LA UNION | San Juan Surf Town: Surfing and Everything in Between

Area strictly for surfing

The first time I set foot in La Union was for a colleague's wedding in 2013. Aboard a rented van with my then colleagues, we hit the road to Agoo in the southern part of the province. We spent two nights there, witnessed unique local wedding festivities and before heading back home, side-tripped around the nearby Baguio City. Back then, La Union or Elyu (LU) as it was fondly called, was not yet a trending destination as it is now.

READ ALSO: Baguio City's Hauntingly Historical Diplomat Hotel

As a frequented tourist destination, La Union now has surfing as its main draw. It was in my anticipation during our recent trip that Elyu was no different from Baler, also a surfing haven east of the country facing the Pacific Ocean: there were surfboards for rent, surfing 101's on the beach, lots of newbies surfing ashore and a hushed town came dark. But San Juan town, La Union's main surfing spot and tourist area, is more than just riding with the waves and it's not really quiet at night.

I Love La Union standee

Urbiztondo Beach: Where Waves and Surfers Meet

This beach facing the West Philippine Sea is where waves and surfers (and surfer-wannabees) meet and is the reason why La Union befits to the "Surfing Capital of Northern Philippines" moniker. It's where most tourists go and spend a chunk of their days in Elyu. Resorts of all price range line the beach offering accommodations, dining and beach side booze. Several surf shacks also stand around the area for surfing gear rentals and lessons for those who want to try the sport. Walk around and locals will offer you surfing instructions even right before you ask.

A group taking surfing lessons

Surfing lessons at the beach

Surfing instructor pointing to where the good swell is

Surfing instructor instructing a kid

They say the best time to visit Elyu for surfing is from July to March — that's north and south swells in between these months — when the waves give a dope experience. But because not everyone who goes to Elyu goes to surf, and with the array of lodgings available in the area, Urbiztondo Beach is visited all year round.

Newbie and avid surfers riding the waves

Swell subsides without the surfer falling

Preparing for the next wave

One thing I learned in Baler was that, at least for a first-timer, an hour of trying to stand on that surfboard physically beats you up. But surfing wasn't the only thing in the beach to get tired of. Urbiztondo Beach was spacious enough for frisbee and beach volleyball, played by those fellows that surfing has failed to get drained. Some who don't seem to want themselves getting wet and tired just pick a spot, sit down with their instrument of choice and sing their hearts out. Kids too have the entire stretch of sand to frolic and horse around. Urbiztondo Beach is for everybody to revel in.

READ ALSO: Surfing 101 in Baler, The Surfing Capital of Central Luzon

Frisbee at the beach

Beach volleyball

Mother and child frolicking at the beach

If asked of what I enjoyed much in this beach, it would be swimming with the crowd. I dread touristy sites to say the least, but that summer crowd was not the one you'll get annoyed with. Elyu's waves provide an exciting dip. Those beach-goers, who either were not into surfing or were just recovering from a tiresome surf, swarm the beach spot that is solely for swimming—designated as such to avoid bumping heads into approaching surfing boards. Who wouldn't get excited by the shouts "Yan na! Yan na!" (There it is!) that alerts everyone in the waters when a swell was coming; then you would jump with the wave but when not perfectly timed, you have no choice but to let yourself get washed back to the shore. That's like a pool party but larger and saltier, sans the booze and disco. It's all natural.

Area strictly for swimming

Tourists swarm the area designated for swimming

San Juan at Night

Fun in San Juan doesn't stop after the sun goes down. Hostels, diners, cafes and restobars that fringe the main road enliven the town's night scene. One won't run out of choice—a beach side or a roadside bar, pubs that got live bands or DJs performing, or themed saloons that offer a soothing ambiance and fine liquors. Most bars usually close around 2:00 AM unless there's a mandate of some sort that requires them to close earlier than usual, like while we're there the night before the national elections when liquor ban was in effect. Nevertheless, a night in San Juan is worthy of a beer or two (or three, or many, depending on your friends' stories).

Roadside bars in San Juan

Chill acoustic session at a bar in San Juan

And that's what San Juan surf town has in store for everyone. A home away from home, a tiring or relaxing day at the beach and options to cap the day in Elyu in a soothing or a raging way. Not to mention the winning photo of you standing on that surfboard, projecting as if you're riding since.

Pinoy Travelogue in La Union: 
San Juan Surf Town: Surfing and Everything in Between


DJ Rivera is an I.T. professional, entrepreneur, travel blogger, writer and the online publisher of based in Rizal province, Philippines. Click here to know more.

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