Miami striked me as an amazing and very weird place at the same time. International, hot, with some neighbourhoods that felt European and some that felt like they came out of a film. With naff touristy places and with old school charm in others. Big roads, big buildings, big smiles and Latino charm in abundance.
It was my first time in the US of A. I said this to every single taxi driver and every single one would turn around in their seat, look at me and say incredulously: “For REAL?”. Yes sir, for real.
I was in the city for work and I didn’t have masses of time to do all the things I would have wanted to. But I did manage to get up to some cool stuff – hope you’ll find em useful.
Wynwood is a Miami neighbourhood north of Downtown. Apparently this used to be a bit of a poor area but then… art happened. It now has over 70 galleries, museums and art collections. The most amazing thing though (and available to someone walking around there after opening times) is the street art. I highly recommend a walk around Wynwood Walls – an outdoor mural exhibit of some of the most amazing street artists ever.
As the s.o. told me on the phone when I called to enthusiastically describe Wynwood Walls: “trust you to find the arts district first instead of heading to South Beach”.
A quick note on this one above. If I am not mistaken this is by Miss Van. I love the nightmarish but kinda cute aesthetic. It reminds me of Yoshitaka Amano‘s work with Neil Gaiman for the Dream hunters.
See what I mean?
Wynwood feels exceedingly European. The art, the rhythm of the place – it reminded me of the graffiti streets of Athens or Shoreditch in London.
OK, didn’t really manage to eat too much but I can recommend the Wynwood Walls Kitchen & Bar for food absolutely! Very yummy plates to share and great service. I would advise you to book. I’ve never seen a place so packed!
Definitely go for devilish eggs (yum), Gambas Al Ajillo and pork belly. Overall you’ll probably get some stuff and then keep on ordering.
I also went to the White Porch Gallery but this time just for coffee. They have a great vibe in there and a great outdoor space. I reached it after walking in the sticky Miami heat for ages, collapsed at the bar and got them to bring me an espresso (NO lovely bar lady. it’s NOT eXpresso, it’s espresso) and a glass of ice to make my own cold coffee.
The South Beach weirdness
OK so, you know how South Beach is depicted as this amazingly glamorous place? Well, it’s surprisingly crap in some places. One side is definitely like Malia or Faliraki.
Half-naked dancers, dance tunes, some corny music and huge bowls of cocktails. Oh and tourists. Since we were tourists too , we did enter Mango’s, had a beer and marvelled at the amazing surrealism of it all. If you are looking for kitsch weirdness, that’s the place.
You can then walk about 20 minutes (or take a taxi since this is Miami baby) and find amazing bars in some of the most exclusive hotels. We went to the Delano where the effect was immediate. We walked in, marvelled at the amazeballs lobby and ended up in the bar around the amazing pool. Took shoes off, splashed about and just felt fabulous.
If you’ve ever been to some of the “lounge” clubs in Southern Europe or the Greek Islands, that’s exactly how that place feels.
Do nature stuff
So this is how this went. Took a taxi, went through North Miami and reached the Oleta River State Park. Which is… another world. People running, kayaking and biking in a part of Miami that is quiet and beautiful. Proceeded to kayak down this stream with trees hiding the sky and the smell of sulphur. Felt like a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean (half expected to see Tia Dalma’s cabin somewhere). Emerged at sea and proceeded to light a fire on the amazing beach.
Seriously. Click on Blue Moon Outdoor Center, check em out, do this.
Ended up with wet clothes smelling of mud, sea water and sulphur, arms hurting and amazingly happy and relaxed.
Get a boat (and a captain)
If you want to feel a little bit like being in the Miami Vice titles sequence I recommend renting a boat. Do make sure you have someone with you who understands that this is a very weird bay and depth changes dramatically out of the blue (destroying an engine is expensive). Luckily we had that.
We rented a boat and went around all the little islands, swam, saw the big luxury boats, the kids playing everywhere, the place where Shakira and Gloria Estefan have houses and generally saw Miami as you are supposed to see it. From a boat.
Happy to say that I piloted the boat for a little while and took a photo for my dad (who’s worked in boats half his life) to feel a bit proud.
However, do use sunblock ALL THE TIME. I managed to get really serious sunburn in random places (forehead, part of my arms, side of my belly etc.). I looked horrible for about 10 days after.
I went to church (not a recommendation)
The power of souvlaki came to my aid for this excursion. I found the eatgreek souvlaki place in Wynwood and I had to try it out (your Greek passport is taken away automatically if you don’t try Greek nomz abroad apparently). The lovely guys there told me where the Greek Orthodox church is too.
I love how everyone in there was dressed up (obviously I was too). There were at least three generations I could see, all following the part English – part Greek hymns and being very quiet. (Which is *not* what happens in Greece where everyone goes to church before Easter to check each other out and gossip a bit).
Some stuff that weirded me out
Here’s some other stuff that really stuck in my head.
1. NOBODY walks in between destinations
In Europe we walk in cities and we walk everywhere. It’s seriously weird to any European how little people in Miami walk. For example, it took me 20 minutes to walk to Wynwood from where I was staying and I saw 3 people in total. When I got there people were walking around but NOBODY was walking in between the areas. You do feel a bit unsafe, even though there’s nothing dangerous around you.
2. Yes, they do have houses like in the movies. And motels.
I know I sound like it was my first time in the States. But it was! And one of the things that impressed me was the buildings. Huge hotels, Spanish style villas, tiny bungalows with a yard and an old couch outside. Hollywood is based on some sort of reality. Who knew?!
3. MASSIVE differences from one neighbourhood to the other
I took a taxi and went from one side of Miami to the other. I would never have believed that the differences from one street to the next can be so dramatic. One minute you are looking into a luxurious lobby and the next at a little house with peeled paint and an ancient car in the front yard. London is definitely a lot more integrated than that!
4. Spanish is an actual thing, they don’t just say that.
Yes, there are a number of people in Miami who speak Spanish and that’s that. I had some fun times with a lovely driver trying to communicate in a combination of English, my non existent Spanish and my definitely better Italian. It was great fun.
This Latino thing is all around. Aesthetics, music, there is no escape. I think it makes Miami amazingly fun and interesting but I’m definitely brushing up on some key Spanish phrases for next time.
5. The weather and the air conditioning
Choose the time you go there very carefully and *always* carry a cardigan. The moment I stepped out of Miami international a WALL of heat and humidity hit me.
And then *every. single. time* I walked into an indoor space I was in danger of pneumonia!
Miami must count as one of the best places to visit if you want to combine a number of things. Relaxed people, great food and bars, quirky places and artists, nature and good old fashioned American luxury.
Definitely going back. I bet the s.o. will love it.
Disclosure: Went to Miami in April 2015. No deals or heads up with any of the places mentioned.