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San Fran moniker a rookie mistake

By Mark Milian, CNN
The Lower Haight's restaurants and bars make for a fun night out, including Danny Coyle's.
The Lower Haight's restaurants and bars make for a fun night out, including Danny Coyle's.
  • The Lower Haight is crammed with hidden-gem restaurants and bars
  • Don't call city San Fran or Frisco and expect to blend in with locals, writer Mark Milian says
  • Samovar Tea Lounges offer a peaceful environment to unwind, Milian says
  • San Francisco
  • Tourism

Editor's note: Mark Milian is a tech writer for He moved to San Francisco last year. Share your tips for the city below.

San Francisco (CNN) -- The Bay Area isn't just where your computers and favorite websites are designed.

There's a wealth of hiking trails, classic architecture, peculiar shops and an underground scene worth digging for. The city is small, with a population under 1 million packing into rows of two-story buildings that are rarely vacant.

Sure, the region is home to Apple, Google and Facebook, but a weekend getaway is best spent far from the computer. (A smartphone, however, will help to navigate the complicated but plentiful rail and bus systems.)

So charge up your iPhone or Android, and grab a fistful of dollar bills for a streetcar tour around town.

Where's your favorite place to spend a night out on the town?

Haight Street in Lower Haight has about four blocks crammed with hidden-gem restaurants and bars. Keep in mind: This isn't the part of Haight overrun by aging hippies; it's the area teeming with hipsters, outcasts and immigrants straight out of Europe.

With that comes a bevy of authentic Irish bars, such as Danny Coyle's and Mad Dog in the Fog. For food, look to the Indian, Ethiopian or Irish cuisines.

Another option is to pop into Rosamunde Sausage Grill and tell them you're placing an order "for next door." When it's ready, take it to the Toronado pub to chase that bratwurst with a pick from a large selection of beers on tap.

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How do tourists stick out?

They say Frisco or San Fran. Having lived here less than a year, I'm still struggling with the latter. But apparently, San Francisco and SF are the only acceptable terms.

Where can you get the best view of the city?

San Francisco is so hilly that you can find a vista on practically any random streets. But Coit Tower is a favorite attraction for tourists and locals looking for a brutal, steep climb (as if that's tough to find elsewhere in the area).

Located about eight blocks south of Fisherman's Wharf and even closer to the dock where many Alcatraz cruises leave from, Coit is in a prime location for sightseeing.

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Leave the car parked where it is (you probably paid a mint to get in that garage anyway) and strap on some sneakers. It's a tough hike to reach this structure, which resembles a light tower.

Once there, you can skip the rickety elevator ride to the top. The surrounding panoramic view of the skyline is the big payoff.

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Are there local specialty dishes or drinks that visitors must try?

Although the locals will tell you Fisherman's Wharf is tourist central, even the snobs will take the antique F trolly up there every once in a while.

Alioto's Restaurant is a good spot to load up on seafood. If you can bear the bay winds, order calamari or crab soup from one of the top-notch vendors on Taylor Street there instead and take a seat on one of the benches near the pier. Make sure sourdough bread comes with your order.

Seafood, sourdough and a sight of the water make for a pretty spectacular -- but chilly -- experience.

Where do you go to relax?

Fortunately, I have several small parks within a few blocks of my apartment. Alamo Square Park is a good one, especially since it provides many visitors with a have-I-been-here-before? moment. (No, you're just having "Full House" flashbacks.)

I walk by Duboce Park every day to get to work and see a dozen mutts going insane on the grass. These parks provide much of the fun of having a dog without having to pick up poop with my hands.

A nice little chain of shops called the Samovar Tea Lounges offer a peaceful environment to unwind with green tea and Japanese dishes. I'm not sure I buy into the whole zen mantra that this place has commercialized, but I find myself going back.

If you have a car and want to venture out of the city, the Bay Area has parks spread about with giant redwood trees that need to be seen up close. They're like giant, living skyscrapers.

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Where is the best place to people watch?

Downtown at the corner near Davis and Market streets. Try to find the rickety lawn chair set on a wooden platform, which is apparently meant to be used as a shoeshine booth. If you're feeling especially adventurous, take a seat there or plop down on one of the benches across the way.

Around this spot, I've seen some of the strangest people, hurried businessmen and fascinating elderly folk. I once spotted a hobo pushing a live rooster in a basket.

Have tips to share for San Francisco? Post your picks in the comments section below.