First stop is Little Havana for a taste of the Cuban diaspora . My guide Ralph , from Miami Culinary Tours , explains that the neighborhood is much less Cuban in population now and much more of a Hispanic melting pot , although the “ mom and pop ” businesses are still representative of Little Havana ’ s namesake .
Just a few short blocks in length , Little Havana ’ s Calle Ocho is embedded with stars commemorating the achievements of Cuban Americans . In contrast to the star-studded glamour , fiberglass statues of roosters , a popular symbol for the community , also line the street . Here , our guide Ralph , a Miami native , takes us to numerous restaurants to taste the flavors of Cuban America while also stopping at interesting shops along the way .
The walk starts at the studio of artist Agustín Gainza whose signature works are the “ Moninas ,” a series of Afro-Cuban paintings inspired by Diego Velázquez . Here in exile since 1979 , Gainza has made his living depicting memories of Cuba and the interpreting the world around him . It ’ s a colorful depiction that welcomes our tour group to this vintage neighborhood . Lively paintings line the walls , but Gainza is not constrained by one medium . He prides himself in making accessible art , so there are painted bowls , T-shirts and a beautiful collection of painted glass light pendants .
Our first food stop is El Pub , where we taste tostones , which are fried plantain cups stuffed with savory chicken . It ’ s a simple café filled with locals . We make quick stops in a number of businesses . Among the highlights are the Cuba Tobacco Cigar Company , where we watch masters roll cigars , the Los Pinarenos Fruteria that serves us freshly pressed sugarcane juice , and Domino Park , a local hangout where dominoes are king . Also along the way we sip mojitos at the Ball & Chain , a recently reopened 1930s music club , indulge in artisan ice cream at Azucar and eat Cuban sandwiches at El Exquisito ’ s street-side ventanita . But the most interesting thing on the menu is cafecito , a Miami coffee creation that is strong , sweet and served in a thimble-sized cup .
Across town in Miami Beach , the Art Deco Historic District is a pillar of preservation . The landscape is lit by neon signs and curvy façades that are the backdrop for a bustling crowd of tourists . Nightlife abounds as I take a self-guided tour with the help of the iTourMobile Miami Art Deco app and my trusty “ National Traveler ” book . Stops include the Lincoln Theatre , now home to retail shops ; Haddon Hall , a newly refurbished boutique hotel ; Colony Theatre ; and the Breakwater Hotel . No two tours are alike because Art Deco is everywhere in Miami . No guide is required to spot the proliferation of 1920s and 1930s architecture , but if you want to learn from the experts , the Miami Design Preservation League offers tours every day .
South Beach is host to a Miami Food Tour as well . With the help of my guide , Lisa , I discover more Latin fare , such as churros stuffed with dulce de leche at Manolo South Beach ; ceviche with conch at Bolivar ; empanadas at Naked Taco ; and picadillo at Larios on the Beach , Gloria Estefan ’ s restaurant . Along this tour , Lisa points out terrazzo floors , the Versace home , and other notable history , such as the area ’ s rise to fame with the TV show “ Miami Vice .”
Oodles of eating requires sightseeing . A great place to stretch the legs is Vizcaya , the 1914
PHOTOGRAPHY : CHARITY BETH LONG
EASTERN HOME & TRAVEL 17