Viernes Culturales lights up Little Havana the last Friday of every month
Little Havana’s monthly Viernes Culturales festival celebrates its Latin influence.
On the last Friday of the month, head to Calle Ocho—the epicenter of life in Little Havana—to experience one of Miami’s most authentic peeks into Hispanic arts and culture: Viernes Culturales (Cultural Fridays). Taking over the stretch of Calle Ocho between 13th and 17th Avenue, this monthly celebration of Cuban living is where history, food, music, dancing, and art collide. Here, more than 4,000 visitors roam through Little Havana as art galleries keep their doors open late, local restaurants spill their tables out onto the streets, neighborhood artisans sell their handicrafts, locals play dominoes and roll authentic Cuban cigars, and live music and dancers keep the fun going late. It’s both a party and a history lesson, and for Calle Ocho, it’s simply not to be missed.
How It All Began
While Little Havana has always been an important part of Miami’s history, it wasn’t until May 26th, 2000, when the first installment of Viernes Culturales took place, that we really gained an opportunity to celebrate it. But it actually all started more than 30 years ago. In 1984, The City of Miami Planning Department conducted a Latin Quarter Study that recommended one thing: implement a year-round series of art exhibits, dance, music, poetry, theater, film events, and neighborhood historic tours to keep the culture of Little Havana alive. In 1996, a Little Havana Neighborhood Planning Program study came to the same conclusion, so the answer was “Viernes Culturales.” The first event attracted 2,000 people, and today, seventeen years later, it has more than doubled in size and popularity.
In between the fun, make sure you stop and refuel at one of Calle Ocho’s tasty restaurants, food trucks, or food stands. All along 8th Street, you’ll find a range of cuisines, including Cuban, Thai/Sushi, Chinese, Uruguayan, Mexican, Spanish, tapas, and more. For a taste of the area’s classics, visit El Cristo, the all-day Cuban eatery; El Exquisito, the Cuban sandwich shop; El Pub Restaurant, a down-home Cuban kitchen; the famed Versailles Restaurant; and any of the tens of “ventanitas” (walk-up windows selling Cuban coffee and light Cuban bites) and Latin restaurants in between. During Viernes Culturales, visitors can feast on food truck fare or get fresh sugarcane juice and local “batidos” (tropical fruit milkshakes) at the traditional “fruteria.” Whatever you’re doing, your night isn’t over until you’re drinking world-famous mojitos at Calle Ocho’s vintage Cuban bar and nightclub, Ball & Chain.
At the root of any cultural celebration are the local artists that create the culture worth celebrating—and Viernes Culturales is no exception. Wander in and around the Futurama 1637 Art Building, a creative workspace made up of 12 local art galleries, and you’ll find more than 20 galleries teeming with local art. Of them, some not to be missed are La Isla, which is filled with Cuban art and goods; Molina, the fine art gallery by Luis Molina; and Cubaocho Museum and Performing Arts Center, an art gallery with live music, cocktails, and cigars. Also wander through Domino Park, and in between domino competitions, you’ll find local artisans selling everything from handcrafted Cuban coffee cups and jewelry, to mosaic art, paintings, written works, poems, and even pottery.
Since music is inherently important to Latin culture, this monthly event brings it right to the streets of Miami. In the middle of 8th Street, a large stage comes alive with music and dance performances from top local and international artists, like 13-piece salsa bands, folkloric dance groups, and the Cuban timba band, “Timbalive.” All around, restaurants and other venues have their own Cuban and jazz music groups, DJs keep the crowds dancing, Domino Park is filled with flamenco dancers and Mariachi bands, and the DAF (“Dance Art Fitness”) Studio even offers tango classes.
A Peek Into Little Havana’s History
Available during every Viernes Culturales is Dr. Paul George’s free Little Havana Walking Tour—there’s no better way in Miami to learn about the history of Little Havana! This monthly tour starts at 7 p.m. in front of Miami Dade College’s Tower Theater. As a Miami Dade College history professor, author and Miami’s premiere historian, Dr. Paul George has actually come up with 12 different history walking tours in Miami, from boat tours down the Miami River and a Miami Vice-inspired tour, to art and archeology tours of Downtown Miami. During his Little Havana tour, you’ll learn about the architectural significance of the neighborhood, peer into Tower Theater’s history, explore Cuban Memorial Boulevard, and find out why Little Havana is so important to Miami, today.
Viernes Culturales runs from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. on the last Friday of every month, though many venues stay open even later.
Free parking is available in the form of street parking or the public lot on 14th Avenue, between SW 8th and 9th Streets. Other parking is available at the lot on 16th Avenue, between SW 7th and 8th Streets, and in the private parking lots of local businesses along 8th Street, between 13th and 14th Avenues. If you don’t want to drive, local buses often offer stops through the area; check your local bus listings to see if any routes work for you.
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