Little Havana Highlights: The Ultimate Neighborhood Guide

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  1. Welcome
  2. What is Little Havana?
  3. History
  4. Landmarks
  5. Local Tours

Welcome to Little Havana!

Nestled in the heart of Miami, Little Havana beckons with its vibrant streets, rich Cuban heritage, and a tapestry of cultural experiences waiting to be unraveled.

From the old-school vibes of its early years to the hip and happening foodie scene of modern-day Little Havana, this place is a taste of the past and present. Whether you’re a food enthusiast, an art lover, or simply seeking an authentic experience, there’s no shortage of things to do in Little Havana. The History of Little Havana isn’t just in the books; it’s painted on the walls, it’s in the food, and it’s flowing through the streets.

Ready to taste and tour? Talk an incredible walk with Bobby’s Bike Hike – Miami into the food & culture of Little Havana. Join us on an exciting, yet leisurely, adventure through the streets, catching the details that make this place pop. This is your ultimate guide to the heart and soul of Little Havana, where every corner has a story and every flavor tells a tale. Let’s get started!

What is Little Havana?

Little Havana is not just a neighborhood; it’s the heart of the Cuban community outside of Cuba.

Miami-Dade County is the home to 1.2 million Cuban-Americans, about half the entire U.S. Cuban population and about 10% the size of the population of Cuba itself.. The main artery of Little Havana,  “Calle Ocho” (which literally means “8th Street” but it’s Southwest 8th Street to be precise), has a unique and inviting energy and character. Calle Ocho pulses with salsa beats, vivid street art, and the irresistible aroma of authentic Cuban cuisine. From the historic Tower Theater to the colorful murals along Calle Ocho, Little Havana is a celebration of resilience, community, and the rich heritage that defines its character.

History of Little Havana

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Little Havana’s roots trace back to Cuba’s Communist Revolution led by Fidel Castro whose forces were successful in gaining control of Cuba in 1959. The Castro regime nationalized free enterprise, and the political and economic upheaval created in Cuba sent waves of Cuban dissidents to a new haven – Miami. The U.S government established a Cuban Assistance Center at the Miami News Tower (now known as “Freedom Tower”) in Downtown Miami. Downtown became crowded, and the new Cuban population began to form “Little Havana” just west of Downtown. Prior to becoming Little Havana, the area was divided into two neighborhoods, Riverside and Shenandoah, mostly inhabited by Jews. The proximity to churches, hospitals, and downtown amenities, along with the affordability of the older housing stock, attracted these newcomers. Initially residing along Flagler Street, Cuban immigrants established homes and businesses along Calle Ocho (Southwest 8th Street), the neighborhood’s landmark road.

Little Havana’s history is also closely tied to the Bay of Pigs invasion, a pivotal event in the plight of Cuban dissidents. The Bay of Pigs invasion occurred in April 1961, when Cuban exiles, trained and supported by the United States, attempted to overthrow Fidel Castro’s government in Cuba. The invasion, ultimately unsuccessful, led to increased tensions between the U.S. and Cuba and triggered a significant wave of Cuban refugees seeking asylum in the United States. Many of these refugees, who fled political persecution and economic instability in the aftermath of the failed invasion, found their way to Miami, particularly to neighborhoods like Little Havana. The neighborhood became a focal point for the Cuban exile community, serving as a hub for those who opposed the Castro regime and sought to build new lives in the United States. The neighborhood continued to grow throughout the 1960s, as more Cubans became disillusioned with the Castro government, and fled to Miami.

Little Havana Landmarks

1. Stroll Down Little Havana’s main street: Calle Ocho

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A walk down Calle Ocho – the heart of Little Havana – is a sensory journey, indeed!  Each step is a lively dance between past and present, with colorful murals telling tales of Cuban heritage, lively music echoing through the air, tantalizing aromas of authentic Cuban cuisine, and coffee wafting from charming eateries punctuated by the animated conversations of the locals. Calle Ocho invites you to savor every moment, offering an enchanting blend of history, art, and the unmistakable spirits of Cuba and Miami wrapped into one. Check out the stars on the Calle Ocho Walk of Fame that celebrate the successes of famous Cubans and Cuban-Americans, such as Celia Cruz and Gloria Estefan, as well as Latinos from any Spanish-speaking nation, like Julio Iglesias and Thalia. A leisurely walk down Calle Ocho promises an unforgettable immersion into the soul of Little Havana and its community.

2. Visit the Cubaocho Museum & Performing Arts Center

Nestled in the heart of this vibrant Miami neighborhood, the Cubaocho Museum & Performing Arts Center at 1465 SW 8th St #106, Miami, FL 33135 invites visitors to embark on a visual journey through Cuban art and history. It boasts a remarkable collection of art, vintage artifacts, and memorabilia intent on preserving Cuba’s rich heritage. Each piece tells a unique story. Whether you’re an art enthusiast or a history buff, a visit to the Cubaocho Museum promises an enriching and visually stunning experience.

