Just a quick drive across the bridge from Miami Beach, the neighborhood of Little Havana feels a world away from sports cars and high fashion but still possesses the lively, colorful atmosphere emblematic of the city—and of Cuba. Latin music streams out of most buildings along the Calle Ocho strip, and giant painted rooster statues stand proud every few blocks. While you’re here, stroll the star-lined path of Latin celebrities on the Calle Ocho Walk of Fame, catch a Spanish-language foreign film at the historic Tower Theater, snap photos of the many vivid murals, and learn about the heroes who fought for Cuban freedom in Cuban Memorial Boulevard Park.
Life House Little Havana draws its design influences from all over the world, including Cuba, East Africa, and the Caribbean. The boutique hotel’s 33 guest rooms are decked out in dark wood, natural rugs, and pops of gold, and the tropical rooftop bar showcases stunning views of the Miami skyline.
Follow the sounds of click-clacking dominos and lively, competitive chatter to discover this little streetside pavilion, fittingly nicknamed Domino Park. Only members may play, but spectators are welcome to watch this Little Havana tradition in action.
TASTE OF CUBA
Diminutive in size but nationally acclaimed, Sanguich de Miami doles out true Cuban goodness from its walk-up window. You won’t regret ordering a classic Cubano sandwich, a side of plantain fries or croquettes, and a Timba Batido (milkshake made with guava and cream cheese).
At family-owned and female-run El Titan de Bronze, Cuban-trained master cigar rollers spend each day perfecting their craft. A small retail shop, open since 1995, offers views of the artisans at work.
LOOK THE PART
Traditional lightweight Cuban shirts called guayaberas line the racks of Havana Collection, a family-owned clothing and souvenir shop. Not only does the store sell the classic style that has kept it in business since 1972, it also stocks a trendier, slim-fit version of the shirt, as well as Panama hats and Cuban linen shoes.
The namesake of La Colada Gourmet, a cafe buzzing with coffee grinders and local banter, is a sweet and strong Cuban espresso drink traditionally sipped in the afternoon with company. It’s equally enjoyable while people-watching from a bar stool by the window.
Azucar Ice Cream offers a sweet escape from the Miami heat. Flavors run the gamut from Cuban-style Abuela Maria (vanilla ice cream mixed with Maria Cookies, cream cheese, and guava paste) to the adventurous Burn in Hell Fidel (bean-to-bar chocolate ice cream with cayenne pepper).
Originally opened in 1935, Ball & Chain has a fascinating past. Over the years, the spirited nightclub has hosted performers such as Billie Holiday and Count Basie. Today, it still presents Miami nightlife at its most authentic, with salsa dancing, live jazz music, and strong mojitos.
This article appears in the Fall/Winter 2022 issue of Southbound.