A Night Out in Miami’s Little Haiti

Most people who go to Miami for the first time make a point to visit Little Havana, the well-known Cuban neighborhood with authentic cuisine, local art, and domino players in the park. I know I did when I first visited.

Related: Miami: Beyond the Beach and the Bar

But there’s another “little” neighborhood in the city that often stays in the shadows. Little Haiti is South Florida’s cultural heart for the Haitian Diaspora, and unlike Little Havana, it retains an entirely un-touristy vibe.


On the third Friday of each month, the Little Haiti Cultural Center hosts a festival from 6-10pm that’s open to the public. The main goal is to provide a space to bring together people and ideas, while showcasing and supporting Afro-Caribbean culture in Miami.

It’s called “Big Night in Little Haiti” and it’s an evening of music, art, food, drinks, and opportunities to learn a little bit about Haitian history. I had no idea what to expect when I showed up and thought it could have been anywhere from a tiny neighborhood gathering of resident families to an all-out street bash.

It was somewhere in between…and totally worth a visit. Unlike pretty much anything else you’d choose to do on a Friday night in Miami, this festival is free to attend and has free parking nearby.


There were some local artists doing their thing and even an inviting classroom to wander into and create a sub par masterpiece of your own. The art instructors were doing an exercise using gold paint on black paper and invited me to come in and paint whatever I wanted.

As to not miss out on other festival happenings too much, I hastily painted an obscure nature scene, with of course, an awkward gnome lurking in the background.


Also inside the Little Haiti Cultural Center, there was a presentation/fundraiser going on to highlight the work of a famous Haitian jazz singer from a few decades ago. This was a place to bid on professional photographs positioned on the walls, listen to the artist’s music through headphones, and sip some free wine in a plastic cup.

And then there was the food. A cafeteria-style line formed outside beside a long table with Haitian home cooked foods like chicken, fried fish, rice, tostones, and spicy coleslaw. I washed my delicious dinner down with some rum punch with fresh pineapple!

The large meal was $10 and the generously-sized drink was $4. By Miami standards, this was an absolute steal. I’ll sit on the sidewalk and enjoy an authentic meal like this over an overpriced, over-hyped restaurant almost any day.


The monthly festival has been going on for a few years now and music is a huge part of the whole thing. A reggae-style band played during the entire festival and made me remember how much I really do enjoy a good reggae tune to bop along to in a crowd of strangers. Recently featured bands have included Moksha Roots, Harmonik, Tvice, and Zenglen.


Aside from the super-nice cultural center, other highlights in the neighborhood are the Haiti Sweat Records Building, Little Haiti murals, Churchill’s Pub, and small local shopping centers. A bronze statue of General Toussaint L’Ouverture, the father of Haitian independence, stands at Northeast 2nd Avenue and 62nd Street.

The Little Haiti neighborhood is totally off the beaten path of the tourist circuit and would be hard to pinpoint without a GPS. In fact, Miami residents have long been debating what to call this neighborhood because it has no formal boundaries or designated cultural protections. Some call it Little Haiti and and others swear it’s Lemon City.

“Nobody has a true definition of Little Haiti because there are no formal boundaries. It’s pretty subjective,” said historian and Miami Dade College professor Paul George.

“Every day you hear of a new group encroaching into what we know as Little Haiti,” said Marleine Bastien, a Haitian activist pushing for the designation. “These groups moved into Little Haiti, so I don’t understand why they don’t want it to be named Little Haiti anymore.”

Little Haiti gained its name as Haitian migrants, fleeing the regime of Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, moved into the neighborhood in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Haitian pioneer Viter Juste wrote a letter to the Miami Herald calling the area “Little Port-au-Prince,” and the newspaper headlined the letter “Little Haiti”. And the name stuck.


I’m all about finding authentic non-touristy things to do in places I visit…especially if it isn’t my first time in the area. Some of those ideas work out great and others are a total bust. The Friday festival at Little Haiti tops my list of recent undercover finds.

It’s pretty obvious that I’m not of Haitian descent, but I loved learning a little about Haitian history and joining such a specific celebration of local culture. So consider this an addendum to my previous blog post about non-transitional things to do in Miami and check it out next time you’re in the area!

Yoga on the Road

I’ve been practicing yoga in random studios and living rooms for well over ten years now. In Chicago, where I spend most of my time, there is certainly no shortage of yoga studios. However, filling my weekly quota of downward dogs is considerably more challenging when living on the road.

I feel the beneficial effects of yoga when I’m traveling even more than I do when hanging around my home base. Trying to sleep on planes makes my neck stiff. Hunching over picnic tables to work at campgrounds makes my back ache. And driving for long stretches of road makes all my joints tense and fatigued. I’ve had my fair share of battles with anxiety, and yoga is one of the few things that brings me back to reality.

