Best Team to Root For
Even the Browns' decade-long streak of unrivaled incompetence has somehow failed to dampen Cleveland's passion. It's a Browns town, first and always, despite our better judgment. We'll talk about free agent wide receivers while the Cavs are playing, we'll debate which quarterback to draft while the Tribe is clinging to first place, and we'll bitch about every loss once the season is under way. Then we'll rinse and repeat next year.
Staff Pick: Cleveland Indians
Despite a payroll smaller than your weekly grocery budget and 17 surgeries for Grady Sizemore, the Tribe managed to field a competitive and entertaining squad last year. The Wahoos even pushed for a playoff spot before fizzling away and finishing two games under .500. Led by sluggers Carlos Santana, Shin-Soo Choo, and Asdrubal Cabrera, along with promising youngsters like second baseman Jason Kipnis, there's renewed hope at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.
Staff Pick: Cleveland Cavaliers
Best High School Team
The Wildcats' football and soccer teams deserve equal recognition, as each squad added to the Jesuit high school's athletic résumé in 2011 with state championship trophies. That's 11 titles for Coach Chuck Kyle on the gridiron since 1988, and five for Coach Mike McLaughlin on the pitch since 2004. Add in a hockey team that won the state title in 2010 and rode out an undefeated regular season this year, and you have a school dominating the high school sports landscape.
Staff Pick: St. Edward High School
Best Athlete & Best Cavaliers Player
A former Cleveland Cavalier who shall not be named won this category multiple years in a row. Kyrie Irving is doing everything he can to help us forget about him. The stat geeks around the NBA will tell you Irving is having one of the best rookie seasons in NBA history. They ain't telling you anything your eyes don't already know. The No. 1 draft pick out of Duke is also making the depleted Cavs competitive and watchable almost entirely by himself — often willing them to win in the game's waning moments on nights they had no business hanging close. He's well on his way to winning Rookie of the Year, and the accolades, the glimmers of greatness, and his delightfully humble nature don't show any signs of letting up soon.
Staff Picks: Best Athlete: Kyrie Irving; Best Cavaliers Player: Kyrie Irving
Best Indians Player
It's hard to pick what was more impressive about the young Tribe shortstop in 2011 — his dazzling, highlight-worthy glove skills or the 25 homers he smacked in a breakout power year. Tribe fans, of course, will joyously take both. 'Drubs has also solidified himself as that rarest of all beasts: the Cleveland Indian who lives up to his promise without getting horrifically injured immediately after.
Staff Pick: Asdrubal Cabrera
Best Browns Player
Even with a stronger batch of candidates, the Browns Pro Bowl offensive lineman would still win. Capable of making even the most pedestrian of running backs look successful behind his blocking, Thomas also protects whatever quarterback happens to be standing behind him year after year with no complaints. Plus, he loves fishing and hunting and grilling his kill, just like any proper NFL lineman should.
Staff Pick: Joe Thomas
Best Sports Executive
The outspoken owner of the Cavaliers might irk sports fans across the country with his very public comments and open letters, but he gets nothing but love in his adopted hometown. Mainly, fans love him because he's transparently passionate about the team and willing to open up his deep pockets to back it up. Also exemplary is his overall investment in Cleveland, from the jobs his Quicken Loans empire have brought here to his tenacity in delivering a first-class casino to the North Coast. If ever a billionaire could make Cleveland think he's a son of the Cuyahoga, it's Gilbert.
Staff Pick: Dan Gilbert
Best Minor League Team
The Tribe's AA affiliate just a short jaunt down I-77 has had more success than the big league club recently, making the Eastern League Championship Series five years running from 2005-2009 and winning it all twice. Sporting one of the best ballparks in the minors, rock-bottom ticket prices, and a parade of creative promotions, the Aeros offer the best chance to catch tomorrow's major league stars before the Tribe trades them to the Yankees.
Staff Pick: Canton Charge
Best College Team
Ohio State Buckeyes
Buckeye fans think OSU is the best team in the nation every year. In the coming seasons, they could be right. New football coach Urban Meyer rode to the rescue after Jim Tressel's unceremonious exit; now the tattoo scandal looks to be only a blip on the radar of Ohio State's Big Ten dominance. It's 2012, and Michigan still sucks. O-H...
Staff Pick: Akron Zips Basketball
Best Place to See a Game & Best Place for a Sweaty Date
Progressive Field is almost 20 years old now, but the ballpark looks like it just opened yesterday. And no matter the quality of the team it puts on the field, at least the Indians work to make the game-day experience a home run. Comparatively cheap beer, cheap tickets, plentiful food options, and a packed promotional schedule (fireworks again!) mean Progressive Field's the summer spot to hit whether it's family day or date night, whether you're analyzing pitch selection or simply trying to get a good glimpse of Grady Sizemore's butt.
