Little Havana’s Viernes Culturales still serves up Latin culture

Since May 2000, Viernes Culturales, or Cultural Fridays, has marched to its own beat in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood.

Bilingual salsa lessons, local artwork and antique cars are among the highlights, with additions like children’s face painting and a violinist added in recent months.

More than 3,000 people attend the free street festival, which takes place the last Friday of every month between 13th and 17th avenues on Calle Ocho, with booths lined along Domino Park serving as the epicenter of activity.

So what can you expect? Here’s our walkthrough:

– Only in Miami moments
Viernes Culturales has plenty of moments we can recognize as “only in Miami.” That means open spaces behind office buildings and in-between streets become makeshift parking spots. And, along with folks walking dogs, last month we saw an attendee with a pet parrot perched on his shoulder, which led to impromptu photo opportunities with children. In a nutshell, let nothing surprise you.

– Sometimes joyful noise
Whether it’s Latin tunes or the horns from the antique cars, Little Havana is wrought with high decibel level activities during the festival. Live cultural performances from colorfully dressed dancers may take place on the main stage, but the DJ near Azucar Ice Cream Company is also bumping, albeit for a different demographic. Street performers – think drums – also compliment the sidewalk art. Do not be afraid to move to the beat with the bilingual salsa instructor either (unless you are already above the beginner level).

– Custom creations
If a $200 painting of Cuban-American music superstar Pitbull doesn’t tickle your fancy, there is more than just art at Viernes Culturales. Vendors run a gamut, from T-shirt designers to hats and roses made of palm leaves. Even that hard to please relative should find something of interest like jewelry with “energy” stones that are supposed to exude harmony. For the kids, there’s free face-painting, as well as a separate area with paper and easels for drawing, make it easy to tear off a creation to take home.

– Good (and cheap) eats
Besides the almost obligatory trip to Azúcar for homemade Cuban ice cream (the line starts early), try to scope out the street vendors for dinner. For just $5, we feasted on a big helping of congri (Cuban rice and beans) with turkey and a side of arepas topped with pico de gallo and salsa rosada. There are also the occasional freebies. Both Coffee-mate and Ikea gave out free coffee samples at July’s festival.