3. Indulge in Cuban Cuisine

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Little Havana is a gastronomic haven, boasting some of the best Cuban eateries in the world that beckon food enthusiasts from far and wide. Exploring Little Havana’s culinary scene is an adventure in itself. For a perfect mojito and a mouthwatering Cuban sandwich served with potato sticks, venture to Old’s Havana at 1442 SW 8th St, Miami, FL 33135, known as the “Casa del Mojito” (“House of the Mojito”) featuring great, live music. Sala’o at 1642 SW 8th St, Miami, FL 33135 features seafood and celebrates the life of Ernest Hemingway and his more than two decades spent in Cuba authoring some of his most famous novels, including “Old Man and the Sea.” You can often catch neighborhood staple, “El Rey de la Salsa” (“The King of Salsa”), dancing to Sala’o’s spirited, live bands. El Cristo Whether you’re sipping cafecito at a sidewalk cafe or indulging in a succulent Ropa Vieja (a stringy beef dish, literally meaning “old clothes”) at a family-owned establishment, Little Havana’s eateries promise a culinary journey that is as diverse and rich as the Cuban culture that defines this vibrant Miami neighborhood.

4. Explore the Tower Theater

The Tower Theater in Little Havana stands as more than just an architectural landmark. Built in 1926 as the state-of-the-art theater of the South, the Tower Theater became a cultural cornerstone deeply embedded in the history of the community. Originally designed as a silent movie palace, it evolved to cater to the diverse tastes of Miami’s residents, particularly the Cuban diaspora. It was the first local theater to feature Spanish subtitles, allowing Cuban immigrants to learn a bit of English, while they got their cinematic entertainment. The Tower Theater played a pivotal role in preserving and sharing Latin cinema, fostering a sense of unity among the residents. Today, this historic gem continues to host events that bridge generations and celebrate the rich cultural mosaic of Little Havana, such as the recent “Celia Cruz Forever” exhibition. The Tower Theater stands tall, not just as a physical structure, but as a living narrative of the neighborhood’s resilient spirit and the enduring power of shared stories.

5. Immerse in Art at Galleries and on the Street 

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A stroll through Little Havana makes it evident that Cubans love their art! Calle Ocho is a vibrant canvas of artistic expression, and its art galleries serve as windows into the soul of this eclectic Miami neighborhood and its Cuban culture. Among the standout galleries, Futurama 1637 at 1637 SW 8th St, Miami, FL 33135 has a contemporary edge, showcasing the work of local and international artists in a dynamic space. For a fusion of art and community, Viernes Culturales, held on the last Friday of each month, transforms the streets into an open-air gallery, with local artists displaying their creations. Little Havana’s art scene is a kaleidoscope of creativity, where every gallery invites exploration and celebrates the diverse narratives that define this captivating neighborhood.

6. Sip Cuban Coffee

Coffee holds a central place in Cuban culture, serving as more than just a beverage but a cherished ritual that fosters social connections and sustains daily life. From the iconic cafecito to the elaborate coffee ceremonies, the importance of coffee transcends mere consumption, embodying hospitality, camaraderie, and tradition. In Cuban households, the day often begins with the aromatic scent of freshly brewed coffee, signaling the start of shared moments and lively conversations. The act of preparing and serving coffee is steeped in tradition, with specific rituals dictating the brewing process and the presentation of coffee cups.

What sets Cuban coffee apart is its unique preparation method and rich, robust flavor profile. Cuban coffee is typically brewed using a stovetop espresso maker called a cafetera or Moka pot, producing a concentrated and intense brew known as cafecito or café cubano. What distinguishes Cuban coffee is the addition of sugar during the brewing process, resulting in a sweet and syrupy espresso shot with a velvety crema. This distinctive sweetness is balanced by the boldness of the coffee, creating a harmonious flavor profile that is deeply ingrained in Cuban culture. Additionally, Cuban coffee is often served in small, demitasse cups, encouraging sipping and savoring of its potent flavor. Overall, the combination of the brewing method, addition of sugar, and concentrated taste makes Cuban coffee a beloved and unmistakable part of Cuban culinary heritage.

While on Calle Ocho in Little Havana, La Colada at 1518 SW 8th St, Miami, FL 33135 and El Pub at 1548 SW 8th St, Miami, FL 33135 are two places that highlight the excellence of Cuban coffee.

