A One-Day Itinerary for Enjoying La Union, Ilocos

Because it's not all just surfer-friendly waves that you can enjoy here.

The province of La Union in Ilocos has established itself as a prime vacation spot for both locals and foreign tourists alike thanks to its vicinity to the city, rich culture, and beaches. Though known for its surfer-friendly waves and laidback beach vibe, the destination offers a little bit of everything for every type of traveler. The province can be a bit overwhelming to explore – it has 19 municipalities! – if you’re only planning to stay overnight, so we came up with a list of the top destinations that will give you a taste of everything it has to offer.

Breakfast: Makai Bowls
Address: The Great Northwest Philippines Travel Stop, National Highway, Brgy. Urbiztondo, San Juan La Union

Photo Courtesy of Makai Bowls Facebook Page

If you’re traveling to La Union to chill at the beach, chances are you’re headed to the municipality of San Juan, one of the most popular – if not the number one – destination for those visiting the province. Here you’ll find Makai Bowls, a healthy snack shack that offers acai-inspired bowls from Hawaii. This food spot offers some of the most healthy grubs in the otherwise food paradise that is The Great Northwest, using fresh fruits on their menu which promises to be free from dairy and artificial sweeteners. The strawberry smoothie remains the star of the show, but Makai Bowls also rotates its selections depending on the availability of fruits in the area. Grab a refreshing bite after dropping your things at one of the many hostels there. Oh, and don't forget to take a snap or two of their pretty bowls for your feed, too.

History: Baluarte Watchtower
Address: Luna, La Union

Photo Courtesy of Janine Delfin

Head to the municipality of Luna and rub elbows with history by visiting Baluarte Watchtower, a 400-year-old small fortress built during the Spanish Period. The Baluarte, which sits overlooking the pebbled beach of Barangay Victoria, was built during the earlier eras to watch over Japanese, Moro, and Chinese attackers who often ransacked the coastal towns of La Union. The original watchtower was constructed with adobe and coral blocks, but the strong typhoon Lando broke the structure into two in 2015. It has since been restored in 2017 by the province’s local government. Tip: You can also drop by the St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish which is just a few minutes walk from the watchtower. The church (which is also known as Namacpacan Church) is declared by the National Museum of the Philippines as a National Treasure.

Art: Kamay na Bato
Address: Nalvo Norte, Bacnotan – Luna – Balaoan Rd, Luna, La Union

Photo Courtesy of Janine Delfin

Just a few minutes drive from Baluarte Watchtower is Kamay Na Bato Open Art Gallery, a mural and art space that features stone-carved and three- dimensional structures. The gallery was started by Mr. Bong Kim, a Korean, with his Filipina wife Mrs. Beverly, with the aim of giving people the experience of visual art created from materials sourced from the environment. The museum, which is filled with quirky stone sculptures, also has the mission of inspiring everyone to find a newfound appreciation of old materials. Make sure you have enough phone memory for all the photos you’ll be taking here before your visit. Some of the works are just too cheeky to pass up on!

Culture: Ma-Cho Temple
Address: Ma-Cho Temple Driveway, Quezon Ave, San Fernando, La Union

Photo Courtesy of Ma-Cho Temple Facebook Page

Transport yourself to Taiwan by dropping by the Ma-Cho Temple, a Taoist temple in San Fernando, La Union dedicated to the Chinese Sea Goddess Mazu. The temple was built in 1977 by Filipino-Chinese devotees and is open to both worshippers and non-worshippers. Besides from its beautiful facade, the temple’s top attractions also include the Majestic Five Door Gate, the Liang Thing Pagoda, the Bell Tower,  and its Golden Dragon Emblem to name a few. An 8-inch icon found in the Temple’s altar has the Our Lady of Caysasay (stationed in St. Martin’s Basilica in Taal, Batangas) as its Catholic counterpart. Every September 21-26, this icon is processioned to St. Martin and then brought back home to San Fernando.

Lunch/Afternoon Snack: Halo Halo de Iloko
Address: Zandueta St, San Fernando, La Union

Photo Courtesy of Halo Halo de Iloko Facebook Page

Ask anyone who’s already visited La Union for one of the best food spots to drop by and they’ll definitely have Halo Halo de Iloko on their list of recommendations. Despite its name, this restaurant (which is just a few minutes away from Ma-Cho Temple) also serves full meals, though its halo-halo definitely tops as the must-try on its menu. Both locals and tourists alike will definitely be drawn by the wonderful medley of ingredients in its rendition of this shaved ice favorite – one of their best-sellers, the Buko Halo-Halo, comes with milk, pastille de leche, ube ice cream, cereal, macapuno, ube San Gabriel, and yema pastillas cradled in a freshly opened buko. If you’re craving for a late-afternoon lunch, you can also order something heavier like the Emparedados, a native version of an American Cheeseburger. The restaurant is formerly an ancestral house so it also features beautiful antique furnishings that you can marvel at while waiting for your food.

Nature: Tangadan Falls
Address: San Gabriel, La Union

Photo Courtesy of Janine Delfin

Just in case you’re not tired yet, you can take an hour drive to Tangadan Falls in San Gabriel, one of the natural wonders of La Union. The falls is just among the ten other falls found in the area, but it is most popular for its jump off points and the refreshing basin of water coming from the Baroro River. Tangadan falls has captured many a hearts for its fine stream of water coming from the 50-feet high waterfall which you can explore by riding a wooden cable car. Marvel at the wonderful rock formations cradling the river’s waters and take the literal jump by trekking to its cliff-diving site.

Nightlife: Foodtrip at the Great Northwest
Address: The Great Northwest Philippines Travel Stop, National Highway, Brgy. Urbiztondo, San Juan La Union

Photo Courtesy of Janine Delfin

Cap off the night by driving back to San Juan and immersing yourself in the beachside. Besides from hooking in visitors with its surf-friendly waves, La Union (particularly San Juan) has built a reputation for being a haven for nightlife warriors and foodophiles. There’s no better place that captures this distinct vibe than The Great Northwest Philippines Travel Stop and Viewing Deck which is a compound made up San Juan’s most-loved eateries like the world-famous El Union Coffee and Sabong Fried Chicken. For dinner, we recommend Papa Bear, an Asian smokehouse that serves a fusion of Malay, Thai, and Singaporean dishes. Order some tacos for your appetizer if you’re famished before stuffing your face with its rich bowls and plates. We recommend the Kare-Kare – Papa Bear’s version is a fried creation of meat and fresh veggies drizzled with sauce. 


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