One of my favorite things in the San Francisco Bay Area is a favorite of mine in any city – walking around to check out the architectural details.
In San Francisco, it begins with the beckoning skyline as you approach the city. Once here, walking through colorful neighborhoods of restored Victorian houses and high-rise buildings from every era gives a taste of the city. Walking along the historic Barbary Coast trail in the downtown area provides a glimpse of the city's seedier history – for example, saloons that have been here since the Gold Rush, built from abandoned ships left behind by the crews in search of gold.
San Francisco doesn't have as many gargoyles on its buildings as I'd like, but it makes up for it with its character.
Of any city I've visited, New York City has the best walks for stopping every few feet for a new stunning architectural detail – like a dragon below a window, and this ornamental face above a doorway, shown in these photos.
There are so many gargoyles and other ornamental carvings on buildings in New York that there are tours set up specifically to view these architectural details.
In London, even the government's Parliament building is adorned with whimsical gargoyles. But in London, stepping off the beaten path leads to some of the most interesting stone carvings. A few feet from bustling streets, you can find yourself in a secluded Victorian cemetery full of beautiful hand-carved angels. It can feel like you're a thousand miles away from the crowded sidewalk you walked down to get there.
None of these cities needed to put these stunning details on their buildings and gravestones. But there's something compelling about adding beauty and mystery to our creations.
Here are three self-guided walking tours if you find yourself in any of these cities and would like a touch of mystery:
San Francisco's Barbary Coast: http://www.barbarycoasttrail.org/
New York City's "monster walks" in search of gargoyles: http://www.aardvarkelectric.com/gargoyle/walks.html
London's Victorian cemeteries: http://www.timetravel-britain.com/articles/london/cemeteries.shtml