Where to go for a dose of Miami culture

Key Biscayne and other Miami beaches are popular spots for students to explore during their time at the U.
Key Biscayne and other Miami beaches are popular spots for students to explore during their time at the U. Photo credit: Josh Halper

When you think of Miami, images of South Beach and Ocean Drive with their art deco buildings, neon lights and luxury cars probably come to mind. While those are certainly spots to hit in the 305, there is so much more than meets the eye in this city. For students looking for a real dose of Miami culture over their next few years at UM, here is a guide on some places to visit including a few local spots that are must-dos.

Calle Ocho/Little Havana

Perhaps what Miami is most known for is being a second home to Cubans and Latin Americans. One simply cannot come to Miami without having a taste of Latin and Caribbean culture and one of the best places to do that is in Little Havana.

Calle Ocho, which locals affectionately call Southwest 8th Street in Spanish, is home to some of the best Cuban restaurants like Versailles and La Carreta. Go get a cafécito, some pastelitos (pastries) or a good old Cuban sandwich. Azucar Ice Cream Company is also a must-stop that features Latin-inspired flavors of gelato like plátano maduro (fried plantain) or guava.

For sustainable shopping, there are also a couple of good options in the neighborhood. Visit Dragonfly Thrift Boutique (which Vice President Kamala Harris recently visited) or the main Goodwill that houses a jaw-dropping mural paying homage to Cuban and Latin culture on its façade.

Crandon Park/Key Biscayne

South Beach is the Miami-classic destination and should be visited by every student at least once, but it is not where the locals will be caught on their day off. Instead, be sure to set up a beach day closer to campus with friends at Crandon Park in Key Biscayne.

It’s much quieter, easier to park and there’s plenty of space to set up a spot to tan or watch the sun go down. There are even coconuts scattered all over the sand. Chances are there will be several other UM students there too, looking for their own tropical oasis.

For after the beach, try heading to the Rusty Pelican for a nice lunch or dinner on the waterfront with a beautiful view of Brickell from across the way.

Coconut Grove

A hotspot for both locals and tourists alike, Coconut Grove is a must-do while being a student at UM. No matter the budget, there is something for everyone to do at this vibrant hotspot filled with tropical cafes, consignment shops and much more.

For a few sit-down eateries to try with friends, check out Greenstreet Cafe, Lulu, Monty’s or Glass and Vine. Alternatively, for a quick bite or an early morning coffee, head over to Chug’s Diner or Le Pain Quotidien.

“I never get tired of Coconut Grove,” said Caroline McDonald, a junior studying public health.

“My favorite thing to do after lunch or dinner with friends is head down to the pier and take in the view. It’s so peaceful there, and it’s the best spot to watch the sun go down.”

This can be made into a weekend hangout if followed by a trip to the popular Miami indie bookstore Books and Books, thrifting for a new ‘fit at This ‘n That or watching a movie at Cocowalk. To add an educational twist, visit the iconic Villa Vizcaya museum or La Ermita de la Caridad, a church with a beautiful seaside view mirroring the Malecón in Cuba.

No matter how much you get done in one day there is always more to see on the next visit; and given its close proximity to campus, chances are the Grove will become a go-to destination for most students.

Bayside Marketplace/FTX Arena

A little farther away from campus in Downtown Miami is the outdoor mall and concert venue Bayside Marketplace. Right across from FTX arena, home of the Miami Heat, this location features an array of kiosks, restaurants and big name brands from Victoria Secret to Express.

“My friends know how much I love to catch a Heat game,” junior mathematics major Daniel Bishop said. “I’m in Downtown pretty often and the electricity that comes with being in the crowd at one of the biggest arenas in town is something I think everyone should experience. And I do love hanging around Bayside to grab a bite before I head into the stadium.”

Having this marketplace right by the water makes it the perfect place to watch the sun go down and catch a breathtaking view of the Freedom Tower nearby in colorful lights. Some nights there may even be live music, making it the perfect place to pass time until catching a game or show at FTX.

An exhibit at Wynwood Walls on August 20, 2022.
An exhibit at Wynwood Walls on August 20, 2022. Photo credit: Josh Halper

Wynwood

Wynwood is quickly becoming one of the most compelling neighborhoods for visitors to check out in Miami. Part of that allure is the fact that most of the buildings and sidewalks in the area bear the work of local artists, making it Miami’s quirky and eclectic art district.

Most are familiar with the Wynwood Walls, the neighborhood’s ever-popular string of wall murals, but there are certainly other unique Wynwood staples to check out. For instance, head over to the Museum of Graffiti, which only charges a $16 entry fee, or go shopping through the Wynwood Marketplace to grab a refreshment or snag a unique piece from one of several boutique vendors. For a cool place to grab a bite, check out 1-800-Lucky, a food hall offering service from different Asian-inspired restaurants with live music and karaoke.

“When I first went to Wynwood, I felt like there was nothing like it,” said McDonald. “There’s artwork on the sidewalk, on the lampposts— everywhere. I went to their Wynwood Life festival with some friends of mine, and we got a bunch of coupons to use at Wynwood businesses for the next year while getting a chance to check some out through vendors at the Marketplace.”

Coral Gables

Last but certainly not least is Coral Gables, the very suburb from which UM hails. There is plenty to explore here with the added benefit of not having to travel too far from campus. One popular location is Miracle Mile, a strip filled with amazing restaurants like Crema Gourmet Espresso Bar and Calle 23.

The Shops at Merrick Park also serve as an upscale shopping plaza right down the street from UM’s main campus, and the iconic Biltmore Hotel is a must-see for pictures and for a beautiful Sunday brunch with friends. Fun fact: The Biltmore can be seen from the fifth floor of the School of Communications International building.

To cool off on the weekend, head over to the Venetian Pool surrounded by beautiful European-inspired surroundings, or to Actors’ Playhouse for a night at the theatre.

Whatever students choose to explore during their time here, know that the possibilities are truly endless even just a few blocks away from campus. You may not get to everything during these four years, or may find a personal favorite spot to hang out with friends outside of this list. What is important to remember is that it can be easy to get lost in the UM bubble– so make sure to take some time to go out and get in touch with the incredible community you have an opportunity to study in.