San Juan may be the smallest city in Metro Manila, but that doesn’t mean it can’t compete with bigger ones like Quezon City and Makati for your leisure time and attention.
Those unfamiliar with the area probably think that Greenhills Shopping Center is its only point of interest, but locals can easily point to great hole-in-the-wall restaurants, museums, and sports centers that can only be found in their neck of the woods.
While bigger cities may draw people looking for an up-tempo night out with friends, San Juan is ideal for family weekend hangouts. It’s at the center of the metro — making it convenient for relatives in the north or south — but it also strikes a great middle ground by appealing to hip yuppies, traditional retirees, and picky children alike.
Here are some of Coconuts Manila‘s picks for family-friendly spots in San Juan.
Santolan Town Plaza
Santolan Town Plaza is a small neighborhood mall that’s a great alternative for families that want to skip the usually-crowded Greenhills Shopping Center.
It has the same upscale vibe as other Rockwell Land developments but is much more down-to-earth than Power Plant Mall in Makati.
Families going for a visit can do their groceries at Rustan’s Marketplace, have lunch in Spanish restaurant Barcino, or catch a movie in one of their cinemas.
Tip: The cinema serves the same white cheese popcorn Power Plant mall is known for.
Santolan Town Plaza is at Santolan Rd., Little Baguio, San Juan City
“Eat Fresh Hong Kong Famous Street Food”
San Juan is somewhat known as a little Chinatown, which explains why it has some of the best Chinese restaurants in the city.
A neighborhood favorite is Eat Fresh, which serves Hong Kong-style street food like curry balls (PHP38/US$.73 for 4 pieces) and egg waffles (PHP65/US$1.25). They even serve very Hong Kong drinks like VLT tea.
It’s gotten so popular that it had to move from a tiny hole-in-the-wall to a sprawling two-story house to accommodate loyal customers.
Eat Fresh Hong Kong Famous Street Food is at 92 Jose Abad Santos St. cor. Gen. Segundo, Little Baguio, San Juan City
It also has a branch located at 691 Jose Abad Santos St., Little Baguio, San Juan City
Cafe Sanso serves modern Spanish fare that’s fit for Sunday family lunches. Their mains include a hearty Churrasco Pork Belly (PHP425/US$8.14) and the Filipino favorite Callos a la Madrilena (PHP375/US$7.18) made with ox tripe, chorizo, and garbanzos (chickpeas).
Those go well with their paella offerings that are priced between PHP555 (US$10.63) to PHP785 (US$15.04) depending on the toppings.
Taking family days to the next level is the Sanso Museum located beside the cafe. It houses the works of Filipino-Spanish artist Juvenal Sanso and is perfect for parents who want to introduce their kids to art.
Cafe Sanso is at 32 V. Cruz, Little Baguio, San Juan City
The kiddos are bound to love a trip to Carousel Creamery, an ice cream parlor found in the Greenhills neighborhood. The shop’s claim to fame: It has more than 100 flavors on offer daily, which includes out-of-this-world, original flavor blends like honey lavender and orange ginger beer.
A single scoop is priced at PHP95 (US$1.82), a double at PHP160 (PHP3.06), and a triple at PHP225 (US$4.31).
Carousel Creamery is at 8 Missouri St., Greenhills, San Juan City
Courtyard at 453
Courtyard at 453 is another food park, but unlike many of those that have come and gone, this one only has a few stalls. This means there are enough choices for whatever each family member craves, but not too many that no one ends up knowing what to get.
Top picks are Tra Vinh Express, which serves Pho and other Vietnamese fares, and Ebi 10, the tempura restaurant that first rose to fame in Makati’s hip Poblacion district.
Courtyard at 453 is at 453 P. Guevara St., Addition Hills, San Juan City
Flossom Kitchen + Cafe
The primary reason? Its interior design. Not shy about being “Instagrammable,” the restaurant is always photo-ready with its flower-laden walls and industrial — but colorful — furniture.
They have some menu items that families would especially love like the Ultimate English Breakfast (PHP650/US$12.45) that includes pancakes, ham, bacon, mushrooms, beans, eggs, potato wedges, tomatoes, and loaves of bread which are good for two people.
The colorful Trash Can Nachos (PHP420/US$8.06) topped with corned beef and grilled cheese among other things will also satisfy the taste buds of adults and young children.
Finally, their Ube Champorado (PHP250/US$4.79) should not be missed as it is one of the best recreations of the classic Filipino snack.
Flossom Kitchen + Cafe is at 187 N Averilla St., St. Lucia, San Juan City
The Archery Academy
Kids or kids-at-heart who aspire to be Legolas or Katniss Everdeen can go to The Archery Academy and make their dreams come true.
The school offers hourly classes, full lessons, and summer programs for beginners and more advanced archers.
An hour-long class costs PHP550 (US$10.54) but is cheaper for those with their own equipment.
For more information, visit The Archery Academy website.
The Archery Academy is at 5/F, Intrawest Centre, 33 Annapolis St., Greenhills, San Juan City
Ronac Art Center
One of the most striking buildings in the city, the Ronac Art Center is an architectural masterpiece designed by the award-winning Jagnus Design Studio.
Most of those who pass Ortigas Ave. must always see it when they drive along but have never actually stepped foot inside. This is a shame because the structure isn’t just eye-candy, it has so pretty cool art, retail, and food spots too.
