It’s a little past 9 a.m. and the weather is not the usual sticky, hot mess that is South Florida. I feel a constant light breeze and the sun is shining. There’s a rooster walking aimlessly on the street as a tour bus drops off the first batch of foreigners who have come to capture the essence of Miami with their fancy, big lens cameras- it’s the start of a great Sunday on Calle Ocho (“8th street”).
In all my years in Miami, I had only visited this area in passing, never really experiencing Little Havana up close. I made it my mission to walk 8th street and find out what makes the famous Calle Ocho so iconic.
From the Cuban Memorial Plaza, a friend and I make our way to Los Pinareños Frutería, a cultural landmark where locals get their fresh fruit and veggies, batidos or fruit smoothies, and most importantly, their cafecito. This Cuban style espresso is a dark, sweet, strong blend usually served in little plastic shot glasses and shared among friends.
Next, we pass La Casa de los Trucos, a popular costume store, and walk along the Walkway of the Stars, a mini Hollywood walk of fame for Latin American icons. It’s still early but I can already sense the lively spirit of the Cuban culture, with people waving “good morning” or staring and smiling at us curiously as my friend snaps some pictures.
The clacking sound of domino tiles lets us know we’ve reached the Maximo Gomez Park, AKA “Domino Park”. The place is packed; four players at each table and at least four others watching over the players’ shoulders following their every move. Some greet us and invite us to join or take pictures.
Across the park we spot the popular Azucar. This ice cream company is another cultural landmark of Little Havana and caters to everyone’s palette with bold combinations of ingredients that make interesting flavors, including Café con Leche (Cuban coffee and Oreo), Guarapiña (sugarcane and pineapple) and Platano Maduro (sweet plantain). See full menu here.
The Cuban flavor from Azucar fills the entire street where, as the day progresses, more shops and restaurants open up and welcome people with salsa on loud speakers or sometimes live bands playing by the street. At night, the entertainment continues at Ball & Chain with live Latin Jazz or a selection of independent and foreign films playing at the Tower theater.
Immersing in Cuban culture is a great way to spend the weekend – and is right in your back yard. If you haven’t experienced it yet, I definitely recommend it…there’s much to do, see and taste. Join the club!
Photos by @chelinloscher