Trip Summary: With beautiful white sand beaches and great winter weather, Miami presents a slice of Latin American flavor for the sun-deprived northerner. I wouldn’t want to live there but it’s a great place to spend a few days, as long as you don’t mind the in-your-face Jersey-shore attitude of residents and visitors alike. I’m from New Jersey so I feel that I have the right to liberally throw around that insult.
Saturday: I woke up early (as always) and headed out to the beach to watch the sunrise. I was surprised how many people were out on the beach with the same idea. Maybe these people were just going to bed, while I was just getting up? They could have been Europeans just in from their overnight flight.
Anyways, we all seemed to enjoy watching the sun light an orange and red fire to the clouds massed out at sea.
Afterwards, I walked through palm-dotted Lummus Park, which runs about 10 blocks between the ocean and Ocean Drive, Miami’s most recognizable street with its Art Deco lineup.
In the late afternoon I toured the Art Deco Historic District on South Beach. The district spans a wide swath of Miami Beach but most of the buildings lie along Ocean Avenue and Collins between 6th and 18th Streets. I really like 1930s Art Deco style, and the Streamline Modern style in particular. Almost every building along this stretch was picture-worthy. I posted pictures of a few notable ones below, including the Cardozo Hotel, the Carlyle, and the Leslie.
By chance, we were in Miami during its annual Art Deco Weekend. To mark the occasion, Ocean Drive was lined with street vendors and food stands selling arepas and other Latin American specialties. There was an architectural walking tour and the special exhibit at the Art Deco Visitors Center, but the only sign that made the street festival along Ocean Drive an “Art Deco” one was the woman I saw in a flapper dress. I think there was a classic car show a ways down the road, but I didn’t make it that far.
The next morning, as I walked along the beach listening to a podcast, I stopped to adjust the settings on my camera. I noticed a man sitting on a cabana frame nearby, looking out at the ocean. He nodded and said good morning. We ended up talking for a little. He told me that he was jobless and down on his luck. The restaurant he worked for went out of business and his old age, he said, prevented him from getting a similar job. “Who would hire a 60-year old busboy?” he asked. He was out of money, and the 7-11 coffee he was drinking was a gift from a kind stranger. Having heard similar spiels, I slowly started backing up so that when he asked for money I would be farther away. But he never did.
What I got instead was a look into this man’s dreary experience as a Palestinian immigrant trying to make it in this country. He said he was from Bethlehem, and had immigrated to the U.S. five years ago but was now jobless. I was curious about why he couldn’t find work here—what about driving a taxi or something? No license. What about family or friends? They’re back in Palestine. He was depressed—”no work, it destroys you,” he said. I thought about giving him ten bucks, but I didn’t want to risk offending him. I turned to make my way back to the hotel, offered some mumbled advice about trying to remake contact with his family and friends, but he just nodded. I looked back about thirty seconds later. He was sitting in the same spot, silhouetted against the rising sun, looking down at the sand.
I felt sufficiently guilty the rest of the day as I spent it lounging around the pool, enjoying my tuna salad sandwich and coconut rum punch served to me by the cabana girl in the sun.
I spent a few afternoon hours strolling down Lincoln Road, an outdoor shopping pedestrian-only street running east and west across South Beach. The weather was still perfect, bringing throngs of people out shopping. Running like a spine down the middle of Lincoln Road were outdoor cafes and restaurants, all full. Farmers stands displayed fruits I had never heard of or seen before. Along the route, I heard more Spanish or Portuguese than English. I could have been in Rio or Caracas by the sights and sounds around me.
Overall, Miami is an awesome place. Just take note that on the periphery of all that glitz and glamour, you might just see in that idling Ferrari the reflection of a tanned and bearded homeless man, stumbling by like a ghost on the way to nowhere in particular.
Restaurants and Cafes
Charlotte Bakery (1499 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach) Another great find thanks to Yelp, this Venezuelan bakery/cafe adds a Latin American touch to breakfast. It’s only one block away from the bustle of Collins Avenue. The vibe inside is one of a little Parisian cafe, with wooden tables and glass counters. Their breakfast dishes are advertised on a chalkboard above the counter. If you don’t read Spanish, just ask the girl. Like a modern cave man, I grunted that I wanted a mix of eggs and meat. The girl helped me select a few things, including an arepa and a baked empanada. Their default way of making coffee is the Latin American way, i.e. with a lot of milk. For some reason, I was taken for a gringo and asked if I wanted my coffee made the American way. It turned out really good–probably the best coffee I’ve had outside of my home in a while.
Joe’s Stone Crab ( 11 Washington Avenue) This bustling old school crab house has been open since 1913, when most of Miami was still farmland. The waits are long–upwards of two hours on a busy weekend night. We knew someone who got us in without a long wait, so we were very fortunate. The decor inside was Spanish Colonial Revival (I think), and the waiters wore tuxedos. You’d think this was a pretentious place with high prices to match. But the place was neither; I saw people in jeans and t-shirts and others in suits and ties. I thought the prices were really fair too. I could see it in the wine prices especially. I ordered a $43 bottle of Chilean chardonnay to go with our stone crabs. I looked it up on Wine-searcher and it was a $22 bottle retail–not a horrible markup for a nice restaurant. We ordered a a mix of desserts, including the chocolate pecan pie, the key-lime pie, and the bread pudding, all of which were superb and under $8.
Aroma Espresso (1601 Collins Ave) I liked this place so much that I went twice in one day. The coffee was top notch and I loved the European vibe of the outdoor seating area, which is a great place to whittle away the afternoon while people watching between sentences of the newspaper you’re trying to read. Miami Beach is unmatched in the U.S. for people watching and this café provides 50-yard line seats. I saw one dude (?) with long black hair run by in jean shorts, stockings underneath, rocking a ripped tank top.