Best Place to People-Watch

The Balcony of Draft Station
60 E San Francisco St., 983-6443

Maybe it's my natural curiosity, my desire to understand human behavior or simply the fact that I'm socially awkward, but I love to people-watch. And I'm certain that most people do too. The popularity of social media, I think, backs up this point. When I'm in the mood for leisurely local voyeurism, I like to head down to Draft Station and perch myself on their balcony. As with most things (dare I say all?), people-watching is better with beer, and Draft Station offers the best in local brews. The balcony itself is pleasant: Overlooking the southern side of the Plaza, just off the corner of San Francisco and Lincoln, you can enjoy—day or night—the pedestrian traffic. From tourists to Plaza regulars, there's much to be seen. So take a break from your virtual spying, channel your inner LB Jeffries and enjoy the view. (NA)

Best place for a stay-at-home dad to suck in his gut

City of Santa Fe Bicentennial Pool
1121 Alto St., 955-4779

The city's only outdoor pool, this chlorinated oasis is a top destination for me and my infant son, particularly on weekdays during off-hours when the crowds are smaller. We gave up on the Genoveva Chavez Community Center's indoor leisure pool after summer commenced and we kept getting denied because of max occupancy. Admission to Bicentennial Pool is also very affordable, $1 for children up to age 10, $2 for 11 to 17 and $3 for adults. For the young and single looking to catch a tan and a venereal disease in a Las Vegas poolside dayclub, this is not your scene. But the Bicentennial Pool offers plenty of sun, cool water, green grass, a slide, a tot pool and enough moms in bathing suits to make a potbellied dad straighten his posture. (TEL)

Best place where female objectification is still a thing

Thomas Ragan
Thomas Ragan | Thomas Ragan

2841 Cerrillos Road, 473-5259

Another great place because it's the only place in town is Cheeks, an, ahem, so-called Gentleman's Club. And it might be the last. Per city ordinance in 2009, there shall never be another strip club located inside city limits, so get it while you can, folks, before owner Elmo Montoya sells it (although that doesn't look to be in the cards anytime soon). Cheeks is a great place to unwind after a hard day's work, or even celebrate a birthday or bachelor's party. For $40, if you're the groom or birthday boy, you can get your own Cheeks T-shirt, but most importantly you'll be put on stage and become the center of attention, however fleeting. Girls will give you free dances while your buddies egg you on. And if you don't have the money to burn, it can be just a great neighborhood bar away from downtown, notes bartender Andrea Gonzales. She'll make you a $3 house margarita. Or if you prefer beer, that's only $3 too. Bring your umbrella, the forecast here calls for nightly showers. (TR)

Best Place (That’s Not Cheeks) to Spend a Wad of Singles

Julie Ann Grimm
Julie Ann Grimm | Julie Ann Grimm

Santa Fe Fuego Game, Fort Marcy Park
329 Garfield St., 820-7827

Fans of Santa Fe's team in the Pecos Baseball League already know this secret. But as the season draws to a close, there's still time for newbies to get in on the action. Picture yourself seated on the wide, comfy concrete grandstand at Mager's Field at Fort Marcy Park, looking out over the very same turf that's elbow-to-elbow with spectators for the annual burning of Zozobra. Only this time, the field is dotted with uniformed players. Ours is the red team, their hats emblazoned with the fiery logo that represents the Santa Fe Fuego. Since the players earn only a paltry sum for their efforts and spend the summer sleeping in dens and spare bedrooms in fans' homes when they aren't on the road, the ritual of passing the hat is one that they appreciate. Whether it's for a home run or seven shutout innings by the pitcher, throw in your dollar. Better yet, make it two. (JAG)

Best Road to Confuse Non-Santa Feans

Paseo de Peralta

Not always the easiest city to navigate, Santa Fe confounds people traversing its streets for the first time. Where is the logic? It's as if King Minos was the original city planner. The most labyrinthine road for an out-of-towner is Paseo de Peralta. We begin at an intersection with St. Francis and go east. The road twists and turns, but many roads do. The road then takes a 90-degree turn, and we go north. Okay, something new. Now we're going west? Here we are, passing the DeVargas Center, only to end up at…St. Francis? It feels as if Paseo has a life of its own, going where it wants. But once it's understood that Paseo is a loop, it takes on a charming and useful quality that not many roads have. However useful, the grid systems of newer cities can feel impersonal; these roads have personality, dammit! No matter how illogical. (NA)

