The cool, easygoing vibe of La Union is something any beachgoer can get used to. It’s almost tempting to extend your stay and never leave.
Imagine waking up to the sea breeze then heading to the ocean for a morning surf, and always ending your beach days with glorious sunsets. But that’s not the only reason why these city slickers have opted to swap concrete for sand and plant roots beachside. Read on to meet them and find out what they love most about the community and what kind of future they envision for Elyu.
Matt Carpio is a barista for El Union Coffee and a bartender for El Union’s upcoming cocktail bar called The Shrine of Satisfaction. He’s been living in La Union since February and has been enjoying it since.
Why he moved to La Union
“Community. Time is slower here, you get to do more stuff. Back in Manila, I spend a minimum one hour commuting to work on a ‘good’ day. Here, I walk to work and enjoy my free time by the beach.”
What he loves about La Union
“The afternoon walks by the beach and watching the sunset with workmates and friends!”
Getting to know the community
“The people here are so warm and they make you feel like family. It was about two years ago when I first came here and instantly got introduced to locals and got toured around. I met Kiddo Cosio of El Union Coffee back in Manila, and he showed me his cafe and we talked about culture and how he and his family decided to move here in Surftown.”
What LU is to him
“La Union for me is my new home. Without a doubt, there has been a growth in the tourism action here. But I would love to see the community preserve its natural resources and maintain the cleanliness of the beach. We should not just go with the flow, I believe that we also must take care of the things made us fall in love with Surftown.”
What moving was like
“The move here for me was not that hard. I’ve been coming here for two years before officially making the big move, so it’s just small adjustments and getting used to a new lifestyle from then on. People are very welcoming here so it’s easy to feel at home.”
On moving to LU
“It’s a big risk, actually. I always tell my friends who are thinking of moving here that if you don’t have something to do here, you’ll get bored easily. Most of the Manila people who moved here can work remotely or have day jobs in Manila and then come up to LU on weekends.”
For first-timers in La Union
Check out The Great North West Philippines Travel Stop and Viewing Deck for a variety of good food and drinks! It’s also a good spot to watch the sunset.
Nikki dela Paz
Nikki dela Paz is an architect and designer. She co-owns and runs Vessel Hostel in La Union. She moved to LU with her husband in 2016.
Why La Union
“I have been coming to La Union since 2003, when I started surfing. It was love at first ride! My then-boyfriend-now-husband Buji has always wanted to plant roots here in LU since we really consider this place a second home. Apart from the surf, the local community, which we have been extremely lucky to have been able to build relationships with for 15 years, treat us like family. It was a no-brainer to choose LU as our new home.”
What she loves about La Union
“As I mentioned, the surf and the community. Oh, and did I mention the gorgeous sunsets here?”
What the community is like
“It's a very tight-knit community. I love the sense of brotherhood and family among the people. It's also a fun-loving community! LU locals, new residents from Manila and other places, and visitors all know how to have a good time—may it be through playing in the ocean, by sharing food, or just simply hanging out and whipping out a guitar, jamming, and sharing drinks. Tagay!”
What she envisions for the surf town
“From a designer's point of view, for it develop in a coastal town-centric way. More oriented towards the ocean, have more beach parks, boardwalks and parking for beach goers. My dream is for LU to grow sustainably, create business without harming the environment, which I think most new businesses and establishments are already striving for. I hope for LU's growth, without losing its roots and its soul.”
It’s still an ongoing process
“We're actually still feeling these challenges. As most of our architectural projects are still in Manila, we do the drive down to the city almost every 2 weeks. But because of the new expressway, and when you've got a nice playlist and some snacks, the drive isn't so bad at all.”
Come live here
“Just do it! LU is amazing, but as with any other location, establish a connection with the place. Learn their ways, know their people.”
First stop for first-timers
“Visit the main surf beach and hang with the locals. Talk to them and maybe learn the story of LU.”
Jerick Robleza is a freelance graphic artist and wall painter. He also does silkscreen printing and runs a design and coffee shop called Maka Studio. He started coming to La Union in 2013 before renting a room in his sister’s place in 2016. He got his own apartment in 2017 and eventually got a house for him, his sister, and their parents in April of this year.
