As a teacher, there is nothing better to get you through the end of the school year and final exams like my favorite carrot on a stick—a June trip! The destination this year was the international hot spot of South Beach in Miami, Florida. The trip goals were to eat Cuban food, practice my Spanish, and hit the beach for some people watching. Mission accomplished. As this was just a long weekend in “the 305”, my friend Pat and I decided to forego any typical tourist itineraries or jaunts into Little Havana and just stick around South Beach, only going as far as our feet would take us. It is often said that being in Miami is like being in Latin America and even though we covered only about a 10 block radius, it felt like we had traveled through the entire Latino world!
For our stay we settled on the newly remodeled and reopened Washington Park Hotel http://www.wphsouthbeach.com/. Although there are a few issues here and there, this hotel is on its way to being “the place”. Request a room in the main building for the best rooms and to be closest to the breakfast spread, and most importantly, the nightly complimentary 2 hour wine, beer, and cheese reception! Another highlight of this place is the great pool area that makes you think the Brat Pack may saunter by at any moment. A wonderful amenity of this hotel is its beach chairs offered to its guests three blocks away at 9th Street Beach, the perfect spot for people watching as I will discuss later.
Not only is the Wolfsonian Museum http://www.wolfsonian.org/ just down the street (where we saw an incredible exhibit on Cuba), but it is walking distance from so many outstanding restaurants. A great spot for breakfast or lunch was the hopping Eleventh Street Diner http://www.eleventhstreetdiner.com/ right across the street from the hotel. We had dynamite crab cakes and Cobb salad here with some excellent lunch cocktails—my kind of “diner”! Apparently this place was featured on a certain spiky-haired Food Network host’s show. While these menu items are quite American, of course I had anticipated eating authentic Cuban fare, but the restaurant choices were so much more international than that! We never had a bad meal, whether it was Cuban, Spanish, Italian, South American, or Japanese.
Here’s some of the more noteworthy places, beginning with my favorite evening spot—Española Way. This little stretch not only had an excellent lineup of restaurants with European style outdoor seating, but the ambiance could not be beat! An unexpected surprise was the Spanish restaurant at the end of the street. Tapas y Tintos http://tapasytintos.com/ was so great we ended up there twice in one day! I highly recommend the lunch deal for two which included sangria, two tapas, and terrific seafood paella for a ridiculously low price. Having an excellent waiter from Spain who I could practice my Spanish with was a real plus and his suggestion to return for the evening flamenco show was a popular one as the place was packed that night, and for good reason!
Another great stop if you are having sushi cravings is Moshi Moshi http://www.moshimoshi.us/, just around the corner on Española Way. The dragon roll is enough for the whole table! We also got our Italian fix at Pane & Vino http://www.paneevinomia.com/ and Café Nuvo, http://mercatodellapescheria.com/miami/mobi/, also in that area. It is hard to imagine any Española Way restaurant not having great food!
Since walking to Little Havana was not an option, we chose Lario’s on the Beach http://bongoscubancafe.com/larios.html, owned by Emilio and Gloria Estefan, for our Cuban food experience, and it did not disappoint. The ambiance was very upscale and we made a great meal out of appetizers and, of course, mojitos!
All these places were great, but the culinary highlight was our lunch at Bolivar http://www.bolivarmiamibeach.com/, a South American fusion restaurant with Colombian, Venezuelan, and Peruvian specialties. Our spread of empanadas, patacones (twice fried plantains), and six different types of ceviche was heavenly. Not having had one of my favorite drinks, a Pisco Sour, since my trip to Peru, I was quick to order one, but after trying my friend’s “Bolivartini”, well, let’s just say the liquid part of bill was larger than the food part…
Enough about food and onto the people watching, which is really the highlight of a trip to SoBe. Depending on your preferences of what type of folks you like to observe, I would say that the Española Way area is home to a quite a classy bunch of well dressed types. Collins Avenue is still classy, but with more of a beach vibe, and Ocean Drive is an all out mess of clubbing attire and swimwear, thumping music, and “the scene”.
And then there is the beach! This stretch of sand and sea with a backdrop of high rises is home base for many of “the beautiful people”. I was preparing for a European atmosphere here, considering its international reputation, but after the first two days and seeing mostly mainstream swimwear, I had lost hope of any great stories. That was until the last day.
Arriving at our beach chairs, we noticed two ladies wearing tiny thongs and nothing else. At that moment they were innocently lying on towels sunbathing and not drawing any attention to themselves. I didn’t think much of it, but commented how odd we had not seen more topless women. A few minutes later, one of the ladies, who I shall call Orange Arrow or OA, stood up. I call her Orange Arrow, because that is what her thong looked like. An orange arrow. Pointing to…the ground? This arrow must have been like a safety sign or something because soon many men began to take note, several walking past multiple times. OA had a great figure, some of it possibly surgically enhanced, but most importantly she was very much into skin care. I know this because at that moment, and about every 10 minutes thereafter, she proceeded to apply sunscreen. She was really, REALLY into the application, which possibly consumed 8 minutes of the 10 minute intervals. She worked the lotion into every inch of exposed skin. Several minutes were spent rubbing lotion onto her buttocks. WHILE BENT AT THE WAIST! This view made the entire population of the beach stop and stare, including all of the cabana boys working at our chair stand. I don’t know what was better, watching her or watching everyone’s response to her. Needless to say, I did not get a lot of beach reading in that day, but it was a good reminder that the sun is not the only hot thing when you head to Miami Beach!