Welcome to Miami

Welcome to Miami

Our entrance to and exit from Miami were pretty chaotic. I’d pictured us rolling into town, windows down, Will Smith blaring, but as we reach the outskirts, with wild drivers and clogged traffic, a drizzle is falling and I am in the midst of a frustrating and expensive international call to our bank. An hour into the call and only a few miles from our campground, John pulls over to look at the brake controller. He’s lost power to the trailer brakes, so while I continue in call centre hell, he’s gingerly tows us into the city with no brakes on the trailer, hoping that the remaining few miles to the campground is all flat.  When we get there we find we’ve also got a problem with the toilet leaking, so our first stop is to our old friend, Lowe’s. Welcome to Miami. Indeed.

Miami at night
The iconic skyline at night

That night we stay local and try a Colombian restaurant, recommended by the man in the rig next to us  “Even my Colombian mother in law likes the food at Macita’s!” It doesn’t look very ‘traditional’, on a retail park with an interior straight out of the Spanish Costas, all white tile and industrial strip lighting, but its authenticity is revealed when we realise the place is full of local Spanish speakers. We communicate well enough to order a delicious spread of food; little roast potatoes, pork with rice and beans, and sweet fried plantain, which is a new favourite. It’s a really surprising meal, and a great introduction to the Hispanic culture of the city.

Waking up the next day, we realise Miami is HOT! The outside temperature in mid-December is in the 90s, and the humidity is intense. We don’t have long here, only 3 nights, but we make the most of them by getting right into tourist mode. Our favourites include:

South Beach
South Beach

Miami Beach. It’s iconic and it’s easy to see why. Long, white sands line the vibrant blue of the Atlantic,  warmer here than anywhere I’ve dipped my toes. The lifeguard stations stand out in pretty pastels and people watching is perfect, with men and women showing off gym-honed bodies and hotel guests luxuriating on enormous day beds.

 

Lifeguard stations on South Beach
Lifeguard station on South Beach

The art-deco architecture of the hotels on Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue. These hotels were all built after a hurricane flattened much of what was there previously, and the styling is vintage. A lot of the hotels have beach-front bars, so we got a taste of luxury even on a camping budget. I found a great little article on Miami happy hours and we treated ourselves to some bargain cocktails at the Surfcomber Hotel. If we were to return to Miami, we’d definitely stay at one of the classic hotels on this strip, as they have great pools, direct access to the beach, and you’re right in the thick of the action.

Happy hour at the Social Club Bar, Surfcomber Hotel
Happy hour at the Social Club Bar, Surfcomber Hotel

 

Nighttime on Ocean Drive. It’s all going on here after dark, and we stumbled across a flamboyant dance show outside one bar as we were walking past. This is such a colourful city, even at night.

Ocean Drive at night
Ocean Drive at night

The food at Miami’s famous eateries including Versailles, which is a great place for delicious Cuban food, if a bit of a tourist conveyor belt. We enjoyed the more more laid back vibe at Little Bread sandwich shop a lot more the next night when we explored Little Havana in more depth. Joe’s Stone Crabs is another Miami institution and the combination of our waiter, who was straight out of the Sopranos, the amazing asparagus he recommended (I know!), and of course of first taste of stone crab claws with mustard dip made for a brilliant evening.

 

John's favourite picture of me to date - charming!
John’s favourite picture of me to date – charming!

Some time out of the heat and madness of the city with a visit Bill Baggs State Park, an island oasis in sight of the iconic skyline. It felt a world away but we were still close enough to pop back into the city for our evening in Little Havana.

Bill Baggs State Park - with Miami in the distance
Bill Baggs State Park – with Miami in the distance

Exploring Little Havana.  There’s a melting pot of cultures in Miami, hence the prevalence of Spanish speakers, and this is one of the districts we were drawn to. There is a big Cuban community here, a monument to which can be seen at the Bay of Pigs Memorial, commemorating the efforts Cubans living in Miami made to depose Castro in the 1960s. The area around Calle Ocho (8th Street) is famous for its Cuban restaurants, bars, and cigar shops, and we spent a really fun evening exploring this little piece of Cuba, with mojitos at the Ball and Chain, Cuban sandwiches, and vibrant street art at every turn.

Street art on Calle Oche, Little Havana
Street art on Calle Och0 – spot the odd man out…?

 

Our next road trip was right down the Keys to Bahia Honda State Park and we were gutted to find as we were hauling out of Miami that the fix John had tried on the brake controller hadn’t worked. We ended up spending most of the day baking in an RV centre, where lots of hands on hips and huffing told me that we weren’t going to make it to Bahia Honda for an afternoon swim! We did make it for sunset though, and it was worth it as you can see in this post

 

Men at work
Men at work

Our time in Miami was short but sweet and we would definitely return. Every now and then we need a city break to balance all the camping ‘zen’ and this is the perfect place for it. It’s crazy, hot, and has the worst traffic we’ve seen outside of LA,  but it’s full of life and colour and we’ve never been anywhere like it!

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