• Your La Union Itinerary for a Family Vacation With Lolo and Lola!

    Yes, active senior ciizens can enjoy themselves at La Union, the surfing capital of the North.
    by Aussy A. Aportadera .
  • Grandparents Billy and Crisabelle walking the reefs of San Juan, La Union beach with granddaughter Alana.
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Aussy A. Aportadera

    The Surfing Capital of the North is known in the mainstream for a handful of things: surfing, of course, on the Urbiztondo beach; El Union Coffee, the main stop of any visiting tourist; and the (wild) weekend parties at Flotsam & Jetsam Hostel. The itinerary is perfect for any millennial looking for a getaway and adventure, but it doesn’t seem like the friendliest place for a couple of senior citizens to visit.

    As any grandparent will attest, however, there's no place too far to hang out with a grandkid, and it was true for my 60-something-year-old parents. In a spur of the moment decision, they had decided to visit me in San Juan, La Union, where I’ve recently moved with my partner and daughter, for the first time. Below is proof that whether you travel with older folks with a taste for the outdoors or those looking for some peace and quiet, there’s something for everyone in this small town.

    San Juan is a coastal town lined with small resorts, commercial establishments, and residential properties on the shore. All of them have a deep sense of community and responsibility towards protecting the maritime environment (save for a few rule breakers that have recently caught the attention of the public eye). The beach offers spaces for various activities from surfing and volleyball to lounging and swimming.

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    Where to stay in La Union

    Urbiz Garden Plage

    The beachfront American-style colonial house has been La Union’s best-kept bed & breakfast secret since 2001 (until now, of course). Tina Antonio, the property’s manager, shares that the lot has been with her family for four generations, the lush foliage on the site a product of her grandmother’s green thumb. My parents stayed in the master’s bedroom on the first floor of the main house. It was a decent space with a king-sized bed and a large, comfortable bathroom. The master’s bedroom opened up to a big lanai filled with wooden lounges and daybeds facing the garden and the beach. The view above and the lounging chairs are the most tempting combination for an afternoon nap.

    When in Urbiz Garden, accompanying millennials and Gen-Z family members can stay in the upstairs bedrooms of the main house, at one of the air-conditioned cabanas on the property, or go all-out on the beachside experience at Siesta Beach Retreat. If they would like, they can book a sunset yoga session with Duyan Yoga, also on the Urbiz Garden property.

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    Vessel Hostel

    Since opening their doors in 2016, Vessel Hostel has been a go-to for solo backpackers that love its modern bunk style accommodations. Both the older and younger generations will undoubtedly show an appreciation for the retro design and architecture of the place — it’s both cozy and contemporary, analog and yet Instagram-worthy. The second floor, made up of 22 beds in gender-neutral dorms with shared bathrooms, actually has a six-bunk bedroom and lavatory that can be booked by a group. When my parents toured the hostel, they excitedly declared it the next place to book when the rest of the family visits La Union.

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    Co-owner Nikki Dela Paz-Libarnes shares that they have had older guests (who even used their senior citizen cards) stay at the six-shipping-container structure before. “We prioritize guest comfort over anything and try to avoid parties [on the premises]. We also have a no noise policy after 11 p.m.,” says Nikki. “We have a lot of stairs, though, but that can be good exercise!” At the top of the building is a shared lounge that opens up to a viewing deck. From there, guests can enjoy their breakfast, have coffee, or do some work while taking a view of the beach.

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    What to do and where to go in La Union

    la union beach vacation
    My parents enjoying a glass of pale ale by Engkanto Brewery during sunset at Clean Beach.
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Aussy A. Aportadera

    The main tourist area, Urbiztondo, is a 1.5-kilometer stretch of beach that can be walked in a little over 30 minutes by the young, the old, and even the four-legged. (Most establishments will be pet-friendly, or have space for pets to hang out.) If your visiting seniors are active and fit, try a surfing lesson on a day with gentle waves. If not, there are also stand-up paddleboards available for rent at the many surfing schools on the beach. On any given day, choose to take a pre-sunset stroll a little after 3 p.m., when the sun isn’t as hot anymore. Use Sebay Surf Resort and Flotsam & Jetsam Hostel as entry or exit points for a walk on the beach. Anywhere in between these two spots will give you a view of the fantastic sunset, which begins to show its picturesque colors around 5 p.m.

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    Make a stop at The Great Northwest Travel Stop & Viewing Deck, where you’ll find the famous El Union Coffee shop. It’s located in the center of surf town, accessible from both the beach and the highway. There are many restaurants in this open-air complex, but my partner Adrian Marin chose to take his visiting 85-year-old grandfather to the Japanese place, Chu’s Diner. Aside from serving fresh and authentic Japanese cuisine, the 8-seater indoor area is well-ventilated and cool, and even air-conditioned on the hottest days. 

    If you have a sweet tooth but still want to be healthy, there’s also Coco Mama’s coconut ice cream with fruits.

    La Union flotsam hotel
    My senior citizen parents at the party place, Flotsam & Jetsam Hostel, on an early Sunday evening when it’s calmer and more chill.
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Aussy A. Aportadera
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    Gefseis Greek Grill is undoubtedly one of the best restaurants along the entire MacArthur Highway. Aside from serving authentic Mediterranean cuisine, it offers quick access and a great view of the beach. It makes for a great brunch place for when the oldies just want to relax while the rest of the family goes to shore, or a cool spot for sundown dinner without getting your feet sandy.

    The nearby Washaka Laundry Lounge, for its part, has earned a reputation for being “the neighborhood living room.” If you happen to be in town when there’s a big sporting event being aired on TV, this is usually where both locals and transients come by — sometimes to do their laundry, most times to hang out and watch TV while having sausages and eggs or a ham and cheese sandwich.

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    When Washaka Laundry Lounge owner Ina Villanueva’s clan decided to have their family reunion in La Union, she chose 134 Beachfront as a venue for one of their gatherings. “We figured it would be difficult for any restaurant to accommodate our party of 40, so we asked Kuya Tats and Ate Clarisse, owners of Choka Restaurant if they could prepare food for us ahead of time,” she shares.

    Just a few steps away from Urbiz Garden, the comforting Pinoy food shack Choka Restaurant and its nearby beachfront coffee shop and café, Clean Beach, are definitely on the quieter side of things. “We especially enjoyed the boodle fight they set up and their laing, which is sadly not on the menu,” adds Ina.

    While my parents’ primary reason for visiting was to spend time with my 6-year-old daughter, they glimpsed a little of the mythical surf town magic that we encounter on our day-to-day of living here, thanks to the establishments that make La Union what it is. They realized I think, that it’s a place for those that are both young and young-at-heart, and will be coming back again to experience more of it.

    La Union senior citizens hotel
    This view and the lounging chairs of Urbiz Garden Lanai are the most tempting combination for an afternoon nap.
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Aussy A. Aportadera

    Aussy Aportadera has given up the comforts of the city for the adventure of living in Surf Town La Union, where she homeschools her daughter alongside her longtime partner and the community. When she isn't trying to catch waves, she manages communication strategies for startup brands.

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