One Saturday morning, Beverly Fagoaga nervously arrived at the Lake Hollywood Reservoir Trail where a local collective known as the LA Girls Who Walk was taking a three-mile walk.
Dressed in running tights and sneakers, the 24-year-old sales rep wasn’t just there to spend the day on the scenic drive, which overlooks an idyllic lake and the Hollywood sign. His main goal was simple: he was there to make friends.
“I came here just to meet people,” Fagoaga said during the walk. He added that making friends as an adult can already be challenging and that the pandemic has only complicated interactions with strangers.
Fagoaga, who works from home, was diagnosed with depression in 2020. Since then, she has been walking her dog regularly to help her. But on this particular Saturday, she decided to step “out of her comfort zone” and attend an LA Girls Who Walk event after learning about the group on Instagram.
“In high school you’re forced to be with people eight hours a day, but as you get older you’re not forced to,” he said. “So you have to push yourself to do that, so that’s what I’m doing today.”
It’s a sentiment Monica Figueroa, the founder of LA Girls Who Walk, can relate to. As someone who has struggled with anxiety throughout her life, she decided to launch the group in June to help others, including herself, meet new people and hopefully make lasting friendships through the ‘walking activity. In May, she started a chapter of the walking group, San Diego Girls Who Walk, in her hometown.
Although the word “girls” is in the name, Figueroa said non-binary people and gay men are welcome at the monthly gatherings, which are free.
Walking is “a very low-budget, accessible, healthy activity to do when you’re social, and there really aren’t that many of those things to do. [in L.A.],” said Figueroa, 28, who moved to Los Angeles in May for work. She is working to make walking events more accessible to those who need handicap access, she added.
“It either costs money, [or] it keeps you up late at night, which is not good for your health. Everything seems to have a price and [walking] it’s really one of the few things that doesn’t.”
Walking is what helped Figueroa make friends after she was sent to work in New York City for several months last year. The pharmaceutical sales rep didn’t want to explore the city alone, but she was getting tired of how hard it was to make genuine connections with people. She had tried Bumble BFF, a mobile app for people looking for friendships, but found it to be shallow due to the visual nature of the app.
“You don’t really get to know people just by looking and swiping very quickly,” he said. “It’s not the best way to make friends. you [may] You think you like it because you can pick and choose, but people pick and choose too much. “
After suffering several times, Figueroa finally found luck when she bluntly asked a woman she had connected with on Bumble BFF if she wanted to attend an event hosted by City Girls Who Walk, a collective that invites women to walk with the purpose of making friends. Figueroa and the woman attended the event several times together and bonded with two other women who added to their group of friends. But when Figueroa received a job promotion that sent her to live in Los Angeles long-term, she was back at square one and had to make new friends in a new city.
Inspired by City Girls Who Walk and seeing how walking groups were popping up across the country, Figueroa decided to start her own clubs with San Diego and LA Girls Who Walk, which have at least one walk a month. Since then, he has done about 20 rides in San Diego and about 10 in LA
Many of the people who have attended LA Girls Who Walk events have discovered the collective on social media. A video of dozens of women socializing while walking along a scenic trail has garnered nearly 200,000 views on TikTok.
Lacey Stansell, who moved to Los Angeles from Washington, DC, in July, went on a walk in Los Angeles because she thought it would be a safe way to meet people without having to put her health at risk.
“It is very difficult for me to make friends in the traditional way. [at] i like indoor events because when people wear masks, i can’t understand them since i rely on lip reading. And if they’re not masked, I’m worried about getting COVID,” said Stansell, who has kidney disease and is hard of hearing. “That’s like the perfect medium. I can see people, I can talk [and] he’s relaxed.” By the end of the walk, he was exchanging phone numbers with another attendee who had also recently been transplanted to Los Angeles.
There are a variety of meetup groups for specific interests and hobbies in LA, but what drew Miranda Mangahas to the hiking club is the fact that it doesn’t require much effort.
“It’s easy. I don’t need to be super skilled to do it. I just show up,” said Mangahas, 24, who moved to LA during the height of the pandemic for work. She became a volunteer for LA Girls Who Walk after going to one of their events.
Walking is also different from other activities because it “gives you space to communicate,” Mangahas said. “Because, really, what else do you do on a walk? If you’re riding a bike or doing some kind of sport, you may be able to talk on the sidelines or be focused on doing the activity.”
As demand for Figueroa to host more walks throughout LA has grown, she started a Discord group chat, which now has nearly 2,000 members, for people to organize walks in their own neighborhoods. After meeting several women living in her community through chat, Sophie Senarath created a subgroup in Pasadena.
“I didn’t really know many other women my age in the area, so it was a great way for me to say, ‘Wow, I knew there were other people my age who had similar interests to mine who live in my around.’ It was just a matter of connecting with them,” said Senarath, 28, who moved to Pasadena more than a year ago.
To make friends you have to be a friend, “that’s why I really wanted to start doing the events and do them every week”, he added. “Even if only one person showed up or 10, it doesn’t really matter. The point is to meet people and get out of the house and do something that’s healthy for you and also a positive way to have social interaction.”
The LA Girls Who Walk has become much more than a walking group, Figueroa said, as many of the attendees host other gatherings such as dinners and painting parties on a regular basis. “It’s been really great to see and hear that people have had real, long-lasting friendships,” she said.
“My hope is essentially for the girls who are in this position. [and] “We’re looking for friendship to really see our club and our group chat as the first step to making it successful,” Figueroa said before quickly adding, “or maybe even the second step when Bumble BFF doesn’t it went well.”