Stray Boots’ Urban Games provided a wacky way to celebrate my birthday. Since I’m always leaving Los Angeles to explore everywhere else in the world – I figured this was a great excuse to stay put and be a tourist in my own town. I was intrigued to try Stray Boots Interactive Walking Tour for another reason as well. I abhor tours because I don’t follow the pack very well and feel trapped by someone else’s schedule and interests.
But Stray Boots Urban Games are done via text message with clues, riddles, and trivia at your own pace. It’s an adult scavenger hunt that leads you to your next destination but you decide how long you want to stay at each stop. Stray Boots Urban Games Los Angeles has three tours to choose from: Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Venice Beach.
Since my first place and original stomping ground when I moved to LA was Venice Beach (I lived in a bohemian beach shack on Rose Ave), I thought it apropos to celebrate in this area. I’ve outgrown the noise, chaos and freak show side of it – but I still love to return. I also wanted to see if Stray Boots Venice Beach walking tour could actually show me something new.
My mom and step-dad were visiting so I asked them to join my boyfriend and I in the fun as Stray Boots Urban Games touted itself to be group friendly.
Our first riddle to solve on the corner of Pacific and Windward was “What color is the speedster bird at Mollusk Surf Shop?” We scoured the store, looked under each t-shirt and surf board, and near climbed the tree house inside the store to find the answer. Finally, I asked the shop clerk for help. He had no idea. He searched Google for clues. Nothing. Finally, when we guessed the wrong color, he called the boss.
Bingo! The owner usually has a red scooter parked out in front but it was in the shop. We did get the right answer but had to cheat.
Stray Boots Tip #1:
Stray Boots gives a disclaimer that things may have changed since they created the game, but keep this fact foremost in your mind and ask the locals for advice if a question seems irrelevant.
After visiting a hipster clothing shop with a giant crocheted gun and a skateboard shop in search of a chicano ninja guy, we stopped for lunch at a new trendy Venice Beach restaurant, Larry’s, near the boardwalk.
Over lunch, the men were complaining about our noses being buried in our phones. Merely following along with our wanderings bored them. We did try to involve them by sharing the clues and questions, and amazingly, my French boyfriend knew the trivia question of “Who was Mr. Universe in 1957?” but other than that, they weren’t too keen on this adventure.
Stray Boots Tip #2:
If you are more than two people playing the Stray Boots game, break it into teams of two.
With renewed energy, we had answered only nine questions out of thirty so we decided to pick up the pace. On our way to Muscle Beach for a photo op, I got to meet the Venice Beach rollerskating musician icon, Harry Perry. He even sang me a contorted version of ‘Happy Birthday’. That hilarious experience probably wouldn’t have happened on a traditional tour.
Unlike a regular tour where you go on autopilot, nod your head and follow the group, the Stray Boots Walking Tour forces you to be present, interact with strangers and take notice of the quirky (and most interesting) details. We talked to local shop owners, asked the almost naked man adorned with a live snake for a picture and even exchanged helpful tips with others playing the Stray Boots tour that day.
Best find of the tour: the Small World Books hidden in a nook between the giant surfer shark we struck a pose with and the famous Sidewalk Café. Although they didn’t have the edition of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road to answer the question, we cheated again and Googled it.
With the guys’ interest already at a minimum, they were lagging behind, doing their own thing when my mother and I were zipping here and there trying to finish up. We lost my step-dad in the throngs of Venice boardwalk gawkers and their dogs.
Stray Boots Tip #3:
Make each person bring their phone so they feel included and can find you if you get lost!
After the major delay of reconnecting our group, we decided to answer one more clue before calling it a day. I’m glad we did! Stray Boots led us to the wackiest house in Venice. Gargoyles and even the King of Darkness himself were perched on the roof of the burgundy and gold accented house. With our mouths open staring at this architectural oddity, a man and a baby came out and sat on the front steps. The sign read ‘El Bordello Alexandra’ but was this Stephen King’s dark fantasy house or was this baby a product of the illegal transactions going on behind the doors?
Who knows? Maybe Stray Boots will do a Venice Beach Sequel tour and include a walk through the place!
Stray Boots Tip #4:
The Stray Boots website claims each walking tour takes about 2-3 hours. We spent a good two hours following the clues but still only managed to do half of it. Carve out at least 4 hours maybe 5 hours so you can take your time and not miss out on the great stores and local color.
Stray Boots Urban Games are available in ten US cities including Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, DC. For the price of a movie ticket ($12), it is an uber-budget friendly gift or an original date idea that lends oodles of fun and adventure.
Stray Boots Tip #5:
Bring a phone charger with you, mine died and it slowed the process down only using one phone between my mom and I.
Even though I didn’t finish the Stray Boots Urban Game Venice Beach walking tour, I’ll be back for more as this is what traveling is all about (even in your own city) – looking beyond the obvious, getting outside yourself and experiencing real encounters with the people who make the city what it is.