La Union is a province located 270 KM north of Manila, the Philippines' city capital. It is bordered on the west by the West Philippine Sea shoreline, making it a popular beach destination among local travelers looking for a quick weekend getaway near Manila. La Union’s capital city of San Fernando is Ilocos Region’s cultural and commercial center.
Known as the “Surfing Capital of the North, the beaches of Barangay Urbiztondo in San Juan is one of La Union’s major tourist attractions, but there’s more to La Union than just surfing in the Philippines. It also has centuries-old churches, heritage sites, natural attractions such as the Tangadan Falls, and a thriving local arts scene along with agri-tourism farms that are open to the public.
If you’re planning on joining any La Union tours, take a look at some of the best La Union tourist spots and beaches near Manila on your next trip up to the northern coasts of Luzon.
The word “damili” translates to “the art of pottery making” in the Ilocano language and is the root word for the name Red Clay Pagdamilian, a popular pottery studio and shop that showcases local talent with beautiful pottery and other souvenir items for sale. But more than the pottery on display, what makes it a popular attraction is that for a small fee, anyone can handle the clay and mold their very own one-of-a-kind souvenir clay item from scratch.
The hands-on pottery lesson for visitors is such a big hit that it became the focal point of the shop, with local and foreign visitors flocking to the studio to create their own vessels and other pottery designs. It became a venue for visitors to release their artistic talents or a a creative outlet for participants to express their personality. The clay can be molded into useful shapes with a practical purposes or into decorative items to be displayed around the house such as clay pots, food storage, and mugs, to name a few.
The pottery and souvenir shop can be found along the National Highway on Barangay La Union.
The ruins refer to the remains of a church built by Augustinian priests in the late 1700s during the Spanish colonial period, while Pindangan, an Ilocano word which translates to “a place for drying fish”, is where local inhabitants used to lay out salted fish to dry out in the sun, a process of preserving and curing meat that the town of San Fernando is known for to this day.
What remains of the church are formidable walls and buttresses. During the early years of Spanish era, the church was vulnerable to pirate attacks and foreign invasion because of its location near the coastal areas by the sea, and the clergy decided to move the town’s place of worship to another location. The Pindangan church was abandoned and left to decay until it an earthquake that took place sometime in the 1800’s destroyed it and it has remained to its present state.
The Pindangan Ruins are currently looked after by the Carmelite Sisters, who live in a monastery within the property. The ruins are preserved in its original condition or kept in a state of “arrested decay”. This historical structure stands near Camp Oscar Florendo, just 500 M from the National Highway.
When tourists visit La Union, one of the first things that typically comes to mind is the beach. Most visitors associate the town with surfing, swimming under the heat of the sun, and enjoying the tropical weather. But what most travelers don't know is that La Union is also a top farm tour destination in the Philippines. One of the top farms in La Union is the Gapuz Grapes Farm.
Grape farm owner Danny Gapuz started planting 100 cuttings of a type of variety called White Malaga and Black Ribier back in the 1980s in his hometown in Barangay Urayong, Bauang, La Union. Although the farm has been around since that time, it wasn’t until 2011 that tourists started to know about it after the Gapuz Farm Facebook page was set up.
Visitors intrigued by the novelty of picking grapes under the heat of the tropical sun started posting their experiences over social media. You could do that in the Philippines without having to fly to Napa Valley or other places abroad. The farm offers other fun experiences like “The Porch Life” where a group of 10 people could share a meal on a banana leaf called “boodle fight”, while grape picking season is at its peak from March to May.
“Kamay na Bato”, a Filipino phrase that translates to “house of stone”, is an art gallery that features various art sculptures carved from stone. This tourist attraction is located along Balaoan Road in Luna, La Union, right next to a pebble beach.
The gallery is owned and curated by Mr. Bong Kim, a Korean national with a fine arts degree. He specialized in sculpture while studying, so its no surprise that many of his own artwork can be found at the gallery. Mr. Kim moved to Luna a few years ago and lived nearby with his wife and children.
The art gallery includes murals, large stone carvings, mounted stone busts, and paintings of uniquely Filipino images such as seascapes, smiling faces, and exotic animals, and colorful fish. There’s even a painting of Manny Pacquiao near the entrance! Aside from stone carvings, wooden sculptures are also abundant and spread out throughout the property, while a function hall can be rented for a fee.
