One of my best friends and I thought decided to meet “halfway” between Amsterdam and San Francisco. With neither of us in the mood for a city trip to NYC, Boston, etc, we figured Miami would be the next best bet. Neither of us really had much of an idea of what to expect about Miami, except that it would be awesome. And that much of our time would look like this:
and it did
We stayed in South Beach during our first 3 nights in Miami, figuring that was the most obvious option. The day before we flew there we heard about the impending hurricane coming to rock the shores of southern Florida – luckily it never came, but being from California and only having seen these storms on TV we were pretty freaked out. So we tried to fit in as much as possible before the storm was supposed to come.
On our first morning in Miami, I convinced my friend to go to Calle Ocho with me. She was pretty skeptical, and for good reason. But Lonely Planet recommended it! And duh, it is the name of a Pitbull song, so it had to be cool. It was supposed to be Little Havana, a cultural haven where we would be engrossed in Cuban culture. So straight after breakfast, we hopped in a cab and told the driver “take us to the heart of Calle Ocho.” She was a bit taken aback by our request, but drove us there anyway. ˆWell, this is where it begins,” she told us. “You girls be careful here.”
So there we were, on Calle Ocho at about 12noon on a Saturday afternoon. It was hot. Hotter than I ever would have imagined since the dry California heat never prepared me for crippling humidity. My friend was a bit nervous. I encouraged her this would be so worth it. It was gonna be great!
Except most stuff was closed. So we walked around aimlessly until I spotted other tourists drinking from a coconut. We could do that too! So I scouted the location, which led us to Los Pinarenos Fruteria, a family run market. Inside the open market, fans raged to cool under the sweltering humidity. Ah, I thought. So this is the Calle Ocho. I’m having such an authentic experience!
And I suppose it was, cause I saw the place featured on the travel just a few weeks ago.
After milling around the area, we came across a souvenir shop, selling what would be one of the highlights of our trip – a Pitbull world tour shirt. It was then we came to a realization: Pitbull is the crown jewel of Miami. This would set the scene for the rest of our trip.
We were done with the Calle Ocho at this point. No more the wiser on Cuban-American relations or really anything about the Calle Ocho other than a coconut market and that you can buy fresh rolled cigars there. It was time for me to redeem myself, so I insisted that since Wynwood wasn’t too far away, that we check that out next.
At that point my track record wasn’t too strong, but my friend agreed anyway. A 10 minute cab drive later and we were hopping out on to the black pavement, the midday sun beating down, and warehouses around us. I was in doubt in my mind, but I had to prove to her that my trusty Lonely Planet wouldn’t let us down.
And this time, it didn’t. The Wynwood District really is the place to experience the arts. It is home, of course, to Art Basel, and is chocked full of galleries on every corner and impressive public art. Think Andy Warhol, Banksy, Keith Haring, Shepard Fairey. When you visit Wynwood, you’ll be spoilt for choice on whose art you want to check out.
This area is also great for nightlife, and happy hour, which we learned a few days later when we returned to Wood Tavern for $4 cocktails.
Below: Wynwood Walls
The next day, we nursed ourselves after having checked out Miami’s famous nightlife before – I especially needed to recover after we went to Delano’s where the DJ informed the crowd that if you are over 25 you can still be hot. I didn’t realize that being 26 in Miami was considered cat-lady age, so I was a bit disappointed. Anyway, the storm was coming that day so we took shelter exploring the Wolfsonian Museum, a great place to learn about Miami’s history and learn about Art Deco if you need to escape the rain for a few hours.
That night, we headed for Skybar at the Shore Club. First of all, don’t let the name fool you. This is definitely not on a rooftop, which we quickly learned when the signs for the bar pointed toward the pool. The bar was so-so, but the upside was we befriended a bartender who gave us a lot of great tips for going out. After that, we headed for his recommendation, Mango’s. This is the kind of place that I imagine is straight out of a film. Its an over the top, latin themed bar complete with dancers appearing on bar tops every 10-15 minutes to perform. In short, it is awesome and should not be missed. I felt like I had entered some Latin American country, like this could never be a place in the US. That is the feeling you get from a lot of parts of Miami, like a piece of Latin American has been transplanted and lives in its own cultural bubble, separate from the rest of the conservative state of Florida.
It was here at Mango’s that we noticed a special page on the back of the cocktail menu… a page that would confirm what we thought to be true – that Pitbull is truly the crown jewel of Miami! Unfortunately I have no photographic proof of this, but trust me, its true.
The next day was our last before we would return for one last night before we flew out, so we spent it relaxing on the beautiful sand of South Beach Miami. This is truly a little slice of paradise.
One important thing to know about Miami before you go, is that everything there is picture perfect and beautiful. Just beware of going in the summer because it is extremely humid. So humid, that we caught ourselves constantly singing Marc Anthony and Pitbull’s song “Let it rain over me” (notice a theme developing here?)
After visiting Key West and the Everglades, we had one last day in Miami before flying out again. We headed for Key Biscayne to check out its beautiful beach, and beautiful it was. And filled with gigantic lizards. Key Biscayne is definitely a must visit if you want to enjoy a less crowded beach, and even clearer water than on South Beach. Being here in the clear, bathtub warm water, made me realize that this could be the ideal place to learn to dive and see sea life. So I’ve already got my agenda for my next Miami visit planned.
Below: pausing for a quick pic on Key Biscayne … sweating my ass off
That last night, we revisited Wynwood for those $4 cocktails and made a trip to Bodega – a must visit for drinks. I like Bodega because it has a different vibe than the rest of South Beach. Its much more laid back, not a flashy club at all, actually, just a hidden bar with a taqueria as its front, and a dj spinning all your favorite hip hop from the 90s to today in the back. Out of all the clubs and bars we visited – and trust me, there were a lot, this was my favorite, and one of the only ones really worth sharing that you might not hear about from a travel guide.
Miami was so much more than I expected. So filled with Latin culture, so different than the America I’m used to. After living abroad I value the different cultures within the US so much more, and find myself being more curious than I ever imagined about new places in my own country. Miami was the perfect place for a girls trip… a sort of Las Vegas meets the Caribbean meets the MoMA. Beautiful Art Deco architecture, impossibly blue and warm waters, and a nightlife that is unbeatable. Needless to say, I’d return to Miami any day.
We stayed in South Beach at the President Hotel to make sure we’d be walking distance to the beach, restaurants, and of course, all the parties — although some places in South Beach did warrant a cab.
The President Hotel was in the ideal location on Collins Avenue – it wasn’t the most glamorous hotel in Miami, but it was clean, the air conditioning worked and we could easily get around Miami, so that was all we really cared about!
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Lonely Planet was my best friend for planning this trip – as always!