San Juan, La Union is hardly the sleepy surfer town it once was. It’s thanks to a vibrant and growing community of creative entrepreneurs who have put down roots in the seaside town five hours north of Metro Manila. Among them is Kiddo Cosio whose coffee shop, El Union Coffee, serves up arguably the best brew in town. We couldn’t have had a better guide to the best and newest La Union spots to check out in between surfing and relaxing on the beach.
Check in at Vessel Hostel
The four-level structure by architect couple Buji Libarnes and Nikki De La Paz is a study in efficient and beautiful upcycling of materials, thoughtful design and great value. The top floor features a communal dining area with a view and a small, efficient kitchenette. “It’s affordable but very design forward. These guys thought of you,” says Kiddo. “The hostel has these small details, like a drying area for swimwear attached to the room, and separate stalls for the shower and the lavatory in the shared room.” Need more privacy? The Vessel Garage features a converted and fully outfitted Volkswagen Kombi with ample room for two.
Get a haircut at Zeal the Barberista
Zeal the Barberista is Chloe Marion Samontanes, resident barista at El Union Coffee who also runs a mobile barbershop. “He really works on his discipline as a barber and nails what people expect — quality cuts and good shaves, with certain nuances a local barber might miss. Even my dad who’s from Manila comes to get his hair cut by Chloe.” He sets up every Monday at 55 Tinta Tattoo & Piercing Studio, and anywhere around town if you book ahead of time. Cuts start at P250. Book a cut and shave with Zeal The Barberista at +63 916 777 4454 or find him on Instagram at @zealrocski72.
Enjoy a sundowner at Flotsam & Jetsam Artist Beach Hostel & Kitchenbar
Founded by Mia Sebastian, Carla Suiza and Joncy Sumulong, Flotsam & Jetsam has been a favorite local hangout for years. “Excellent for catching the sunset and having dinner and drinks at the end of the day,” says Kiddo. “Everyone ends up here one way or another.” +63 917 802 1328
Grab dinner at Melody’s Liempo
“If you like crackling liempo, this is the place to run to.” Pork belly slabs on a spit, grilled to a juicy doneness over hot coals, fill the air with a smoky, savory scent. P220 gets you a slab, chopped to order, with a spiced vinegar dip. Carlatan, San Fernando City, La Union
Get some ink at 55 Tinta Tattoo & Piercing Studio
The compact La Union studio, designed by San Juan-based Timber Design Lab, is home to three 55 Tinta artists: Topek Gungab, Kelogs Magno and Oskie Esguerra, each proficient in various styles. For appointments, contact them via Instagram at @55Tinta. Walk-ins are also welcome.
This story first appeared in the November 2017 issue of Smile magazine.