So you’ve stuck with me this far, which means you are either interested or frustrated enough you want more to rant about. I’m going to assume you are the former until you prove otherwise to me. Therefor, let us move forward into lawn alternatives.
Now you may recall, I did mention I no longer loathe lawns. Lawns have their place. So with this in mind, one of your first decisions is if you want a lawn at all! Are you living in a place where water is very scarce? Do you just never use a lawn and much prefer garden space? If so, consider not bothering with a lawn at all. Some people have rock gardens or convert their entire lawn-space into lush garden space. Permaculture is well known for yards that are abundant with food growing everywhere, but very little in the way of ‘lawn’ to speak of.
Okay, so you do want a lawn? Easy enough. There are all sorts of eco-lawns that need minimal mowing or watering. Some need no mowing at all. I have mentioned companies such as High Country Gardens in the past for their list of water efficient, low-mow lawns. That is something to consider. There are also other sorts of non-grass plants that can be used as a walkable lawn. My personal favorite is Irish Moss.
Most likely, you’ll want to blend some of these together. This means selecting an area of the lawn where you want to do things and converting the rest over to some other option. I would personally suggest a permaculture yard with a low maintenance lawn-space and the rest dedicated to a stacked food production space.
Then again, perhaps a walking garden is more of your style. In such a case, you could grow a small path of walkable lawn and the rest of the area is dedicated to beautiful plants and lawn ornamentation. A winding path through your yard can give an impression that there is more there than is the case and the total amount of ‘lawn’ you have to actually maintain is something that can be done in ten to twenty minutes even with a manual reel mower.
I would advise that unless you are in a near-desert level area, rock gardens are less than ideal. There’s very little you can do with them and if your area gets water even semi-regularly, you’ll have to walk over those rocks and weed regularly. Then again, it isn’t as though you would have trouble spotting which things are the weeds! If you decide you like one, make sure you design it so that you can do more than enjoy it out a window. I have seen some that look amazing and others that are painfully boring. Don’t just dump gravel over your lawn.
I’m going to include a few links that may help with getting your ideas flowing.