When I worked in a traditional 9-5 job, I found myself in South Florida several times a year for work. Since leaving that job more than 7 years ago though, I rarely revisit what truly is a lovely part of Florida. That’s one reason of many why I was excited for a brief return to Miami and Miami Beach, to explore new areas and return to ones I have loved for many years. This year I’m partnering with Marriott International to highlight some of my favorites spots around the US, including beautiful South Florida.
Little Havana Food Tour
Whenever I revisit cities I try to add in something new, and on my most recent trip that meant taking what is one of the best food tours I’ve ever been on. One of Miami’s most colorful neighborhoods, originally in the 1930s what is now Little Havana was actually a thriving Jewish community. The neighborhood transformed in the 1960s as Cubans fleeing their home country settled in the area. Today it is the cultural and political capital of Cuban Americans and is very much a center for the Cuban exile community. Thanks to this wildly fascinating history, a food tour just makes sense and I was thrilled when I saw one offered by Miami Culinary Tours.
To be honest, in the past I was always a little intimidated by Little Havana. Never for safety concerns, far from it, but because I felt out of place. With this food tour though, I immediately felt at ease and even welcomed. Meeting our guide, who was also one of the best I’ve ever experienced, we then went a slow amble around the neighborhood, learning all about its history and eating some of the best foods in the city. Empanadas, Cuban coffee, Mojitas, pastelitos and more filled my belly as I learned more about the Cuban community in Miami. This tour is so very well executed that I think it’s a must-do for anyone, whether longtime resident or visitor.
I love a great luxury hotel and in Miami Beach that meant a night at the glamorous Royal Palm South Beach Miami, a Tribute Portfolio Resort. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was being afforded a rare opportunity to experience a classic era of Miami Beach’s history. In 1939, Russian immigrant Nat Hankoff built the four story Royal Palm Hotel, one of the earliest and best works of architect Donald G Smith. It was named for the famous Henry Flagler hotel in the city of Miami that had been destroyed by fire a few years earlier. In 1941, due to popularity of The Royal Palm and Miami’s South Beach, the Royal Palm expanded to seven stories. During WWII, the Royal Palm was among over 300 Miami Beach properties that served as military barracks, mess halls, classrooms, and other facilities for the approximately 500,000 troops that trained here during the war. In October 1945, the hotel reopened for post-war vacationers. The property was designed at the climax of the “Art Deco” style: including strong vertical elements and horizontal lines implying movement, and the whimsical decoration, usually of geometric or stylized motifs. Today the Royal Palm remains one of the area’s preeminent hotels, with 393 stylishly decorated guest rooms and service that is amongst the best I’ve ever experienced.
The Royal Palm enjoys an enviable position in South Beach, which I took advantage of as soon as I arrived. Although I certainly could never live there, I have always loved wandering along the beaches of Miami. It’s such an oddly fascinating place unlike any other community in the country. Those famous art deco buildings adorn the streets, while some of the most beautiful people in the world sunbathe along the water. People from all over the planet and from all walks of life converge at the same moment and time to create a ridiculous symphony of orchestrated chaos that, for me at least, is just fun to watch. If you’re curious to learn more there’s both an Art Deco walking tour and an LGBT History walking tour, as well as parks and museums to spend some time exploring. I capped the day off with dinner at a favorite restaurant of mine, Lario’s On The Beach. Owned by Gloria and Emilio Estefan, the restaurant specializes in both classic and upscale Cuban food and has been long a favorite of mine. You definitely pay more for the location, but I always return to Lario’s when I can.
Both the city of Miami and Miami Beach are special places, at least they are for me. I have a very unlikely emotional connection to South Florida, especially when I have the time to explore areas both new to me as well as very familiar.