat) on the beach at 430pm, and watch the sky for the next 1.5 hours with a beer in my hand.
3.) Have an authentic Greek lunch.
I never really thought about this before, but eating Greek food by the beach is amazing (there’s something about fresh salads and grilled meats that is so bagay with the beach)! And I’m glad I found this out through Gefseis Greek Grill, a beachfront restaurant that offers delicious, authentic Greek food. We loved the Kontosouvli Pork, which is marinated meat slow-roasted to perfection (appetizer), their Greek Salad, the Souvlaki Pork Platter, which combines different types of grilled meat served on pita bread, and Chicken Kebab. We loved the airy interiors and unbeatable view of the beach while eating, and that all the food we ordered was fresh and flavorful.
4.) Enjoy an amazing cup of coffee.
There’s really only one place to go for a delicious cup of coffee, and that’s El Union Coffee. This small coffee shop serves incredible coffee that’s a far cry from all the 3-in-1 variety that’s usually offered at breakfast buffets (there’s really no comparison). The reason for this is they source locally-grown coffee beans from around La Union, which is why my husband Carlos and I love it so much. There’s nothing like freshly brewed coffee in the morning, and its nice to know there’s a place in La Union to get an awesome cup. Carlos and I would sneak out every morning to grab a cup while our little toddler Tristan slept.
(Photo credit: theweekendgypsy.blogspot.com)
5.) Stay in a family-friendly resort.
Like I said, there are plenty of accommodation options in La Union which totally depends on your budget, who you’re going with and why you’re going. If you’re not looking to rough it up you can stay in a resort hotel like Kahuna Beach Resort. I found that it was able to fit my family comfortably and provide all our needs, especially my toddler’s. In case you missed it, I wrote about our stay in Kahuna and Flotsam & Jetsam in the beginning of this post.
6.) Eat Vigan Longganisa pizza.
I asked the server at Flotsam & Jetsam what their best-selling pizza was and this is what she recommended: Vigan Longganisa Pizza! I immediately liked the sound of it and true enough, it was super good! I love that I got a whole lot of flavorful peppery longganisa that went well with basil, cheese and capers. I can probably finish an entire pizza by myself, which I’m not sure if I should be proud about given I am on a Keto diet. But it was worth the cheat! I did end up removing some capers on my third or fourth slice though. A must-try when in La Union! Oh and also try their Barlic (bacon and garlic) and All Meat pizzas.
7.) Have your passport renewed.
Not so sure if this falls under the “cool category” but I guess that since it will help you travel is it ultimately cool haha. So lately there has been a three-month waiting period for booking an appointment for Philippine passport application and renewal. And for some of us who need to travel within a given period of time and have totally forgotten to book an appointment earlier, well, know that we have La Union to go to! The DFA in La Union will definitely have a shorter waiting time than Metro Manila–and for some it is only a one-month wait. A pretty good reason to go to Elyu, just make sure you remember to go to your designated time or else you may have to come back again the following month haha. That did not happen to me btw, but its a good reminder (beach trips usually make you forget about these things).
(Photo credit: outoftownblog.com)
8.) Live a surfer’s lifestyle, even for a day.
While most of us get caught up in our daily 9 to 5 grind, we tend to forget that there is so much we are missing out in life. Escaping to the beach even for just a few days allows us to reconnect to nature and to ourselves, and makes us remember what our purpose is here on earth. I’m getting a little deep here, but it is true. That’s why I love the beach so much because it teaches us that life isn’t about deadlines, bills, work, buying stuff and television. We have a higher purpose, and that is something we can learn from living a simpler lifestyle. I mean, can you imagine, it has become a luxury to just sit idly on the sand and watch the waves, which is in my opinion, the most relaxing thing on earth.
9.) Make paluto a kick-ass (and affordable) Pinoy meal.
If you need to a feed a big group with limited budget, head on over to Ganaden’s Nook by the Sea. They can cook you a full range of simple dishes, depending on your preference and budget. We requested for buttered crabs and liempo, as well as buttered shrimp and grilled fish with rice and vegetables. It only cost us about P372 per person and we are all so stuffed! It was the most sulit meal, ever as the seafood was super fresh and delicious. Oh, and the best part is you get an amazing view of the ocean while you feast.
10.) Enjoy the sun, sand and surf.
Lastly, how can you forget to enjoy that gorgeous beach?! It is different from the calm waters of Boracay and Palawan, but it has its own beauty. I spent a lot of time just watching the waves and taking it all in. Oh, and based on my observation, it might be best not to wear a skimpy swimsuit as you might have a peekaboo situation with the strong waves. Hahaha!
I’m pretty sure there are more cool things to do in La Union. I’d like to hear your personal experiences–please share on the comment section below!