On a Related Note, Best Place to Use Your Turn Signal

Every Fucking Time you Turn

It is a perplexing fact of humanity that it can invent the automobile and then lack the ability to operate it. Like cars, the roadway is a feat of great proportions: Few things, when the rules of traffic are followed, showcase the full potential of human civilization, and yet few things do so much to drive us absolutely insane. Like, say, when fellow drivers don't use their turn signals. Am I supposed to read your mind? It's more than a simple courtesy, it's an act of communication that allows the system to run efficiently. The New Mexico Driver's Manual states, "Signaling gives other drivers time to react to your moves. You should use your turn signals before you change lanes, turn right or left, merge into traffic or park." Please, let people know what you're doing. And don't even get me started on double yellow lines. (NA)

Best Place to View Urban Wildlife

St. Francis Drive and Cerrillos Road

Although the original depiction of St. Francis of Assisi featured the saint holding a skull (representing his work with leper colonies), more modern renderings of Santa Fe's namesake monk depict him with animals. A fuzzy, feel-good version of this can be seen in front of City Hall, where a prairie dog sits at his feet, facing Francis in conversation. It's no wonder, then, that our city has a long love of those critters. City laws even say you've got to humanely relocate a colony if it's living where you want to build. As urban development encroaches on their habitat, Santa Fe's prairie dogs have been marginalized, but they're still hanging in. See a great example at the corner of St. Francis Drive and Cerrillos Road. Roll down the window and listen to their chatter while you wait at the light, or ride by slowly on your bike and get a glimpse of their complicated social structure. (JAG)

Best Place to Soak up AC and Pretend You Are Home

Violet Crown
1606 Alcaldesa St., 216-5678

The gaping hole in the Santa Fe Railyard finally became a thing this year, when the long-envisioned cinema opened in May on the city-owned land, bringing a whole new kind of moviegoing experience to the City Different. While many are enjoying the perk that they no longer have to sneak a cocktail into the theater in their purses, but can instead buy cold beer on tap and drink from a pint glass in a right-sized cup holder, the other big attraction in these extra comfortable theaters are the front row seats. The reservation system lets you choose seats ahead of time when you buy tickets online or in the lobby, and choosing the front row means each leatherish armchair also comes with a rolling ottoman. Plus, no more stumbling through the dark to find your friends when you show up late. They'll be right where the tickets say they are. (JAG)

Best Place to Pretend You’re a Guest Star on an Episode of Wings

Elizabeth Miller
Elizabeth Miller | Elizabeth Miller

Santa Fe Municipal Airport
121 Aviation Drive, 955-2903

If you visit the Santa Fe Airport more than once or twice, it could easily become the place where everybody knows your name. Not that that means they'll stop sending you through the one metal detector, of course. But the single row of desks for airline check-in, the solo security line and, upon arrival, the one conveyor for luggage give the airport the kind of feel a savvy real estate agent would label as "cozy." Drop into the Santa Fe Airport Grill, and you'll be treated to all the Coke products and snack foods you need; just pull up a seat at a vinyl booth, crack open a magazine from the racks and admire the movie posters for classics like El Recuerdo and En La Palma de tu Mano. (EM)

Best Place to Chug a Mad Mini

Anson Stevens-Bollen
Anson Stevens-Bollen | Anson Stevens-Bollen

Anywhere. But soon

It's a tie between the downtown bus depot and in front of the Allsup's on Agua Fría Street. But do it now, because the city has already outlawed the sale of these single-serving, to-go booze containers along Airport Road, and the law oozes into the whole municipal area in October. A runner-up for this category is also "Best Threatened Lawsuit." While liquor retailers and a couple of lawyers beat their chests when the City Council banned the tiny bottle, their threats to fight the law in court before it kicks in have so far been empty. It's empty bottles, though, that officials say are the real problem. Look in any major thoroughfare median, in the weeds along neighborhood entrances and along the edge of every arroyo and the Santa Fe River, and you'll spot the litter. Apparently once you drink the shot, your ability to find a trashcan diminishes rapidly. (JAG)

