Best of Cleveland 2011: Sports & Recreation

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Best Place for Mountain Biking

Ohio & Erie Canal Reservation

The only sanctioned, public, outdoor mountain bike trail in Cuyahoga and Summit counties winds a two-mile route through Cleveland Metroparks' Ohio & Erie Canal Reservation, with a trail head outside the CanalWay Center. The short loop of about half a mile is perfect for newbies; the longer loop has some steep terrain and sharp curves, making it best for experienced riders. Just remember: The trail is closed from January until May, due to wet conditions.

Entrance off East 49th St., Cuyahoga Heights; 216-206-1000;

Best Batting Cages

Swings N Things Family Fun Park

The largest batting cages in Ohio are also the most versatile: Swings N Things boasts 15 pitching machines — all sheltered from the elements — that hurl the horsehide at speeds ranging from slow-pitch softball to 80 mph baseball. Plus, all-day and all-season passes keep the pitches coming for less.

8501 Stearns Rd., Olmsted Township; 440-235-4420;

Best Place for (Legal) Gaming

Charity Poker in the Flats

While all of Cleveland holds its breath for downtown casino gaming, it's been game-on for years at the Nautica Charity Poker Festivals in the Flats. Long held in the Powerhouse, the action moved recently to nearby Elm Street as the West Bank makes way for a new aquarium. Each festival benefits any of a long list of charities, from local schools, to arts and sports groups, to recovery resources. A comprehensive online schedule shows you exactly which cause you're aiding on any given night — though your own wallet is as good a cause as any.

2249 Elm St.;

Best Mini Golf

Swings N Things Family Fun Park

The region's fickle weather patterns tend to take their toll on our miniature golf courses. No such problems at this Olmsted Township bastion of good times: The twin 18-hole courses at Swings N Things each play like a stroll through a miniature Disneyland. There's a 35-foot castle and waterfalls and fountains aplenty — plus impeccable putting greens for when your fun takes a competitive turn.

8501 Stearns Rd., Olmsted Township; 440-235-4420;

Best Reason Next Year Will Be Our Year

Colt McCoy

His stats don't exactly elicit fantasy-stud drool: In eight games of his rookie season, Colt McCoy threw more interceptions (9) than touchdown passes (6). But there's plenty to like about the young Texan, who never knew how to lose before he reached the NFL, but passed his crash-course in hard luck with flying colors. The tingly new feeling for Browns fans is that sense that finally there might not be a traditional quarterback battle leading up to the new season. Browns brass have said Colt is their guy; now please excuse them while they address a few dozen uglier roster concerns. So far, Mike Holmgren gets a pass on stuff like this: If a Super Bowl-winning boss says McCoy's good enough for him, he's good enough for the rest of us too.

Best Skate Park

Lakewood Skatepark

Years of planning and occasional controversy paid off in the completion of Phase 1 in early 2005, and Lakewood's reputation as the region's top spot for grinding has proliferated ever since. Tucked into a corner of beautiful, sprawling Lakewood Park, the grounds consist of a series of ramps and obstacles favored by skaters from points east to west. The park also serves as a symbolic ground zero for the Lakewood Skaters Association, a vibrant movement dedicated to promoting the sport and erasing the negative connotations that often accompany it. They're also instrumental in raising the $80K needed to build the long-awaited Phase 2 bowl.

At Belle and Lake Aves., Lakewood; 216-272-8603;

Best Amusement Park

Cedar Point

As long as there will be a Best Amusement Park category, it seems likely there will be only one winner. 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? What Cedar Point gets less credit for is its constant dedication to upping the ante. This year it's outdone itself with Windseeker, an outrageous sort of sideways Ferris wheel that might put a welcome dent in the lines at Top Thrill Dragster and Millennium Force. But nothing, it seems, can dent that line of thrilled guests streaming in and out of the park each day.

One Cedar Point Dr., Sandusky;


Best Place for a Sweaty Date

B Side Liquor Lounge

Take a cement-walled basement bar, throw in local and touring DJs spinning everything from dub tracks to golden oldies, add a lot of ever-so-tasteful facial hair, and you've got the B Side. Boasting a hearty dose of street cred among Cleveland's young and hip, the Coventry bar is packed seven days a week. Already found the club-hopper of your dreams? The B Side also offers a unique menu of options for couples: Cuddle up on the couches, sip Pabst at the bar, or press the flesh on the packed and laser-tinged dance floor.

2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., Cleveland Heights; 216-932-1966;

Best Place for Downhill Skiing

Brandywine Ski Resort

It ain't Aspen, and that's okay with us: Brandywine Ski Resort has been attracting local skiers and snowboarders for decades, with easy access, a beautiful setting, and prices that won't empty your wallet. Featuring 10 challenging trails, freestyle terrain, and special areas set aside for snow tubing, it's a family-friendly destination where snow bunnies and Shaun White wannabes alike can show their stuff.

1146 West Highland Rd., Northfield; 330-467-8198;

Best Golf Course

Big Met

The folks at Big Met claim theirs is the most-played golf course in Ohio, and we see no reason why it wouldn't be. Situated in the heart of the Cleveland Metroparks' Rocky River Reservation, Big Met is a gorgeous blend of rolling hills, lush woodland, and wide-open spaces — the perfect course for all of us who've long since cast aside our PGA dreams but never our love of the game. And how do you know that Big Met is a singularly Northeast Ohio pleasure? Because 18 holes here still won't set you back so much as 30 bucks.

4811 Valley Parkway, Fairview Park; 440-331-1070;