7. Observe a Domino Game at Maximo Gomez Park

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Inhabiting a strategic corner on Calle Ocho at SW 15th Avenue in Little Havana, Máximo Gómez Park, lovingly dubbed “Domino Park,” is a cherished gem filled with the clacking of dominoes shuffled along by Cuban residents enjoying Cuba’s favorite pastime. Honoring the legacy of Cuban revolutionary General Máximo Gómez, this lively social hub beckons locals and visitors alike to indulge in the timeless pleasures of spirited domino games, and convivial chats with a side of cafecito. Chess is also played here, albeit to a lesser degree. With over five decades of tradition under its belt, the park exudes an authentic Latin vibe, where intense domino matches unfold amidst playful banter and infectious camaraderie. Adorned with a captivating mural by artist Oscar Thomas celebrating 1994’s Hemispheric Summit of the Americas held in Miami, Domino Park invites all to immerse themselves in the vibrant spirit of Miami’s beloved Cuban enclave.

8. Experience Cigar Rolling

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Cigars hold a profound significance in Cuban culture, representing a centuries-old tradition deeply intertwined with the island’s history, identity, and craftsmanship. Cubans take the art of tobacco and cigar rolling very seriously. Renowned worldwide for their superior quality and exquisite flavor, Cuban cigars are more than just a luxury product; they are a symbol of prestige, sophistication, and national pride. In Cuban culture, smoking cigars is not merely a pastime but a cherished ritual, often reserved for special occasions or social gatherings. From the lush tobacco fields of Pinar del Rio, considered by many experts the best tobacco-growing region in the world, to the skilled hands of master torcedores (cigar rollers), every step of the cigar-making process embodies the artistry and dedication of generations of Cuban artisans. Beyond their economic importance, cigars serve as ambassadors of Cuban culture, carrying with them the rich heritage and traditions of the island to aficionados around the globe. Thus, cigars stand as a quintessential emblem of Cuban identity, a timeless symbol of craftsmanship, passion, and the art of living well.

Under current U.S. law, the importation of Cuban tobacco and cigars is prohibited. Cigars sold in Little Havana are dubbed “Cuban-style” and are generally rolled by master Cuban rollers and consist of tobacco grown from Cuban seed in Nicaragua, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic. These are still amazing quality cigars, and many of the local cigar shops even feature live rolling, so you can see the process with your own eyes. Mr. Cigars at 42 SW 16th Ave, Miami, FL 33135 offers a live rolling experience and top-notch “Cuban-style” cigars.

9. Celebrate at the Calle Ocho Festival

The Calle Ocho Festival, a vibrant celebration held annually in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, is one of Miami’s peak cultural experiences – a kaleidoscope of Cuban culture, music, and cuisine. Drawing over a million visitors from near and far, this iconic street festival transforms Calle Ocho into a pulsating carnival of color and sound. From lively salsa performances to traditional folk dances, the festival’s stages come alive with the infectious rhythms of Latin music, captivating audiences and inviting them to dance in the streets. Alongside the music, the aroma of sizzling Cuban cuisine fills the air, with vendors offering an array of mouthwatering delights, from savory empanadas to sweet plantain treats. The Calle Ocho Festival is not just a celebration of Cuban heritage; it’s a testament to the vibrant multicultural tapestry of Miami, where people of all backgrounds come together to revel in the spirit of unity, diversity, and community. If you want the full Little Havana experience, come during the Calle Ocho Festival, which is held in March. Just be prepared for the crowds!

Food & Culture Tours of Little Havana

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A fantastic way to get introduced to Little Havana, one of Miami’s most remarkable gems, is to join an exciting food and culture tour led by an experienced, local guide. Bobby’s Bike Hike features fun, informative, and scenic walks through Little Havana, 7 days per week. All you have to do is read the reviews to know that this award-winning company with more than two decades of expertise is impressing guests with Miami’s best guides providing unforgettable experiences on our guided tours of Little Havana. Whether you seek history, culture, flavor, fun, or all of the above, Bobby’s Bike Hike excels!

Bobby’s Bike Hike covers all the Little Havana bases. Stroll down lively Calle Ocho, visit Domino Park, Tower Theater, Bay of Pigs Memorial Park, a cigar shop, and more. Sample some of the world’s best Cuban cuisine in the most Cuban place outside of Cuba. Enjoy one of our world-renowned Cuban sandwiches, Cuban coffee, and other delicious Cuban treats – a must in Miami!

With so much to see and do in Miami’s Little Havana, the best way to experience as much as possible is to join a tour led by knowledgeable, local guides. The Miami Little Havana Food & Culture Walking Tour with Bobby’s Bike Hike will give you an authentic and in-depth journey through this legendary neighborhood. Get ready for an experience that will awaken your senses as we walk through this colorful neighborhood and taste the iconic flavors.

Little Havana stands as a testament to the power of culture, community, and history. With its bustling streets, mouthwatering cuisine, and vibrant art scene, this neighborhood offers an immersive experience that lingers long after you leave.