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    Little Havana Miami: what to see along the historic Calle Ocho

    Who I am
    Martí Micolau
    @martímicolau
    SOURCES CONSULTED:

    wikipedia.org, lonelyplanet.com

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    Coming from Marco Island and Naples on the western shore of Florida overlooking the Gulf of Mexico and after crossing the Everglades, we are now about 350 kilometers from the island of Cuba along US41 towards the Miami neighborhood called Little Havana or even Pequena Habana as defined by the Latin population who live there and the Hispanics who frequent it.

    And yes, because as the name clearly shows, this area of ​​about nine square kilometers is mainly inhabited by Cubans but also by Latins from other nations in Central and South America: Nicaraguans (growing), Mexicans, Dominicans, Colombians and Venezuelans. The neighborhood, which is about 10 minutes east of downtown Miami, is roughly bordered by SW 37th Ave., SW 4th Ave., NW 20th St., and SW 16th St. if East Little Havana is also considered.



    Index

    • The origins of Little Havana
    • How to reach the neighborhood and where to park
    • What to see in Little Havana
    • Tour di Little Havana
    • Where to shop
    • The events in the neighborhood
    • Where to eat in Little Havana
    • Where to sleep in Little Havana

    The origins of Little Havana

    But why did so many Cubans emigrate to this metropolis in the most disparate ways: legally, as political refugees or by "sideways"? It all started with the Cuban revolution (1953-1959) against Batista and dissatisfaction with the settlement of Castro but subsequently there were further migrations related to politics and economic problems.

    Here in Little Havana the memory of the motherland, also transferred to the new generations, is indelible; it is experienced with a great emotional charge and by visiting it it is perceived well. Although it is a safe area, it is still advisable not to explore the more peripheral areas of the neighborhood late at night, especially in the East Little Havana area.



    How to reach the neighborhood and where to park

    Little Havana can be reached via bus (for example from downtown, in about 30 minutes and from the city airport in about 45 minutes) however, as we have already recommended (see our article on how to get around Miami), the best way is by car. Along Calle Ocho you will find some paid parking lots that will prove to be ideal for getting around the neighborhood. For the exact point where to start looking for a parking space, read the next paragraph on what to see in the neighborhood.

    As for the distances, keep in mind that in about 15 minutes you will be more or less able to cover the distance from the other important districts of Miami (except South Beach, which, depending on the traffic, could take you a good half hour to travel. ).

    To better orient yourself, I refer you to our specific guide on how to rent a car in Miami.

    What to see in Little Havana

    Coming from the West we travel along the long main artery Eighth Street (also SW 8th Street, US41 or Tamiami Trail) and as soon as we see the famous murales in Little Havana (to reach it put the address 2614 SW 8th St on the navigator) which welcomes us with the Cuban symbols of coffee, dominoes, dance and the flag, we are tempted to look for parking to start exploring the neighborhood ... however we gave up because the area for about 1 mile it is still quite anonymous.


    Slowly, however, we realize that the neighborhood begins to come alive so we leave the car in the spaces regulated by a parking meter and begin our real exploration on foot.

    There are many things that quickly leap to our eyes, starting with the numerous graffiti on the walls, the brick sidewalks and the Eighth Street Walk of Fame (SW 8th St. between 12th & 17th Ave.), the local Latin answer to the stars of the original Hollywood version; in this Walk of the Stars, since 1988, the artistic greatness of famous characters has been celebrated such as the Cuban Celia Cruz, salsa singer, Gloria Estefan, Cuban naturalized American singer-actress and Julio Iglesias, the famous Spanish singer.


    Then we see bilingual signs, names of businesses and clubs in espanol. Feeling greeted with hola or buenas dias is a pleasure and a "holiday" but here it is normal since for a large part of the population this is the mother tongue or is spoken in the family. Colors and sounds envelop us as we pass in front of walls with more or less bright colors, an infinity of works by art street (even the garbage cans are works of art), to clubs with open doors that play music, to the typical cigar shops, to the barber shops and to the characteristic bars where we try a cup of cafecito, the Cuban coffee, differently from ours espresso, incorporates the sugar together with the coffee blend at the time of preparation.

