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Welcome to My Home: The City Where the Heat is On, Miami!

One of the biggest appeals of coming to Boston College is its proximity to downtown Boston.  We all love going into the city and exploring the sights, like Newbury Street, Boston Common, and Faneuil Hall.  But guess what?  We collegiettes come from literally all over the world!  We grew up in one home our whole life or have moved to dozens of new places.  We were raised in small towns and huge cities!  Just because we are in Boston doesn't mean we can't see the rest of the world.  This is a series to introduce us to the many unique and interesting places that we come from, better known as home.


Telling people you’re a Miami resident means hearing the Will Smith 90's hit ad nauseam.  Some cliché Internet fads claim that “we live where you Spring Break.”  And our basketball team, The Heat, sparks something of a controversy.  While it may seem difficult to believe, people do actually live and work in the ultimate vacation spot that is sometimes referred to as “another country.”  
 
This bizarre term comes from the fact that Miami is a true melting pot of nationalities.  While the official City of Miami itself only has about 400,000 residents, the greater Miami area (known as Miami-Dade County) encompasses close to 2,500,000 people, according to the US Census Bureau.  Of these 2.5 million residents, a whopping 65% identify themselves as Hispanic or of Latino origin, with 51% of residents foreign-born.  The statistics speak for themselves.
 
The result is a bright, busy place booming with culture and a combined history.  There’s rarely a dull moment out on the streets of Miami, which makes for some great stories over the years.  For me, it simply means that my friends are always seeking an opportunity to visit over break.
 
Food
I could write an entire article on the restaurants in Miami alone, including a smattering of high-end cuisines and famous steak houses, or hole-in-the wall burger places where you just don’t ask questions.  In order to give you a taste (pun intended) of the cultural mélange that is Miami, I’ve selected my personal favorites:

Versailles Cuban Restaurant
Why this place is named after the French palace, no one knows—at least I don’t.  What I can vouch for is the authenticity of this famous Cuban restaurant, known as the best in Miami and located in the heart of Cuban culture—Calle Ocho (Eighth Street, regrettably made popular by Pitbull’s hit song).  Miami is known primarily for its Cuban population, with nearly half of the Hispanic population consisting of Cuban and Cuban-American residents.  At Versailles, you won’t find much spoken English, but you will find Cuban delicacies such as arroz con pollo (directly translated to mean rice and chicken—but it’s so much more than that), ropa vieja (literally “dirty clothes,” a delectable shredded meat dish), croquetas, media noches (“midnight sandwich,” consisting of pork, ham, Swiss cheese, and mustard on wonderful Cuban bread), and much more.  I can’t forget the pastelitos de guayava, the infamous flaky pastries with any combination of guava and cream cheese, or a good old cortadito—that is, a shot of espresso often prepared with a bit of condensed milk, certain to keep you alert for a Cuban game of dominos.
 

 
Dolores But You Can Call Me Lolita
When in doubt, Dolores Lolita is our go-to place for a girls’ night dinner (if you’re in Miami, expect for dinner reservations to be as late at 10:30).  Located in Brickell, one of Miami’s downtown neighborhoods with a vibrant nightlife, Dolores Lolita offers the perfect balance between a sleek, lounge vibe and a pleasant dinner atmosphere.  The cuisine is Spanish-inspired, with simple, witty menu entrees such as “Gazpacho so good we’ll give you the recipe” and “Maybe, the best Serrano Ham Croquettes you have ever tasted.”  Whether enjoying a warm night on the open-air patio or a more intimate affair at one of the dimly-lit indoor tables, Dolores Lolita never disappoints.
 


GreenStreet Cafe
Located in the heart of Coconut Grove, one of Miami’s centers for nightlife and culture, GreenStreet Café is a popular European-inspired spot.  Its outdoor seating allows for leisurely brunches—I’m pretty sure I’ve blacked out after eating their banana pancakes, or their chocolate French toast.  The funky design features giant, plush red armchairs and rustic chandeliers.  At night, this particular area always attracts a crowd, so the location makes for a lively dinner (make sure you try the mushroom triangoli with a creamy porcini sauce).
 

