By: Angela Caraway-Carlton
Explore Miami’s diverse neighborhoods and cultures during your corporate meeting.
Miami is known as a “melting pot” of cultures and ethnicities, and that’s what makes the city so special. It’s one of the few places where you feel like you’ve traveled to many parts of the world — in just one visit.
Every inch of Miami is infused with different nationalities, and with residents from Cuba, Haiti, Central and South America, and other parts of the Caribbean living here, it’s easy to immerse yourself in their cherished heritage, rituals, food, music, art and dance.
Here’s a look at four distinct multicultural neighborhoods that are worth visiting during your stay in Miami.
There are few places in the world with such storied history and energy as Miami’s Little Havana. This Hispanic neighborhood, anchored by the bustling Calle Ocho, is centrally located to the beach, Downtown Miami and Coral Gables — and is happening day or night with many exciting places to meet, sightsee and immerse yourself in the Cuban culture.
“Little Havana is very important because of the meaning it has to the Cubans in exile and to the new migration of Central Americans that are settling there,” says Pati Vargas, director of Viernes Culturales. “Little Havana has kept its true feel through the years, and each year it gets better. The community continues to survive, thrive and retain the feel of Latin culture.”
Spend an authentic day living like many of the neighborhood’s Cuban residents: Grab a Cuban coffee at a “cafecito window;” stop to watch the elderly men play intense games of dominos at Domino Park; or pop into one of the many cigar shops lining the streets.
“Guests visit beautiful art galleries such as Futurama 1637, Molina Gallery and many more,” says Vargas of the 22 art galleries that span a one-mile radius, many of which have been in operation for more than 15 years.
Food is a delicious draw in Little Havana, where a hearty meal will only set you back a few dollars, with many shops boasting fresh juices, croquetas, pastelitos, and of course, Cuban coffee, which always wafts through the air. While Cuban fare is the most common here, there are also many authentic Mexican, Thai and Central American restaurants to sample.
In the evening, catch an independent film at the iconic Tower Theater, one of Miami’s oldest cultural landmarks; peruse one of the largest privately owned Cuban art collections at Cubaocho Museum and Performing Arts; or listen to Latin musicians belt out sultry sounds at Ball & Chain, a night club that used to be a hot spot for great musicians such as Billie Holiday and Chet Baker in the 1950s. One of the most exciting times in Little Havana is the last Friday night of every month, when the streets come alive with Viernes Culturales (Cultural Friday), a huge block party that features music, street performers and vendors, and usually draws around 3,500 people.
It will soon be easy to host a meeting or event in Little Havana. In 2017, Ball & Chain will be a key spot for meetings along with Cubaocho Museum & Performing Arts Center and Futurama 1637 gallery. In January 2017, the Tower Hotel will also offer an off-site meeting space. “The Tower is a boutique hotel where great jazz musicians like Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and many more stayed during the great era of Miami Beach in the 1940s and 50s,” reveals Vargas.
Wander off Miami’s beaten path to enjoy the vibrant neighborhood known as Little Haiti, the only spot outside of Haiti that actually bears its name. Most recognized for its colorful, gingerbread-style buildings, many with murals depicting Haitian historical figures, this neighborhod adds to Miami’s multi-ethnic character.
It’s where Haitian exiles settled in the late 1970s and 80s, and where many residents from other parts of the Caribbean now live. “Little Haiti is the home-away-from-home for the Haitian diaspora,” says Joann Milord, executive director of the Northeast Second Avenue Partnership, a nonprofit dedicated to branding, preserving and revitalizing Little Haiti. “It’s the perfect destination to explore genuine Haitian culture, art, music, food and more.”
A few hours can easily be spent popping in and out of art galleries, book stores, music stores like Sweat Records, and browsing Haitian markets for unique ingredients. On the main corridor is the brightly-colored Caribbean Marketplace, a cultural gem filled with arts and crafts vendors, gifts shops, and it can also be rented for private events.
With it’s close proxomity to the Wynwood Arts District, most known for it’s many outdoor murals, Little Haiti is now experiencing an arts renaissance of its own. Visitors can take in authentic Haitian art at Daleus Museum and Gallery, Afrocentric art at Yeelen Gallery or opt for a self-guided tour of the Little Haiti Mural Project.
