Best Things to Do in Little Havana

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By: Shayne Benowitz

If you want insider access to Little Havana, start by cruising Calle Ocho (or Eighth Street), the main thoroughfare of this neighborhood established by Miami’s Cuban diaspora. Sweet soca music blares from storefronts, Domino Park is a perennial gathering place and ventanitas sell Cuban coffee and croquetas on every corner. The neighborhood is filled with art and vitality—and it’s ripe for discovery. Let us be your guide on a whirlwind tour of Little Havana.

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Since 1971, Versailles has been a local gathering spot for the Cuban diaspora and one of Calle Ocho’s most popular locales. The décor features golden chandeliers and surrounding mirrors showcasing a throwback to the Hall of Mirrors in France’s Versailles Palace. However, the sprawling restaurant has a decidedly casual diner vibe. You’ll find every staple of Cuban cuisine on the menu here, from ham croquetas to Cuban sandwiches, cafecitos and heaping portions ropa vieja with yellow rice, black beans and fried sweet plantains.

    Ball & Chain

    Breathing fresh life into historic Little Havana, the 1930s Ball & Chain concert hall is new again, following a loving restoration. The result is a luscious dark wood-paneled bar with deep green accents and a whiff of Old Havana, all designed for Miami’s modern revelers. There’s also an unexpected outdoor garden and bandshell. Once a venue where Chet Baker, Billie Holiday and Count Basie performed, today’s Ball & Chain honors its history with an entertainment line-up that covers everything from jazz to salsa. Inventive and classic cocktails, like the mojito, are on offer as well as a modern tapas menu.

      Azucar Ice Cream

      Located in the heart of Little Havana, Azucar is Calle Ocho’s resident Cuban artisanal ice cream parlor. Rooted in a deep love for family and inspired by tropical Caribbean fruits, Azucar churns out over 100 different flavors made with all-natural ingredients. You can’t miss it as you’re strolling down Calle Ocho. Just look for the façade with an enormous ice cream cone piled with colorful scoops growing out of the building. Once you’re there, go for the Abuela Maria, made with guava, cream cheese and served with a galletas Maria cookie — it’s Miami in a cup.

        Life House Little Havana

        Life House hotel in Little Havana recently opened giving the neighborhood its first boutique lifestyle hotel and granting visitors unprecedented access to exploring the neighborhood. With an eclectic design inspired by world travel, guestrooms boast herringbone wood floors, platform beds, a warm color palette and brass finishes. You can also opt for their Bohemian suite quad or modern double room, which feature design-forward bunk beds for an affordable and comfortable night’s stay when traveling with a group. A rooftop pool, bar and restaurant is opening in Spring 2019.

          Hoy Como Ayer

          The classic Hoy Como Ayer (which translates to “Today Like Yesterday”) is known for salsa dancing and live Latin funk music. The wood-paneled walls are covered with photos of Latin music’s biggest names. It’s a destination for authentic Cuban and Latin music, drinks and, of course, dancing. If names like Celia Cruz and Benny More don’t ring a bell, then you’ll get an education in the greats here. Regular acts include locally loved Spam Allstars who specialize in a unique blend of Latin funk.

            Cubaocho Museum & Performing Arts Center

            The Cubaocho Museum & Performing Arts Center is home to Cuban artists, local musicians and intellectuals who gather to play music, admire art, engage in discussions or simply enjoy a hand-rolled cigar and a glass of rum. The brainchild of Roberto Ramos, this museum and performance venue houses one of the largest privately-owned Cuban art collections in the world, as well as one of the most comprehensive selections of rum.

              Los Pinareños Fruteria

              Los Pinareños Fruteria is the oldest open-air market in Miami. Here, you’ll find fresh-made juices and milkshakes flavored with exotic fruits from all over Latin America that have influenced the area. Think, avocados, mangos, carambola, pineapple, coconuts and more. Spoil yourself with a signature treat like their banana cafe batido, a banana milkshake with a shot of Cuban coffee, or a mamey batido, made from the deep red, sweet and creamy tropical fruit native to Cuba.

                Maximo Gomez Domino Park

                Maximo Gomez Domino Park is where locals get down and dirty with a game of dominoes — and trust us, to them it’s not a game. Nostalgia hangs in the air just as potently as the smell of a cortadito. You’ll typically find older Cuban gentlemen dealing dotted tiles over coffee and social commentary. But don’t let their age fool you, these seasoned professionals are fierce.

                  Viernes Culturales & Local Galleries

                  Viernes Culturales (Cultural Fridays) is held on the last Friday of the month when Little Havana swells with 4,000 visitors out to celebrate the arts and cultural offerings of local restaurants, bars, shops and galleries along Calle Ocho from 13th to 17th Avenue. A stage is set up in the heart of the festivities for dance and musical performances. Pop into local galleries that stay open into the evening hours for exhibition openings and artist talks. The Futurama Art Building is the epicenter of art in the neighborhood with 12 studio and galleries open to the public all under one roof. Many of Little Havana’s art galleries are found on the same block, including Mildrey Guillot, Obrapia Fine Arts, Kontempo Art, and Molina Fine Art Gallery. Another cluster of galleries can be found off Calle Ocho at SW 6th Street and SW 12th Avenue.

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