Arts, Culture, & Entertainment

Historic Coral Gables
The part of Miami known as the city of Coral Gables was developed during the Florida land boom of the 1920s.  Home to the renowned University of Miami, Coral Gables is also known for its scenic routes (streets lined with towering trees) and its historic architecture.  Points of interest in the Gables include Miracle Mile, or “the Mile,” a strip of restaurants and shops that’s also home to the old Miracle Theater, the beautiful Biltmore Hotel, founded in 1926 (and rumored to be haunted), and the Venetian Pool, a public freshwater pool fashioned from an old coral rock quarry made in 1924 (complete with waterfalls and grottos).  Miami natives know the Gables for its confusing streets—whereas most of Miami functions around a grid system with street numbers similar to that of New York City, Coral Gables is the only area that relies on streets with names, all derived from the names of Spanish towns.

 

The historic Biltmore Hotel

The Venetian Pool
 

Downtown
The drive to Miami Beach is always perfectly accentuated by Downtown Miami’s gorgeous skyline.  You’ll find more than sky rises and top-of-the-line hotels and restaurants.  Downtown Miami is home to a variety of theatres and venues, including the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, which hosts premiere shows, as well as the Ziff Ballet Opera House, the Knight Concert Hall, and the Florida Grand Opera.  You might spend a day at the Miami Art Museum, or if you have small children with you, the Miami Children’s Museum (a favorite of mine growing up).  Another point of interest, the historic Freedom Tower, is a National Historic Landmark and a memorial to Cuban immigration (thousands attended the famous Cuban singer Celia Cruz’s funeral here).  Downtown is host to many festivals throughout the year, including the renowned art exhibition Art Basel, the Miami International Film Festival, and let’s not forget the insanely popular three-day electronic music fest, Ultra Music Festival.  An even more defining point of interest is the American Airlines Arena, known for being the home of the Miami Heat.  Also, if you happen to be in town the second Saturday of the month, don’t miss out on Wynwood’s Art Walk—a night where galleries open their doors with various exhibits, shows, wine and food tastings, and a guaranteed evening of culture and entertainment.
 

Ultra Music Festival located at Bayfront Park
 

The Miami Children's Museum on Watson Island
 

A nighttime view of the Miami skyline (the American Airlines arena is visible in the righthand corner)
 

The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts
 

Last, but not Least: Miami Beach
Perhaps the most touristy area of Miami is the beach—and rightfully so.  The beaches speak for themselves.  It’s the general atmosphere of Miami Beach that lacks accurate description.  During the day, you might enjoy the various cafes and shops, or for Spring Breakers, the open-air bars (Wet Willie’s on Ocean Drive is a must).  You can’t miss Lincoln Road, situated right in the middle of Miami Beach, scattered with theatres, galleries, shops, and restaurants.  It’s famous for its balance between an unconventional crowd and a family-friendly atmosphere, and you’re guaranteed a good meal mostly anywhere (I would recommend Nexxt Café or Quattro Gastronomia Italiana).  As far as nightlife is concerned, it’s never a dull night on the Beach.  I won’t bother naming the various high-end clubs with one syllable, misspelled names, where the “seen-and-be-seen” Miami crowd tends to gather.  If you’re looking for a less exclusive scene, try Espanola Way, a hidden little village reminiscent of Spain, with its charming bars and restaurants (including the eccentric Kill Your Idol).  However you choose to spend your time on Miami Beach, it’d be difficult to have a bad time.
 

 


Espanola Way at night

This humble summary barely begins to describe all that Miami has to offer.  I’ve only highlighted my own personal experience with the place I call home, and with a city as big as Miami, you’re sure to find a variety of perspectives.  My advice to you, collegiettes, is to explore the place yourself—or find a Miami resident to make friends with as soon as possible.  But please, leave the Will Smith single in a pile of your ancient NOW! CDs, where it belongs.

 

Photo Sources:
http://miami.eater.com/uploads/versailles-miami.jpg
http://www.facebook.com/DoloresLolitaMiami
http://www.biltmorehotel.com/
http://www.panoramio.com/photo/24064851
http://kal10h.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/ultra-music-festival1.jpg
http://www.elementsservice.com/magazine/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Miami-Childrens-Museum.jpg
http://www.flickr.com/photos/ggreene/3221190285/
http://cbsmiami.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/sergios15.jpg
http://bestfloridavacationspots.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/welcome-to-miami-beach.jpg
http://www.travelerstipsnpics.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/Lost-Weekend-Espanola-Way.jpg

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