Image: Sandy Cobas, at El Titan de Bronze Cigars
Wilfredo Lee  /  AP
Owner Sandy Cobas in her store, the El Titan de Bronze Cigars in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami. Almost any type of cigar is for sale, ranging from about $4.65 to $13 for the longest.
updated 8/12/2009 5:44:56 PM ET 2009-08-12T21:44:56

As the gateway to the Americas, Miami is home to restaurants, shops and streets that feel as though you've stepped off one continent and onto another. Shots of Cuban coffee are available almost anywhere in Miami's Little Havana, including convenience stores. In certain areas, everyone greets customers with "hola," never "hello."

Tourists might not be able to navigate Latin Miami successfully using only English, so brush up on basic Spanish before going, or take a Spanish-speaking friend. Regardless, a trip to Miami is incomplete without a nod to its Latin flavor.

Here are some essential stops in and around Little Havana:

Casa Unidos De Elian
It's the house where Elian Gonzalez stayed when the then 5-year-old Cuban boy was at the center of an international custody battle. The standoff ended when U.S. agents raided the home and seized him in 2000 and sent him back to Cuba with his father. The home has been renovated by his uncle, turned into a combination shrine and museum. Toys, photos and drawings are lined up in glass display cases.

Elian's clothes still hang in the closet, and the holes where agents kicked in the door haven't been repaired. The inner tube he came to Miami in hangs on the wall, accompanied by a sign in English and Spanish: "This is the tragedy of a nation that wants to live in freedom ... Whose fault? A tyrant." The house (2319 N.W. Second St.) is open whenever someone is home, so it's hit-or-miss since there's no public phone number. Admission is free; donations are accepted.

Domino Park
At Domino Park (S.W. Eighth Street and 15th Avenue), signs warn players not to drink, smoke or bet. The domino tables have drink-holders anyway, to make them look like the domino parks in Cuba, but they're empty.

Image: Dominos
Wilfredo Lee  /  AP
A domino player prepars to play a tile at Maximo Gomez Park, also known as Domino Park, in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood.

Dozens of old men wearing sunglasses and caps speak Spanish as they play under tents, interrupted by the sounds of clattering domino pieces. Watch and enjoy — but don't interrupt a game to ask questions, or you risk irritating the players.

El Titan de Bronze Cigars
Named after a Cuban general, this family-owned cigar company has been in business since 1995. At the store, almost any type of cigar is for sale, ranging from about $4.65 to $13 for the longest. Employees roll cigars in the middle of the shop (1071 S.W. Eighth St., 305-860-1412) using hand cream to soften the wrapper, and some even smoke as they roll.

El Palacio De Los Jugos
One employee said El Palacio De Los Jugos (The Juice Palace) is what a Cuban market was like during the island's golden days. Always chaotic, the market (5721 W. Flagler St., 305-264-4557) sells almost any type of Cuban food, drink or produce imaginable.

Image: Bundles of cigars
Wilfredo Lee  /  AP
Bundles of cigars are being aged in a climate controlled room at El Titan de Bronze Cigars in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami.
At the front counter, blocks of cheese and guava sit in a glass case. Someone chops pork rinds with a machete. A machine spits slices of plantains into a vat of oil. Juices, the main attraction, are $2 per cup and $7 for half a gallon. The mamey juice is the most popular, a thick juice that tastes a little like papaya or guava. But papaya and guava juices are also available, as well as pineapple, carrot, beet, and other combinations.

La Moon
This Venezuelan restaurant is popular with the post-clubbing crowd: Thursday through Saturday, it's open from 8 a.m. to 6 a.m. and until at least midnight every day except Sunday. Have an arepa con queso — cheese between two corn pancakes — or a Supermoon Perro, a hot dog with cheese, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, potato chip slivers, sausage, bacon and a quail egg. It can take 15 minutes during slow times just to get takeout, so beware the long wait during busy times at the restaurant (144 S.W. Eighth St., 305-860-6209).

La Carreta
Whether La Carreta has the best Cuban food in Miami is debatable. It's a citywide casual-dining chain, like the Red Lobster of Cuban food in Miami. But for cheap prices — most entrees are about $7 — La Carreta (3632 S.W. Eighth St., 305-444-7501) serves big portions of authentic food in an equally authentic atmosphere, much like the Versailles across the street, aptly described in one travel guide as offering "mucho helpings of Cuban kitsch." Brave the lunchtime crowds to watch the old-school Cuban crowd eat lunch and have cafecitos (Cuban coffees), surrounded by a loud buzz of Spanish.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Miami: Sunshine statement

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  1. Tower to the people

    Lifeguard towers on Miami Beach are colorful and easy to distinguish. Lifeguards care over swimmers who play nearby, and the towers make a great meeting place when surrounded by an endless area of sand, surf and beach umbrellas. (Richard Cummins / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Hot spot

