San Juan: La Union’s Surfing and Food Place

Bauang, La Union, used to be a magnet for beach goers in the 1970s but with the discovery of white sand beaches all over the country, beach combers have flocked to other destinations over the years. But beginning sometime in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, visitors started flocking to another town further up north: San Juan. Their primary motive: surfing.

surfers at Urbiztondo Beach, San Juan, La Union

On a short foray to Elyu (as La Union is more popularly referred to these days), we decided to spend an evening in the province at San Juan town. We’ve read so much about the beach and food scene here and planned initially to go exactly one year ago but had to change plans at the last minute. There was no stopping us this time.

lone surfer at Urbiztondo Beach, San Juan

Surfing in San Juan

Bauang’s Grape Farms

Bauang still has its beaches but a new attraction has emerged in recent years: its grape farms. We couldn’t believe it at first when we learned grapes are grown in these parts but they’ve been doing it here since the 1970’s. The grape farms only became popular with visitors in the last two years.

a cluster of grapes at the Gapuz Grapes Farm, Bauang, La Union

On the way to San Juan and just before San Fernando City, Elyu’s capital, we encountered signs along the MacArthur Highway at Bauang town advertising several grape farms. We stopped at the Gapuz Grapes Farm for a tour and some grape juice and wine-tasting. They also offer grape-picking here when the grapes are ripe and ready.

grape vines and fruit clusters at the Gapuz Grapes Farm, Bauang, La Union

At the Gapuz Grapes Farm, Bauang

Surfing at San Juan

Located just north of San Fernando, San Juan has become the most sought-after surfing destination in the Ilocos region. Urbiztondo Beach in particular is the most popular surfing spot and therefore home to the biggest cluster of beach resorts in the town. We don’t surf but it was fun just lazing away at the beach and watching surfers try their hand at the swells of Urbiztondo.

young surfers at Urbiztondo Beach, San Juan, La Union

Young surfers at Urbiztondo Beach, San Juan

San Juan draws a lot of surfers – both local and international – and Urbiztondo Beach in particular has several beach-side resorts that offer surfing lessons. On this warm November weekday there was a lot of surfers – mostly young guns – in action.

young surfers checking out the waves at Urbiztondo Beach, San Juan

surfer beginners at Urbiztondo Beach, San Juan, La Union

San Juan’s swells are also perfect for beginners

San Juan’s beaches are perfect for beginners. Surf lessons here are offered for P400 per hour (P200 each for the surf board rental and for the instructor). The surfing season in San Juan is from October to March with waves peaking in March.

view of Urbiztondo Beach from the rocky southern portion

View of Urbiztondo Beach from the rocky southern portion

When done with beach combing and surfing – or watching surfers as in our case – head over to the rocky southern portion of Urbiztondo Beach to watch a beautiful sunset. This beach faces west and therefore provides an excellent sunset view.

The Food Scene

With beach bummers and surfers flocking to San Juan it was inevitable that a cluster of dining establishments would mushroom around the beaches. As soon as we arrived we were off to Tagpuan sa San Juan – a hole-in-the-wall eatery that provides very affordable but delicious servings.

Tagpuan sa San Juan dining establishment, San Juan, La Union

two of the dishes at Tagpuan sa San Juan, San Juan, La Union

Tagpuan’s dishes are tasty and affordable

Other popular dining places nearby include Surf Shack (an outdoor restobar that also serves pizza including Binacotan pizza and Carmen’s Best ice cream), Mad Monkey (home of burgers), Olas Banditos (Mexican fare including big servings of tacos, burritos and quesadillas), Kaizen Izakaya & Japanese Restaurant and Gefseis Greek Grill (with its authentic Greek cuisine).

the Surf Shack and Mad Monkey, San Juan, La Union

LEFT: The Surf Shack; RIGHT: Mad Monkey

Some of the resorts here also provide a variety of good choices such as Flotsam and Jetsam Hostel with its wide range of dishes from local (Filipino) dishes to pastas and pizzas. We tried G Hotel’s ground floor restos that offers, among other things, a P349 dinner buffet.

G Hotel and Angel & Marie's Place in San Juan

The G Hotel (left) serves buffet dinners

There are also plenty of cafes here including the popular El Union Coffee and the Coffee Library. We got to try the Coffee Library not in San Juan but in Rosario (also in La Union) on our way back home from Baguio City.

Getting There

Going to San Juan by private vehicle is a breeze since most of the places and establishments mentioned here are already on Google Maps or Waze and along the MacArthur Highway, the major highway going north along the western coast from Metro Manila. Much of the route is also along the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX), Subic Clark Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) and Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEX).

If traveling by public transportation ride a bus for San Fernando La Union from Metro Manila and ask to be dropped off at the jeepney terminal for San Juan. To get to Urbiztondo Beach ride another jeepney bound for that location. You can also take a bus bound for Vigan (Ilocos Sur) or Laoag (Ilocos Norte), get off at the public market in San Juan and ride a jeep to Urbiztondo.

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