By: Kara Franker
Experience Cuban culture on Calle Ocho in Little Havana.
Calle Ocho is the center of Cuban life and culture in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood. This vibrant street is known for its Cuban restaurants, popular ventanitas and Cuban bakeries and colorful street festivals.
The best way to familiarize yourself with the area is through a guided walking tour. Corrina Moebius of LittleHavanaGuide.com leads a variety of tours, including the three-hour Cuban/Latino Traditions & Arts of Calle Ocho Tour. A true ambassador of the neighborhood, her community involvement and local expertise will make you feel at home amongst the residents and business owners, and eager to explore more for yourself at the conclusion of her tour. You’ll sample Cuban food, learn about a variety of musical traditions, explore art galleries and studios, and gain insight into the art of cigar rolling.
Take a walk down Calle Ocho, right into Maximo Gomez Park a.k.a. Domino Park. Located on the corner of Calle Ocho and 15th Avenue, this local spot was named after a famous soldier, Maximo Gomez, who fought for Cuban independence from Spain. A quintessential hangout for Cuban veterans, families and more, this is where you find the real Little Havana locals smoking Cuban cigars or talking about the latest headlines, all over a game of dominoes.
Next to Domino Park you’ll find Tower Theater, a historic movie theater, built in 1926, known for being a gathering spot where Cuban immigrants once went to watch Spanish movies with English subtitles to learn English. Today, this Art Deco-style building is owned by Miami-Dade College. A hotspot for cultural events, the Tower Theater hosts a series of educational presentations sponsored by the college, like alternative Cuban exhibitions and performances, free educational lectures by Miami-Dade College faculty and both Spanish-and English-language films.
Cuban Memorial Boulevard
Located on Calle Ocho, Cuban Memorial Boulevard pays homage to Cuban soldiers who fought in the 1981 Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban War of Independence. You’ll find a string of seven small monuments scattered throughout this stretch of road, including those honoring Cuban independence fighter Antonio Maceo Grajales and anti-communist crusader Tony Izquierdo. Additionally, check out the statues of the Virgin Mary and a 16-foot raised map of the island of Cuba with an inscription by patriot José Martí that reads, "La patria es agonia y deber,” which ttranslates to “The homeland is agony and duty."
On Calle Ocho life is always a celebration. Taking place the last Friday of every month from 7 to 11 p.m., Viernes Culturales, or “Cultural Fridays,” is a monthly event celebrating the best of Cuban arts, culture and music. See and experience countless cultural art exhibits, music, poetry, theater, film, dancing in the streets, domino games and historic neighborhood tours.
Another popular festival, Carnival on Calle Ocho, is the largest Hispanic street festival and block party in the southeastern United States. Locally called “El Festival de la Calle Ocho,” this annual event attracts over a million attendees and celebrates Hispanic culture at its finest. From street performers and eight stages with live Latin music, to salsa, conga lines, good Latin food, and treats from local vendors dotted throughout, Carnival on Calle Ocho is just one more reason to celebrate in Little Havana.
When in Miami, trying Cuban food is a must, and there’s no better place to get it than Calle Ocho. Tucked in tiny, no-name strip malls or old-school buildings on the side of the road, Calle Ocho and its surrounding Little Havana are home to some of the best and most authentic Cuban fare around. To start, order buttered Cuban bread and a cafecito (a strong, thimble-sized cup of sweet Cuban coffee) from any “ventanita,” or Cuban coffee window. Then, move on to staples like croquetas (fried tubes stuffed with chicken, fish or ham) or rope vieja (a hearty Cuban beef stew). You’ll find restaurants everywhere you turn, but a definite must-try spot includes Versailles.
Have a sweet tooth? After dinner, swing by Azucar Ice Cream Company for a desert of homemade Cuban ice cream, featuring flavors like Café con Leche, Platano Maduro and Caramel Flan; all Cuban dessert favorites re-imagined into ice cream flavors. On Calle Ocho, you are inundated with the sounds, smells and flavors of one of Miami’s most bustling cross-cultural neighborhoods.
Cuban Cigar Shops
Of course, you can’t go to Calle Ocho, the hub of Cuban culture, and not try a Cuban cigar. Walk along Little Havana’s most popular street, and you’ll find a range of family owned cigar shops that double as local hangouts. Some of the more popular shops include El Titan de Bronze and Cuban Crafters, but walk into any you find and you’ll see age-old cigar aficionados rolling cigars just like their fathers and grandfathers taught them in Cuba. To make sure every cigar is perfect, each roller focuses on one type only, of which they are considered masters of their craft.
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