Why he moved to La Union
“One big reason is surfing and its community and the way of living. It was a big decision to move to Elyu with my folks but we think it’s the best one we made for their health and my work.”
Why he loves La Union
“La Union is amazing. I’ve never been attached to any place before. It just feels good to come home here. I love the quiet life. For some, San Juan might be busy now, but where I live, it’s still quiet—still probinsya vibes. I love how La Union can still be simple. And I love how I can hang out at the beach every day.”
The community that treats you like their own
“A big factor why I kept on going back to La Union when I started coming here was the people. The people that we met really made it easy for us to love this place. They welcomed us and didn’t treat us any differently from the locals. And the community is really striving. Locals are working hard, doing their best to give their family a comfortable life yet taking it easy and living a simple life. The best thing about the community is their care for the environment. They really are serious about keeping the place safe and clean.”
What he wants for the future
“We have such a diverse place here in La Union, and that’s a good thing. There’s a variety for the visitors and guests. My vision for La Union is to develop that and keep everything tight not just in surfing, but also in arts and music, skateboarding, and other subcultures. All while still maintaining the cleanliness and order and keeping La Union safe and simple.
If you’re thinking of making the big move, too
“Would I recommend it? Yes and no. Yes, because it will definitely change one’s perception of life and way of living. In a good way, of course. La Union helped me to be more responsible not just for myself and my parents, but also for the community I am now part of. And no, because if you are just moving here to party and contribute to the mess, I say just stay where you are. We need dreamers, movers, and doers here—a team player. If you think you can be part of this thriving community, you have dreams for this little surf town, you can do good not just for yourself but also for your neighbors, you respect the locals, and you have the heart to care for the environment, then welcome!”
For first-time visitors of LU
“I hope you guys try surfing. I know it’s the most common thing to do, but it’s really what makes the place special. I hope you enjoy it and have a better understanding why we love it so much. And as much as we love surfing, we love the ocean that provides us the waves, too. That’s why we take care of it. The ocean provides our food as well. In a way, it is all connected.”
Alexandra Tomacruz has been living in La Union for a year and a half now. She works at El Union Coffee and Roastery Inc. As the person in charge of planning production and managing logistics and internal systems, her job is to make sure the wheels of the shop are turning on a day-to-day basis.
La Union was an opportunity
“I had always known that I did not want to live in Manila. The city was never a place I felt I could thrive in. I wanted to be in vast, open spaces filled with a lot of trees and fields, the ocean, sand, and sunshine. I felt claustrophobic in the city. It always seemed gloomy and congested to me, and so I was simply waiting to finish college until I could move out. The minute I graduated, I left.
“I chose La Union because of surf and opportunity. I had gone to La Union several times beforehand to learn how to surf. But because of school, I was never able to do it consistently. That frustrated me, and so I knew that I had to live in a town where I could surf every day and develop my skills further. Moreover, because I had managed to obtain a job at El Union Coffee, I now had a steady stream of income available in La Union. Those two factors were the foundation of my decision to move here. What drew me even further to this place was the community. I had met a few people before moving and even more after I moved, and everyone was so creative, open-minded, and friendly. They all made me feel very at home and constantly pushed me to create, learn, and grow. It was because of them that I felt the desire to stay and establish roots here.”
What’s to love about LU
“I love the surf. There is something special about being in the water and on your board. It is a dance to the rhythm of nature. It reminds you how to be one with the earth. It teaches you how to respect what is around you and how to flow with uncontrollable factors in and out of the water. It is thrilling yet humbling, frightening yet ecstatic. It is a bonding mechanism and a common language that binds people from all walks of life and all over the world.”
The simple life in LU
“I love the community. There is a simplicity to the life here that most people in the city take for granted. People here appreciate and place importance on seemingly mundane aspects of life. Things move so fast back in Manila and most people get swept away by money, competition, or fame. However, in La Union, things are more laid-back, and so people get swept away instead by a magical sunset or ripples in the water. The community is relatively small and so you get to know each person (even if it's just as an acquaintance) and get the chance to spend time with him or her. Whether it's in the morning, when you're out in the water surfing together, in the afternoon, when you're by the beach, watching the day come to a close, or at night, when you're having dinner and a few drinks with them or enjoying a good jam session or movie together. The lifestyle found in La Union is one that is filled with time. It is so comforting to live in a place where people prioritize the enjoyment of life and appreciation of each moment. You're surrounded by people who you can bounce ideas off of, who you can learn from and grow with, and who put in effort in getting to know you. It is a place where you feel you can discover yourself because everyone is just so open. Every day is a new experience.”