“Little Haiti is the perfect mix of old and new. There are traditional Haitian novelty stores and modern up-and-coming galleries,” says Milord. She suggests The Little Haiti Cultural Center as the perfect spot for meetings and events — it’s a place for true immersion into Haitian traditions with an art gallery, a 270-seat theater and a consistently packed schedule of dance classes like Afro-Caribbean folk dancing.
A trip to Little Haiti should always involve a meal prepared by locals who want to share their native cuisine like “Creole cooking” at places like the popular Leela’s Restaurant and Chef Creole Restaurant, but visitors can also discover Jamaican food at Clive’s Cave, and Argentinian cuisine at Fiorito's Restaurant.
Coconut Grove Village West
In no other Miami neighborhood is the Bahamian influence as distinct as Coconut Grove Village West. Located just south of downtown Miami, this village by the bay was settled by Bahamian immigrants more than 100 years ago and enjoys influences from the deep south as well.
“Coconut Grove Village West is a facet of the great diamond called Coconut Grove. It’s full of culture, history and it’s where the city of Miami first got its start,” says J.S. Rashid, President/CEO of Collaborative Development Corporation. “Bahamians, along with settlers from Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas, created this great cultural place.”
The neighborhood still offers traces of its Bahamian roots — with shot-gun style houses scattered throughout, and landmarks such as the Mariah Brown House, which was home to one of the first Bahamians to arrive in Coconut Grove, and the Coconut Grove Cemetery, a graveyard for Miami's Bahamian immigrants in the early 1900s and where legend has it that Michael Jackson filmed part of his famous "Thriller" video.
“One of the best ways to explore many of these iconic landmarks is during a Black Heritage Tour,” says Rashid of the on-demand tours that also highlight the oldest African American church where many Bahamians worshipped. “It’s an up-close-and-personal tour and many of the guides are descendants of the original settlers, so they offer a compelling narrative.”
These days the neighborhood is known for much more than just its Bahamian heritage. Coconut Grove is a place where sailboats cruise the turquoise waters of Biscayne Bay, peacocks run wild, lush foliage thrives and there’s an eclectic mix of history, shopping and luxury hotels. The area boasts numerous spots for meetings and conferences; upscale hotels such as The Ritz-Carlton, Sonesta and Mayfair Hotel & Spa, all have ballrooms and meeting venues. Rashid also suggests KROMA, an eclectic art gallery that hosts regularly scheduled exhibitions and also houses artist studios. “Just to see the art is an experience,” says Rashid.
Once you’re done meeting, cruise the Grove’s main artery, Grand Avenue, and wander its side streets for independent boutiques and sidewalk cafes featuring cuisines from all over the world.
Located northwest of Downtown Miami, Historic Overtown is a historic community that’s steeped in black history, civic pride and full of musical memories. The neighborhood is where many of the black workers who built and serviced Miami’s railroad, streets and hotels, lived in the late 1800s and is the second-oldest continuously inhabited neighborhood of Miami after Coconut Grove.
Today it’s canvased with murals of African-American heroes, anchored by countless churches and historic buildings. Historic Overtown also hosts the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. parade; King spoke at the Greater Bethel A. M. E. Church, one of the oldest churches in Miami that is still standing today.
Music has always been a big attraction in Historic Overtown, so much so that it used to be known as “Little Broadway,” with iconic African-American performers like Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin and Sammy Davis Jr. belting out soulful music on the stage of the Lyric Theatre, which opened its doors in 1913. The Lyric is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and while it’s now seen some modern renovations, visitors can still experience its musical history by hosting an event there, or by attending a concert or creative performance.
When it comes to what to eat, locals-in-the-know flock to Jackson Soul Food, a family-owned restaurant that’s been serving soul food since 1946. It’s a food institution in Miami where diners will devour fried chicken wings, smothered liver with onions, and sides like okra and yams. Peoples Bar-B-Que is another Historic Overtown staple that’s been around since the 1960s which is famous for its slow-cooked barbeque.
The attractions and restaurants are just a sample of the multicultural points of interest in Miami. For more in depth information visit MiamiMeetings.com
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