F**k South Beach. Check out Wynwood.

So, you’re in Miami. Bienvenido (or welcome for those of you who speak English).

Obviously, you’ve already planned for some beach time. The sand. The ocean waves. The ridiculously ripped bodies (hope you didn’t plan to feel good about your recent six week workout program).

Or, you’re planning on exploring the animated streets. The endless rows of restaurants and patios along the famous Ocean Drive. The supped-up vintage cars riding along the drag with their roofs down. The Latin music. The hired restaurant staff dancing on the sidewalks urging you to try their food and drink specials. The art deco district with tons of interesting houses and shops — especially along beautiful Collins Ave.

It’s a safe plan, often travelled and the scene and colours will provide for a great backdrop for all your Instagram posts.

But, here’s the thing, do all that for a bit and then escape the Sobe plastic (physiques and personalities) and get the hell out!

Seriously, hear me out.

Just leave. Pack a day bag, take a cab/uber or drive the 10–15 minutes away from the beach and visit a neighbourhood called Wynwood (stick to the areas between NW 20-29 streets on both sides of NW 2 Ave).

I promise you’ll smile a lot more, be able to still get a good tan, and you’ll want to go back.

The pros: you’ll get more for your money; the locals are actually/genuinely nice; and the art scene is booming and changing every single day.

The cons: there are none.

Wynwood is a neighbourhood tucked in between Miami’s Design District (the Tom Ford store is a super cool looking building) and Miami’s Little Haiti (which is known for its crime, homelessness and every other challenge poorer neighbourhoods around the world have to confront).

But this place is worth it.

Art is everywhere in Wynwood — on the walls, on the sidewalks, inside bars, in bathrooms, on the floor tiles, on abandoned fences, on buildings that have long deteriorated, and even the new ones.

It’s all awesome, but also a bit of an uncomfortable mix of sad turned beautiful.

Most of this place oozes a sense of quiet confidence: young, emerging, experimental and more established artists teaming up with small businesses, collectively taking over abandoned buildings and loads of land long forgotten… yet it feels like its fresh coats of paint are covering over (purposefully or not) the untold stories of failure and despair.

You can sense this just by being in it, and if you just take the time to look on the faces of the longtime residents of the neighbourhood you’ll get more — some are happy to see the changes, but others seem confused why flocking tourists (like me) taking selfies beside colourful murals are now a thing.

After three full days in the hood, it felt like Wynwood is still trying to figure out what it wants to be. It was as if there was a collective comfort existing in the narrow intersection between “cool/hip” and “I’m not sure I’d walk around here alone at night.”

All of this was made more real for me by two comments from conversations I had during my recent stay:

“Ahhh, Wynwood… the place everyone now wants to be in.” — Uber Driver

And...

“Yea, I would try to stay between 20 and 29 streets. This is after all, still the ghetto and people forget that.” — Panther Coffee employee

That dichotomy is what makes this place special, not unique by any means, but really darn special.

How to get started

There are way too many things and places to suggest and check out in Wynwood, which is why I am going to suggest only three and encourage you to figure out the rest by just walking around and fall upon your own gems.

For real, ditch the GPS/map and just take a walk…

  1. Panther Coffee

Walk up to the counter, after waiting in line a little, and ask for one of their ham and cheese croissants (heated up). If you like a serious caffeine kick that will jolt you instantly and for hours, opt for their cortado. You’ve been warned.

They roast, sell and serve their own batch of coffee beans (in case you’re a coffee snob). There’s also a huge outdoor patio — perfect for readers, daydreamers, and tanning while watching the diverse street-life passes by.

An elderly lady in a blue dress will broom the streets. Don’t be alarmed. Don’t ask questions. It just is.

When I visited, they had several live musical acts (usually at night), which was one of the coolest coffee shop vibes I’ve ever experienced. Stay awhile, this place will steal your vacation heart.

2. Wynwood Walls

If you think you’ve seen murals, you’re wrong. This place was like a never-ending outdoor art maze, plastered with ‘weird-cool-as-heck-ugly-WTF-is-that’ paintings of all shapes and sizes.

There were also a few smaller tented/indoor galleries with various style original paintings on display and for sale within the whole complex. Entrance was free when I visited, and the faux-grassy areas throughout are perfect for some chill sessions surrounded by all the colours possible.

Perfect date night. Or go solo. Or meet someone on Grindr or Tinder... or by talking in person, like the good ol’ days.

3. Wood Tavern

Hungry and thirsty? I got you.

I went on a Tuesday, which for some reason meant free tacos served from 5–8pm from a food truck at the very back of their massive patio. Score, free dinner! Get two, maybe three (don’t be greedy) and make sure to tip well.

While you’re there, why not grab some booze? A $20 bill will be enough for a good buzz. No joke. I was there with two buds and each of our rounds cost less than $15 including tip.

The space itself is super cool. Wood benches, some even in small auditorium style seating everywhere... graffiti filled art was all over, some commissioned, some by drunk patrons adding their own artistic expressions. And, the music got louder as the hipster crowd filled up. Cool scene.

So, now that you’re caffeinated, cultured and buzzing, go explore… or keep drinking.

You’re welcome!

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