Miami, once a sleepy southern city, transformed over just a few decades into a lively Latin metropolis of 2.5 million people, known today as the ‘capital of Latin America.’ With its majority Latino community, Spanish is the predominant language in much of the 305.

The city’s Latin flavor originates from waves of early migration from its southern neighbor, Cuba. Cubans started migrating in the 1950’s looking for opportunity and a better life. Once Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, the numbers jumped as Cubans began to flee their changing country to make a new home in the heart of Miami. The neighborhood known as Riverside transformed into Little Havana as Cubans moved in opening restaurants, salsa bars and cigar shops.

Although many of the first families have moved to the suburbs Little Havana continues to be ground-zero for the Cuban experience in Miami. Here we have listed our must-visits to experience the best in Miami's Cuban culture.

Calle Ocho

SW 8th St, Little Havana

For the ultimate Cuban experience while in Miami Calle Ocho is the place to start. Bursting with Cuban culture at every corner it is one destination not to be rushed. Take your time and explore more than just the great Cuban food and take time to people watch, discover the art and sip on a mojito at some of Miami’s most authentic Cuban bars. Make sure to check out the Calle Ocho Walk of Fame (between SW17th and SW 12th), Little Havana’s version of the Hollywood attraction pays tribute to some of Cuba’s most famous celebrities.

Freedom Tower

600 Biscayne Blvd, Overtown

This historic tower, constructed in 1925, was modeled after the Giralda Cathedral in Seville, Spain. A key landmark in Cuba-American history, from 1962 to 1974 Freedom Tower was used as a reception center for Cuban refugees who sought political asylum from the regime of Fidel Castro. Today, it is used as a contemporary art museum and offers a chance to see some great Latin American pieces. If you're looking for the Cuban experience in Miami you have to visit this building marked in the hearts of many Cuban-Americans.

Versailles

3501 SW 8th St, Little Havana

This Cuban diner has been a pillar of Miami’s Cuban-American community for over four decades. Stories and political discussions of the old country can be heard along the mirrored walls as locals and tourists stop in for some good authentic food. Always abuzz, there is no surprise Versailles is the first stop for politicians trying to gain the Cuban community’s support and for the media eager to gather commentary or footage of the community's take on political issues.

For an authentic experience, we recommend you order The Ropa Vieja. This classic dish contains shredded beef cooked with onions, garlic, peppers, wine and traditional tomato sauce and is deliciously tasty! Accompanied by white rice, beans and sweet plantains it provides the ultimate Cuban dining experience.

Hoy Como Ayer

2212 SW 8th St, Little Havana

For a raw authentic Cuban experience this traditional salsa lounge can't be missed. The best Cuban music spot in Miami sees top salsa artists and local Latin funk get the whole place dancing. Enjoy the tapas and chug down a rum and coke while soaking in the sounds. Make sure to check out the gig guide to see who is playing. Packed with local Cuban celebrities, musicians and creatives a reservation is essential!

Viernes Culturales (Cultural Friday)

SW 8th St, Little Havana

This street party and gallery walk, held on the last Friday of each month, is the best place to experience Cuba’s contemporary culture in Miami. Local Cuban bands, chefs and artists line the street offering up the latest in Latino culture in a relaxed atmosphere. The events are held between 13th and 17th Avenues, from 7-11 pm.

El Rey de las Fritas

1821 SW 8th St, Little Havana

Known for the original Cuban burger, El Rey de las Fritas has served up food for local Cubans in Miami for over 40 years. We recommend the Frita Cubana, a Cuban-style burger, with a juicy beef patty with sweet sauteed onions, topped with crispy shoestring fries on a fluffy Cuban roll. Always full of locals making it a great place for people watching!