Across the causeway from the glitzy, Art Deco scene on Miami Beach lies the previously industrial area of Wynwood, where some of America’s finest urban art attracts visitors from around the world. Daubing the cavernous warehouses and buildings, the eye-boggling murals have revitalized the neighborhood and opened its doors to restaurants, breweries, galleries and bars with serious street cred and edge.

Clouds cover the entrance to the Wynwood Walls section of the Wynwood neighborhood in Miami
The entrance to the colorful Wynwood Walls section of the Wynwood neighborhood in Miami © Getty / Rhona Wise

Look to the walls

Wynwood Walls is the unlikely gathering of some of the world’s most famous urban artists. Obey (Shepard Fairey), Futura, Miss Van and The London Police – all have been invited to create some of their largest (and most legal works) at this former rundown area of Miami, thanks to the late Tony Goldman, a philanthropic property developer who wanted to create a ‘museum of the streets’. Now spread over much more than the original six warehouses, annual paintings have taken place since 2009 with more than 50 artists transforming 80,000 square feet of walls. Wynwood Doors, once the neighborhood dump, was added on in 2010 and turned into a park, encircled by 15 roll down shutters that feature less prominent artists who have painted everything from Bladerunner-esque futuristic city scenes to mystic looking elephants.

Since 2010, street art has seeped out of the pedestrian square, now fringed with restaurants who have welcomed the graffiti artists into their spaces and spread over neighboring shops, galleries and bars. If Haight Ashbury was the height of hippie murals, sunshine and rainbows in the 60s, Wynwood has a similar feel for the switched on, Instagram generation of today – while there’s no innocent dreamscapes and LSD-inspired art, the whole area has an offbeat charm that is cultures away from the bikini-ed beach bars and tony cocktails of Miami Beach.

A mural covers the side of a building in the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami, Florida, on September 28, 2016. Founder Tony Goldman, with his real estate company Goldman Properties, was devoted to revitalizing run down neighborhoods and create permanent outdoor mural exhibits. / AFP / RHONA WISE (Photo credit should read RHONA WISE/AFP/Getty Images)
A freehand mural covers the side of a building in the Wynwood arts district © Getty Images / Rhona Wise

Art is just the start     

It just goes to show that you shouldn’t underestimate the power of street art to revive and reform an area. Wynwood has a monthly (every second Saturday) art walk and various tours that visitors can take to see new work from the surrounding galleries. The whole area erupts with passion and creativity. But it’s not just the locals who have sat up and taken notice. Art Basel (arguably the most influential art event series in the world) hosts several events in Wynwood when it rolls into town every December. And where Art Basel goes, the collectors and investors follow.

Artists aren’t just at work outside around here. The galleries (often located in what look like run down warehouses) showcase a mix of contemporary visual arts. Wynwood 28 focuses on South American artists, Locust Projects has edgier pieces while the Rubell Family Collection houses one of the biggest publicly-accessible private collections of contemporary art in North America. The gallery—located in a 45,000-square-foot repurposed Drug Enforcement Agency confiscated goods facility—was Wynwood’s first and features artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Jeff Koons. For a further insight into the area, Wynwood Art Tours has a range of street art and gallery tours that run all year.

The street art has expanded to cover local restaurants and bars
The street art has expanded to cover local restaurants and bars © Georgina Wilson-Powell / Lonely Planet

Drink local

It’s hot, it’s Miami – visitors can’t explore for long without succumbing to one of a number of craft beer bars that have cropped up. Unlike a lot of American cities, the area is compact enough that everything essential (beer, food, art in whatever order) is walkable within a three- or four-block radius. It gives the area a distinct community feel, while the lack of skyscrapers adds a secret backstreet vibe.

Wynwood Kitchen & Bar is located within the Wynwood Walls project and feels like an extension of the park. Forty craft beers will satisfy even the fussiest drinker, with La Rubia and Wynwood IPA brewed just a couple of blocks away. For those who want to drink at the source, Wynwood Brewing Company, Miami’s first craft brewery, can be found on NW 24 Street and has a tap room with a daily afternoon happy hour.

On weekends, locals descend upon Wynwood for a chill afternoon of beers and beats, with several of the bars running brunches that come with buckets of mimosas and DJs getting parties started in their gardens. There’s no designer pretension here, it’s more of a good times, love everyone kind of vibe. Brick, on NW 28 St, is one such place, featuring local brews and laid-back parties.

Wynwood Kitchen & Bar in the Wynwood Art District by Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images
The graffiti-covered walls of Wynwood Kitchen & Bar in the Wynwood Art District © Getty Images / Alexander Tamargo

Taste the Caribbean

It would be a crime to leave Wynwood without getting tucking into some of the tastiest plates in the city. While the urban art may lean toward the eastern seaboard cities of the US and Europe, the food is pure Miami – a mix of Latin American and Caribbean cooking with examples of the flair that is putting Florida on the foodie map.

Back at Wynwood Kitchen & Bar, Cuban-style ropa vieja empanadas are bite sized bits of heaven, all slow-cooked beef and crispy pastry. The ceviche mixto here brings some Peruvian flare to the menu with a mix of octopus and scallops in a citrus tomato sauce. But it’s not all upscale eating. Jimmy’z Kitchen might look like a cheap eats kind of place, but it’s your best bet for mofongo, a traditional plantain dish from Puerto Rico.

Colorful Coyo represents the magic of Mexican cuisine with smashed-to-order guacamole and hand-pressed tortillas with inventive fillings (duck, octopus or cactus, anyone?), while a hidden bar in the back knocks out killer margaritas.

South Florida’s original dessert, the mighty key lime pie, also gets lip service here. At Fireman Derek’s Bakeshop, the former firefighter-turned-baker sees long lines of people queuing up every day to taste his secret recipe for the ultimate sweet-and-sour cheesecake.

This article was originally published in 2016.

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