[sponsored by Citi – text and photographs by Seamus Payne for TheCoolist.com]
For visitors, real Miami exists on the margins — somewhere across the bridge from South Beach and Lincoln Road. For locals, real Miami is stuck in traffic — something daydreamed between bumpers on I-95. “Real Miami” is mostly intangible, but I’ve found that the best way to find it is on two wheels, not four.
The freedom and pace of a bicycle makes Real Miami accessible to those who usually pass it by. Those who have enjoyed #MiamiByBike (and those who aspire to do so) will soon welcome the expansion of Citi Bike Miami, a bike sharing system that covers Miami Beach, Downtown Miami and beyond with a network of rent-and-return bicycles. It means new neighborhoods, museums, restaurants and bars are on the map for visitors and locals alike. No taxis, no public transportation, no interstate gridlock– just direct, personal access to Real Miami.
I was lucky enough to have early access to Citi Bike’s expanded service in Downtown Miami. So I grabbed a Citi Bike, cruised about 3 miles north of downtown and spent the day exploring the Wynwood Arts District. What I discovered was a world class destination for urban art, one that most tourists and locals don’t always get to see. Join me for a look at some of the most mind-blowing mural art this writer has ever seen.
The Wynwood Arts District hosts more than 70 art galleries in a neighborhood that spans about 100 square blocks. Beyond the “official” galleries, there are countless murals and street art displays that cover most of the available wall space. In a sense, every commercial space, retail storefront, warehouse and restaurant is a gallery — with street art slowly taking over their walls.
The street art ranges from commissioned work to street scrawl, and the above Miami HEAT mural shows both. This piece on 29th and Miami reflects the local opinion of departed star LeBron James, who jilted the HEAT for his hometown Cavaliers this summer.
Geese take flight on the rear alley wall of In&Out Productions, a commercial production house in the heart of Wynwood. The artist who gave these birds their wings has produced many pieces around Wynwood, but this is a clear stand-out.
Nearby, a kaleidoscopic work of precision painting adorns a large wall. The photo belies just how large this wall is, easily reaching two stories and standing out in the Wynwood landscape.
Art is not exclusively serious. Humor abounds in Wynwood, as shown on this large wall piece and much of the unofficial art around the neighborhood.
Between the murals, galleries and boutiques, a collection of restaurants and bars dot the Wynwood landscape. My Citi Bike cruise stopped for a grilled salmon salad with my partner in crime.
Around and within Wynwood, old Miami is still humming. Side streets feature modest bungalows with mixed tenants, while older shops and storefronts welcome long-time residents of Wynwood.
Even the alleys of Wynwood are adorned with street art. Murals and graffiti, official and underground, detail nearly every square meter of available space.
The backs and sides of buildings, including this wall on a parking lot, feature rich and imaginative mural artwork. Art is inescapable in Wynwood.
Wynwood Local Haunt – La Latina Miami – Arepera
Around sunset, I headed to my favorite arepera in Miami, La Latina. La Latina is a Venezuelan arepera, a 10-table casual diner that is about as authentic as it gets. The arepas, which are ground corn flatbread sanwiches to the uninitiated, are among the best I’ve ever tasted. They’re like the great grandparent of the hotpocket, a Venezuelan take on the ancient art of meat, starch and dairy handhelds. They’re rich, savory and filling, and you can visit many times before repeating your menu choices. It’s street food at its finest, served comfortably in an environment where broken English is spoken fluently. In other words, it’s Miami at its best.
La Latina Miami Arepera | Gallery
Getting from La Latina to the my next stop was a breeze by bike. There’s really no other easy way to do it. If you drive, you’ll need to worry about parking at both spots. If you want to use public transport, your only options are taxi or car service, both of which can be pricey. Walking is do-able, but no easy feat. This is precisely why Citi Bike has me so excited. I can get from point A to point B in a neighborhood like Wynwood on my own and without worrying about transportation.
Wood Tavern Wynwood – Neighborhood Patio Bar and Lounge
Wood Tavern is among the best neighborhood bars in Miami. It’s not a dive by any means, however, as it features the upcycle-minded art that abounds in Wynwood. The walls of the Wood Tavern are adorned with large, vibrant murals– just like the rest of the neighborhood. Inside, tacos are served from a junked taxi that has been turned into a working kitchen. It’s first-come, first-serve seating in a dining area inside, while the rest of the large patio is open. A rear area and dance floor features stadium-style wooden bleachers, providing a great event space for locals. The drinks are strong, the food is tasty and cheap, and the crowd is very different from what you’ll find on South Beach. This is your creative class, your young and imaginative, your funky and friendly. I stopped by the Wood Tavern after work hours on a Friday, and it was clear that the crowd was just starting their weekend festivities.
Wood Tavern Wynwood Miami | Gallery
At night, greater Wynwood comes alive. Restaurants, bars and galleries fill up with patrons, while the streets hum with activity. Unlike the rest of Miami, however, Wynwood is dominated by locals.
The walls of Wynwood maintain their artistic allure at night. Shapes become increasingly abstract, allowing the imagination to fill in the gaps between murals.
Wynwood Walls – Miami Outdoor Art Gallery
In the heart of Wynwood, a square block of old Warehouse space has been converted into one of the greatest outdoor urban art galleries in the world. The Wynwood Walls features the work of celebrated graffiti and mural artists from around the world in a free, open environment. The walls and open lots between these warehouses are now canvases for urban art.
The Wynwood Walls are more than just an outdoor gallery. This complex also includes the Wynwood Kitchen and Bar, the Jugofresh juice shop and activity space, plus event spaces that are inset within the gallery outside. It is a massive space that features world class street art on every surface, where guests are welcomed to explore the art for free.
Indoor galleries at The Wynwood Walls compliment the outdoor mural art. Signs hang in the gallery’s interior for a special exhibit during my visit.
A tryptic of illustrated art occupies a small corner of the Wynwood Walls outdoor gallery, showcasing some of my favorite work.
Wynwood Walls | Gallery
As I pedaled my way out of Wynwood and back toward home base, the art beyond the main attractions guided my trip. This art is everywhere. Even the lamp posts in Wynwood are canvases for street art.
From the lamp posts to the art galleries, the art work in Wynwood is varied and full of playful attitude.
Located nearly three miles north of Downtown, Wynwood is off the beaten path for most Miamians. For tourists, it’s mostly unknown. The Citi Bikes program makes it accessible for those who live or work in Downtown or Brickell, or those who are visiting the city center. It’s always just a short bike ride away, and a bike ride is the best way to search for and discover the elusive “Real Miami” we hear so much about. Beyond the world class beaches, architecture and city center, Wynwood is a world class art destination in its own right. And a bike ride might be the best way to experience it.