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8 Hours in San Fernando, La Union

by Dyan Zarzuela

Blessed with good weather almost all year round, Filipinos have the liberty of heading to the beach even when summer seems so far away.

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These days, everyone seems to be flocking to the buzzy surf town of San Juan, La Union to soak up its cool culture and be one with the community. But it would be a shame to miss out on the neighboring city of San Fernando, which has its fair share of great eats and interesting sights. You can go straight from Manila to San Fernando, or if you’re coming from San Juan, you can ride a jeep to San Fernando for a side trip definitely worth taking.

If you only have a day to spend in this city, here’s what you shouldn’t miss.

11 AM to 1 PM: Have brunch at Halo-Halo de Iloko

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Beloved by locals and tourists, the ancestral home-turned-restaurant is famous for its take on the popular cold treat. Aside from the classic halo-halo, they have Buko Halo-Halo which is served in a coconut, so you get the added flavor and texture of fresh coconut meat. Served with no ice, the Deep Fried Halo-Halo has most of the ingredients wrapped in a lumpia wrapper, deep fried, and topped with ube, ice cream, and grated cheese.

Offering more than halo-halo and desserts, the restaurant has savory dishes perfect with heaping servings of rice. Try the Buknok, a sour chicken stew served in a coconut; the crowd favorite Bagnet, which is best paired with Pinakbet; and the Okoy Tikyosko, which has homemade longganisa bits. You’ll most likely have to wait a while to be seated, but the locally sourced and traditionally cooked food will be well worth the wait.

Located at Zandueta St., Halo-Halo de Iloko is open every day from 9 AM to 9 PM.

1 PM to 2 PM: Check out Puón Books, Arts & Design and the Alfredo F. Tadiar Library

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After brunch, walk down the street to Puón and check out the latest gallery exhibit. Showcasing local contemporary art and historical artifacts, Puón also has a shop with books on history, philosophy, art, natural history, and cultural studies. In the fiction section, keep an eye out for graphic novels and children’s books written in Filipino and local dialects. The shop also offers tote bags, postcards, cards, notebooks, and artisanal gift items, which make for great pasalubong-slash-trip mementos.

With your shopping done, pop by Puón’s café for a Pour Over or Iced Vietnamese-Style Coffee. Your payment will support further learning, as all proceeds of the café and bookshop go to the Alfredo F. Tadiar Library, located in the same compound. Named after the lawyer, judge, and founder of alternative dispute resolution in the Philippines, the library is free and open to the public. Its collection includes Ilocano literature, law, and history, as well as historical maps, manuscripts, and private papers. Visiting the library and gallery is a great—not to mention free—way to learn about San Fernando and its roots, providing context and depth to your trip.

Located at 1 F. Ortega Highway, the library is open Tuesdays to Saturdays, 12:30 PM to 6:30 PM, while Puón closes at 5:30 PM.

2 PM to 3:30 PM: Visit Ma-Cho Temple

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Take a trike (or walk if it’s not too hot) to Ma-Cho Temple, which was built in 1975 in honor of Ma-Cho or Matzu, the Chinese deity and protector of the sea. While it is a Taoist temple, people of all religions are welcome to visit for free. Ma-Cho Temple stands on a hill 70 feet above sea level and faces the West Philippine Sea, offering spectacular views for visitors. Inside, you’ll enjoy taking in the beautiful architecture with traditional Chinese temple elements. Make sure you have enough time to get to the temple as it closes at 5 PM. every day, and watch for the yearly festival every September.

Located at Ma-Cho Temple Driveway, Quezon Avenue, the temple is open 7 AM. to 5 PM every day.

3:30 PM to 5 PM: Head back to the plaza

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Take a trike or walk back to the plaza, where you’ll find Krieytib Hub, a one-stop shop that supports L.U.cal (get it?) and Filipino brands. They have everything from dreamcatchers to letter boards and stamps to handcrafted soaps and lip balms. For merienda, you can snack on pastillas and peanuts, and grab some yema spread to take home. They reuse old newspapers and magazines as packaging and accept donations from customers, who get a freebie for supporting their sustainability initiative. Krieytib Hub is not just a store but also a printing shop and events space, so it’s a great place to meet locals and fellow travelers.

Krieytib Hub is located at 4 Gen. Luna St., and open from Mondays to Saturdays (9 AM to 7 PM) and Sundays (10 AM to 5 PM).

