In the eastern part of Los Angeles, there are many concrete stairs. They are tucked into residential streets, sometimes right in the middle, sometimes at the end of the block. They rise anywhere from 30-70 feet up the hills that give East L.A. its unique topography. And they usually lead to…oh, just to another row of residential houses. Some Angelenos call them “stairways to nowhere.” Indeed, in a car culture like Los Angeles, these stairs seem pretty out of place.

Why do they exist at all? Well, before cars became the dominant form of travel in Los Angeles, people walked. They also took trolleys. As did San Francisco, Los Angeles built and ran many trolleys and light rails up and down the hillsides. The mystery stairs served to get people to and from the trolleys, or just helped them get to the market. To walk these stairs today is like taking a brief trip back in time. It’s also great exercise and affords some wonderful and unique views.

That’s why on a sunny Saturday afternoon in LA you will see a few couples and a couple families, sweat beading their foreheads, walking up a stairway to nowhere and back down again. Except it isn’t a stairway to nowhere. It’s a stairway to exercise, to healthy relaxation, to family time, and to a renewed appreciation of a city. If you live in L.A., it’s also free!

Let’s look at a few ways you can get the whole family off the couch and exploring the community without really going anywhere. Instead of a vacation, let’s make it a staycation.

Explore the Landscape

Every region, every state, every county has an array of unique trees, flowers, and seasons. If you live in a snowy climate, you feel this most directly. But even if you live in a temperate zone, nature still has her cycles, and she produces some region-specific gems. For example, the bluebonnets of central and northern Texas only pop up for a month or so after the spring rains. It is well worth it to find a little hike that will lead you to rows of these bright, beautiful flowers.

In the Northwest, certain lichens and mosses flourish at various times during the year. Just think how much your child (or you!) can learn and appreciate about the environment by taking a nice walk during a fallow period—when the forest is all wood and leaf—and then a few months later when vines and moss are slick, verdant, and abundant! If you’re near the eastern seaboard in fall, you really must take a short forest walk and surround yourself with the fiery colors. You may be so fascinated you won’t even notice the calories you’re burning…or the money you’re saving.

If you’re trapped in the middle of a big city, take heart: most cities have gorgeous arboretums run by professional horticulturists that dazzle the eye, please the nose, and get the blood pumping.

Play Some Disc Golf!

Have you ever heard of disc golf? Disc golf is like regular golf, but with frisbees. There are thousands—maybe tens of thousands—of disc golf courses around the country, usually built along the perimeters of parks. The game is very simple: you start at a tee box. A couple hundred feet away, a small basket rises from the ground. You try to get the frisbee into the basket in as few throws as possible. The complexity and fun comes in navigating around trees, streams, or anything else in your way.

Like regular golf, a course is 18 holes (or baskets) and usually takes a couple hours to complete. You’ll have walked a couple miles, stretched, worked muscles you may not normally have worked, and had fun. Unlike regular golf, you don’t need a tee time or a set of clubs and balls - all you need is a plastic disc. Courses are maintained by local clubs and are usually completely free to play. You may run into serious golfers on the course, but they are usually very inviting and may even offer you a tip or two. The whole family can play and you can take the dog. And if some family members would rather sit out, there’s a whole park available - why not play some lawn games and fix a picnic for the weary golfers when they’re through?

Scavenger Hunt

Remember scavenger hunts? The idea is simple: you group family or friends into a few teams who all have the same list of odd items to find. The team who finds the items first wins. Normally such things are done at the mall or a store. But maybe you can get a little more creative, a little more physically active, and a little less expensive with the idea. How about a natural scavenger hunt? The list could include, for example, a pine cone, a daisy, a heart-shaped rock, a penny…your field of play could include a park or your very own neighborhood. The friendly competition may inspire a little physical effort and you may even notice a house you hadn’t seen before, or a secret alleyway. Maybe you’ll even meet a neighbor - which could make evening walks more enjoyable in the future.

The Point of the Fun

First of all, having fun needs no purpose - it is an end in itself. But the trends are very clear: individuals and families have gotten more sedentary. They spend less time playing and exploring and more time watching TV. Obesity rates and depression are climbing. Attention spans are getting shorter and shorter.

According to US government guidelines, adults need 2.5 hours of moderate-intense activity a week, and kids and teenagers need an hour a day.1 And many nutritionists think even this is too lazy. What we need is a culture shift and it starts with you and your family: if you take two of those sedentary hours and put it into one of the above-mentioned activities, you may be starting a wonderful shift toward health and peace of mind.

Sure, travel and vacations are fun, but they’re also expensive, and sitting in a car or a plane does you no healthy good at all. With a little ingenuity, you can have a fun, healthy, and free vacation, just by walking out your front door.

References

  1. Hellmich, Nanci. Family fitness challenge: how to have a fun, active summer. USA Today. July 2, 2010. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/weightloss/2010-06-28-FFCcover28_CV_N.htm