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Treasure Hunting in LA: Geocaching and Letterboxing


You've hit the haunts, seen and been on the best scenes, and are looking for another way to experience L.A. Whether you're tech-oriented or art-oriented, geocaching and letterboxing offer you the opportunity to do just that. Both pastimes are types of a modern day treasure hunt, but instead of gold doubloons and fantastical treasures underneath an X in the sand, you'll discover fun trinkets, detailed artwork, lots of satisfaction and a side of the city you've never seen. And, both can be done within minutes and miles of wherever you are, anywhere in Los Angeles.

Geocaching is a worldwide treasure-hunting game where participants, using GPS-enabled devices (either special handheld devices or just their smartphone) track down hidden containers, called geocaches, and share their experiences in online communities. Treasures range from piñata-filler-caliber finds to more complex creations like Travel Bugs or Geocoins that have unique tracking numbers to log miles and have a certain goals of areas reached, such as ten cities or counties.

Letterboxing is a similar concept but with a more literary, artsy feel. Instead of typing in coordinates for trinket rewards, letterboxers rely more on written clues, codes to be cracked, and rubber stamp artistry. Starting in a certain area, such as a local Los Angeles landmark, clues will guide you to an ornate box. Inside it you'll find a rubber stamp, often unique and hand-carved, to mark your book of finds and you can stamp the box's book with your personal mark in turn.

Both geocaching and letterboxing are done by avid hunters who follow set rules and community guidelines and have a good sense of adventure and community. The waterproof containers featured in both variations of the hunt will always be hidden in public places that don't require any devious slinking along with your sleuthing. Geocaches and letterboxes are hidden all over the place - but out of plain sight and usually just enough to make it challenging as well as fun. You may have to brush off some leaves or move a rock, but you won't be defacing anything or requiring a special tool.

To start your adventure in geocaching or letterboxing, you must first decide if you'd rather find (geocaching) or create (letterboxing), though sometimes the two do intertwine. Once you've chosen, there are a number of free sites, online communities, tutorials, stores and even apps to help you.


Step One: Find a Site

The Official Site for Global GPS Cache Hunt Site

This is the resource for geocaching, both in your neighborhood and worldwide, to learn the game, find the caches and record your adventures. You can also find resources for GeoTourism, buy unique cache containers, find your ultimate GPS device and just chat with others in the geocaching community.

If you don't mind having your kids get some screen time, along heavy doses of nature and critical thinking, this excellent article shows you how to milk the geocaching experience for all it's educational worth.

The Official Site for Letterboxing in North America

This is also the resource, but for letterboxing. Everything you need and want to know about how to get started in the hobby and what to do when you're more advanced. With links to an index featuring instruction on how to start, find and make your own stamp, this site has you covered.

If you're trying to get your kids to buy in on the hobby and "sport" of letterboxing, this article on National Geographic for kids may help.


There's An App for That

The app store is full of handy ones for both hobbies, though as is the case with websites as well, geocaching is as of now significantly more popular and therefore has many for resources available, including ones for free.

Geocaching Intro by Groundspeak, Inc. is a great free way to get started. It'll take you step by illustrated step through the process of your first find. The
$9.99 version will give you direct access to 1,750,000 geocaches searchable by current location, address, coordinates or geocache look up code. Type in where you are, see what's around and go.

BoxFinder by Agile Tortoise and Clue Tracker by Pearl Crescent , $1.99 and $4.99 respectively, allow you to use your iPhone or iPod's GPS to find letterboxes hidden close to your current location. Clue Tracker also allows you to type a specific location to see what's available there, helpful in determining if it's worth the trek.


Getting Your Game On

Once you've picked your GPS-enabled poison, geocaching or letterboxing, there are seemingly endless resources online put together by the members of both communities and pros in both groups. Sure a Tupperware container will work to hide a geocache, but why not go the extra mile? Some inspiration for creative caches will get you more motivated to find and create.

Why use your local craft store rubber stamp for letterboxing when you can create your own? By personalizing your stamp you'll make it more fun for you and those who find your mark.

Etsy, the online craft marketplace, has plenty of great inspiration, both DIY and already done, for both geocaching and letterboxing. You can find pre-made caches to hide, kits to disguise a hiding spot for a cache you create, ornate letterboxes and custom, creative stamps.

(credit: Susanna Morgan)

Who, What, Where

Both communities of treasure seekers are largely based online. Meet ups are uncommon (50 people searching for a couple of caches in an area could get ugly fast) but you may very well run into others on the hunt during yours. Message boards for both groups abound on the main and other sites for both that would allow you to get a group together easily though. These are more likely to happen around special events or holidays. But, with no special skills required and very little supplies, this is a great sport to share with friends next time you're out and about.

Fun, inspiration, and maybe clues, can be found by following the hashtags #geocaching or #letterboxing on Twitter. Many fans of both also have public, dedicated Facebook pages that provide additional options for exchanging information and pictures

With all of Los Angeles at the tip of your GPS ready fingertips, where's the best place to find your treasure? It's impossible to say, as caches and letterboxes are everywhere. Starting can be as simple as typing in your home or work address. A simple lunchtime stroll can lead to a ton of finds, often multiple within even relatively small areas. Once you get your footing you'll find yourself with your caching or letterboxing kit accessible at all times and punching in your location to find the rewards even on the most basic of errands.

Susanna Morgan writes about her parenting fails and adventures with her two boys over at Not June.


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