An afternoon on Calle Ocho in Little Havana, Miami

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Little Havana in Miami is one of the most interesting and famous ethnic neighborhoods in America, and Calle Ocho (SW 8th St.) is the center of it all. This is the place to go for a taste of Cuban culture in South Florida.

calle ocho

One of the most famous spots on Calle Ocho is Maximo Gomez Park, also known as Domino Park. That’s where many of the older Cuban residents gather daily to play dominoes or checkers.

domino park statue

For some folks, like these two gentlemen, chess is the preferred game of choice.

little havana chess

I wouldn’t say the park is a huge tourist destination, but we did see a handful of camera-wielding visitors passing by, which creates a bit of an odd scene. You have these tourists trying to get photos without being too awkward or invasive; meanwhile, you have the residents, who have been coming to this park everyday for years and have a “what’s the big deal?” attitude towards the gawkers.

maximo gomez park domino

Walking through some of the little shops on Calle Ocho was interesting. You can tell based on the inventory that the shops cater partially to residents and partially to tourists. They have clothing and other essentials, but they also have things like giant-sized “Cuban Parking Only” vanity license plates to hang on your wall.

I’ve heard that Cubans like their cigars.

cigars little havana

As is often the case in ethnic neighborhoods, there’s a decent amount of attractive street art. This mural honors an interesting batch of people, including musicians Celia Cruz and Tito Puente. And is that Abe Lincoln randomly in the corner?

little havana artwork

Calle Ocho has a “Walkway of the Stars” featuring stars dedicated to famous Cuban individuals. I have to confess my ignorance – I didn’t recognize most of the names. I’ve read that Gloria Estefan and Celia Cruz have stars, but the walkway stretches for several blocks, and somehow I missed theirs.

stars of calle ocho

Little Havana is a lot like Key West in that there are chickens running around on the streets. Not so many on Calle Ocho, but I did see several on the back streets. The hood honors the bird with these silly statues at SW 16th Ave, in front of El Pub Restaurant, where we enjoyed a delicious lunch.

little havana chickens

SW 13th Ave. is the home of the Cuban Memorial Boulevard, one of the coolest historic sights of Little Havana. The park contains statues of important figures who fought for Cuban independence.

cuban memorial boulevard

In the center of the park is an attention-grabbing statue of the Virgin Mary, which stands in front of a massive ceiba tree with its huge exposed buttress roots extending out in all directions.

virgin mary madonna statue little havana

Calle Ocho in Little Havana was one of my favorite parts of my entire South Florida trip. I’d love to be able to go back and spend more time getting to know the area better.


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About the Author

Scott Shetler is a Seattle-based journalist and blogger who seeks out offbeat attractions and awesome destinations around the world. He has been featured in Travel + Leisure, Connect Magazine, Matador Travel, and the Washington Post.

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  1. I enjoyed reading this as part of my still-in-bed morning wake up routine, as a Miami native with a Cuban heritage, it got me very nostalgic for home. Glad to see outsiders enjoying Calle Ocho! And yes, we do take our cigars very seriously. 🙂

  2. Calle Ocho is cool, lots of great Cuban food and Cafe Cubano there. I spent nearly two months in that neighborhood in 2000 as a TV videographer covering the Elian Gonzalez thing. Ate a ton of great Cuban food and smoked a few of those cigars, too (which I don’t do anymore; gotta pick and choose my vices as I get older!)

    1. Wow, I can imagine that would have been an interesting time to be in Little Havana. There must have been a lot of strong opinions at that time!

  3. Looks like a cute neighborhood ! I like the painted roosters. =)

    As someone who likes to take photos….I do feel a bit like an intruder sometimes when I am walking around pointing my big camera at people….for the first 10 minutes in town anyway ~ haha.

  4. I’m lucky enough to live nearby when in Miami and I couldn’t agree more: Calle 8 and Little Havanna is a sight to behold and a world on its own.Love the food, love the people and yes. I smoke the occasional cigar too.

  5. I’ve heard of Calle Ocho, but never visited before. The little domino park looks similar to a lot of little Chinese parks where elderly men sit around and play checkers!

  6. I love Calle 8! Last time I went there was in 2004 and I loved the vibe of the area. Maybe I like it a lot because Cuban and Puerto Rican cultures have a lot in common!

  7. How interesting and lively Calle Ocho sounds! We were in Miami a year ago – just for a day, waiting for a plane, but still… I see we should have spent those hours there, rather than at the slightly boring South Beach. Next time for sure…

  8. This post was very interesting for me to read, never heard of this before. I laughed when I read what you wrote about tourists vs. locals. When I was in the Boston area, it was the beginning of fall foliage colors. I met a friend for one of the days there and got all excited about a red tree – and she was like, yeah, I have lots of trees like that outside my home 🙂 Then she found me a good, colorful tree to take pictures of and admire 🙂 🙂

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