There is also a well-lit area that displays more paintings, murals, sculptures, 3D artworks, and a shop selling souvenir items. Don’t forget to bring your camera and take lots of pictures of the unique artwork around you.
Adrenaline junkies looking for thrilling experience in La Union will find it at PUGAD Pugo Resort, an adventure park that offers fun activities with a zip lines, giant swing, rappelling, paintball, wall climbing, ATV, and 10 swimming pools. It also has 94 cottages for rent, and facilities for overnight accommodations, along with air-conditioning, cable TV with hot and cold bath.
The resort also has a mini zoo with exotic animals such as various snake breeds, bearcats, exotic birds, and a tiger named Nicole. It has 2 zip lines: the Superman zipline that measures 450 from end to end, and a shorter one that is 250 meters in length that takes 10 seconds to ride. Both provide a great view of the resort and of the surrounding landscape.
The giant swing is recommended for people who are not afraid of heights because it involves hanging on the side of a cliff with only a harness as support. Don’t forget to bring your bathings suits - with 10 swimming pools to choose from, you’ll never run out of fun activities to do while at PUGAD Resort and Adventure Park.
The 400 year old Baluarte Watch Tower was built during the Spanish colonial period and served as a place to warn residents against pirates and foreign looters along the coastal town. The 5.6-meter high round-shaped tower provided strategic a vantage point as a lookout for the Spanish guards to prepare against possible attacks from Japanese, Moro and Chinese invaders during the Spanish era. During WW2, it was also used as a communication tower.
It stands on an embankment along the scenic Pebble Beach in Barangay Victoria, a beach filled with multi-colored stones of various shapes and sizes. This historical landmark has been visited by countless tourists throughout the years and was declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines in 2014.
The massive fortress was split in half for many years until it finally collapsed in 2015, damaged by the strong winds of typhoon Lando. Restoration efforts started in 2016 and was finally completed in 2017, where it can now be seen with its walls fused together with a combination of the centuries-old adobe-coral stones with newer, lighter-colored red bricks.
This Roman Catholic church is also known as The Santa Catalina de Alejandria Church and is located in Luna, La Union. Established in 1690, the church is placed under the advocacy of Saint Catherine of Alexandria and is the site where the wooden image of the Blessed Virgin Mary can be found.
The venerated image is formally called Our Lady of Namacpacan, locally known as “Apo Baket”. Several miracles are attributed to the image, and it attracts many devotees and Marian followers. A patroness of Ilocano travellers, the image stands at 6 feet and 4 inches, making it the tallest known statue of its kind in the country.
The structure is one of the Philippines’ National Cultural Treasures. The Namacpacan Church is an Earthquake Baroque church, a style of architecture found the the country as a way to combat the destructive forces of earthquakes that many Luzon structures suffered during the 17th to 18th century, within the Spanish colonial period. The church features buttresses and thick walls, a ceremonial archway, rounded pediments, and a white facade typical of Baroque architecture.
Immuki island is made up of a series of smalls lagoons filled with pools of water held together by corals. It has three crystal clear pools that are perfect to dip into on a hot, sunny day. Located in Barangay Paraoir in Balaoan, La Union, it is the type of place for visitors looking for a quiet, natural environment that is away from the usual crowd of noisy tourists.
Getting there is an adventure in itself: from San Juan, La Union, you will make your way to McArthur Highway and then make a turn toward Bacnotan town via the Bacnotan-Luna-Balaoan Road and head toward Balaoan town. Follow the coastal road toward Luna until reaching Barangay Paraoir.
Before entering Immuki island, you will need to register at the barangay hall near the Paraoir National Highschool and then follow a paved pathway toward a beach. From the beach, you will wade through roughly 250 meters distance to reach one of the lagoons in Immuki island. Walking past the shallow water is possible in the low tide - otherwise, a raft may be rented nearby.
Bring aqua slippers to protect your feet from sharp corals, and enjoy the turquoise pools with water so clear you don’t need a snorkeling mask to see the reef fish. This hidden paradise won’t stay hidden for long as it is already attracting many local tourists.
The Ma-Cho Temple’s architecture cuts a striking image across the La Union skyline. Nestled on top of a hill at an elevation of 70 above sea level along Quezon Avenue in San Fernando, the highest point offers a panoramic view of the West Philippine Sea and San Fernando harbor. It is the first Taoist temple in the Philippines that was built in 1975 to honor the Chinese sea-goddess Mazu.
