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An Urban Adventure In Your Own Backyard


Staycations seem to have become a rather popular replacement for vacations these days due to the current economic environment and growing environmental concerns over vacation related carbon footprints.

But doesn’t STAY sound boring? I don’t know about you, but when I take vacation days off of work I want to GO somewhere, not STAY at home. So the question is, how do you GO on a vacation while sticking to a low budget and a commitment to a small carbon footprint? An urban adventure, that’s how.

What is an urban adventure?

Urban Dictionary defines it as:

1. urban adventure
when you intend on looking up 1 random word on urban dictionary, but actually spend hours being entertained by the randomness

Well, that is one version of an urban adventure, but not really what I was aiming for. The Urban Adventure League in Portland, however, describes it more accurately as:

“…events that explore the urban environment using feet, bicycles, public transit, and possibly other alternative forms of transport… events and projects will emphasize fun, de-emphasize competition, and foster connectivity and awareness. There’s plenty of interesting things to be done in an urban environment, and we want to encourage and foster creative ways to enhance out living experience to its fullest. Boredom will no be allowed.”

Exploring urban environments while away on vacation is a pretty common activity. Most people, while away on a vacation, stay in centrally located accommodations so that they are able to walk around a town’s historic center or downtown area. But what is less normal is taking the time to explore the urban environment in your own backyard. This allows you to STAY at home, while still getting the sense of adventure that you would come from GOing on vacation.

There are two ways to participate in an urban adventure.

1) Book a tour with Urban Adventures.

Urban Adventures offers unique local day tours in over 100 cities around the world. They follow a simple recipe: small groups + local transportation + local guides + real local experiences = urban adventure. The best part? The affordable prices. For example, in New Orleans, for $25, you can: “See Hermann-Grima House, learn about Creole mourning customs, visit the oldest cemetery in the city, wander past the tomb of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, spot the tomb seen in the film Easy Rider, and take a peak at the future tomb of Nicolas Cage.”

So, the next time you plan your staycation, see if Urban Adventures has a tour in your city and maybe you can learn something new about your homestead.

2) Plan your very own Urban Adventure in your home or neighboring town.

Plan 2 was exactly what I did for myself and four of my friends a couple of weeks ago. We went on a homemade urban adventure in… drum roll please…. SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA!

After preaching about the benefits of sustainable tourism to my friends for the past couple of months, they finally gave in and demanded I plan a day of sustainable tourism for them. With some creativity, a sense of adventure, and a bit of research, I planned an urban adventure in Sacramento. The theme was Art in Public Places. I can guarantee that my friends were not expecting our plans would be to spend the day in our own city, Sacramento. But, at the end of the tour they were all asking when the next urban adventure would be.

The Sacramento urban adventure included the following: using public transportation (the light rail), visiting and learning about locally owned shops, uncovering and learning about some of the public artwork Downtown Sacramento has to offer, and some treasure hunting in the form of geocaching.

All-in-all the urban adventure was a great success. My friends were surprised at how much fun they could have by exploring their own city in a new way. So, with a little bit of creativity, I was able to successfully plan an urban adventure that was both economically and environmentally friendly, while also making it feel like we got to GO somewhere as opposed to STAYing at home.

Below are some photos from our Sacramento urban adventure:

My traveling companions and I enjoying the sunshine while on a break by the Capital.

Stanford Mansion - It was Free Museum Day so we were able to check out the Stanford Mansion for free, among other museums along our route.

We spotted this on top of a rooftop garden.  Photo by Emilia Cottrell.

"Golden State" by Lita Albuquerque and Mitchell De Jarnett

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Traveling Sustainably Is Easy When You Are Visiting San Francisco

Excellent, my first reader question (courtesy of my mother):

We’ll be in San Francisco for several days in a couple of weeks with family from the Midwest.  Do you have any suggestions for activities other than the large tourist attractions that would support the local community?

San Francisco is a pretty magical city to visit with everything you could ask for on a vacation in the wee space of a 7×7 square mile box. Because of its limited space resources, San Francisco has taken innovative steps to become one of the top Green cities in the U.S. The city excels in sustainable values with its vast public transportation network, strong biking community, well-preserved parks and green spaces, and support for local shops and restaurants.

But to answer the question more specifically, with regard to looking for tourist worthy activities that support local communities in San Francisco, I have the following ideas…

San Francisco is well-known for having distinctive neighborhoods. Each neighborhood has its own eclectic style and feel and consequently each neighborhood, aside from Union Square and the Financial District (which are full of chain stores and restaurants), is filled to the brim with local SME’s (small and medium-sized enterprises). Therefore, you can pretty much walk around any neighborhood in the city and easily support the local community by supporting their local businesses.

One idea for getting to know some of these unique neighborhoods, while supporting and interacting with the local community, is joining one of the San Francisco City Guides walking tours. City Guides is a non-profit organization that runs primarily off of the support of volunteer guides. The tours are free and no reservations are required, unless you are a group of 8 or more. The guides are locals themselves and this promotes a healthy interaction between visitors and hosts who are both excited about sharing knowledge about the city they love. Tours range from general neighborhood walks of Japantown or West Portal, to themed ones like Ghosts, Sinners and Secret Places and Billionaire’s Row: Outdoor Broadway Architecture.

Another great destination to visit in San Francisco that will help support the local community is taking a trip to the Ferry Building. While it is slowly starting to become a tourist hot spot, it is still a local hangout and brimming with locally sourced shops and places to eat. Furthermore, if you visit on a Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday you can enjoy the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market which takes place just outside of the Ferry Building.  Visiting the market and sampling the local food, such as the pork sandwich from Roli Roti, will help support the local Northern California agriculture industry.

Does anyone else have any suggestions on places to take visitors in San Francisco that support local communities and/or would be sustainable travel options?

For more information on “Green” travel options in San Francisco, visit the San Francisco Convention and Visitor Bureau’s website dedicated to the topic: http://www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com/green/

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