Yoga at Stanley Park in Vancouver, B.C.

Yoga at Stanley Park in Vancouver, B.C.

Much of my travel revolves around active adventure, which has a nasty tendency of making me feel like the age on my driver’s license. Certain yoga positions are better than others when preparing for or recovering from adventures, like rock climbing.

As I have begun to travel more, I’ve struggled to take my yoga practice with me. My yoga mat is bulky, Internet access is sketchy, and classes are expensive. But if there’s a will, there’s a way. And I found a way to practice yoga during my last two extended road trips. Here’s how:

National, State and Local Park Classes

Not surprisingly, my absolutely favorite place to do yoga is in the outdoors. This summer, I stayed on the outskirts of Acadia National Park for about a week and decided to search for outdoor classes in the area. I was excited to discover Yoga in the Park, a low-key community that offers public classes in the park’s most beautiful places.

I recently traveled to Miami and discovered that Bayfront Park offers free yoga classes every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. When I stopped in for a Saturday morning class, I was greeted with a warm welcome, a recommendation to nab a shady spot, and handed a spare mat to use.

Studios and Community Centers in Random Towns

You might be surprised that the po-dunk town you’re staying in for a couple days has a community center that offers fitness classes. It’s a no-brainer; run a quick Google search for yoga classes in the place you’re staying and show up. Maybe the class won’t be as fancy as the ones you frequent back home, but it’ll still get the job done. And if one of your travel goals is to meet like-minded strangers wherever you go, then you just got an added bonus.

Campground Pavilions

Financially, the only way that I can afford to travel so much is by staying in campgrounds. And unless the temperatures drop below 40-degrees, I prefer it that way regardless. I recently camped out in Texas’ Ink’s Lake State Park for a week and got the itch to do some yoga. Considering that the nearest town was a 45-minute drive away, I pulled out my Verizon MiFi and an iPad as an alternative. I am willing abandon my position of shunning technology in the outdoors for the sake of doing yoga.

I swept out the dusty floor of the campground pavilion as best I could, propped the iPad against a post, and pulled up a YouTube video. Again, not surprisingly, I gravitate towards yoga videos that were filmed outdoors. Here are a few good ones I’ve found:

Yoga in Costa Rica

Yoga in Costa Rica

Car Yoga

I came across the article published by the school I studied travel writing at, Matador U, and thought it was pretty creative. Alyssa (no relation) James suggests several yoga pose variations that can be done while sitting in a car on a road trip. Although you certainly won’t get the full effect of mountain pose, pigeon pose, or prayer twist in a seated position, they’re certainly better than nothing. This could easily be translated to “office chair yoga” or “couch yoga.”

I am by no mean an expert at doing yoga on the road, but I am getting better at making it work with each trip that I take. I’ve begun to research travel yoga mats to make my kneeling poses less painful and my carry-on luggage less awkward. As I learn tips and tricks by trials and error, I’ll be sure to share them. It’s time we stop thinking of yoga as a location-restrictive routine and start taking it out on the road!

Miami: Beyond the Beach and the Bar

I’m a southern white girl and I like to drink.

Not that I’ve identified myself, let me tell you about my first experience in Miami.

My best friend, Michelle, and have taken a trip together each summer for the past five years. This year’s destination was Miami: the land of beaches, nightlife, and good looking people.


  • Issue #1: I’m 100% German and burn like a newborn baby.
  • Issue #2: I’m pushing 30 and get hangovers consistent with water-boarding.
  • Issue #3: I just got back from a 6-week road trip and didn’t have a lot of spare cash lying around.
  • Issue #4: Michelle got knocked up (she’s already “come out” on Facebook, so I’m not spoiling any surprise) so she had to eat and/or rest every two hours.


Needless to say, we needed to find more to do in Miami than just hit the beaches and the bars. Don’t worry….I had my fair share of mojitos and got my fill of ocean water up the nose. But here’s a few other things to do if you find yourself in a similar situation visiting Miami:

Take a Touristy Boat Cruise

I despise tourist traps as much as the next seasoned traveler. However, sometimes some booze on a boat ain’t half bad. Island Queen Cruises offers hour long rides along “Millionaire’s Row” to spy in on the homes of the rich and famous. As you cruise along Biscayne Bay, you’ll see how Enrique Iglesias, Shakira, and Pitbull live out their days in the Sunshine State.