The magnificent temple is an 11-tiered attraction with interiors filled with Chinese decorations and Taiwanese art, and its most popular attraction is the Spider Dome, a structure that features 13 tiers of interlinking wooden carvings of images of saints. Other colorful attractions to visit include the Bell Tower, the Drum Tower, Bamboo Garden, Lian Thing Pagoda, and the Majestic Five Door Gate. Other awe-inspiring structures such as two circular pools and other beautifully designed edifices made up of Chinse themes and motifs of lions, dragons, and deities.
The Taoist temple is a place of worship and welcomes anyone regardless of religious affiliation, race or creed. Visitors are encouraged to meditate and find solace in this magnificently designed place of worship.
Poro Point is a coastal landform on an elevated point of land that extends about 3.2KM into the West Philippine Sea. Historically called the San Fernando Point, it is found along the boundary of San Fernando bay near the international seaport. Its most striking features are the white cliffs found along it western coastline with the peninsula overlooking the Lingayen Gulf that extends up to Santiago Island in Bolinao.
Poro Point’s location makes it the ideal site for navigational purposes, and this is why it has been used as a navigational aid since 1885, with the Lighthouse as its main point of reference. Built during the Spanish colonial period, the Lighthouse is a cylindrical tower made of French prefabricated steel that stands 6 meters in height.
The lighthouse was converted into US reservation during the American colonial period, but the original structure was replaced in 1979 with a concert tower that stands 38 meters tall. In 1991, the former American facility was returned back to the Philippine government, and the lighthouse became the headquarters of the Philippine Navy, and the station named as Naval Station Ernesto Ogbinar.
Located in the town of San Gabriel, La Union, Tangadan Falls is a two-tier waterfall that flows into the Baroro River, with the water coming in from the Cordillera Mountain Ranges. The lower cascade of the falls has a width of 100 feet and a 40 foot drop, with a natural catch basin pool that is great for a quick dip on a hot summer’s day.
The upper cascade has a shorter waterfall with a deeper pool basin which is ideal for jumping off the side of the cliff. Of the two, the lower cascade features a more majestic and dramatic waterfall and is widely photographed for its striking image. The cold spring water is a refreshing respite from heat and a welcome break after the scenic trek en route to the waterfall.
Wear sturdy walking shoes along with your swimsuit on your visit to Tangadan Falls, because you’ll be doing some light trekking along the way. There’s an option to go on a one hour trek and another one where you can be dropped off at the trailhead of the falls in San Gabriel, a relatively shorter 20 minute walk to the falls.
Urbiztondo Beach in San Juan is known as the Surfing Capital of Northern Philippines, with surfing seasons typically falling July to October and November to March. This area of La Union has a reputation for having the country’s most consistent waves, and thriving surf culture has flourished in recent years. Many places offer surfing lessons for all levels, and numerous places of lodging can also be found throughout the coastline. Surfboards are available for rent throughout the area as well.
Beginners typically start having lessons in Bacnotan because the waves in the area are not too big, which is perfect for novice learners or anyone who have never tried surfing before. The more advanced surfers usually go to Urbiztondo and the neighboring town of Mona Lisa Point.
Restaurants offering local and international fare along with shops selling local handicrafts and souvenir items are also nearby. Urbiztondo has a great selection of restaurants, with cuisines ranging from Filipino delicacies, comfort food, Mexican, Asian, and Italian food. With its laidback vibe and artistic flair, local and foreign visitors have been coming back to Urbiztondo every year to enjoy the beach life.
Travel to the Surfing Town of La Union and Explore Its Tourist Spots
From 400-year-old fortresses to centuries-old churches, La Union has its fair share of national historical treasures that make this coastal surf town a wonderful place to visit. It is also a place where talented artists thrive, with pottery makers sharing their space with curious visitors who want to try their hand in shaping clay.
Museums and spaces that inspire art are abundant among the La Union tourists spots featured in this list. Residents of La Union have managed to set up a unique agri-tourism industry like grape-picking that continue to attract local and foreign visitors.
For many urban dwellers and Luzon residents, La Union offers some of the best beaches and surfing destinations near Manila. Because it is just a bus or car ride away from Manila, it offers a quick escape from the pressures of city living. The scenic beaches, action-packed resorts, and historical landmarks make it the ideal tourist destination for all ages.