Best Noncongruent Strip Mall

The one at 2101 Cerrillos Road

It houses Book Mountain Used Paperback Exchange, Romero's Tattoo, Sierra Trophies and Sports Outlet (selling T-shirts, trophies and athletic uniforms), Healthy & Energetic (an Herbalife outlet selling shakes and teas), H&R Block (for taxes and notary public services) and O'Reilly Auto Parts. If necessity is the mother of strange bedfellows, we're going to guess the needs that drove the shops to share the strip mall at Cerrillos and Apache had more to do with real estate and a large parking lot all their own than it did the neighborhood's regular to-do list. Though perhaps you know someone who likes to pair their Herbalife pickups with a new tattoo and some tax paperwork or purchase a new oil filter and Little League uniform in the same go. And while you're at it, grab a used paperback. No, but really. Get a used paperback from the guys at Book Mountain. They're everything a used bookstore needs to be. (EM)

Elizabeth Miller
Elizabeth Miller | Elizabeth Miller

Best Place to Read a Complete Novel while Waiting in Line

US Post Office

First, for you kids, the post office is a place where one can affix tiny stickers to paper envelopes and send them through a magical delivery system that avoids iEverything. People send packages to each other containing gifts for birthdays and holidays. Row after row of metal boxes may be rented to receive these objects. Now, for the experts: Let's face it, the US Post Office on Pacheco Street has notoriously long lines that challenge even the most jovial believer in the mañana philosophy. We don't blame you, overworked postal staff. And the men and women down on Federal Place are slammed most of the time. (Good God! Stay away during the lunch hour.) But if you really want a chill, fast experience, we recommend the location at Santa Fe Place. Maybe it's the slow death of the Southside's former Villa Linda Mall that makes it this way. But we hear the mall is making a comeback. (JAG)

Best Spot to Practice for the Zombie Apocalypse

BLM's Camel Tracks

Julie Ann Grimm
Julie Ann Grimm | Julie Ann Grimm

There's no sign that tells you what everyone knows the name of this place is. In a town where some things are on a need-to-know basis, you'll need to know more than how to get here if and when the zombies arrive. The federal Bureau of Land Management has jurisdiction over the large shooting range west of the Santa Fe Airport, off County Road 56C. While there is a sign that reminds shooters to pick up shell casings, apparently most people can't read. The drive-up dugouts offer a free, relatively safe place to practice with pistols, shotguns and rifles. While shooting at flying fluorescent disks of skeet is a skill that will come in handy during the aforementioned apocalypse, apparently it's also fun to blow up cardboard boxes, mattresses and other junk. If you go here, don't be an idiot. Maybe you should just stay home with the video game. (JAG)

Best Bankable Coffee Shop Decorations

Holy Spirit Espresso
225 W San Francisco St., 920-3364

There is an ATM next to Holy Spirit Espresso, and as it is an unusually big ATM, it serves as a nice comparison for the size of the coffee shop. With barely enough room for more than two people to stand inside, Holy Spirit is certainly cozy. It also serves some of the best, smoothest [insert praising adjective here] coffee you'll ever have. While you're waiting for your coffee, you'll have no shortage of artifacts to ponder. Decorated in a way that makes you feel at home, Holy Spirit is adorned with an eclectic mix of things: A collection of foreign currency hangs from the ceiling, a map of the United States serves as the background for bandana-clad barista Bill Deutsch and there are postcards, miscellaneous pictures and scrunchies(!). It feels like, and most likely is, the result of adding items to the mix throughout the years. It's the antithesis of chain coffee shops which, despite their size, more often resemble the uniformity of ATMs. (NA)

Best Parking Lot to Make You Lose All Faith in Humanity

Trader Joe's parking lot. Try it and you'll see

Anson Stevens-Bollen
Anson Stevens-Bollen | Anson Stevens-Bollen

If Sartre were alive today, he wouldn't declare that hell is other people, he'd say hell is other drivers. He might even point a finger specifically to those who seem to be interminably circling the Trader Joe's parking lot, pausing without cause and making sudden exits from parking spaces—which have already been staked out by some other driver's blinking turn signal, of course—without seeming to check their mirrors. We'd graduate the award from hell to purgatory if Trader Joe's would add a coffee counter, a tiny paradise to reward the tribulations it takes to get there. (EM)

Best Place to Get Your Weed(s) Removed

Invasive species removal volunteer programs run by the Botanical Gardens and YouthWorks