Even if you don’t give a rat’s ass about celebrities, it’s a fun way to relax and enjoy the ocean breeze while listening to pop music you’d never dream of saying you actually enjoy. Tickets cost $26 per person and the bar is cash only. Buy one regularly-priced $7 drink to kick things off and then hold out ’til the last half of the tour when the prices drop to $5. The tour guides will be pushy, but you don’t have to tip if you don’t want to.

Stop by a Bayfront Park Concert

If you’re staying in a hotel downtown, the only place to go for the evening is Bayfront Park. There is an indoor/outdoor mall and lots of ocean-side restaurants with outside seating. The restaurants are pretty comparable to each other, so just pick one and have a seat. Whether you choose Cuban food or American food, it’s all pretty standard and totally edible.


Bayfront Park hosts concerts pretty much every night, and it’s a good time if you haven’t heard of the band. Michelle and I stopped to listen to a random lounge jazz band. I can totally support that. The bands don’t usually draw large crowds, but passersby seem to enjoy the ambiance.

Stroll the Botanical Gardens

Unlike in many cities, the botanical gardens in Miami Beach are totally free. It’s nothing too elaborate or spectacular, but it is nice to stroll some green space and get a couple breaths of fresh air.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe gardens are open from 9-5 Tuesdays through Sundays, and they’re right across from the convention center. There’s always some kind of art exhibition going on at the gardens that makes you take a step back and go, “what the hell?” I had the pleasure of scratching my head at “Chapungu,” which featured twenty works from sculptors in Zimbabwe, and the emotion-invoking text bubbles of “Nayda Collazo-Llorens: Pleasure, Fear and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Peruse the Art Center of South Florida

There are plenty of museums in the Miami area, but few that you can have all to yourself without paying a dime. The Art Center of South Florida is composed of three buildings of artist workspaces that hosts classes, exhibitions, and events. Unlike other art museums you’ve been to, this place lets you peek in on what local artists are doing without all the bells and whistles.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s easy to miss the museum buildings amidst the consumerism flashiness of Lincoln Road. When you visit, you’ll probably seeing a couple artists splashing paint around behind the layer of glass that keeps you on the outside looking in. As it’s flanked by designer stores and posh restaurants on all sides, the art center offers a rare glimpse of authenticity in Miami Beach.

Go to a Festival in Little Havana

Since traveling to Cuba is easier said than done, the next best thing is a visit to Little Havana. Now before you get your hopes up about meeting all your favorite Castro family members, there really isn’t that much to do in this small Cuban neighborhood. Although there are a few Cuban restaurants and a memorial in the park, the area is pretty low-key and residential. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the best times to visit Little Havana is during one of its Viernes Culturales festivals. A massive rain storm cut the festival short when I was in town, but the artists held out as long as you could. Head down to Calle Ocho, between 13th and 17th streets, on the last Friday of the month to check out some work from local artists, Cuban-style dancing, and some food vendors.

Attend an Outdoor Yoga Class

I already told you a little about Bayfront Park, but we’re going to head back there once more for the sake of fitness and mental clarity. The park offers free yoga classes for the public on Mondays evenings, Wednesday evenings, and Saturday mornings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn especially hot days, arrive about twenty minutes early so you can snag a spot in the shade. Although my overall perception of Miamians was pushy and sales-driven, the people at this yoga gathering were legitimately alright. A local offered me an extra yoga mat to use since I’d only brought a beach towel, and a nice young gentleman behind me struck up a conversation about the bar sponsors on my Chicago kickball t-shirt.

Shop at Coral Gables and Coconut Grove 

When I travel to a new city, I always like to venture off the main drags and see what the neighborhoods are all about. On our last day in Miami, Michelle and I took a drive to three different neighborhoods that were highly rated by strangers on the Internet.

Miami’s Design District proved to be a bust because not a single thing was open. I supposed I’ll give the neighborhood the benefit of the doubt since it was Sunday morning. Next, we drove to Coral Gables in search of some retail therapy. Finally before heading to the airport, we checked out the Coconut Grove area. The latter two areas had their fair share of shops and restaurants, but nothing that totally blew us away.


I take that back. One particular little shop, The Olfactory Co., knocked my socks off. As a low-maintenance gal with a gnome obsession, I usually prefer to shop for pointy-hatted companions over pointy-heeled shoes. Unexpectedly, this store carried gnomes in the form of finger puppets, dishes, salt n’ pepper shakers, and tea light candles.

If you’re looking to do more in Miami than get drunk and lay out, you’ve got to do your research and work for it. Well maybe you don’t now since I’ve been kind enough to give you a head’s start. However, don’t skip ’em, because then then you’d be missing out on the quintessential Miami experience. However, I hope this post just goes to show that you can find more than just beaches and bars in Miami.