We arrived in the South Beach area of Miami on a Friday morning. We didn’t feel like we actually arrived in Miami until we made a trek to Little Havana. Little Havana is home to ⅓ of Miami’s population and considered the Cuban heart of the city. The heart of LIttle Havana is Calle Ocho (SW 8th Street). Walking this street on a beautiful South Florida day is magical.
The vibe of Little Havana, Miami is easily centered on its restaurants, cigar shops, and coffee shops. The aroma of all three is absolutely irresistible. The colors of the historic buildings, the Latino people, the sounds of the streets, cafes and bars filling the air with a variety of Latin American music made our day very special.
Here are the top 5 things to do in Little Havana, Miami:
1. Live Music
Hands down, the best part about Little Havana is the live music. We adored walking down Calle Ocho hearing live music every few steps coming out of clubs and cafes. You can walk in, grab a drink, sit and enjoy a band for a few sets. Then, you can mozy on to the next bar, head in and do the same. Cuban music has been famed in the area since the 1930s. It has been the epicenter for Latin, jazz and blues in Miami ever since. Billie Holiday and Count Basie frequented clubs like Ball and Chain. We really enjoyed ourselves at Guantanamera Cafe and Lounge– a throwback joint offering live music, cocktails, and a wide array of American film noir artwork. Guantanamera offers a cigar smoking room, which is what they are known for. You can catch live music 7 days a week in Little Havana, and you should.
2. Observe the Handcrafted Production of Cuban-Style Cigars
We happened upon an unassuming little place called Casa del Tabaco- 1336 SW 8th Street, and boy are we glad we did. We had no idea how intricate the process is to craft Cuban-style cigars. Not only is the type of tobacco important, but the exact leaf, the time of the process, the roll, even the temperature. Much like grapes with wine, it is a skillful process, one that takes years to master, and these folks take it very seriously. We watched these masters at work. It was amazing to see how much work goes into each and every cigar. Take a break from the heat, and walk into one of these locales and see these craftsmen at work.
3. Calle Ocho Walk of Fame
The area of Calle Ocho between 12th and 17th avenues contains the Calle Ocho Walk of Fame. This really adds a special touch and intrigue to this quaint neighborhood. The locals refer to it as El Paseo de las Estrellas. The stars are scattered in various clusters throughout the five block section. The walk honors musicians, actors, and artists who have made outstanding contributions to the Latin world. The first star came in 1987 to honor Celia Cruz. For someone who knows next to nothing about Latin celebrities, I (Ger) was immediately and surprisingly intrigued. I had some fun with my single-minded effort to locate the star of singer Julio Iglesias, declaring my life complete when I did finally find it.
4. Cuban Food, Especially the Plantains
This list is not ranked in any particular order, especially with food being number 4. You simply cannot miss the food in LIttle Havana. Go hungry, because you will want to try everything. Similar to the music, you can walk up and down Calle Ocho and stop in and out of various cafes and restaurants trying various samples of the food. One of our faves was El Cristo where we had some of the yummiest plantains you have ever tasted! If any of the restaurants offer live music, bonus! You may enjoy dining al fresco so that you can take in the ambiance that Calle Ocho has to offer. Versailles is also a very popular place to dine in Little Havana. They ship their famous cuban sandwich kits all over the world. You can order them online if you’d like, though that wouldn’t be as much fun.
5. Stroll & Take in the Streetscape
Too often, these travel “to do” lists focus the attention off of what is right in front of you. We’d be remiss if we didn’t add one of the must-do items is to simply stroll Calle Ocho and take in the streetscape. There are so many beautiful murals, various colors on sides of buildings and sidewalks, people dancing in the street, nostalgic scenery that allows you to feel as if you are taken to another time and place. I (Shannon) felt like breaking into La Isla Bonita while crossing the street, as I wore my red dress near the Domino Park. I don’t know who San Pedro is, but I am sure he is probably in there, playing dominos. Bonus, Little Havana is an Instagram-haven. Tons of content for the ‘gram on Calle Ocho!
Whether you have an hour, a few hours, a day, or a weekend, you will not regret spending time in Little Havana. It is the best part of our trip to Miami, and we cannot wait to get back to spend more time in the Cuban heart of the city. If you’re planning a vacay to the area and are looking for a place to stay, check out our recommendation for The Goodtime Hotel in Miami Beach.