    There is no doubt: Little Havana exudes joy, will to live and from sunset onwards the atmosphere becomes even more charged. One of the best known locations on this street, both for locals and visitors, is the Domino Park (Cale Ocho & SW 15th Ave.) also called Maximo Gomez Park, an area established in 1978 that invites us to take a walk and observe many Cubans, especially the seniors, concentrated here to chat, discuss politics and motherland playing dominoes (also chess or checkers) under the roof and with an inevitable cup of coffee. Here too, as in Cuba, dominoes are the national game, which is why in the park there is a club dedicated to it, the Circulo de Santiago de Cuba.


    Half a block west of the park, the art deco blue and white building Tower theater (1508 SW 8th St.) draws our attention. They explain that it is the only cinema that years ago showed English films with Spanish subtitles; today it is the only cinema in Miami dedicated exclusively to foreign films.


    Along SW 8th Street they are gorgeous murals, for example “Heroes of Cuba” at the corner of fame (first here was the Guardabarranco Cafeteria), which depicts characters who have made history such as Jose Marti and Ruben Dario. And again on the subject of masonry works along Calle Ocho, the iron inscription “I love you Miami” represents gratitude for the city that welcomes this community. Not far from the sidewalk we find ourselves face to face with giant and colorful reproductions of roosters, for example near El Pub Restaurant (1548 SW 8th St.) and La Carreta Restaurant (3632 SW 8th St.).

     

    Il Cuban Memorial Plaza (just off 13th St. towards Calle Ocho) is an example of the bond with Cuba created to honor the pain endured by those who have fled their homeland in search of a better life. The bust of Josè Marti (SW 8th St. & SW 13th Ave.) is the tribute to the man, the politician, writer and leader, hero of the independence movement, and then we find statues depicting the Virgin Mary, a low wall with a relief of the map of Cuba and a monument commemorating the Cuban war of independence from Spain in the 800th century.

    Il Memorial Boulevard it runs parallel to SW 13th Street and crosses Calle Ocho. It is another important point of Little Havana in memory of those who left Cuba due to the Castro regime. Along the way there are statues dedicated to the heroes who fought for the liberation of their homeland and, at the intersection of Memorial Boulevard with SW 13th Street, the flame of theEternal Torch linked to the failed attempt to bring down the Cuban dictatorship of Castro, the so-called invasion of the "Bay of Pigs" which took place in 1961 (see also the Bay of Pigs Museum al 1821 di SW 9th St.)

    Tour di Little Havana

    Los Pinarenos Fruit Shop

    Those interested in learning more can allocate some of the time available to the Two-hour introductory tour of Little Havana, a pleasant guided cultural walk where the main points to visit are concentrated. The Little Havana Food Walking Tour which combines the beauties of the neighborhood with the culinary ones. Speaking of these activities, even the Little Havana Visitor Center (1600 SW 8th Street) is a valuable information point.

    Where to shop

    Many shops they emanate their Cuban and Latin essence. We report Feel Cuban (3100 SW 8th St.), a real corner of Cuba with many interesting objects and creations other than classic souvenirs, the Cuban Tobacco Cigar Company (1528 SW Calle Ocho), a family-run cigar factory started in 1994 where you can see the “masters” who make cigars by hand. What characterizes this company are the tradition, passion and dedication for the making of cigars, which can also be purchased during a visit to the company.

    The events in the neighborhood

    THEspecial event most famous in Little Havana is the Eighth Street Festival (between SW 8th St. and 27th Ave.) which takes place in March, known to be one of the most important street festivals in the world. Along the 8th Street street vendors and food, dance and Latin music are the elements of the event born in 1978 to keep alive the unity of the Latin community and continuously developing. This festival is overwhelming, pleasantly loud, crowded, full of vibrancy and with the sound of the speakers blowing through the air. The Hispanic population's energy and desire to party is really felt.

    Always respecting the country that welcomed this community, the American Independence Day the 4th of July is traditionally celebrated with fireworks in the sky, but the inhabitants of Little Havana also launch “mini” fireworks in the street and in the parking lots. Every Friday of the month between 19pm and 23pm i Cultural Fridays (Viernes Culturales) along Calle Ocho between 13th and 17th Avenues, around Domino Park. Live music, dancing under the stars, aperitifs in cafeterias, dominoes, cigar manufacturing, art and crafts characterize the event in which we "dive" with pleasure.