Her hopes and dreams for the surf town
“As San Juan is developing at a relatively fast pace, I hope that it will not lose the beauty it once saw in simplicity. It is inevitable that people's priorities will eventually shift. They may become more competitive and focus on money and development instead. However, there is still a chance that this shift can work hand in hand with values that were once deemed important. My dream is that La Union develops into a place that thrives alongside the environment and local community. That it becomes a place where people are one with nature and each other. Where they still have that degree of respect for the world around them and they still feel that desire to explore and learn. I hope that as the town grows larger, those values won't be forgotten. That way, it can grow into a place where every person is involved and conscious of the things around them.”
The challenge of moving to a new space
“As with anything, it always takes a while for one to get used to new surroundings. To be honest, it wasn't a struggle though since I was ready to embrace each new experience and situation. Even though it took a while for me to get used to living in a different place, I felt so at home and so excited that I welcomed the challenge with open arms and truly enveloped myself in each new place, moment, person, and learning.”
Moving to La Union is a good choice
“I would certainly recommend moving to La Union. The community is thriving, and the town is growing. But my advice to anyone who would like to move is to make sure he or she first has a job or some sort of business here. It is important that one has something to do while living here. Second, I would tell that person to be ready to make certain sacrifices. There are things that you have to be willing to give up, but there is so much more to be gained in the end. One has to be open-minded and conscious. He or she needs to be ready to shift perspectives and enjoy different comforts in life.
It is a different world here because it is a different lifestyle. It isn't for everyone so one needs to be sure first that he or she enjoys being outdoors and in a small town each and every day. He or she also needs to learn to be a sponge and be open to all sorts of people, experiences, and learnings.”
Come for the surf, stay for the refreshments
“Head to San Juan, La Union to be able to surf. There, one can also enjoy the various food and beverage establishments along the one kilometer-long strip—starting from San Juan Surf Resort and ending in Flotsam and Jetsam.”
Chloe Samontanes has been coming to La Union to surf and work as a guest barista since 4 or 5 years ago. He finally moved to the laid-back Surftown in August 2016. He’s now a barista in El Union Coffee but is also a barber on the side. He’s opening his own space in La Union soon.
What made him move to LU
“Career, community, and Surf.”
Loving the LU life
“First of all, I love my job and the people I’m working with. I have great bosses. I love the surf and the community. I have very nice and progressive neighbors, who I learn and enjoy a lot from. The community that I am involved in is amazing. These are the people who also moved here and started their own lives and business.”
A sustainable future for LU
“My dream vision for LU is that there would be great synergy and teamwork both from locals and people like us who moved here to make this place a great destination. I dream that this area would be one of the leaders in promoting sustainable tourism and community.”
Moving is never easy
“I’ve had quite a few challenges, namely fitting into the local culture, I guess. Most locals get threatened by new players in town. They seem to have the fear of losing significance. I’ve noticed that with the coming in of new players and business owners in the community, they tend to be a little bit indifferent and careful. But I guess with time, slowly we will be able to build significant relationship with most.”
If you’re thinking of moving to LU, too
“Get ready for the ride of your life. Embrace and enjoy the process of learning and living. Surf! Surftown LU is a beautiful place to live in.”
Where to go first
“Come visit us at El Union Coffee! Also, if you need a haircut, come to Cutback Barbers. Other than that, The Great Northwest Travel Stop and Viewing Deck has a great list of good food and beverage establishments. Places like Vessel and Flotsam are also must-experience places to stay in. The hike to Tangadan Falls is a great, and short trip to Imuki Island is worth it. Lastly, learn to surf! We are the Surfing Capital of the North for a reason!”
Find La Union travel inspiration when you check out our Travel Guide.
For exclusive deals and stories about local travel, sign up for Deal Grocer!
More stories from this section
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
Be the first to know our latest stories and exclusive offers