Reasons Why Living at San Juan, La Union Would Do You Good

I consider the beach in San Juan, La Union as one of my happy places and I’m not alone who strongly feels this way. Discover the stories four ex-city dwellers that have been summoned to the sea and chose to reside in San Juan.

I can’t really pinpoint the exact moment when I fell in-love to be by the beach. It's come to the point that even though my body is in the city, my mind is kicking it at the shore. You won’t see me hiking up a mountain, nope, I’m not built for that. But my love for the sand, sea, and sun goes beyond the physical feeling that it gives me—my soul gets happier whenever I’m in a perfectly good day at the beach. San Juan, La Union is my go-to happy place.

The beach is calling.
Photo by Denise Mallabo

I’m a proud morena and whenever somebody would make a verbal observation that I’m getting fairer and when everything gets too much mentally and emotionally in my life, that’s my cue to pack my bag and head on to La Union. I never considered relocating to La Union because of circumstances that are beyond my control or maybe I’m just not brave enough, but I have contemplated on a few reasons why I am not surprised that a lot of people from the city opted to live in a more uncomplicated life at the Surf Town.

The Ocean Breeze

Summer in a tropical country like here in the Philippines is killer, so to have that kind of humidity in the city will give you unnecessary stress and could affect your health. In La Union, even though the sun is at its angriest, the sea breeze soothes your body. Not only does it give you that relaxing feeling, but ocean air is also good for your lungs and it’s charged with healthy negative ions that quicken our capacity to take in oxygen.

Photo by Denise Mallabo

Sea Water is So Fine

I’m sure there are scientific explanations why saltwater is good for your body but what it does to me really is that it relaxes me. It doesn’t give you that sting in your eyes like how chlorine in pools would do. My favorite activity in La Union is whenever the waves are calm enough, I float and meditate. It rejuvenates my mind, body, and soul by being one with the sea. It reminds me of how lucky I am to be alive and to have the opportunity to enjoy whatever healing the ocean can provide for me. Surfing is also the number one exercise of everybody in that part of town, and I also do it whenever I can. Floating, swimming, and surfing get me tired, which results to a good night’s sleep.

Paddled out in the flat sea in La Union

Simpler Lifestyle and Opportunity

Revamping your lifestyle is probably the most difficult challenge that one must do in order to adapt in La Union. Even though it might look like you can still get all the amenities that you want at the Surf Town, it won’t be the same. But that’s the thing, the extravagance and luxurious lifestyle that you had in the city, one way or the other, contributed to the toxicity of your life, thus the thrust for a change in surrounding—uncomplicated and simpler.

With pro-surfer, San Juan Surf Resort owner, and long-time friend Luke Landrigan

The Sunset

Whenever I visit La Union, it’s obligatory to wait and watch for the sunset. It never gets old and it’s breathtaking each time. Blessed are those who get to see that always.

San Juan, La Union sunset. Never gets old.
Photo by Denise Mallabo

They’ve Been Summoned by the Sea…

Speaking of city-dwellers who defied a huge modification in their lives by choosing to reside in San Juan, La Union, I’ve talked to a few and asked them about their past and current situations. Here are their stories:

Architect and Vessel Hostel owner Buji Libarnes
Photo by Denise Mallabo

Buji Libarnes

Architect / Owner of Vessel Hostel

Originally from Tandang Sora, Quezon City. Buji has been living in La Union with his architect wife Nikki dela Paz-Libarnes for four years but has been traveling to surf there since 2000. 

Since 2000, I knew I wanted to live here one day. My then girlfriend and now my wife Nikki and I were renting an apartment for P8,000 a month beside Kahuna Resort. There were at least 10 of us sharing in one apartment. But Kahuna took over the apartment, so we were kicked out. I think it was also a blessing that it happened because I was forced to find and get our own property here. 

Life is better for us in La Union compared to Manila; it's simpler. There's hardly any traffic. The beach is walking distance from our house, so if I want to watch the sunset or surf after work, I can do it. The community is also good. The locals are very nice, and we're close to them. My wife and I would schedule site visits in Manila and whenever we’re there, we try to do a lot in a day. The good thing about architecture work is that you can do it remotely from the city, you need to just commit to your deadlines. We're also starting to get a few projects here. Eventually, that's our goal, to focus on practicing in La Union.     

Photo by Denise Mallabo

I miss my family and friends from Quezon City and nice cinemas. If we want to watch a movie in a cinema and we can't go to Manila, sometimes we drive to SM Baguio, which is an hour and a half away from here.  

If you want to move to La Union better do it now rather than delaying it, because you might end up not doing it due to unforeseen situations. Also, when you're already here, have a healthy relationship with the local community so that you'd really be able to enjoy your stay here and really feel what it's like to live here in San Juan, La Union.         


Clean Beach Coffee Managing Partner Camille Pilar
Photo by Denise Mallabo

Camille Pilar

Managing Partner of Clean Beach

Originally from Cebu but went to college and worked in Manila for about a decade. Surfing brought her to La Union and she has been a resident for five years. 

I was already doing my dream job in Manila—I was a teacher. I was teaching in Meridian International School in Taguig and teaching communication subjects and media studies to college students who were just a few years younger than me. I taught for three years but then everything changed when I learned how to surf.

Even though I was already happy with my job, all the consequences surrounding that like the bad traffic and how it got so tiring. Manila itself didn't seem worth it. When I learned how to surf, I got eager to travel for it, to the point that every weekend, I'd go where waves are good. I also met Harold (Crisostomo); it also helped that I have a partner who also shares the same vision and who wants the same things. He's an industrial designer who was working on different industrial projects in the city.

