Reporter's Notebook: The hidden mysteries

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When I was growing up, scavenger hunts usually entailed frantically rushing from neighbor to neighbor asking for obscure items like colored Q-tips and, as a pre-teen, embarrassing feminine products, but apparently that is a thing of the past.

Scavenger hunts no longer involve a handwritten list of oddball items to collect and a bag. Instead, all you need is a smart phone, like an iPhone or Android. And it isn't just for tween girls at slumber parties.

The Huntington Beach Marketing & Visitors Bureau launched its own scavenger hunt through SCVNGR, which is a chance to explore the downtown area through challenges, trivia and pictures that you upload to the game.

No physical items are collected, but you take photos of locations, share your ideas about places and answer questions, all while GPS tracks your moves. You also get points for every challenge you complete, so while you aren't competing against a team, there is still a sense of victory with every task ticked down.

With about two hours to play last week, I drove to the heart of Huntington with my web editor to see what it was all about. We chose the Best of Huntington Beach Trek over the Surfin' Surf City USA Trek and I racked my brains for all the places we would be going, secretly challenging it to name a place I didn't know.

Now, I don't live in Huntington Beach, but covering the city lands me within its boundaries five days a week, sometimes three times a day. I was feeling rather cocky that I would know every location and wouldn't need the GPS to get there, despite my considerable navigational issues.

As we drove into the city boundaries, we scrolled through our target locations — the pier, the beach, the Strand, the dog beach, the Longboard Pub and Restaurant and the Beach Front 301 restaurant — and I couldn't help feeling a little bit cheated. I had expected to spend my two hours "working" at my favorite places around town — the Bolsa Chica Wetlands, Central Library and Huntington Central Park, and, of course, the pier.

The locations were chosen by the Marketing & Visitors Bureau team based on their favorite places and where they thought visitors would like best, said Donna Mulgrew, the bureau's vice president of sales and marketing. She also said they are going to change it up a bit with time, adding new places and including new challenges.

I'll concede they know a bit more than me about what visitors want to see when they go to Huntington, but I was a little disappointed until I started the trek.

The very first challenge was to find the mural in the alley between Main Street and the Strand and decide which "ween!mal" — the creative, and slightly odd, creatures in the paintings – I would be on the mural. I said the airplane pilot, while my web editor said blue dog seal hybrid. We uploaded that I was the pilot because I like to feel the wind in my hair.

The mural was a fun find hidden away, but it crushed my cocky attitude. I had no idea it was there. That was the first of several tidbits I learned about Surf City, but I'm not the only one.

Mulgrew, who has worked at the bureau for the last three years, said even she learned new things about the city.

The other challenges were really difficult: walking along the pier under the cloudless sky to find the water temperature for a day, take a picture of shirtless men playing volleyball and picking out the yummiest-sounding appetizer from Beach Front 301.

My favorite bit of information came from the information stand off the pier. After asking the girl staffing the stand the required questions for SCVNGR, my editor asked her what is the stupidest question she has ever been asked.

"I've been asked how to get down to the beach," she said.

We both turned our heads right and looked at the highly visible stairs about 20 feet away leading to the sand and laughed.

We only finished six of the 14 challenges. We started the excursion about noon and ended up stopping to have lunch at Ruby's Diner, a place I hadn't been since I was an elementary-school kid, while checking the water's temperature. The lunch considerably cut into our time allotted, but I imagine the challenge creators wouldn't mind too much.

"That's honestly kind of what we had in mind," she said. "Take a break and take a look at your city."

The scavenger hunt was fun and added a different element to the normal trip to Huntington Beach, but ultimately it was nice just to get down there for two hours and enjoy the city and sunshine.

Reporter BRITNEY BARNES can be reached at (714) 9226-4627 or britney.barnes@latimes.com.

Want To Play?

Download the free SCVNGR application on an iPhone or Android phone.

The Marketing & Visitors Bureau is giving the first 50 people to complete one of the treks a Surf City USA nylon beach tote and a limited edition Rip Curl T-shirt.

Go to http://www.surfcityusa.com/scvngr to learn more.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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