GoNOMAD DESTINATION MINI GUIDE: Little Havana, Miami
By Monk Media
Updated by Sarah Cavicchi
A cultural hub created by Cuban immigrants, Little Havana, Miami is the next best thing to sneaking into Cuba. Practice your Spanish, drink café con leche, buy Santeria candles and view quirky architecture painted tropical colors. It’s a lively urban scene, by day or night.
WHEN TO GO?
Unless you want to melt to the sidewalk, visit when the sun is low on the horizon — November through April — when it’s generally sunny, in the 70’s or 80’s. This allows you to avoid the rainy hurricane season.
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
The easiest way into Miami is to fly into Miami International airport. From there you have lots of transportation options. You could rent a car or take a cab. Little Havana basically runs down SW 8th Street (“Calle Ocho”) between 12th and 17th Avenues, south and west of downtown.
Or you could be a bit more adventurous and take public transit. There’s always the Metro Rail, but that will only get you as far as Brickell Station. You can catch the number 6 bus from Miami center which will take you past Brickell and right through SW 8 Ave and W Flager Street. Helpful hint: avenues run north to south, streets from east to west.
Little Havana is becoming a magnet for the young, the hip, the artistic. The last Friday evening of every month is “Viernes Culturales,” with multiple venues of open artist studios, and a shuttle bus between the sites. The restaurants along Calle Ocho are all hopping, with music spilling onto the street. An outdoor, live music stage can be found next to the recently Miami Dade College acquired local landmark, Tower Theater.
Maximo Gomez Park, or rather Domino Park as it’s known locally, is one of the main meeting places in Little Havana. Daily, Cuban locals, mainly men, gather to play intensely heated tournaments of dominoes and chess. Trash talking retirees mixed with the intense flurry of clacking domino pieces on the board can be quite a sight to behold.
El Credito Cigar Factory (1100 SW 8th Street) welcomes both the cigar aficionado and the novice to the oldest cigar factory in the United States. Tours run monday through friday, giving you the chance to watch their artisans hand roll cigars. Or you can smoke one of their signature brands in lounge chairs.
MOST UNUSUAL ATTRACTION
The (former) home of Elian Gonzales (2319 NW 2nd Street), is a ten minute walk from the center of Little Havana. The house is no longer occupied by the Gonzalez family, but the area in front of the house and along its fence is an evolving and improvised shrine to the young Cuban boy.
Flamenco Nights (Tuesdays and Thursdays) at Casa Panza. Located smack dab in the center of things, on Calle Ocho at 16th Avenue (Tel: 305-643-5343). Dancing, guitars, mojitos and more. Officially starts at 8:30 PM, but really heats up later.
Calle Ocho Festival The main drag is host to a week long festival every year in March, celebrating Hispanic Culture in the traditional Latin street festival style. 24 blocks of Little Havana are closed off to traffic to make way for the celebration. There’s dancing, food and drink, and up to 30 stages set up with live entertainment. In 1988, this was the site of the world’s longest Conga line, still in the Guinness Book of World records today!
This contemporary boutique accommodation is located in Brickell, the financial district, a heartbeat away from Little Havana. Sleek and modern decor covered with a beachy color aesthetic reflects just the right type of urban feel for Miami. Because of it’s distance from the South Beach area, rates remain affordable, especially for a four star hotel.
The Miami River Inn
A gated oasis, a short drive east on Calle Ocho toward downtown Miami. A series of four renovated historic houses, with gardens and a swimming pool, sit nestled on the west side of the Miami River. You get a glimpse of the water from some of the third floor rooms. It’s like a little piece of Key West in the city.
La Camaronera (1952 W Flager Street) is a family owned Cuban style seafood joint that doubles as the local fresh fish market. Try the Minuta sandwhich – deep fried yellow tail snapper, complete with tail attached according to the butterfly style cut, on a Cuban bun with onions and ketchup. The Bollitos de Carrita, that is black-eye pea fritters are also a popular concoction. Authentic Cuban flavor, affordable prices, and they even let you pick out your cut of fish!
Another excellent bargain for the discriminating palate is El Atlacatl, at SW 17th Ave, serving foods of El Salvador. Not to be missed are the pupusas — cornmeal pancakes filled with cheese, served with a side of pickled cabbage and a piquant red salsa. There’s a different soup featured each day of the week. If you’re lucky enough to catch the shellfish soup, it’s an extra special treat.
OTHER IMPORTANT THINGS
Consider a detour north to Little Haiti.