A lazy weekend in La Union
The summer is over, or so Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration says, but the sea is still calling out to the beach bums. Just a six-hour bus ride from Manila is the growing surf town of San Juan, La Union, and as it offers endless waves and surfing lessons, various cuisines and tourist attractions, it is now seen as a vacation hotspot.
It’s easy to get to San Juan. Like all trips to the north of Luzon, one only needs to board a bus in the various terminals in Cubao or Pasay. On the main highway of the town is a long strip of hostels and small-time restaurant businesses, and there’s also no shortage of sights around the area either—there are falls, houses made of pebbles, a lighthouse and even a Chinese temple.
Admitting to the fear of missing out or fomo, we checked for ourselves if the La Union hype is real—and, super spoiler alert: It is.
Flotsam & Jetsam Artist
Being hotel snobs, we had three requirements when it came to choosing where to stay in La Union. Our accommodations had to at least be clean and comfortable, and for the Instagram addicts in us, the place had to be aesthetically pleasing. Flotsam met all these conditions. The cool, design-inspired hostel is the go-to spot for artists, millennial travelers, bloggers and even celebrities who visit San Juan. Its in-house pub hosts laid-back nightly celebrations that often feature live music and film viewings.
We booked our April trip three months in advance, and at that point, only a handful of rooms were available. We decided on one of the hostel’s Premium Dorms for our one-night stay. For PHP 1,080 per night, you get a fairly comfortable air-conditioned room with bunk beds and free WiFi. This room type sleeps four people and includes privacy curtains, towels, and lockers for each person. Bathrooms are shared for all dorm-style rooms.
Free breakfast is also available for all Flotsam guests. The KitchenBar’s morning spread included an assortment of fruits, cereal, coffee, milk and juice.
The running theme of our weekend was spontaneity: we entered any place that caught our fancy, sampled drinks we’ve never tried. Sticking to this pattern, we decided to stay in San Juan for another night. Luckily, Flotsam had a cancellation, and we nabbed the last room—the Sea Suite. The nautical-inspired room features a comfy queen-sized bed, a spacious living room and an en suite bathroom. The price tag for this upgrade was P3,200 per night.
Tucked away in the quieter end of San Juan’s coast, Flotsam is the definition of chill. We found ourselves rolling out of bed, and onto the beach at 7 a.m.—we wanted to spend as much time as we could here, whether it be reading a book, testing the waves, or devouring a hot cup of taho.
Bahay na Bato
Make sure you set aside some time to visit the House of Pebble, or Bahay na Bato, in Luna town. From San Juan, just ride a bus heading to Vigan or Laoag and ask the conductor to drop you off at Balaloan. It usually takes 30 to 45 minutes to get to Balaloan and the ride just costs P30.
When you arrive at Balaloan, you will easily find a queue of tricycles which you could ask to take you to Bahay na Bato. There would be no tricycles available in the area once you get to your destination, so make an arrangement with your trike driver for your Luna stay. Most of them are friendly and would instantly volunteer to wait for you as you go along their town’s famous landmarks. Riding at the back of the trike, which could seat four people on its side car alone, around Luna is also quite an experience.
Bahay na Bato, owned by the Noble family, is considered an architectural feat in the province. Its exterior is made of rocks, and its floors are covered in smooth Luna pebbles of export quality. The interiors of the home are accentuated with rustic driftwood pieces and Korean sculptor Vong Kim’s animal stone pieces.
Overlooking Luna’s iconic pebble-lined shores, Bahay na Bato will give you serious beach house envy.
It’s quite a shock that even as one could easily set sight of the sea in the part of San Juan where we stayed, seafood restaurants could not be found. But no worries, the Olas Banditos Taqueria will, in a way, satisfy your seafood cravings with their fish fillet tacos and burritos.
Their California Burrito is a soft tortilla stuffed with French fries, carne asada, melted cheddar cheese and fresh tomato salsa. This heavyweight food find is definitely a strong contender against Army Navy’s Steak Breakfast Burrito. The place also serves affordable subzero beers and pitchers of mojito.
Gefseis Greek Grill
After getting our caffeine fix at The Coffee Library, we stopped at Gefseis Greek Grill. The place boasts stunning views of the shore, which will leave you itching to kick off your shoes and hustle onto the beach.
Our snack of choice was a plate of pita bread with hummus and two glasses of ouzo. The place also serves a variety of grilled meats, seafood and most of the traditional Greek dips such as Tzatziki and Melitzanosalata.
