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By: Shayne Benowitz & Jennifer Agress

Experience Little Havana’s vibrant art and culture scene

Little Havana is a true reflection of Hispanic culture. Go there for authentic Cuban fare, a strong cafecito, a good Cuban cigar, Latin festivals or an intense game of dominoes, and leave feeling more relaxed and informed than ever before. From salsa-dancing and art exhibits to a historic movie theater, concerts and more, Little Havana boasts a thriving arts and culture scene with a distinctly Cuban flair.

For anyone planning a vacation to Greater Miami & Miami Beach, it’s likely that “drink Cuban coffee” or “try Cuban food” is on your to-do list. More than any other place in the United States, Miami has close cultural connections to Cuba. Over the second half of the 20th century, many Cubans immigrated to Miami and their heritage is alive and thriving today. It’s easy enough to sample Cuban cuisine and enjoy a morning café con leche in any neighborhood in Miami, but to get a true taste of Cuban culture, a trip to charming Little Havana is a must.

Rooster sculpture in Little Havana
Stroll through Little Havana's historic streets

As you approach the heart of the neighborhood at SW 8th Street, known as Calle Ocho by the locals, you may feel you’ve been transported to another time and place that’s wholly separate from the lavish South Beach hotels or modern downtown high-rises. There’s something quaint and neighborly about the area. You might even spot a chicken roaming free in a neighborhood park. The street is lined with bakeries, coffee stands, restaurants and fruit markets, all locally owned. You get the sense that it’s a tight knit community, where people meander down the street and wave cordially to their neighbors with the greeting, Que tal? Como esta?

The streets are colorful, with both painted and mosaic tile murals. They depict symbols of Cuba, such as tropical fruit, musical instruments, dominos and cigars, while others illustrate Cuban legends, from poet and revolutionary Jose Marti to the singer Celia Cruz, who once performed in the neighborhood. And speaking of music, it permeates the streets at all hours of the day - whether it’s blaring from speakers at El Estilo Musicale, an impromptu performance by local band Timba Live, or the beat of rumba heard through open doors at Top Cigars. The sound of dominoes clacking from Domino Park is always music to the ears.

Cuban flag mural in Little Havana
Enjoy Little Havana's artistic side

Viernes Culturales

The Futurama Building at 1637 SW 8th Street is the epicenter for art in the neighborhood. The creative workspace features 12 studios/galleries occupied by local artists, and they’re open to the public. With 20 galleries in the neighborhood, many are found on the surrounding block by the Futurama Building, 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 12th Avenue.

While the neighborhood is a fantastic place to visit by day, it's even more exciting at night. Viernes Culturales (Cultural Fridays) is the third Friday of the month when the neighborhood welcomes drove of visitors to celebrate the arts and cultural offerings of local restaurants, bars, shops, and galleries along Calle Ocho from 13th to 17th avenues. There’s a stage set up on the street for dance and music performances, and the galleries keep their doors open until 11 p.m. for visitors to peruse their collections.

If you're looking for an even bigger party, the annual Carnaval Calle Ocho Festival in March is a cultural highlight of the year for the neighborhood.

Classic car in front of Cubaocho Museum
Learn about the area's history at the Cubaocho Museum

Cubaocho Museum and Performing Arts Center & Tower Theater

The Cubaocho Art and Research Center is a local venue located at 1465 SW 8th Street where Cuban artists, famous local musicians and intellectuals gather to play music, admire art, engage in interesting discussions about history and philosophy, or simply enjoy their Cuban culture, whether it’s a hand-rolled cigar or a chilled rum drink. The brainchild of Roberto Ramos, this museum and performance venue houses one of the largest privately owned Cuban art collections in the world, including the 1937 work “La Rumba” by Antonio Sánchez Araujo, an oil painting that spans 113 inches in length. Of the few things he brought with him, one was a painting by Cuban painter Carlos Sobrino, the 1953 “El Saxofonista,” which can now be found in his Miami home. His obvious love for art, and for Cuba, became the foundation of his gallery: a place where he could showcase pieces of art, which he’s collected around the world, that depict life in Cuba between 1800 and 1958.

Located on the corner of Calle Ocho and Southwest 15th Avenue, Miami Dade College’s Tower Theater is one of Miami’s oldest cultural landmarks. Art Deco in style, it first opened as a movie theater in 1926. Decades later, it became a popular spot for Cuban immigrants to watch American blockbusters in English, with Spanish subtitles, to help them understand both life in the United States and the English language. Today, the building is owned and operated by Miami Dade College, and serves as a place for people to gather for cultural exhibitions and performances, MDC-sponsored educational lectures and films in both Spanish and English.

Mojito cocktails with mint leaves
Stop by Ball & Chain for delicious mojitos and live music

Cuban Food & Nightlife

Perhaps the best way to get to know a culture is through its cuisine, and this is certainly true of Cuba. Los Pinareños fruit market (1334 SW 8th St.), named for the region of Cuba that the owners are from. Peruse the fresh tropical fruit and ask for a batido de mamey, a sweet milkshake made from the mamey fruit.

There are a number of restaurants to choose from in the neighborhood, and El Cristo Restaurant (1543 SW 8th St.) is a great choice for lunch or dinner. Try a Cuban sandwich and croquetas from the lunch counter or a meal of ropa vieja (a juicy shredded beef dish) with black beans, rice, and platanos maduros (sweet plantains) inside the dining room. At the end of your day or evening in Little Havana, you’ll be enchanted by the friendly people and lively culture, and you’ll leave with your belly full.

After a good mojito and an even better cigar, it’s time to dance the night away. When in Little Havana, there is nowhere better to go than Ball & Chain. In its same location since the 1930s, Ball & Chain is a Cuban-style restaurant, lounge and music venue known for its delicious food, beautiful people-watching, great music and strong cocktails.

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