Miami’s Little Havana celebrates the best of Cuban culture and art
The city of Miami is world-renowned for its Cuban culture, pristine beaches and bustling nightlife which welcomes millions of tourists each year. Many are drawn by the year-round sunshine and lavish shopping centers that line the streets of this metropolitan beach city.
Miami offers a unique window into Cuban culture without leaving the U.S. As tourist travel to Cuba is still prohibited, this is the best way to experience the food, drink and art of the country known as the Pearl of the Antilles.
Because of the city’s close proximity to the island nation—just 330 miles of ocean between them—Miami is home to nearly 700,000 Cuban-born residents. As of 2017, this group comprised 25.7 percent of the region’s total population.
So whether you’re in town for the Super Bowl or just a winter getaway, we encourage you to get out and experience Miami’s Cuban side.
Appreciate Cuban-American history
The Miami of today was partly built by the robust Cuban exile community which began emigrating en masse to the U.S. in the ’70s and ’80s, fleeing the political instability of the island nation.
The city of Miami proved to be a safe haven for the fleeing community. The Cubans would go on to set roots and forever leave their cultural and culinary mark on the ever-growing city.
The iconic Freedom Tower located on Biscayne Boulevard that once served as an immigration processing center for Cuban exiles, now stands as a landmark commemorating the history of the Cuban exile movement in the city.
Destination: Little Havana
A trip to Miami simply isn’t complete without a stroll through the Cuban quarters of Little Havana, or La Pequeña Habana in Spanish. This is where the first wave of Cuban exiles began to take residence and impart their cultural identity on the city.
Calle Ocho, or 8th Street, is the main artery that traverses through the Little Havana neighborhood. All along this boulevard, it’s easy to find authentic Cuban cafeterias shelling out delicious food and extra-strong Cuban espresso. La Carreta is a famed establishment for serving up some of the best Cuban cuisine on the block. But that’s just the start.
Come hungry—and thirsty
A day in Miami should start with excellent coffee, preferably Café Cubano. It refers to an espresso shot sweetened with condensed milk.
As you’re exploring, you might find that the perfect snack food for an on-the-go bite is the ubiquitous croqueta. It’s a breaded fritter filled with minced meat, typically ham although chicken, salt cod, and cheese are also quite common. I’m warning you now, it’s impossible to have just one.
For a larger meal, try ordering Ropa Vieja, which is a plate of braised, shredded beef served over a bed of white rice and seasoned black beans. For a simpler meal, the classic Cuban sandwich is a must. It’s a ham and cheese sandwich on Cuban bread with additional condiments like pickles and mustard.
The sweltering heat of Miami often calls for a cold, refreshing beverage, preferably including alcohol for good measure. The classic Mojito is a great introduction into Cuban cocktails, with its tasty mix of rum, sugar, lime, seltzer water, and mint.
Or opt for a Cuba Libre, which is half parts rum and half parts coke with a splash of ice and lime.
Experience Cuban arts and culture
The streets of Little Havana, especially on Fridays, are lined with artisan vendors and talented crafters who make up the local art scene. The doors of the art galleries and cultural expositions also stand open to welcome visitors.
The Futurama 1963 Art Building should be on the top of your “must see” list. The creative workspace sits in the heart of Little Havana and holds beautifully curated art expositions free to the public.
You also can’t miss out on the scene at Máximo Gómez Park, also known as Domino Park, serves as a public gathering place for domino and chess enthusiasts. Feel free to pull up a chair and play a game or two against the friendly locals.
Another unique offering of Little Havana is the bountiful assortment of cigar shops which are stocked with quality, hand-rolled cigars, rivaling some of the best in the world.
While you’re there, film buffs may want to check out the MDC Tower Theatre, the premiere spot for indie and foreign film screenings.
Take in dynamic Cuban music just by walking by the CubaOcho Museum & Performing Arts Center, an institution known for featuring musicians playing along the sidewalk for the amusement of the public. The Ball & Chain nightclub, which has been around since the ’30s, is another must-see destination for a happening dance scene.
From the vibrant energy of Salsa and Afro-Cuban jazz, to the intoxicating rhythms of Bolero and Cuban Rumba, you can always count on the streets of Little Havana to be filled with lively music at all hours of the day.