Miami will always be my home. It’s where I was born and lived for 18 years, it’s where my family and best friends live and it’s what inspires the passion and vibrance that runs through my veins today.
Raised as the first generation of my family born in America –– to Cuban and Ecuadorian parents –– Miami was the ideal place to grow up. There was always something to do, something going on and an endless source of inspiration. Miami is a very special city filled with color, culture and heat. I consider myself very lucky to have grown up there. During the holidays I headed home and visited some of my favorite places; here are a few of my top recommendations:
Versailles: One of the most famous Cuban restaurants in Miami is located on Calle Ocho, in the heart of Little Havana. Versailles has been serving delicious, authentic Cuban cuisine to the community for 40 years, offering favorites like picadillo, ropa vieja and arroz con pollo. If you don’t have time to dine inside, get your cortadito (espresso with milk and sugar) and pastelitos de guayaba (guava pastry) or croquettas (ham croquettes) to go, served from a window on the side of the restaurant –– also called la ventanita, it’s a common way to get coffee in Miami. (3555 SW 8th Street)
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens: The winter home of American industrialist James Deering, Vizcaya is 50 acres of Italian Renaissance gardens and villas that contain over 70 rooms each decorated with numerous antiques focusing on 15th through early 19th century European decorative arts. It’s a beautiful location just off Coconut Grove overlooking the ocean. You can bring a picnic or tour the gardens and home for a look back at what life was like for a wealthy conservationist in the early 1900s. (3251 South Miami Avenue)
South Beach: It isn’t a trip home without a drive down Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue. This is usually what people think of when they think of Miami –– the neon signs, art deco architecture, crystal clear water, models, famous celebrities, night clubs, hotels and tricked out cars playing obnoxious music loud enough to compete with the clubs on the strip. I both hate and love this area of town. I hate it because of the caricature it’s become of itself (and the people that frequent it), and love it because it is what it is; when you haven’t lived there for eight years it almost becomes nostalgic, instead of annoying. I think everyone should walk down Ocean Drive at least once. Visit Gianni Versace’s old house –– which is now a luxurious hotel by the name of The Villa By Barton G — swim in the perfectly blue, warm water and eat at one of the many restaurants along the strip. Just be sure to stay away from Wet Willies and Señior Frogs.
Le Bouchon du Grove: Inside Coconut Grove you’ll find a little hole-in-the-wall French restaurant where time seems to slow down inside. The food is authentic French cuisine, the waiters are authentic Parisians and the check even takes hours to come — authentic! It’s the perfect place for people looking to get out of the craziness that is Miami, while still being in the heart of one of the most popular day and night destinations. (3430 Main Highway, Coconut Grove)
Lincoln Road: Once a forest of mangroves, Lincoln Road –– located between Alton Road and Washington Avenue –– is now a hip, thriving art and shopping experience. Outdoor restaurants and cafes blend in with local and international brand stores. It’s great for people watching, on any given day you can be sure to catch interesting people, from an old woman dressed head to toe in bright orange with matching tea-cup yorkies to famous rappers and actors. Look out for the old man dressed in a nighty dancing with his boom box to disco music. (He’s like the Leslie of Miami.) (901 Lincoln Road)
Española Way: A peaceful bohemian haven on Miami Beach. This road is tucked in between 14th and 15th streets and Washington and Jefferson Avenues. With little shops and cafes, Española Way is more of a European getaway than the Miami Beach club scene although they are mere blocks apart. (641 Espanola Way)
Schnebly Redland’s Winery & Brewery: This isn’t you’re usual winery, you won’t find any grapes here. Instead Schnebly creates fine wine from local and sustainable fruits found in South Florida. They create wines from avocado, mango, lychee, guava, passion fruit and carambola (star fruit.) They are all a bit on the sweet side, with my personal favorites being the lychee and carambola oak. Every weekend they have live music playing while you sip and savor the exotic flavored wine. Bring your own food and friends; even if this fruity wine isn’t your thing, you’ll have a fun time wine tasting. (30205 S.W. 217th Avenue, Homestead)