Calle Ocho Festival – a 23-Block Street Festival in Little Havana, Miami!
The Calle Ocho Festival is a street fiesta that celebrates all thing about Latin Culture, and Hispanic heritage. The Calle Ocho Festival itself is relatively new as it has been going on roughly 35 years. However the history and culture that it represents has existed for many years.
Calle Ocho: The Street and The Festival
Calle Oche is first and foremost a major street running through the city of Little Havanna. Calle Ocho is rich with culture, entertainment and the people of Latin America, South America, and the Caribbean.
The Calle Ocho Festival hails as Miami’s largest street festival spanning from 8th avenue and ending on SW 27th avenue. Musicians and street performers take to the streets and 12 stages set up throughout the city. This is one large celebration of Latin heritage with dancers moving to salsa, bachata, and merengue, locals and visitors alike waving flags, and people making their way through food trucks and local restaurants serving the best Latin America has to offer.
What to Expect at Calle Ocho
Be prepared to dance, walk through several streets and have one giant dance party with half of Miami! Food is a large part of the festival so keep this in mind when planning meals before the festival. Music and dancing are heavily ingrained in the festival as well as the heritage of the people of Little Havana. Music featured throughout the festival includes reggaeton, hip hop, salsa, bachata, merengue, and many more. Additionally, vendors along the street showcase and sell handmade traditional folk art.
What to Bring to Calle Ocho
Calle Ocho is a one day festival so you don’t need to prepare that much in advance or even buy tickets to the main event—it’s a free fiesta! Bring an apetitie and your dancing shoes as you will be surrounded by food from all the incredibly diverse countries in bout Latin America and the Caribbean. If you plan to stay all day, come prepared with cash, protection from the sun, and umbrella, and etra water—Miami gets very hot if you are outside all day.
The best thing about Calle Ocho is the opportunity to explore all 27 streets! Throughout these streets you will find coffee shops, corner store restaurants, art galleries, beautiful gardens and botanicas, quaint dollar stores, and mini food markets and so much more.
The Food of Little Havanna
The food is one of the best parts of Calle Ocho, let alone Miami. Don’t leave this city without trying at least one of these dishes. Guava pastries called pastelitos are a must when visiting Little Havanna as well as trying standard Cuban dishes starting with the likes of the Medianoche sandwich and Arroz con Pollo.
Compared to everything else in Miami, a trip to Calle Ocho is particularly inexpensive. The festival is free, the food is reasonable priced, and if you choose wisely you may be able to stay in a moderately priced hotel. When it comes to the Calle Ocho Festival, most of your cash and cards will be spent on food so prepare for that.
The History of Little Havana
The Calle Oche Festival centers around the rich history and culture of the city of Little Havana. Little Havana was first populated as a safe haven for the fleeing immigrants of Cuba during the 1959 revolution. Latin Americans came to the south en mass in the 60’s to seek refuge and start their own businesses and social structures in America. It was around the year 1965 that the areas of Shenandoah and Riverside were dubbed “Little Havana”.
Following 2000, more than half of the residents in Little Havana hailed from Central America and South America. Nicaraguans, Argentinans, and Uraguayans are some of the most represented residents in the Little Havana community currently.
Traveling through Little Havanna
Once you’re down in South Florida, the best way to travel is by car—either your own, a rental, Uber or Lyft. Specifically for days before or after the festival, you’re going to need a car to travel to the best kept secrets of Little Havanna. El Cristo, El Exquisito and Los Pinareños Fruteria are all places the locals swear by.
Sites to See on Calle Ocho
Given how wide spread Calle Ocho is, there are many sites to see and several streets to cross. Here are a few of the places you may want to visit while attending the festival. La Casa De Los Trucos is a costume store featuring ornate and elaborately designed creations and masks. The Cuban Memorial Place serves as a memorial to the Cuban refugees. This memorial features busts, statues and murals commemorating Cuban Independence, The Bay of Pigs Invasion, a map of Cuba, and other historical references. The street featuring these statues is called the Cuban Memorial Boulevard.
When heading west on Calle Ocho you will come across the “Walkway of the Stars”. This walkway is like Miami’s own version of Hollywood’s walk of fame. Little Havana’s featured stars include the likes of Gloria Estefam, Celia Cruz, Maria Conchita, Sammy Sosa, Thalia, and many others. Traveling further down Southwest 8th street will bring you to Little Havana’s musical wonder—Lily’s Records. Lily’s Records carries music featuring artists from all over Latin, Central and South America.
Keep heading west on Calle Ocho and check out the Cafeteria Guardabarranco mural featuring several Latin American leaders and American politicians. Make sure you stop by the Latin Quarter Cultural Center for more information on hispanic heritage.
Visit Casa Panza to eat a traditional meal and watch amazing dancers performing Flamenco on the weekends. During the day the restaurant features a tapas menu, wine bar, as well as a typical menu. In the evening, Casa Panza turns into a kind of night club with the best Latin American dancers. Try out Kimbara Cumbara if you’re looking to hear international and local artists.
If you ware on the hunt for more tapas and wine, check out Alfaro’s Gallery, Lounge and Boutique. The boutique sells the traditional wear guyaberas, while the lounge and galley are open for all kinds of entertainment on the weekends. When searching the streets for souvenirs and clothing to take back, you can make a stop at the Official Little Havana Visitor Center. At the Visitor Center you can buy souvenirs relating to Cuban heritage.
Continuing along you can find El Pub Restaurant featuring a mural of two roosters where you can grab a cup of Cuban coffee—whether it be café cubano, a cafecito, or café con leche. Calle Ocho is filled with places to purchase cigars however many locals swear by Cuba Tobacco Trading Co, owned by The Bello Family. The cigar company is very much all in the family and you can learn a great deal about Cuban cigars and cigar making by asking anyone working there for a brief history.
When purveying all the restaurants on Calle Ocho, be sure to stop by El Exquisito Restaurant for truly authentic Cuban food. The Tower Theatre is another Little Havana treasure that you should be sure to stop by as it is registered as national landmark. The Tower Theatre was built in 1926 and operated as a theatre in its popular days.
Carnaval on the Mile
A different festival, Carnaval on the Mile, takes place in conjunction with Calle Ocho on Miracle Mile in Coral Gables. Carnaval on the Mile features a concert series of Latin Jazz, a soccer and domino tournament, golf tournament, 10 K run and cooking contest amongst other events.
Outside of Calle Ocho
Don’t come to Miami just for the Calle Ocho Festival and miss out on the rest of the city! Do take time to visit the beaches and the city’s museums, galleries, shopping areas and parks. South Beach and Ocean Drive are always go-to’s for those visiting the city. After you visit the beach, walk along the strip and take advantage of the dinner deals and drinks the bars and restaurants offer. Other beaches include Sunny Isles Beach, Hollywood Beach, Ft. Lauderdale Beach, and more. Great shopping areas to visit are Aventura Mall in Aventura, Bal Harbor shopping mall, Bayside in downtown Miami, the Galleria Mall in Ft. Lauderdale are amongst the many great places to shop!
What to Wear and What to Bring
Apart from wearing comfortable shoes there is no particular way you need to be dressed to enjoy the Calle Ocho Festival. However, in Miami, it does rain unexpectedly so you may want to have an umbrella or poncho on hand. For those that arrive to the festival during the day, sunblock, bring a hat, bandana, visor, and/or sunglasses to protect against the sun. Visitors of the Festival should bring a sense of discovery and a lot of energy. Calle Ocho is an adventure full of a rich culture and history for anyone willing to partake in it.
If the Calle Ocho Festival doesn’t convince you to come to Miami, I don’t know what will!
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