    Every second Friday of the month the creators of the Cultural Fridays organize the Little Havana Art Walk from 19pm to 23pm with open art galleries and also the Futurama building (1637 SW 8th St.) with contemporary paintings, photographs, sculptures and works. The other communities are also linked to their manifestations. In May Mexicans celebrate independence with the holiday May 5 and on this occasion the local Azucar Ice Cream prepares ice cream with tequila. The Augustinian Festivities of Salvadoran origin takes place in August to honor "Jesus Christ, savior of the world" and patron saint of El Salvador. On November 30, the great Nicaraguan community kicks off the celebrations that culminate on December 8 in honor of the Virgin Mary with the event La Purisima.

    Where to eat in Little Havana

    Wandering around the main street of Little Havana it is quite easy to be attracted by the many typical bars and the characteristic area, but you have to be careful because looking for authenticity you can run into tourist traps. This is the case with the aforementioned corner of fame, where enjoying the pleasant atmosphere that reigns in the restaurant will cost you dearly (to give you an idea, they asked us about fifteen dollars for their steaming mojito…).

    It is said locally that food prepared in true Cuban style can be found at Versailles-Restaurant (3555 SW 8th St.) a large building with captivating architecture operational since 1971, a meeting place for Cubans but also for visitors. We are not experts in Cuban cuisine, but the ham and cheese croquettes with pea soup are excellent and probably made according to the local recipe. The prices of the restaurant, open until late in the evening, are contained. In the restaurant there is a "window" from where customers can order and receive coffee and while they wait they chat, a very popular ritual among regulars. The bus to reach this local icon is number 8.

    Los Pinarenos Fruit Shop
    Coconut milk in shell

    According to experts, another restaurant where you can taste traditional Cuban cuisine is da the exquisite (1510 SW 8th St.), a family-run establishment for many years. Feel like a Mexican? To the My Little Mexican Corner (1961 SW 8th St.) the food is good, the prices are more than affordable and the place is pleasantly decorated in its style.

    There is always a queue from Azucar Ice Cream Company (1503 SW 8th St.), an artisan ice cream shop and sorbet shop founded in 2011. Those who love ice cream and want to taste it in many variations will find particular flavors such as Coca Cola, apple pie, nutella and key lime pie, the typical Florida cake. A last tip to freshen up a bit during the walk? Stop by fruit and vegetables Los Pinarenos Fruit Shop (1334 SW 8th St) and ask for some coconut milk served directly in the shell.

    If, on the other hand, you intend to spend the evening here to the rhythm of strictly Cuban music (starting in the afternoon) there is Ball & Chain (1513 SW 8th St), a historic venue that opened its doors way back in 1935. For more Miami eating tips - not necessarily in the Little Havana area - read our article on Miami's best restaurants in our opinion.

    Where to sleep in Little Havana

    In general, Little Havana is not among the areas that are usually considered to find accommodation (we have described the best neighborhoods in our guide on where to sleep in Miami). In this area, the hotel offer is not particularly rich, especially near the nerve center, with respect to which most of the available accommodations are located in a decentralized position, however, requiring the use of the car to reach it. However, if you really want to look for accommodation nearby, here are some good facilities.

    A new modern hotel opened in May 2017 is the Jefferson Hotel (528 SW 9th Ave.) recognizable by its white walls. The structure has 4 suites and 29 rooms. Available to customers wi-fi, business center, parking with valet, concierge and bar on the top floor overlooking the downtown skyscrapers. The Roam Miami (118 SW S. River Dr.) stands beside the river, a busy waterway with a marina and the comings and goings of boats carrying fish supplies to restaurants. The structure consists of 4 historic buildings built in 1908 and subsequently renovated to preserve their history. The whole is surrounded by a swimming pool, a lawn and shady trees. The rooms with private bathroom have a sitting area.

    THEHoliday Home Palacios (318 NW 2nd St.) is a spacious house to rent with a bathroom, 3 bedrooms, lounge, full kitchen, garden barbeque area with tables and chairs. To top it all off, there is a private car park and wi-fi. If you are looking for something smaller than the apartment New Gem in Little Havana (1328 NW 4th St.) may be a solution; 2 steps from Marlins Park baseball stadium, it is a simple accommodation with bedroom, kitchen, dining room, lounge and back garden. Parking is included in the rate.

    Cerca un Hotel a Little Havana

    Discovering Little Havana, Miami's “Hispanic corner”, with its Latin flavor, its incessant desire for fiesta and attachment to origins, also told on the walls, was an experience to be definitely recommended.

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