Mornings in Little Havana begin with the aroma of strong Cuban coffee and the rattle of dominoes. A rooster ambles down the street, lifts his head, and gives a wake-up call.
When you take a stroll along SW. Eighth Street, better known as Calle Ocho, you feel as if you've slipped away to Cuba. Buildings as bright as flowers hold bakeries, shops, restaurants, and cigar-makers. Even if you've only got a couple of hours to spare, that's time enough to enjoy a quick taste of one of Miami's most colorful neighborhoods. Start with these.
- Join the crowd at Domino Park. This greenspace, officially known as Maximo Gomez Park, lies in the heart of Little Havana at Calle Ocho and 15th Avenue. "Prohibido gritar palabras obscenas" (no shouting obscenities) reads one of the rules painted on a wall, but this morning the park seems as polite as a church picnic. A balding man, deep in thought, ponders his next chess move. At the domino tables, players include a well-coiffured woman wearing pearls and a red blouse sitting next to her nattily dressed husband.
- Step down the block for a breakfast of fried eggs, toast, and café con leche at I Love Calle Ocho Café & Shop. Sit outside, and enjoy the balmy weather; (305) 643-3737.
- Stop in at the Latin Quarter Cultural Center at 1501 SW. Eighth Street to see galleries devoted to rising Latin artists, as well as art classes, children's programs, and more. A $2 donation is suggested; (305) 649-9797.
- Check out Little Havana To Go at 1442 SW. Eighth Street for Guayabera shirts and gifts made by local artists. Ceramic jars crafted by the Curras brothers, popular Miami artists, sell for $35 and up; (305) 857-9720.
- Stroll east on Calle Ocho to watch cigar-makers work at Moore & Bode Cigars, and sip a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice served at a sidewalk counter beside pots of orchids and fresh flowers at Los Pinareños Fruteria; (305) 285-1135.
- For a longer stay, Little Havana has much more to offer. Try the famous Versailles Restaurant at 3555 SW. Eighth Street for some of the best Cuban food in the city, or just check out the walk-up window for a quick caffeine jolt; (305) 444-0240.
- On the last weekend of the month, Cultural Fridays (or Viernes Culturales) feature music, dance, poetry, and art on outdoor stages along Calle Ocho; (305) 644-9555.