By Doug Bright
About the series: Welcome to our ongoing travel series. These are all posts written by planning students and professionals about what to do in a given city when looking for Brunch, a Brew, or a good idea on a Budget. To cap it all off, we include a fun planning fact!
About the visit: As the darkness and cold of winter approach, biological urges guide our travel selections southward, to the Sunshine State. Miami Beach offers both sun and sand to sooth your S.A.D. and well-preserved Art Deco architecture to satisfy your structural style sensibilities. The robust influence of Latin America, especially Cuba, creates a culturally diverse and immersive city, with plenty more to offer than the party scene it’s well-known for. Miami is not your typical American city, and that makes it worth visiting.
Embrace the tradition of the colada, a takeaway cup with a few servings of sweet, Cuban-style espresso meant for sharing, enabled by the plastic espresso cups it comes with. Pair it with freshly baked Cuban pastries – the objective best being the pastelito de guayaba y queso (guava and cream cheese turnover) – and enjoy beachside for best results. While this combo can be found at many places, if you’re in South Beach, the Meridian Food Market provides quality versions of both at a great price, less than half a mile from the beach. Snag a giant Florida avocado or some delicious tropical fruit while you’re at it.
If it’s a bit later in the day and you’re ready for something more substantial, try the equally ubiquitous sandwiches: a classic Cuban or its sweeter, softer cousin, the Medianoche (Las Olas in South Beach or Enriqueta’s near Wynwood will both satisfy).
J Wakefield Brewing’s taproom in Wynwood pumps out fantastic beer and offers respite from both the midday heat and the obsessive Instagramming in one of the biggest street art districts in the country. It strikes a balance between the bougie beauty of Veza Sur Brewing, the curated street art vibe of Concrete Beach Brewing, and the hole-in-the-wall style of Wynwood Brewing. All are worth visiting; the short walks separating them make it very easy to do so. If the mental anguish of girlfriends having their boyfriends take “candid” photos of them in front of street art outweighs the beauty of the art itself, you might enjoy wallowing at Mac’s Club Deuce in South Beach, which provides all the sticky, casual, friendly spirit of a dive with an oddly-shaped bar and an emphasis on neon that remind you that you’re in Miami Beach.
While Miami offers plenty of chances to alter your future financial wellbeing in the course of one night, plenty of fun can be had for cheap. Between the previously mentioned beaches, Art Deco Historic District of South Beach, and the street art labyrinth of Wynwood Walls, at least a full day can be filled for free. The flora-inclined can enjoy the Miami Beach Botanical Garden for free. A walk on Little Havana’s main drag, Calle Ocho (8th Street), is a great way to experience the neighborhood. Don’t miss Máximo Gómez Park, where permanent tables facilitate outdoor games of dominos; if you’re there just to watch, be respectful.
Fun Planning Fact
Before the fun facts, it’s important to acknowledge that Miami’s geography means rising sea levels and other climate change impacts will have a huge impact on the city in the coming decades. In terms of financial impact on GDP, one study suggests an impact of $2 billion per year in 2050, the greatest of any US city and sixth highest in the world. Of U.S. cities, Miami has the 2nd greatest number of residents living within the FEMA 100-year floodplain (to NYC), but 12(!) of the top 14 are municipalities in the Miami MSA. Another study suggests the coming impacts have a gentrification effect: higher-elevation regions of Miami appreciate more quickly. While the rich have historically preferred coasts, changes due to climate change might result in displacement non-coastal areas.
Ok, now ready for some fun? Stiltsville refers to a collection of buildings built on stilts among the “Safety Valve” sand banks that mark the edge of Biscayne Bay, one mile from land. Dating back at least to the 1930s, the buildings famously offered social clubs specializing in vice. Illegal gambling and alcohol sales at institutions with names like the Bikini Club and the Quarterdeck Club led to a high-powered regular clientele and occasional raids by authorities. At its peak in 1960, Stiltsville included 27 buildings, but hurricanes and regulations since have reduced the remaining structures to seven. The buildings are currently in Biscayne National Park, owned by the National Park Service, but managed by the non-profit Stiltsville Trust since 2003. The park and trust have an agreement to rehab the buildings for educational use in the future.
Featured Image: The relative peace of dusk in the winter at Lummus Park Beach. Photo Credit: Doug Bright
About the Author: Doug is a first-year master’s candidate in the Department of City and Regional Planning, specializing in transportation. He’s a proud Chicagoan, enjoys taking the streets by two wheels, and indulges in improvisational cooking. He likes thinking and talking about education, design, and sustainability. He also likes jokes. Doug received his undergraduate degree in Social Studies from Harvard College.