Highlights include the family-friendly steak joint Karnevore, a state of the art basketball court for sports-loving relatives, and Secret Fresh, an art and design hub for graffiti, comics, film, music, and architecture for the art enthusiasts in the family.
Ronac Art Center is at 424 Ortigas Ave., Greenhills North, San Juan City
A lot of restaurants in San Juan are located in refurbished houses and one of the best executions of this is Francesco’s Kitchen.
Francesco’s is helmed by an Italian chef and serves regional cuisine from the Italian Peninsula. The Spaghetti Carbonara (PHP540/US$10.34) is exceptional and so is the baked trofie (PHP580/US$11.11) made with saffron cream, Italian sausage, broccoli, and mushroom.
Because it’s inside a house, dining there will always feel like a warm get-together with loved-ones.
Francesco’s Kitchen is at 863 A. Mabini St., Addition Hills, San Juan City
Tomo Japanese Dining
Another house-turned-restaurant is Tomo, a Japanese dining spot deep inside one of San Juan’s inner streets. It’s quite difficult to find but driving around in circles will be worth it.
The restaurant is an imposing two-story white house surrounded by trees. In a way, it kind of looks like a smaller version of Kuala Lumpur’s Carcosa Seri Negara, AKA the house in Crazy Rich Asians’ spectacular party scene.
Tomo’s food is good too. It has an expansive menu that includes sashimi, grilled meat and seafood, donburi, and soba.
Tomo is at 137 Araullo St., Addition Hills, San Juan City
Families looking for an extra thrilling bonding experience can try Lost Philippines, which has escape room games fit for young kids and adults.
Some mysteries are really hard to crack but it’s a fun and interactive way to strengthen bonds or kill time during lazy Sunday afternoons.
We recommend the Alcatraz Nemesis room, which has players relive the infamous 1962 Alcatraz escape attempt. It’s really creepy, but really exciting.
The room costs PHP700 (US$13.41) per person for 2 – 4 players, PHP650 (US$12.45) per person for 5 – 6 players, and PHP600 (US$11.50) per person for 7+ players.
For more information, visit the Lost Philippines website.
Lost Philippines is at 2/F, Promenade Mall, Greenhills, San Juan City
San Juan is now filled with Korean restaurants, but one of the first ones to set up shop was Sodam. Today, it’s is still one of the most affordable options for unlimited Korean barbecue, priced as low as PHP339 (US$6.50).
Unlike chains like Samgyupsalamat and Romantic Baboy, diners can also get their fill of unlimited banchan (small side dishes), as well as heartier starters and mains like japchae, kimbap, and pajeon, family-style.
Sodam Restaurant is at 17 J. Abad Santos Drv., Little Baguio, San Juan City
Oyasumi Ramen is one of the most underrated ramen joints in Manila. While it’s not an import from Japan, their bowls are just as satisfying.
Customer favorites include the Tonkotsu Tantan (PHP400/US$7.66) and the Black Pepper ramen (PHP370/US$7.09). They also have a truffle-flavored one and one inspired by the local noodle soup la paz batchoy.
The place is also really beautiful — minimalist and dark. Sometimes, anime is projected on one of their walls and can be watched by diners on the second floor.
Tip: Ramen restaurants don’t usually allow diners to take home dishes they don’t finish, but Oyasumi can turn the leftover soup into a cheesy risotto.
Oyasumi Ramen is at Unit 3, 308 P. Guevarra St. cor. Seaview St., Little Baguio, San Juan City
E-lanes Bowling Center
Nothing says good, clean family bonding like a trip to the bowling alley. It might sound like a bit of a retro activity in this age of Netflix, but it’s still makes for a great bit of analogue fun.
Rates at E-lanes are pretty affordable, too. Each person only has to pay PHP140 (US$2.68) per game from Monday to Thursday or PHP150 (US$2.87) per game from Friday to Sunday.
There are also billiards tables groups can use for PHP200 (US$3.83) per hour.
E-lanes Bowling Center is at 2/F, Square, 416 Ortigas Ave., Greenhills, San Juan City
Xiù Fine Cantonese Dining
Xiù Fine Cantonese Dining is another one of the many Chinese restaurants in San Juan, but this one is the place to go to for special occasions like Mother’s/Father’s Day or Easter. Or, if you’re just flush with cash and eat like this on the regular.
Anyway, a 8-course special set menu for six people is priced at PHP6,800 (US$130.23) and includes dishes like honey-glazed prime cut char siu, seafood and pumpkin soup, steamed elephant clams with garlic and vermicelli, prawns with salted egg, braised spinach tofu in clay pot, steamed lapu-lapu (grouper), and steamed crab with glutinous rice.
They also have a wide selection of dim sum, congee, and desserts.
Xiù Fine Cantonese Dining is at 115 Connecticut St., Greenhills, San Juan City
Mediterranean cuisine is especially good for family gatherings because dishes are usually in platters served at the center of the table.
Feta Mediterranean, which focuses on Turkish food, has some really tasty options. Some are light enough for lunch while others are hearty and fit for dinner. We especially like their hummus (PHP290/US$5.56 for a big batch), Souvlaki (PHP550/US$10.54), and Testi Kebap (Turkish clay pot stew) (PHP1,290/US$24.73 for chicken, PHP1,490/US$28.57 for lamb.
The restaurant only serves Halal meat, which is a treat for the sizable Muslim community that frequents the area.
Feta Mediterranean is at G/F, Intrawest Center, Annapolis St., Greenhills, San Juan City
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