Gefseis is a great place to snack and chill after swimming or surfing—it’s open from 9 a.m. til midnight.
We dropped by Flotsam’s KitchenBar multiple times during our stay in La Union. While waiting to check-in on our first day, we staved off the heat with refreshing watermelon popsicles. After a quick dip on the second day, we snacked on a plate of crispy onion rings. We couldn’t pass up on trying the Surfer’s smoothie bowl at Makai Bowls—it was healthy, delicious and Insta-worthy! The KitchenBar also serves a good mix of entrees like seared garlic tuna and snack food such as the Flotsam Baguette with eggs & chimichurri sauce. The menu varies throughout the day.
Our evening visits to the pub were a different story. Though the ambiance was awesome, the cocktails were a letdown. We tried the Flotsam Mojito and the pub’s version of a Long Island Iced Tea, and both were pretty watered down and flavorless. Stick to their selection of beers and shots if you want to enjoy a drink here.
The KitchenBar is open from 8 a.m.-3 p.m., then again from 5 p.m. until 2 a.m.
La Union is also the place to eat the well-known Ilocano delicacy, the double-fried pork belly or bagnet. The crave-worthy bagnet is among their famous recovery food bowls. Their food menu also has some of the cheapest food items we’ve seen in San Juan area and each of their Filipino classic dishes are blockbuster hits among locals and tourists alike. The place opens at 8 a.m.-2 p.m., and again at 6 p.m.-2 a.m.
We only chanced upon this café as our bus driver told us we have reached our destination, and let us off right in front of its door. The Coffee Library may sound familiar to some because they have visited its first store in Baguio City. The newly opened branch in San Juan offers good quality coffee and service. Their coffee blends, a wide range of international flavors, taste exactly how they ought to be. Their drinks are teeming with robust caffeine taste and come in generous servings.
El Union Coffee
According to Instagram users, this local café is a must-visit in San Juan. We had high expectations for their coffee, but after tasting their Nitrogen Cold Brew and Mocha creations, we’ve come to a conclusion: You’ve had a better cup of joe elsewhere.
But their Indoor S’mores and Grilled Cheese with additional bacon jam are a good combination for breakfast. The s’mores, even in its small serving, is a simple and sweet guilty pleasure, and balancing the food act is the medley of mozzarella, cheddar, a generous amount of bacon bits in between perfectly grilled and buttered slices of bread. This café has perfected the comforting snacks we love.
Among the other things you’ll love about El Union are the owners’ kids, Cadence, Dylan and Adam. The little folks are used to tourists in their surf town and are naturally warm and friendly, sitting beside your table to ask how your vacation is so far. Dylan even showed us the second floor of the café, where you can chill on beanie bags and read their small collection of books. You’re also gonna see these kids around the beach come afternoon.
Itinerary and budget
3:30 a.m. — Board bus to La Union
4:00-11:00 a.m. — Trip to La Union (P543/person, Partas deluxe bus)
11:00 a.m.-12:00 n.n. — Coffee break at Coffee Library (P110/person)
12:30 n.n.-2:00 p.m. — Light lunch at Geifseis (P200/person)
2:00 p.m. — Check-in Flotsam and Jetsam Hostel (P1080/night in a dorm room)
3:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m. — Snack time at Makai Bowls (P200/person)
4:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m. — Explore the beachfront
7:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m. — Dinner at Olas Banditos (P250/person)
8:00 p.m.-11:00 p.m. — Chill at the Flotsam and Jetsam camping grounds, enjoy drinks (P250/person)
TOTAL COST PER PERSON: P2,633
6:00 a.m.-6:45 a.m. — Travel by bus to Balaloan (P30/person)
6:45 a.m.-7:00 a.m. — Travel by trike to Bahay na Bato, Luna Town from Balaloan (P100/ride)
7:00 a.m.-8:30 a.m. — Explore the Bahay na Bato attractions (P30/person)
8:30 a.m.-9:00 a.m. — Stroll along Pebble Beach
9:15 a.m.-10:00 a.m. — Travel by bus back to San Juan (P30/person)
10:00 a.m-12:00 n.n. — Brunch at El Union Coffee (P350/person)
12:00 n.n.-6:00 p.m. — Stay by the beach, enjoy beach activities
6:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m. — Dinner at Tagpuan (P150/person)
8:00 p.m.-1:00 a.m — Travel by bus back to Manila (P543/person, Partas deluxe bus)
1:00 a.m. — Arrival at Manila
TOTAL COST PER PERSON: P1,233
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