Don’t be fooled, you would-be traveler to Miami Beach! South Beach might be the tourist epicenter of Miami Beach, but it is most certainly, NOT where it’s at. Yes, South Beach has an Art Deco historic district that is amazing and a must-visit for any traveler, but the crowd carousing ’round Ocean Drive is a little too “Real Housewives” meets “Jersey Shore” (the show, not the region), for my tastes — think: lots of $50 margaritas the size of your face combined with bros driving rental lamborghinis. Ugh, right?
Head north a few miles and you’ll hit North Beach, a 15-minute drive, but a world away from South Beach’s madness. For those not yet in the know, the neighborhood lies between the pretty waves of the Atlantic Ocean and the calm waters of Biscayne Bay, from 63rd Street to 87th Terrace.
The area is lined with beachfront apartment buildings, and it’s safe to say a majority of the locals here are Latin American — Spanish is most frequently the first language spoken when you enter a shop or restaurant. Speaking of restaurants, I can gaze off my balcony and see the following: Argentinean, Colombian, Peruvian, Cuban, Mexican, Ecuadorian, Brazilian restaurants — and a juice bar, sushi, and Chinese thrown in for good measure.
There’s not much of a drinking scene, and it’s not exactly brimming with culture, but the following spots make North Beach a must-see for any visitor to Magic City.
Buenos Aires Bakery
Basically a neighborhood anchor, Buenos Aires is an authentic Argentinian bakery teeming with crusty empanadas and decadent alfajores. Morning or evening you’ll find locals here sipping strong coffee and bantering with each other and employees. If you dare visit on a Saturday or Sunday, plan to take a number and wait out your order — it’s worth it.
Lou’s Beer Garden
If you’re scared to drink at the neighborhood On the Rocks bar (and I most certainly am), try a handcrafted cocktail at Lou’s Beer Garden, part of a boutique hotel and flanked by a pool. A smattering of tables and sofas make it comfy, fire pits cut the chill on nights when it dips below 70 degrees, and a killer — yes, KILLER — music soundtrack is the perfect accompaniment to your drinks. (Hungry? There’s also a mighty tasty, if a bit pricey, menu).
When the urge to snarf too much Cuban food comes calling — and in Miami, it always does — Sazon satisfies your craving with hearty portions and reasonable prices. Their sandwiches, in particular the Pan Con Lechon Desmenuzado (a heady concoction of shredded pork, cuban bread, cooked onions, garlic marinade and sazon fries) is la bomba.
If you’ve eaten too much beef and pork at the plethora of Cuban, Argentine, and Brazilian restaurants you can refresh your palate at Cholos, which serves some of the most authentic Peruvian ceviche I’ve seen in the States. I love the ceviche classico and the tiradito a la chalaca, but for something heartier, there’s also authentic chaufas (Peruvian-Chinese fusion).
While it’s definitely busy, especially on weekends, compared to South Beach, the stretch of shoreline that runs through North Beach is blissfully quiet. Even more compelling? It’s simply gorgeous. The waves are never big, the water is always turquoise, and the sand is super lovely. Really, it’s the highlight of North Beach.
Mostly paved and partially packed sand, the boardwalk is one of the neighborhood’s great amenities. You’ll see in filled from dawn til dusk with walkers, runners, dogs on leashes, and bicycles. Join the masses for a bit of early morning exercise — and spy on pretty apartment buildings and people along the way.
North Shore Park Bandshell
It’s not exactly an entertainment hub, but on certain nights there are festivals and concerts held in the bandshell. And one evening a month, a food truck gathering sets up camp outside the bandshell — good fun and better eats.
The O Cinema is an indie film staple in other Miami neighborhoods and recently opened here in North Beach. Admittedly, I have not seen a flick here yet, but I plan to — it’s a great cultural addition to the ‘hood.