12 Things To Do In La Union On a Weekend
Rediscover La Union not only for its beaches but also for its hip hostel design, dynamic architecture, and its creative community
La Union is not just another sleepy town tourists pass en route to Baguio. It probably once was—and still is, during certain seasons of the year—until the town of San Juan revealed a secret: the swells on the shores facing the West Philippine Sea proved to be an ideal playground for surfers.
In the early ’80s, Japanese surfer Kazuo “Aki” Akinaga visited the province and soon started teaching locals how to ride the waves. Decades later, the province became one of the go-to places for surfers—professionals and enthusiasts alike.
But you don’t have to be a surfer to enjoy La Union. Art galleries and design studios are sprouting one by one. Dining places dot the roadside, while beautifully designed hostels and resorts offer a respite from the sun. And while La Union can get pretty busy on holidays, it still manages to keep its unhurried vibe, and this is something creatures of the urban jungle need once in a while. So read on and get stoked.
Rediscover Inabel at Balay Ni Atong
“Filipinos don’t recognize Abel anymore, because we have been exposed to palengke-grade inabel. There is that notion that it’s handmade, that’s why it’s cheap,” says Al Valenciano, who put up Balay ni Atong to showcase and celebrate Abel, the handwoven textile made by Ilocano artisans.
Al has been working with up to 12 weaving communities in the region. Over the course of his dealings with them, he has helped professionalize their production processes. Apart from housing numerous examples of Abel fabric (see above), Balay ni Atong is also where the Study Center for Traditional Hand Woven Textiles of the Northern Philippines is located.
Pindangan Ruins, Carmel Monastery Compound, San Fernando City, La Union; URL www.balayniatong.com; open from 9am to 5pm, by appointment only; Balay Ni Atong also sells in Metro Manila at the HABI fair and Manila FAME.
Discover the La Union arts scene
The Culture and Art Gallery of La Union (known in the Ilocano dialect as Silid ti Adal ken Laing ti La Union) is open to artists residing or with roots in the province. According to AGLaUN vice president John Parmisano, “Umaangat na ngayon ang arts sa La Union. We were asking ourselves ano ang dapat maging representation ng LU artists. We should level up with our neighbors, Pangasinan and Baguio.” Its curator, Rodel Rillera, says that the goal is to push local artists to be at par with artists in Manila and Baguio.
LUPAC Bldg., San Fernando, La Union; Mondays to Fridays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; tel. (072) 888-2797, (072) 242-5550 loc, 218;
Pay homage to the miraculous Apo Caridad
This Parish dates back to the 1500s, but its 1800s church structure was destroyed in 1892. That church was demolished and restored with the current Basilica in 1975. The Basilica’s 17th-century wooden statue of Our Lady Of Charity, also called “Apo Caridad,” is attributed to numerous miraculous accounts in the area.
Grotto Road, Agoo, La Union
Visit a temple to a sea goddess
The Taoist Ma-Cho Temple honors the sea goddess Mazu, and the temple appropriately faces the West Philippine Sea. Non-worshippers can visit the seven-story temple on the hill, and marvel at its traditional Chinese architecture and the surrounding views.
Barangay 2, San Fernando, La Union
Donate to a beachside library
Caitlin Manning-Riley, a Louisiana native who moved to San Juan, La Union, established this project of a children’s library by the beach in 2015. Caitlin put up the Urbiztondo Beach Library (UBL) after reading stories to the children in the area, who did not have a proper library in their community. In the little hut, children’s books stashed in boxes are available for any child to borrow or read.
Those who want to donate books or cash to the library can email Caitlin at The ExtremeTeacher[at]gmail.com or visit their Facebook group page.
EAT AND DRINK
Have a good cuppa at a popular coffee shop
The tiny El Union coffee shop is practically an institution in LU, and people claim that they serve the best coffee in town. It’s a great spot to hit after coming from the beach, and if you’re hungry, order the grilled cheese sandwich with bacon jam.
MacArthur National Highway, Urbiztondo, La Union
Eat a healthy breakfast
What’s better than eating a smoothie bowl? Eating a smoothie bowl by the beach! The owners of Makai Bowls love to surf, and thought of combining surfing with serving these superfood bowls that are non-dairy. Try the Instagram-friendly Unicorn Bowl before heading out to the sea.
Nosh at a cool taqueria
One of the hip dining spots in Urbiztondo is the eye-catching, mural-laden roadside restaurant Olas Banditos. Co-owned by famous pro-surfer Luke Landrigan, this taqueria serves Mexican fare with a twist, and promotes recycling and eco-living.
National Highway, Brgy. Urbiztondo, San Juan, La Union; mobile 0977-859-0064
LOUNGE AND STAY
Get cool decorating ideas at Flotsam
We are loving all the quirky-boho details at Flotsam and Jetsam Hostel like these hand-painted headboards, multicolored seats, and two-toned doors. It’s also a laidback place to meet surfers, artists, and other creative types.
Surf Town, La Union; mobile 09178021328
Lounge with kitty cats at this inn
Urbiz Garden is considered La Union’s best kept secret, and its suites and cabanas are perfect for families and couples who are looking for more private accommodations. And you’re in for a treat if you’re a cat lover, as you’d probably run into these furry felines in the garden or lounge areas.
134 Beachfront, Urbiztondo, La Union
Sleep in a modernist container van
Couple Buji and Nikki Libarnes—architects and professional surfers—thought of establishing Vessel Hostel when they noticed the lack of lodging in the booming surf town. Having their house on the same lot (see their home here) made it easy. The lodging’s no-fuss interiors are lined with light-colored wood, punctuated with industrial lights and a few pops of colors. “It’s very simple but timeless. Walang clutter, very calming and peaceful,” explains Buji, to which Nikki adds, “Everything is functional.”
Urbiztondo, San Juan, La Union, email vesselhostel[at]gmail.com
Meet artsy friends at this boho hostel
The Circle Hostel has dorm-style lodging, which is perfect if you’re traveling with a large group of friends. The have a lot of chillout areas replete with hammocks, beanbags, and floor pillows where you can just plop down and talk, or snooze.
2514 Barangay Urbiztondo, La Union; mobile 09175054329
FAST FACTS: LA UNION
• La Union was officially named a province by a Royal Decree issued by Queen Isabella of Spain on April 18, 1854. It literally signified “the union” of nine towns from Pangasinan and three villages from Ilocos Sur and Benguet in the Cordilleras.
• The capital of La Union is San Fernando City and is mainly agricultural. Residents grow rice, legumes, leafy vegetables, root crops, corn, and tobacco. Fishing is a secondary means of livelihood.
• In 2015, the National Statistics Office listed La Union with a population of 787,797 people and predominantly Ilocano. Iloko (Ilocano) is recognized as the official provincial dialect.
• To the left of La Union is the West Philippine Sea, whose swells are great for beginner to advanced surfers, and because of this, La Union has become a popular tourist attraction for those interested in the sport.
• Surf season in San Juan is between July to October and November to March.
Read the original article ("Point Break: La Union") in the April 2017 issue of Real Living Magazine. Download your digital copy of Real Living on the Real Living App. Log on to summitnewsstand.com.ph/real-living for more details. References on the Urbiztondo Public Library come from the article “A Place In The Sun” by Tisha Alvarez, which appeared in the April 2016 issue of Good Housekeeping Philippines.
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