Staff Picks: Best Place to See a Game: Progressive Field; Best Place for a Sweaty Date: The Towpath Trail
Best Place for Downhill Skiing
Ohio's slopes might not hold the allure of Colorado's, but they're nothing to kick snow at. Boston Mills isn't merely conveniently located within 30 minutes of just about every winter sports lover in Northeast Ohio; the powder playground offers eight trails that cover all skill levels, from newbie ski bunnies to downhill daredevils.
7100 Riverview Rd., Pennisula,
Staff Pick: Boston Mills
Best Place for Running, Best Place for Biking & Best Place for Hiking
The Emerald Necklace offers everything the outdoor lover could desire, whether that's a smooth paved trail for a quick jog or a challenging uphill climb that will make your calves beg for mercy. Encompassing almost 21,000 acres and stretching from east to west to south, one of Cleveland's most treasured gems is quite literally in everybody's backyard.
Staff Picks: Best Place for Running: The Towpath Trail; Best Place for Biking and Best Place for Hiking: Cleveland Metroparks
Best Bowling Alley
The Corner Alley
East Fourth street may be reknowned for its collection of eclectic restaurants and bars, but the burgeoning neighborhood has become an epicenter of entertainment, in large part thanks to the Corner Alley. This isn't your dad's bowling joint, though he probably would have come here if it existed back in his day. Part bar, part restaurant, and 16 lanes of awesome, it's the perfect spot to knock a few back and knock a few down.
402 Euclid Ave., 216-298-4070, thecorneralley.com
Staff Pick: Mahall's Twenty Lanes
Best Place to Play Darts
The Harbor Inn
The Harbor's been slinging shots and beers to thirsty Clevelanders for over a hundred years. Since 1969, it's also been the unofficial home of darters in Cleveland. That was the inaugural year of the Cleveland Darter Club — the first steel-tip dart group in the city. The Harbor Inn was an early booster, hosting tournaments as the group swelled and the city of Cleveland helped usher the game into the country's consciousness. Today, it's still the best place to throw, with nice boards, plenty of space, and, of course, the best bar owner in town, Wally Pisorn.
1219 Main Ave., 216-241-3232
Staff Pick: The Harbor Inn
Best Place to Play Billiards
Fox & Hound
A quick game of backroom pool on one of those miniature barroom tables is fine in a pinch. But for legitimate billiard action — the kind that doesn't require use of the bent short stick at an acute angle to avoid the wall that's conveniently located two feet from the table — Fox & Hound is the destination. Thousands of square feet are filled with immaculate regulation tables and — gasp — new, straight cue sticks, not to mention plentiful supplies of booze, or what we like to call aiming fuel.
8735 Day Dr., Parma,
440-842-8840; and 1479 S.O.M. Center Rd., Mayfield Heights,
Staff Pick: The Corner Alley
Best Social Club
Prosperity Social Club
It says so right in the name, after all. Take an aesthetic trip back in this wonderfully less-than-trendy Tremont hangout, a place that'll make you feel like you just walked into the basement of the coolest grandma ever. The vibe here is made for chatting, which is why the two small TVs are tuned to an old movie channel and old board games are stacked on a back table. Put the phone down for a second and enjoy the company. It's a social club, after all.
1109 Starkweather Ave., 216-937-1938,
Staff Pick: Cleveland Plays
Boasting a mile of gorgeous beachfront (the largest in all of Ohio) and 120 total acres of natural serenity, Headlands Beach State Park in Mentor is the next best thing to hopping a plane south. Better, actually, because you don't actually have to go south. The park is Northeast Ohio's one-stop shop for swimming, tanning, fishing, picnicking, hiking, and, most important: sitting around working on that pasty tan.
9601 Headlands Rd., Mentor,
Staff Pick: Huntington Beach
Best Place for Rock Climbing
Cleveland Rock Gym
The best indoor climbing to be found in Northeast Ohio is out in Euclid at the Cleveland Rock Gym, which caters to experts and novices alike. Thirty-foot-high walls and 12-foot boulders await the vertically inclined, though equipment rentals and intro classes are the way to get started on your adventure into the sky. Be sure to call ahead for an appointment, because the Cleveland Rock Gym is pretty popular these days.
21200 St. Clair Ave. Building B3,
Euclid, 216-692-3300, clevelandrockgym.com
Staff Pick: Whipps Ledges
Best Place for Cross-Country Skiing
The Chapin Forest Reservation in Kirtland covers 390 acres, plenty of ground that (usually) becomes a beautiful, snow-dusted landscape come winter. The Lake Metroparks expanse is a sight to see, a mission that's best accomplished by cross-country skiing its six miles of trails. Open daily until 9 p.m., the ski lodge rents all the equipment you need, and the helpful staff keep a full mile of trail lit up into the nighttime hours if you can't make it out before the sun goes down.
