Steps in the light direction

Special to The Times

If you got a pedometer for Christmas, Kwanzaa or Hanukkah, welcome to the club. The small beeper-like devices were one of the hottest gizmo gifts this year. The reason: the 10,000-steps craze.

The movement, which prescribes 10,000 steps a day for good health, was born nearly 40 years ago in Japan when a step counter -- called the manpo-meter -- was introduced. (Manpo implied 10,000 steps.) Today's inexpensive and widely available versions have helped fuel the recent trend. Entire towns are getting into the act. Rockhampton, Queensland, for one is trying to sign up all its citizens. In the U.S., the simple fitness formula is also picking up wide-ranging support -- from the National Institute for Fitness and Sports to the Cooper Institute for Aerobic Research, especially after several medical journal articles reported that 10,000 steps a day would fulfill the surgeon general's call for 30 minutes of daily exercise.

Whether 10,000 steps will enjoy a long life in the States remains to be seen. After all, we are notoriously fickle about exercise. (When was the last time that stationary bike in your garage was not? Stationary that is.)

At least the outlay is minimal. My basic pedometer was $14.99 at Big 5. You can purchase more souped-up versions for $20 to $30. Most of these measure distance as well as steps. Technically though, all that matters here are steps. You can do them pacing in your office, mowing the lawn, taking the trash out, even shopping at Costco. (A quick in-and-out trip for staples took me 1,194 steps.) Or you could get your daily dose in one hearty walk and be a total sloth the rest of the day. Three cheers for sloth-hood.

So without further procrastination, here are 10 10,000-step routes. Unless you're a track star, allow yourself a couple of hours for each walk. After all, 10,000 steps are about five miles. If you do each one, you will not only feel incredibly smug, you will also inevitably see parts of Southern California you have missed until now.

On your mark. Get set. Step.

Brentwood/ Santa Monica

This route begins on one of the prettiest and most prestigious residential streets in Los Angeles: La Mesa Drive at 26th Street. From here, walk west on La Mesa. Huge Moreton Bay fig trees line the street. And each home is more impressive than the last. There are expansive Spanish haciendas, regal Tudors and streamlined contemporaries.

Then it's west on the grassy San Vicente Boulevard median, where the beautiful and hard-bodied Brentwood denizens jog as cars whiz by on both sides. At Palisades Park overlooking the Pacific, take a moment to stretch and find Catalina Island on the horizon. You'll often encounter picnickers here, an octogenarian sketching the landscape or a personal trainer drilling a middle-aged mom.

Continue south on Ocean Avenue to Montana Avenue, then hang a left. Around Lincoln Boulevard, let the shopping begin, or not. There are also multiple opportunities for caffeinated pick-me-ups, including Diedrich Coffee, Seattle's Best, Peet's, the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and two Starbucks. The people-watching is generally choice, albeit a bit repetitive: young mothers and yogis toting stick mats reign. Head north on 26th Street, past the Brentwood Country Mart (and Reddi Chick, which gives McDonald's a run for the money on the fry front), to your starting point.


Costa Mesa

It's hard to resist the lure of TSE, Sephora, Sanrio, Loro Piana and all the other fabulous boutiques that make up South Coast Plaza. Which may not be a bad thing. After all, a typical store browsing can tack on 100 to 200 steps easily. If you simply window-shop, however, one loop around the plaza tallies up almost 2,000 steps, or one mile. That means you'll need to do five loops, perhaps two on Level 1 and three on Level 2. This will involve a fair amount of dodging clueless shoppers and hyper children.

On the upside, the surface is extremely stroller-friendly. (You won't find better.) There's plenty of natural light from the expansive skylights as well as ample flora, both of which contribute to making this mall experience less antiseptic than most. Additionally, bathrooms and a wondrous array of sustenance, from Del Taco to Lawry's Carvery, are never far away.