For the entry price of gloves, a sharp shovel or spade and water, volunteers sprang to action this summer to fight back against an unwanted occupant of the Leonara Curtin Wetland Preserve: invasive weeds. The Santa Fe Botanical Gardens led the effort to protect the rare cienega, or marsh, and its diverse native plant life and wildlife habitats. Arroyo erosion often leaves riverbanks open to opportunistic invasive species. YouthWorks also partners with the city to get teenagers involved in river restoration work, including ripping up a few weeds, a healthy alternative to some of the other habits teenagers at times pick up with plant-based items. (EM)

Best Group of Folks Making a Difference

1 Santa Fe

Southside neighborhoods have been a little bit like the land that time (or at least services) forgot. Big housing complexes sprang up. People had no nearby choices to purchase food, or check out library books, or see a doctor. Grassroots organization 1SantaFe has been biting back against that trend, combatting the so-called food desert in the neighborhood by campaigning to bring the Farmers Market to the area (and now increase its frequency) and reviving Feeding Santa Fe's food distribution program at Zona del Sol. They've also hosted clean-up events on Cerrillos and Airport roads, seen the ribbon cut on a new health clinic and generally presented a unified front to City Council, asking that the area be home to more than all the multifamily housing no other neighborhood seems to want. (EM)

Best Themed Motel

Silver Saddle
2810 Cerrillos Road, 471-7663

As far as motels go, you can't get any better than the Silver Saddle. The rooms may not be huge, but they're designed around individual cowboy themes, with information about Willie Nelson, Billy the Kidd and Calamity Jane, framed and hung on the walls. What's more, all of the rooms were recently upgraded with new carpeting. Dawn Aley and mother Penny run the place, which Penny bought in the late 1970s. They like to describe it as "an affordable vintage '50s throwback" or "a kitschy vintage budget motel." Yeah, that sounds about right. (TR)

Best Mobile Billboard

Micah Ortega
Second Glance Promotions, 819-1484

There's no doubt you've seen him. Maybe he was in his "Good Neighbear" suit, or sporting a green hat and lederhosen outside of the Swiss Bistro, or maybe you've seen him as the masked luchador at Whoo's Donuts. If you have seen him, chances are you wouldn't have forgotten. In the monotony of our everyday lives, Micah Ortega does his best to provide us with moments that are memorable. "You remember what touches your heart," says Ortega, whose marketing philosophy is to make connections with people as humans, not as customers. "If people's hearts are happy," he says, "they're gonna come in to the store." In a world where we're constantly being bombarded by advertisements, where our value lays in the depths of our disposable income, Ortega brings a warm color to the often-cold approach of advertising. And behind these characters is an enthusiastic and reflective man. "Life," he says, "is about acknowledging each other's existence; it's about touching others and being touched." (NA)

Best Life Advice

Ardry Adams

Enrique Limon
Enrique Limon | Enrique Limon

There's an added bonus to parking in the lot behind La Casa Sena on Nusbaum Street, and that is 21-year vet on the lot Ardry Adams' advice. Few words need to be exchanged to get in and out, he just looks at your tire tread and knows the score. But if you just ask, he'll provide a wealth of Ann Landers-quality advice. "Oh shit!" he says as he sees me pull out the voice recorder. The following is a transcription of our quick-hit convo:

On women:
"The truth? Can I tell you what they told me? Let 'em have their way."

On career choices:
"They all cliché. Like what you do, my coach always told me that. He said the worst thing in the world was for a man to go to a job that he hated."

On lifelong friendships and how to achieve them:
"That's as old as you and I. Treat people that way you wanna be treated."

Red vs. green chile:
"Green is more friendly to me, yeah. I like green."

On Pets:
"Wow. If I was gonna have a pet? A wolverine. 'Cause they like otters on steroids. Mm-hmm."

On the rat race of life:
"Like Too Short said, 'Get in where you fit in.'" (EL)

Best Form of Flattery

Faking It

From burrito joints to barbershops, nail salons to auto dealers, Best of Santa Fe banners proudly hang in windows and on walls all over the city. We are flattered when business owners put so much value on our annual readers poll. But you know what they say about imitation: It's the best form of flattery. And lately, imitators abound. Around the Marcy Street headquarters, SFR staffers took to calling this one "Best of Scamta Fe" after it surfaced a few years ago. Somewhere out there, someone is sitting behind a computer, parroting our long-running effort by selling cheap plaques to retailers through an anonymous email. We see you, and we're calling you out! Every year, SFR gathers votes in more than 100 categories to grant what we call our Readers Choice Awards (see page 61). If you're contacted about Best of Santa Fe by anyone whose email doesn't end with, don't take the bait. (JAG)