Back in 2014, the upward trend of tourism and progress of Surftown were just taking off. There was a job opening for a barista position in El Union Coffee, the first specialty coffee shop in La Union and Kiddo (Cosio), the owner, is our friend. They were looking for people who could relocate to La Union right away. I got interested because I like drinking coffee so, I messaged Kiddo just to find out that Harold messaged him too. We were interviewed and we underwent training with EDSA Beverage Design Group. Two years with El Union, from a small shop it became a big shop and at that time, Harold and I were ready to handle something bigger and move on. We said two years is enough and we're ready to start our own thing.

We resigned and for a year, we were just freelancing, and I was happy taking writing projects and teaching an online writing workshop. Then one of the owners of EDSA Beverage Design Group got in touch with us and found out we were no longer working for El Union and he offered us something that we couldn't refuse, and that was to be part of Clean Beach. Over the years again, it grew but at least now, I can say that with growth and time, Harold and I are more ready to take on something that's ours; learning the ropes on how to run a business on our own. The moving to La Union part, is the easy part. It's what happens after, when you've started to grow your roots in this new place, that's what I think is more work must be done as things start to deepen.

At the center of everything is really surfing, but it taught us more than just surf. It taught us how to live anew—how to have the patience and strike a certain balance in life. We have to ride the wave of tourism here in La Union. Just like in surfing, when you see a big wave coming, everyone gets ready and gets in position. You have to be in the right place and the right time to catch that wave. It's also surfing that formed the whole brand, the idea that we have to take care of the beach because that's also where we were exposed. Through the years that we've been living here, long weekend after long weekend, we'd always see a lot of trash left behind and it's always the locals who have to clean up after the guests.  

Clean Beach Coffee Managing Partner Camille Pilar (middle) with her fellow ex-city dwellers and Clean Beach baristas Jaycee Galera (left) and Lara Caliwan (right).
Photo by Denise Mallabo

What I miss most in Manila is Fully Booked, I really miss good bookstores. I miss having that resource near me. I still have family in Manila; my lola is there. But the opportunities to go back there got limited. As much as possible, I don't do it anymore because the moment I'm there, anxiety kicks in. When I put myself in the city, parang hindi na bagay, parang I lost that grit I once had when I was a city dweller.      

When you move here in La Union, be ready to do the work within yourself. It doesn't mean that when you move to the province or in a different place, that your life will be "chillax" and you can be a bum all your life. In fact, you have to work twice as hard. The effort that I gave to grow new roots here, it really took more work. You can't relocate here, and you don't have a job, you still really have to do the adult things. You also have to learn how to give back; you don't just take from the place. Find a way to enrich the place or how to add value to it since you moved here. With Clean Beach, that's our focus, to give back to La Union by spreading that advocacy and inspiring more people to do beach clean-ups and to refuse single-use plastics. Just very small lifestyle changes that we believe will result in big changes.                                                           

Aside from being a full-time mom with Luna, Danika Nemis also does marketing work for San Juan Surf Resort and their newly opened healthy food joint Seabuds La Union
Photographed by Denise Mallabo

Danika Nemis

Grew up in Paranaque and has been living in La Union for almost three years

Before I relocated, I was working at the Senate of the Philippines. I was doing some traveling in the Philippines with my friends, ‘til we ended up here in San Juan, La Union. We stayed at the San Juan Surf Resort and I got introduced to Luke (Landrigan). Then we started dating; we fell in-love, had a baby, and that’s when I decided to move here for good. 

I took up Hotel and Restaurant Institution Management so, it's perfect that Luke owns and manages a resort. I'm able to apply what I've learned from school here and help him out, aside from being a mom to our daughter Luna. 

Photo by Denise Mallabo

I hardly miss anything in Manila because I really love living in La Union; I have everything I need here already. But if anything, I miss my family and going to the mall.

If you want to live in La Union, just do it but make sure that you have a plan. You just can't leave everything behind and then start with nothing. You have to know where to get your resources. Also, do your research about the place and get the vibe of the locals. 

Yoga instructor and Siesta Beach Retreat manager Camoi Miraflor
Photo by Troy Manalo

Camoi Miraflor

Yoga instructor and manages Siesta Beach Retreat

Born and raised in Manila. She used to sing for a band called Pinoy Stories. She relocated in Dumaguete but transferred to San Juan, La Union and has been there for nine months

I was teaching yoga in Dumaguete. My family is based in Siquijor but my parents retired there. I relocated from Manila to Dumaguete on a whim and never came back.

I relocated in La Union because of an opportunity and there's a small chance that I could build a yoga community here. The owner of Siesta Beach Retreat asked me to move here in La Union and I said yes. It's exciting to be able to build something from scratch like how we did it in Dumaguete. I just invited people constantly to do yoga and promoted my class here. In the yoga community, the more you study, learn, and teach, you'd be able to meet people that will help you with different opportunities that’s perfect for you and your practice.

Yoga instructor Camoi Miraflor (left) about to teach me and my friend Donna Santos Yoga Flow in the morning at the Siesta Beach Retreat.
Photo by Denise Mallabo

What I miss in Manila is performing and my friends. I also miss my core group of titas in Dumaguete.  

When relocating in La Union, be ready for it not being what you expect it to be. If you think that it's going to be hard, it will be harder. If you have an ideal picture in your head, you can get that if you really earn it, meaning, you'd be willing to do the tedious things. It's not going to be pretty; it's not as easy as people think it is and it's also not going to be comfortable because it's a life overhaul. Also, assimilate in a respectful way because you are using up resources that could easily have gone to the locals. If you can crack these codes, you'll be good.


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