Join the legions who hoof it around the Rose Bowl and neighboring Brookside Golf Course every day. Start at the Lot K sign off West Drive; this is the southern most end of the loop. One loop is about 6,625 steps. So you'll need to make 1 1/2 revolutions, which means you'll need to make two revolutions to get back to your car, and you're ahead of the game by a few thousand steps.

On nonevent days, there's plenty of free parking. Other pluses: The path is mostly flat, and enjoys the protection and scenery of the surrounding mountains. Call it faux rural. The only downside, aside from the threat of errant golf balls, is the steady stream of cars whooshing by. Still, it beats the tedium of a quarter-mile track.



Balboa Lake, part of the Sepulveda Dam Recreation Area, is one of the most picturesque waterways in town. No wonder it attracts such an eclectic crowd: older men chatting in Farsi, power-walking moms, young couples walking arm in arm.

Three-and-a-half trips around will fulfill the 10,000-steps prescription.

Along the way, you'll encounter hundreds of ducks, the occasional crane and a fisherman or two. (They say the tilapia and catfish haven't been biting of late.)

Because bicycles, roller skates and skateboards are strictly prohibited on the path, there are no worries about being taken out by some clueless speed demon.

Wanna do a modified biathlon?

Follow up your walk with a pedal boat excursion. Rentals are available for $7 a half-hour or $10 an hour. Bon voyage.


Pacific Palisades

Here's one for the advanced stepper, as it's more hike than walk. Consequently, you'll want shoes with good tread, a water bottle, sun coverage and a steppin' buddy. Begin in Will Rogers State Historic Park (parking is $3 per car) at the foot of the trail adjacent to the tennis court. Follow the signs toward Inspiration Point. Rather than going to the point however, keep walking until you get to the markers for the Backbone Trail, a.k.a Topanga Trail. You'll know you're there when you see the signs for ticks and mountain lions. No joke.

The moderate trail offers fabulous views of the Pacific, the Getty and the expansive manse belonging to Dennis Tito, the world's first space tourist, who paid almost $20 million for the privilege; it's the one on the highest perch to the east. There's also the occasional celebrity run-in. We've seen Rita Wilson and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. To reach 5,000 steps, continue past the bridge, past the pinnacle, past the place where the trail forks. (Stay to the left.) Just around the bend, you'll see a valley where the mountains slope down to meet in a V. The ocean is behind you. This is your cue to do a 180 and start the far easier descent. When you get to the bottom of the Backbone Trail, turn left instead of retracing your earlier route. Then make the first right down toward Will Rogers' home and the parking lot.

On much of this trail, there is little if any sense of being in the city. So it's a real escape with benefits that go well beyond the physical. As for the ticks and mountain lions, we've managed to steer clear in nearly three years of regular visits. But we have seen the occasional snake. The moral of the story: Watch your step.



Don't do nature? Try this urban strut down Hollywood Boulevard. Begin at La Brea Avenue and head east. The walk is distinguished by a series of tattoo parlors, sex shoppes, naughty lingerie boutiques and tchotchke emporiums with windows full of knockoff Oscar statuettes emblazoned with "Best Dad" or "Best Wife." Wonder at the number of tourists hovering in the atrium of the Wax Museum and Ripley's Believe It or Not.

Study the stars on the Walk of Fame. Who knew Kirstie Alley was here? Over the freeway, you enter Little Armenia, which is more Thai than Armenian. The colorful Thai Plaza on the north side of the street is your cue to do a U-turn. On the way back, resist the urge to engage the Michael Jackson impersonator in front of Mann's Chinese in a conversation about collagen versus botox.


Palm Springs

Palm Canyon Drive in the heart of Palm Springs offers something for both the hard-core shopper and the nature buff. But it favors the former. To reach 10,000 steps, you'll need to walk between Ramon Road at the southern end of the route and Vista Chino at the northern end, then walk back on the other side of the street.

