Right in the heart of Miami, there's a neighborhood that looks to have hopped from the pages of a Cuban storybook. In Little Havana, you can find hand-rolled cigars, fruiterias, meat markets, herbal stores, and cafecitos for only $.25. Strolling down Calle Ocho—8th Street—is like strolling through Cuba's history, and it's all within a short walk from the Art Deco high rises of Miami.
History of Little Havana
When the infamous Cuban communist Fidel Castro came to power, many Cubans fled to Miami seeking a better life. The early waves of Cuban refugees that came to Miami were upper-class Cubans trying to save their fortunes from being stolen by the government. Originally, many thought their move to Miami was only temporary, but slowly realized Castro wasn’t going anywhere. By 1985, almost half of Miami’s population was Cuban and the number was still growing. In the mid-'80s, a large group of working class Cubans arrived and settled in a once-Jewish neighborhood that is now known as Little Havana.
How to Get to Calle Ocho
The three-square-mile cultural hub that is Little Havana is located west of central Miami. Calle Ocho is the area’s main drag and the heart of the neighborhood. From Miami International Airport, take I-95 to exit 4, South LeJeune (or 42nd) Avenue. Continue straight down the street and you'll arrive at Calle Ocho.
What to Do on Calle Ocho
Calle Ocho is the epicenter of Little Havana. It's home to all sorts of authentic Cuban coffee shops and open-air fruit stands selling fresh-squeezed guarapo (sugarcane juice). It's fun just to walk around and see what the locals are doing (most likely conversing on every corner over hand-rolled cigars), but if you need a plan, there are plenty of things to see and do.
- Domino Park: One of the greatest displays of Calle Ocho culture is Maximo Gomez Park, also known as Domino Park. Here is where an older generation of Cubans meet to drink cortado and play dominos. This 35-year tradition attracts some pretty large crowds, too.
- Walk of the Stars: Around the corner from Domino Park, don't miss Paseo de las Estrellas—the Walk of Stars—like the one in Hollywood, but with Latin American artists.
- Memorials: At the corner of 13th Avenue is a memorial park with monuments to many Cuban heroes, like Jose Marti (poet and revolutionary) and Antonio Maceo (war hero). Then, there's the Island of Cuba Memorial and the Memorial Flame (to the heroes of the Bay of Pigs).
- Cultural Friday: Come on a Friday for Viernes Culturales, an art, music, and cultural festival held on the last Friday of the month. You can expect music, dancing, street performers, food, local artist's wares, and theater at this Latin street party.
- The Calle Ocho Festival: If you happen to be in town during this March extravaganza, then you'll be treated to 1 million-plus people dancing, eating, partying, and flaunting their colorful costumes in the streets. Major news crews come to broadcast the event as Cubans from all over the country return to celebrate their roots.
Best Bars on Calle Ocho
Little Havana is home to some of the most popular live music venues in Miami, so, if you’re looking for a lively nightlife scene, Calle Ocho has it.
- Ball & Chain: Located in the heart of Calle Ocho, this bar, restaurant, and live music venue is a great place to grab a partner and try your hand at salsa dancing. It is authentic Cuban at its best.
- Bar Nancy: This nautical-themed bar might not actually have much Cuban influence, but you're sure to find some pretty innovative cocktails in any case.
- Hoy Como Ayer: If you're looking for a club vibe, then this Calle Ocho landmark is where you’ll want to end up. Hoy Como Ayer is an intimate bar and music venue that's always pumping a steady stream of authentic Hispanic music and showcasing many local Latin Funk artists and salsa dance groups.
Best Restaurants on Calle Ocho
This is your opportunity to try out some authentic Cuban comfort food. Simply walk up and down Calle Ocho and you’ll find tons of tasty fare.
- Versailles: Versailles has been feeding Little Havana since the '70s and serves a vast array of Cuban cuisine, from plantain soup to the famous Cuban sandwich.
- El Rey de las Fritas: Opt for this retro restaurant for some classic Cuban burgers. It's home to the original Frita Cuban and prides itself on its original burger recipe, which hasn’t changed in 40 years.
- Azucar Ice Cream Company: After your Cuban burger, choose from 24 ever-changing flavors (all Cuban-inspired like flan, passionfruit, and mamey) at Azucar, the one with the massive 3D ice cream cone on the facade.