10090 Chillicothe Rd. (Rt. 306),
Staff Pick: Big Met Golf Course
Best Recreation League
Those youthful dreams of making it to the majors have been dashed, but that doesn't mean Clevelanders can't channel their inner athlete as a weekend warrior. Offering co-ed leagues in just about any sport you can think of, Cleveland Plays is the best way around to meet new friends or gather old ones while also getting in a little cardio. And nobody's gonna hold it against you if the post-game trip to the bar is your top priority.
Staff Pick: Lakewood Recreation
Best Fitness Club
Clevelanders like to eat and drink. A lot. But to maintain our dashing figures after those activities, we must hit the gym and pump those weights and spin those spinners, lest we begin looking like those schlubs from Detroit. With six locations dotted from east to west across Cleveland, Fitworks is the convenient venue for your slim-down and toning needs. Memberships are cheap, classes are plentiful, and no one stares too hard if you're still sporting a set of D-cup moobs.
Staff Pick: Lakewood YMCA
Best Skate Park
Lakewood Skate Park
Lakewood rose up early, compared to other communities, in building a skate park for its kids. Since 2005, it's been a bastion of safe skating, which is all the more impressive considering the struggles endured to bring it to completion. Though approved in the late 1990s, committee hearings, obstinate politicians, polls, and faux citizen outrage delayed the project a decade. Boy, do they look dumb now.
14530 Lake Ave., Lakewood,
Staff Pick: Lakewood Skate Park
Rite-Aid Cleveland Marathon
Endless 5Ks dot the running calendar throughout the year, but there's only one race that captures Cleveland's complete attention, and it's the one that lasts 26.2 miles. Whether you're actually racing (kudos to you), watching the world-class talent that arrives in town to sprint for a couple of hours, or simply interested in counting the number of bloody socks, it's the pavement-pounding event of the year.
Staff Pick: Rite-Aid Cleveland Marathon
Best Golf Course
It's no wonder that Big Met is among the most popular courses in Northeast Ohio. For one, it's centrally located, but the reasons don't begin or end there. If it's not the most challenging course out there, it is equally beloved by weekend duffers and low-handicappers alike. And because Big Met is run by the Cleveland Metroparks, the course is well-kept and light on the budget, an unmistakable bargain in a world of overpriced greens fees.
4811 Valley Parkway, Fairview Park, 440-331-1070, clemetparks.com
Staff Pick: Sleepy Hollow
Best Community Recreation Center
Westlake Recreation Center
This western suburb didn't screw around when it erected the city's rec center. Amenities in the impressive, vast complex include five pools, two basketball courts, a 13,500-square-foot fitness facility, indoor track, enough exercise equipment to make Jack LaLanne jealous, and a full array of classes for kids and adults. It's enough to actually make you want to work out. Seriously.
28955 Hilliard Blvd., Westlake, 440-808-5700, cityofwestlake.org/recreation/reccenter.aspx
Staff Pick: Cleveland Heights Community Center
Best Local Sports Tradition
If the Browns played football as well as Browns fans tailgate, they'd win the Super Bowl every year. The Muni Lot is ground zero for every smoked, grilled, canned, bottled, bonged, funneled, or dipped parking lot delicacy, all served amid a stable of rabid Browns fans arriving in custom-made Browns buses, trucks, vans, and cars. It's fun, it's raucous, and clearly, it's the best part of every football Sunday.
Staff Pick: Tailgating
Best Batting Cages & Best Mini Golf
Batting cages are an endangered breed these days, and those that remain tend to be fancy indoor setups focused on using technology to make little Johnny the next Albert Pujols. Thankfully, Swings-n-Things is still around for the rest of us. Because not only do they still offer the old-fashioned outdoor batting cages with clunky helmets and yellow balls, but they also specialize in putt-putt ... and ice cream ... and arcade games ... and go-karts. It's an easy one-stop date night, weekend outing with the kids, or an outlet for all that stress at work.
8501 Stearns Rd., Olmsted Township, 440-235-4420, sntfun.com
Staff Picks: Best Mini Golf: Swings-n-Things; Best Batting Cages: Fielder's Choice
Best Place for Birdwatching
From meadow nesters to woodland migrants and waterfowl, the Arboretum has it all. There are 13 trails ranging from easy to rugged winding through different habitats — and spring is the perfect time to catch a flurry of feathered activity. For beginners, there are early morning bird walks with the Cleveland Audubon Society through April and May, and year-round classes on everything from sorting out birdsongs to building birdhouses are bound to get your inner-ornithologist chirping. The website features an up-to-date list of bird bios for the winged creatures currently frequenting the Arboretum.