In addition to lots of cheesy souvenir shops, several cool home decor showrooms and lifestyle boutiques have popped up, most with modernist leanings. There's also a groovy Trina Turk boutique, several buildings dating from the early 1900s and a sort of B-list Walk of Fame honoring the likes of Mr. Blackwell and George Hamilton. A fountain featuring a smiling Sonny Bono statue provides a popular photo backdrop for the unnaturally bronzed tourists. To the west, rugged pink mountains loom.


Downtown Los Angeles

Princesses might want to skip this Broadway ramble, which begins at the northern end of Chinatown, goes to Olympic Boulevard, then loops back. It gets a little gritty here and there. But there's plenty to see, which means you'll forget you're working, always a good thing.

Among the highlights: Chinatown's fabulous displays of ginseng, lucky bamboo, bargain silk pajamas and barbecued meats. Farther south are Grand Central Market, the Bradbury Building, and one great old theater after another, including the Orpheum, Rialto, Tower, Globe, Arcade and Cameo. Many of these theaters have beautiful terrazzo entryways. Walking puts you in a fine position to appreciate the artistry.

To get in the full 10,000 steps, take a detour to Walt Disney Concert Hall. (You'll miss Grand Central Market and the Bradbury Building, but you can catch those on your way back.) To do this, turn off Broadway at 1st Street and head west up to the silvery undulating mass that is Frank Gehry's design, south on Grand Avenue and east on 5th Street, past Pershing Square, to Broadway. Walk south to Olympic, turn and walk back to Chinatown.


Beverly Hills

Put on your very best walking duds for this chichi stroll in and around the golden triangle. You'll begin at the Peninsula Beverly Hills and head east on Little (South) Santa Monica, stopping to peek at the art in the Creative Artists Agency lobby, to Crescent Drive. Then it's down Crescent, west on Wilshire Boulevard and north on Canon Drive. When you reach Little Santa Monica, cross the street and head back to Wilshire on the other side. Turn right on Wilshire, then meander north on Beverly Drive. You'll do the same thing, up and back, then continue west to Rodeo Drive. Think of this as the Beverly Hills slalom.

Instead of turning around when you reach Little Santa Monica on Rodeo, cross big Santa Monica Boulevard, pass the church and check out the homes in the 500-block of Rodeo. Be sure to go behind the houses, as one particularly ornate design continues in the alley. After this diversion, head south on Rodeo, right on Wilshire past the mighty triumvirate that is Barneys, Saks and Neiman Marcus, and left on Little Santa Monica back to your starting point. We have found that dark glasses and a baseball or sun hat generally lead the star-seeking tourists, who inevitably swarm this area, to think we are someone. Let 'em believe.


The South Bay, the Strand

It doesn't get more Southern Californian than the Strand in Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach. You'll see some of the best volleyball players in the world and some of the most beautiful people in the world.

The women on the Strand are knockouts. And all those tanned and toned bodies are excellent motivators (or completely discouraging, depending on your perspective). In any event, this is not a great place to be flabby. Begin at the pier (the end of Pier Avenue) and the Strand in Hermosa Beach, in front of the statue of lifeguard and surfer Tim Kelly. Your halfway point: the Marine Avenue lifeguard station in Manhattan Beach. You'll know it by the U.S. and Los Angeles County flags fluttering on the roof.

If you get tired of looking at all the Kens and Barbies come to life, there are smashing homes all along the route. Some are cheery cottages. Others are cool moderns. It is worth noting that at least on the southern end of this route, there is a single path for pedestrians, cyclists, skaters and scooters. Fortunately, most of those not on foot travel at a leisurely pace. So accidents are rare.

Through most of Manhattan Beach, the path divides in two. The upper path is exclusively for walkers and joggers.

For The Record Los Angeles Times Friday January 10, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 16 inches; 573 words Type of Material: Correction 10,000 steps -- A caption accompanying an article in Thursday's Calendar Weekend about walking routes stated that the 10,000-steps movement began in Japan 50 years ago. In fact, it began 40 years ago, as stated in the story.
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