I have visited just about every other major city in Florida, except Miami.
I felt like there was something here that the universe did not want me to see. So when I learned that our jumping off point for Havana was Miami Airport, I knew my time had come.
I booked a room in the Harrison Hotel on Washington St. in South Beach. Being a few blocks from Ocean Drive, it was affordable for my budget, but still within walking distance to all the action. Mostly Spanish and English overheard here. And I find myself conversing in a odd mix of both.
The best part of my room is, well, location. It's Spartan. But there's a mini refrigerator and everything is clean. So I'm happy here.
My first exploration of Ocean Drive was Friday late morning. I was scouting for the evening ahead. I'm glad I did. Not so much to ensure good shooting for later, but because it was fun.
On one side of the Drive are street vendors selling wares and delicious food such as arepas (hot, sweet cornmeal cheese sandwiches), BBQ chicken, sausages, and lemonade. With the ocean park behind them, it's a combination of alluring smoke and sea air that's impossible to resist.
Across from them are the art deco hotels and restaurants. Here's where you can treat yourself to a sit-down meal, colorful tropical drink, and music. Tables line both edges of the sidewalk, so you're actually walking through the restaurant as your explore Ocean Drive. It's the best marketing possible, because you can see the food, drinks, and help without making an immediate commitment.
Walking in general is easy here. Miami closes off the Drive to cars between 6th and 14th (or so). So you can stroll down the middle of the road, street vendors to one side, restaurants to the other, music everywhere. It's like a wholesome Bourbon Street.
I had a BBQ chicken skewer and an arepa for lunch. I could have had more, but I was working. By 2:30 pm the light was flat, so I headed back to the room to process the images and plan my attack for the evening.
After a nice break and a bottle of water, I was back on Ocean Drive by 5pm, ready for twilight and neon. My favorite night shots aren't really at night. They're at twilight, with some color in the sky just as the building lights come on.
I was shooting with my OM-D E-M10, switching between the 17mm f/1.8 and 75mm f/1.8 prime lenses. Ocean Drive did not disappoint. Color, music, people, food, drink, and street shooting. I finished off the adventure with an Americano at Aroma Expresso on Collins Ave.
Now I know why the universe had denied me Miami. This is a special place for photographers.
And one that I can now fully appreciate after all these years.
Author's Note: It often pays to be lucky. I just learned from Fred, one of our readers, that I landed in South Beach on Art Deco Weekend. I walked right in to a festival, and didn't know it. The good news is that this happens every year. Plan accordingly :-)