9500 Sperry Rd., Kirtland,
Staff Pick: Cuyahoga Valley National Park
The Wine and Gold are in the midst of a rebuilding project centered around Kyrie Irving and a bunch of youngsters, so who better than a guy with gravitas and a bunch of NBA championship rings — and a former Coach of the Year nod (Hornets, 2008) — to serve as their shepherd. Byron Scott made the most of every drop of his talent as a point guard with the Lakers, and he's doing the same thing with the Cavs' roster. Bonus: Unlike a certain similarly bald former Cavs coach, Scott actually knows how to draw up an offense.
Staff Pick: Byron Scott
Best Roller Coaster
There are newer stomach-churning rides at Cedar Point, but Millennium Force remains thrill-seekers' favorite beast. Even though it recently passed its 10th birthday, Millennium Force hasn't finished lower than second in the amusement park industry's annual coaster rankings — and daily riders by the thousands agree. That's what happens when you churn guests up 310 feet in the sky and fling them around at 93 mph. Really, who wouldn't love that?
Staff Pick: The Mean Streak
Best Inn, B&B, or Guest House
An historic escape in the heart of Cleveland's most regal neighborhood, Glidden House is the place you want to be when you can be wherever you want for a night. A 1910 brick mansion at the center of University Circle, the inn devotes its days to pampering guests visiting Case Western Reserve and other walkable institutions — but it also excels in special-occasion package deals and weddings, complete with an abundance of striking locales for photography. Not to be missed on your next visit: a meal at Sergio's, the European-style restaurant that makes its home in the former Glidden carriage house.
1901 Ford Dr., 216-231-8900, gliddenhouse.com
Staff Pick: Glidden House
Best Playground for Grown-Ups
Dave & Buster's
Sometimes you simply need to race a car or shoot some vampires or smash some rodent heads, no matter how old you are. Which is why we praise Dave & Busters, our virtual heaven on earth. The Westlake destination boasts the whole arcade game lineup all under one massive roof, plus surprisingly good food — and booze, which makes everything better. Bring the kids if you want, but we won't tell if you leave 'em at home.
25735 First St., Westlake,
Staff Pick: The Boneyard
Best Playground for Kids
Who knew the best playground in Northeast Ohio sits out in Brunswick amid an apple orchard, a newly relaunched restaurant, and a bakery? Well, plenty of parents, it turns out. Mapleside built its kiddie mecca with the usual amenities, but took the playground game to a new level with a 70-foot jumping pillow. Yes, you read that right. Basically it's like a gigantic trampoline, but safer. There's also a gigantic spider web for your tyke-sized arachnoid girls and boys. That's if they ever get off the pillow.
294 Pearl Rd., Brunswick,
Staff Pick: The Children's Garden at Cleveland Botanical Garden
Best Place for (Legal) Gambling
The shiny new casino debuts in May, but even after the doors to Dan Gilbert's palace open, Thistledown will still own one crucial draw the Horseshoe can't offer: actual horses. Oh, and sunshine, which is slightly more inviting than sitting in a sterile room surrounded by incessant lights and bells. Nothing beats an afternoon outside spent plunking down a few bucks on the ponies. All the better if you hit that trifecta, but not so bad even if you don't.
21501 Emery Rd., North Randall, 216-662-8600,
Staff Pick: Nautica Charity Poker
Best Reason Next Year Will Be Our Year
Cleveland's fond of pinning its sporting hopes and dreams on the jerseys of kids barely old enough to drink, and this time it's no different. Except this kid actually can't drink yet. Kyrie Irving looks to be every bit of the superstar the Cavaliers need to climb back to the NBA Finals, and if anyone can throw off the weight of Cleveland's epic championship drought, it's the young man from Duke.
Staff Pick: It's Gotta Be One of These Years
Best Amusement Park
As long as there will be a Best Amusement Park category to win, there will be only one winner — here in Northeast Ohio and across the entire country. Who, after all, could vote against one of the premier parks in all the world, with its 17 roller coasters and untold hundreds of other means of delivering the fun every summer? And Cedar Point never rests on its laurels, adding new rides year after year and dreaming up new ways to make you scream.
One Cedar Point Dr., Sandusky,
Staff Pick: Cedar Point
Best Reason to Be a Cleveland Sports Fan
There's Always Next Year
Cleveland will watch another year come and go without a championship, but we'll always come back for more. Our strength is in our resilience and loyalty, even when our teams don't deserve 'em. We're not bandwagoners, we don't wear pink hats, we don't call ourselves a "nation." We just show up for every game and cheer and boo, because that's our cross to bear, our half of the bargain. Now if only the guys in the jerseys held up their end.
Staff Pick: We're Loyal Yet Not Obnoxious