    Thousands of people descended on Miami Beach for Super Bowl XLIV between the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts. The city hosted a number of private and public events ahead of the big game. (Roberto Schmidt / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Wet and wild

    Jet skis cruise along Biscayne Bay near Miami Beach Marina. Tourists visiting the Bay can enjoy a number of recreational activities, including snorkeling, sailing, kayaking and more. (Richard I'anson / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Life's a beach

    South Beach, also nicknamed "The American Riviera," is well-known for celebrities, chic lifestyles and, of course, beaches. The man-made beach runs along the Atlantic Ocean for miles. (Richard I'anson / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Savoring history

    The Art Deco district of South Beach is a hot spot for celebrities and is home to eccentric residents. The district has more than 800 buildings, built in the '30s and '40s, that are architecturally protected, helping its image as a chic, popular destination. (Randy Faris / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Ear to the ground

    Caribbean Flamingos -- this one eats from a pond at the Metro Zoo in Miami -- gets their color from the carotene in its diet. (Robert Sullivan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Dolphins walk, whales fly

    The Miami Seaquarium is a popular attraction that features eight marine animal shows. General admission tickets cost $37.95, and kids between the ages of three and nine get in for $27.95 (plus 7 percent sales tax). (Jon Davison / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Luxe lodgings

    The Biltmore Hotel of Coral Gables "has been a favorite of world leaders, celebrities and sports stars since its opening in the 1920s," its Web site boasts. The resort features 275 rooms, including 130 suites, a spa and fitness center. (The Biltmore) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Pretty in pink

    Classic buildings aren't the only thing visitors to Miami Beach will find. Vintage cars are often spotted in the Art Deco district. The annual Art Deco Weekend hosts a classic car fest where proud owners can show off their treasures. (Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Colorful celebration

    A dancer wears a costume as she participates in the Miami Carnival. The carnival has been an annual event since 1984. It has grown from a small neighborhood festival to an international event bringing live bands and calypsonians from the islands. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Collins mix

    The renovated Delano Hotel (left), National Hotel (center) and the Sagamore Hotel line up Collins Avenue in Miami Beach. The city has a concentration of over 800 Art Deco buildings all within one square mile. (Roberto Schmidt / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Double-tall MOCA

    Miami's Museum of Contemporary Art "is internationally recognized as a force in defining new trends and directions in contemporary art," its Web site says. Admission is $5 per person, $3 for students and seniors. MOCA Members and kids under 12 can enter for free. (MOCA Miami) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Bass appeal

    The Bass Museum of Art was established 47 years ago ater Miami Beach accepted the art collection of John and Johanna Bass, and agreed it would maintain the works and make it available to the public. (Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Different strokes

    A visitor looks at "Thinking" during Art Basel Miami Beach back in 2008. "Art Basel Miami Beach is the most important art show in the United States, a cultural and social highlight for the Americas," the event's Web site boasts. This year's event takes place Dec. 2-5. (Juan Castro / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Reflective moment

    Artist Jude Papaloko is reflected in a mirror on a painted wall in his gallery, the Jakmel Gallery, in Miami. (Lynne Sladky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Feeling the groove

    Club patrons enjoy themselves on the dance floor at Mansion nightclub in Miami Beach, Fla. Once thought of as a place to visit Grandma in January, Miami's reputation as a party city has grown since the days of "Miami Vice," through the birth of the Art Deco fashion district in the early 1990s and the more recent explosion of the South Beach club scene. (David Adame / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Port of call

    Frequent cruisers can be forgiven for seeing Biscayne Bay and Miami simply as a departure point. However, the area offers a wealth of activities and events that can satisfy tourists with a variety of different interests. (Jeff Greenberg / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Can I get a refill?

    The Venetian Pool in Coral Gables, Miami, started out as a quarry pit and was transformed in 1924 into the Venetian Casino. Now, more than 100,000 people visit Venetian Pool each year. During summer months, the pool is drained nightly and replentished from a subterranean aquifer. (Richard Cummins / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Year of the crab

    Plates full of cracked stone crab claws are ready to be served at Joe's Stone Crab in Miami Beach. Joe Weiss opened a lunch counter in 1913, and the eatery has been serving the public for 97 consecutive seasons. (Wilfredo Lee / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Feeling the beat

    A crowd dances to the rythmic sound of congas at a local latin club in Calle Ocho (8th street), the main street of the Little Havana district of Miami. (Roberto Schmidt / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Home field

    Miami's Sun Life Stadium hosted Super Bowl XLIV on Feb. 7, 2010. The New Orleans Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts by a final score of 31-17. (Dave Cross / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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