Miami's Little Havana: a Neighborhood Travel Guide
Let's talk Little Havana. I have a lot of travel destinations on my bucket list like I'm sure many of you do, and Cuba is definitely one of them. However with travel budgets and life getting in the way, who knows when I'll actually get there. That's why I made a point to visit Little Havana when I stopped in Miami. BONUS: no passport required! I also HAD TO taste a legitimate Cuban sandwich. Over the last couple of years, my boyfriend has taught me to love the perfectly grilled sandwiches (which so happen to be one of his favorite foods), to the point where we bought our own panini press to make them at home. We have our favorite restaurant for Cuban sandwiches in Chicago (Cafecito) but I was ready to try one from a city where Cuban culture is abundant and the flavor be even closer to the real thing.
Little Havana is a colorful and bustling stretch of the Calle Ocho street in the center of Miami filled with restaurants, shops and gorgeous outside artwork including tile and painted murals. It's a little unassuming at first but as you head into the heart of the neighborhood, the streets are booming with character and life at every turn. Even on a Monday afternoon the sidewalks were busy with people saying hello and enjoying the Miami sunshine. You'll be greeted by bold 6 ft tall rooster structures on street corners perfect for selfies or murals depicting Cuban influences including music, food and images of Havana. There's even a Latin Walk of Fame with Hollywood-esque stars running down the sidewalks honoring celebs such as Gloria Estefan and those who have had a positive impact on Cuban culture.
Try your hand at dominoes
My favorite area in Little Havana was Máximo Gómez Park, more affectionately known as Domino Park. This small area is filled with table after table of dapper old men playing competitive dominoes throughout the day while bantering back in forth about the old days in Cuba and the family members still living there. It reminds me so much of older men playing chess in downtown Chicago or in New York's Central Park. It's proof that although Little Havana has become a popular stop for guided bus tours packed with tourists, it's still just a local neighborhood made up of hard working people who are proud of where they come from and what they've built in Miami.
Experience a Taste of Culinary Cuba
Guided tours can be taken to introduce you to all the food options available to you but we decided to wander at our own leisure, stopping for lunch and ice cream (my go-to travel snack). Most of the restaurants were wide open to the sidewalks allowing the breeze to naturally float along the tables and chairs. A few also had live music playing inside, giving passers-by a little serenade as they strolled down the street.
For lunch we stopped at El Pub, an assuming diner that had, you guessed it, Cuban sandwiches. These perfectly grilled pressed sandwiches with pork, turkey, mustard and pickles have become comfort food for me and Little Havana didn't disappoint. With shoestring fries and a glass of Sangria, it was a perfect vacation lunch.
Later in the afternoon we knew we had to grab some ice cream from the Yelp reviews we saw on Azucar Ice Cream Company. The amount of flavors this shop serves up is not only impressive but also incredibly creative. I splurged for their signature flavor, Abuela Maria: vanilla ice cream mixed with guava, swirls of cream cheese and Cuban cookies. It was heavenly. Their seasonal flavors shouldn't be passed up either with concoctions such as Olive Oil, Orange Zest & Dark Chocolate or Margarita Sorbet.
Overall, Little Havana lived up to its charm. It may not be that large of a neighborhood but it has a heart the size of all of Cuba continuing traditions of Cuban coffee, delicious food, cigar rolling, and music and fun. It's a great stop to make while traveling through Miami and is only a short drive from another one of my favorite Miami neighborhoods, Wynwood.