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Afterwards, cross MacArthur Highway and walk to St. William the Hermit Cathedral. First constructed in 1817, the cathedral is steeped in history as it has survived multiple attacks and earthquakes, with the residents and the church persistently rebuilding the place of worship throughout the centuries. Also known as the San Fernando Cathedral, it holds mass every day in English and Ilocano. If you’d like to hear mass, you can catch the 5:15 PM mass on Saturdays and Sundays or the 6:30 PM mass on Sundays, which are both celebrated in English.

St. William the Hermit Cathedral is located on Gomez St.

5 PM to 7 PM: Choose your own adventure

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If you’re not hearing mass at the St. William the Hermit Cathedral, you can take a trike or jeep from the plaza to head south to Pindangan Ruins. There is a ₱200 entrance fee, which goes to its preservation. It’s interesting to note that it used to be the original site of the church before it was relocated and eventually became the St. William the Hermit Cathedral. Today, only the bare bones of the old church remain. You’ll find a statue of the Virgin Mary where the altar used to be amidst the moss-covered ruins. It’s best to go while there’s still daylight as it can get quite spooky when night falls (unless that’s your thing!). Behind the ruins is the Carmelite Monastery where you can hear mass and shop in their small store to support the Carmelites who look after Pindangan Ruins.

Pindangan Ruins is located along Pindangan St.

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For coffee and dinner, walk along Pindangan Street and cross MacArthur Highway to get to Little Cat Coffee. Opened just last year, the café is run by three partners and—you guessed it—a little cat. While it’s not a cat café in the typical sense, the specialty coffee shop does serve a mean Cold Brew, plus Horchata and Thai Iced Tea for non-coffee drinkers. They’ve also started serving meals—try the Penne Aglio Olio with garlic confit, dried tomatoes, and gourmet tuyo, topped with chicken sous vide. For dessert, order the Indoor S’mores and Carrot Cupcake.

Located at Lacanilao Bldg., Purok 6, Sevilla, Little Cat Coffee is open Mondays to Saturdays, 2 PM to 9 PM.

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You can end your day trip here, or instead of going to Pindangan Ruins, catch the sunset at Poro Point. From the plaza, take a trike to Poro Point, a peninsula that overlooks the West Philippine Sea. Poro Point has two lighthouses in what used to be a US military base. Built in the 1800s, the original lighthouse is no longer operational, now serving as a historical symbol and tourist landmark. Its rusty, crumbling exterior is the opposite of the modern, solar-powered lighthouse built in 1979. Both lighthouses are worth a visit and a great place to catch the famous La Union sunset.

Afterwards, you can walk to Thunderbird Resorts and Casinos for dinner at Olives Restaurant. The fine dining restaurant has an al fresco terrace where you can feast on wood-fired pizza and Mediterranean dishes while enjoying the fresh sea breeze. Feel like extending your trip? You can crash at the luxurious, Santorini-inspired resort or check out the other hotels and resorts in San Fernando.

The Poro Point lighthouses and Thunderbird Resorts and Casinos are located in Poro Point, San Fernando. Contact Thunderbird at (072) 888 7777.


HOW TO GET THERE

To commute to San Fernando, ride a bus to La Union from the Partas Cubao or Pasay bus station, then ask to be dropped off at San Fernando. You can book a two-way trip at least two days ahead using Biyaheroes. Their Manila-to-San Fernando trips start at 1 AM, while San Fernando-to-Manila trips start at 4 PM. Check their website for updated schedules. Otherwise, you can catch a ride as a chance passenger at the Partas bus station in Cubao or Pasay and in San Fernando.

HOW MUCH YOU’LL SPEND

This will depend on your appetite for food, endurance for walking around the city (instead of taking the trike or jeep), and self-control when it comes to shopping. Below is a rough breakdown of what you can expect to spend for a day trip in San Fernando.

• ₱1,000 to 1,200 for round trip bus tickets
• ₱200 to 500 for each meal
• ₱200 to 500 (or more) for shopping
• ₱50 to 200 for transpo within San Fernando, depending on your mode of transpo (trike or jeep) and tolerance for walking
• ₱200 for the Pindangan Ruins entrance fee

Want to explore more of LU? Check out our comprehensive La Union Travel Guide.

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About Dyan
When she’s not on the way to yet another beach, Dyan Zarzuela is in the city, trying to make it as a freelance writer, editor, and producer. You can find her on Instagram at @dyanzarzuela.

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